Imagine that you’re shopping for jewelry online, and the company’s brand biography webpage advertises that the gold mine from which it sources its material was discovered unintentionally when the company’s founder, a geologist, was on a hike. How would learning about the unintentional discovery of the gold mine influence your interest in shopping at the jewelry company?
Previous research suggests that people tend to value effort and therefore might be more interested in shopping at the jewelry company had the gold mine been discovered intentionally. However, that past work examined effort exerted in product creation, not in the discovery of already existing resources. Our new research (soon to be published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General) finds that communicating unintentionality in discovery increases consumer preference. Why? Because of fate.
The Role of Discovery
To explore the effect of unintentional discovery, we first had consumers read about a fictitious jewelry company similar to the one introduced above. Consumers were shown a page from the company’s website, which included information about how the company’s founder, a geologist, discovered the gold mine from which it sources all of its material.
One group of consumers read that the gold mine was discovered intentionally. Another group read that the gold mine was discovered unintentionally. And a third group read the same brand biography but with no details about the gold mine’s discovery.
We found that consumers who read that the gold mine was discovered unintentionally were more interested in shopping at the jewelry company than the consumers who read that the gold mine was discovered intentionally and the consumers who read the brand’s biography with no details about the gold mine’s discovery. The latter two groups did not differ in their interest in shopping at the company.
This preference held true even when we tested social media audiences. Using Facebook’s A/B test functionality, we exposed Facebook users to one of two versions of an advertisement for a university museum exhibit featuring a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian tablet. Facebook users who read a version of the advertisement that stated that an archaeologist discovered the tablet unintentionally were more likely to click through to the museum’s webpage featuring the exhibit than Facebook users who read a version of the advertisement that stated that the tablet was intentionally discovered.
Put simply, because unintentional discoveries are unexpected events, learning about the unintentional discovery of a resource makes consumers think more about how the resource might never have been discovered, heightening their appreciation for the resource by increasing perceptions that the discovery was fated.
What This Means for Marketers
Understanding this consumer preference opens new possibilities for marketers. On the most simple level, our research suggests that marketers can heighten consumer preference for their products by telling consumers whenever an unintentional discovery is part of a product’s narrative. A product may not appear to have an unintentional element at first glance, but virtually all consumer products use natural resources. Digging into a product’s components to find a story of discovery could be a valuable effort.
Additionally, marketers in organizations advertising historical resources, such as museums or auction houses, can clearly benefit from this research. Discovery is an element present in every artifact’s biography, and making this a part of the public narrative could increase foot traffic to exhibits and amplify auction sales.
In these ways and more, communicating unintentionality in the biography of a resource’s discovery can create value for organizations without changing any tangible properties of the resource itself.