• May 2015
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Steven Chen, CSUF Mihaylo College of Bus/Econ

Click here for Steven Chen's Bio
Handling comic-book digitization
The emergence of digital technologies changes the forms in which consumers experience media. In today's marketplace, digital readers such as the Kindle and iPad are an alternative to traditional print books. One of the fields hoping to explore new growth markets by digitizing its publication library is the comic-book industry.

Traditionally, comic books are published in 32-page monthly pamphlets that are sold in gas stations, Wal-Marts and comic stores. Later, these pamphlets may be collected into graphic novels that are distributed in large book-retailer chains. However, print formats, especially the monthly pamphlet, are facing obsolescence, as sales have been declining (or at best, stagnating) for the past decade. Some experts estimate the current pamphlet-reading population is between 500,000 and 750,000 individuals.

Facing shrinking sales, shifting consumer behavior and monopolistic distribution, comic publishers are exploring alternate channels of content distribution for business growth. The success of the iPad and iPhone has content producers and distributors in a rat race to develop new apps that will deliver comic content to old and new comic readers alike. For a subscription or an a la carte fee, consumers can buy the latest "Iron Man" comic and read it on their laptop or mobile phone.

In light of these movements, an important marketing question is: How does a tech-enabled change in form alter consumers' consumption experiences? This is a question that my colleague at Cal State Fullerton, Neil Granitz, and I investigated in an academic study. The results will be presented at this year's Comic-Con International, a pop-culture extravaganza that descends on San Diego every summer.

In a qualitative study involving book and comic readers, we find that the decision to adopt the new technology, converge (adoption of new and old tech) or not adopt was characterized by a complex tradeoff among utilitarian and experiential attributes. We find that utilitarian values (accessibility, convenience, ease of use, cost) are more salient to consumers who adopted e-reader devices; experiential values (social rituals, ownership, aesthetics, immersion) are more salient to consumers who rejected e-reader devices in favor of traditional print media; when there are experiential and utilitarian values that are nonsubstitutable by e-readers, then convergence is the outcome.

These findings reinforce the idea that there are many segments of comic readers and that publishers must produce media to meet the needs of all consumers. Particularly, an experiential value that cannot be replicated in technology is the social aspects of reading, such as hanging out with the comic guys, going to a comic store with one's children, and giving and receiving personal recommendations. Marketers must consider these needs to retain existing customers and reach new ones.

The Joneses have it all
The premise of the new movie, "The Joneses" is interesting for marketing students to consider. A new family moves into an upper-crust neighborhood, immediately capturing the attention of their neighbors. The Joneses have it all – beauty, success, charisma and the newest and greatest products, which they are more than willing to share with their newfound friends.

I am not giving anything away by revealing the concept. The Joneses are an “icon unit,” a model family strategically inserted into American neighborhoods by an unnamed marketing firm for the purpose of generating word of mouth for its corporate clients’ products.

Check out this new Mizuno Golf Driver. It gives you 40 extra yards.

These yummy, catered hors d’oeuvres? They are actually frozen foods. Don’t tell!

The Audi TT that my son is driving? Smooth ride and great acceleration.

Invidious consumption is the purchase of goods to inspire envy in one’s peers. It is a term coined more than 100 years ago by economist Thorstein Veblen in his critical "Theory of the Leisure Class." The corollary to invidious consumption is emulation. The Joneses know their invidious consumption, and they do it well. Wanting to be as cool as the Joneses, many individuals then go out and purchase the same products as the Joneses.

And that is the fatal flaw in the movie, because invidious consumption and its twin, conspicuous consumption, are obsolete. They no longer represent consumers’ purchasing strategies in our day and time. Let me illustrate.

People’s initial reaction to being introduced to a great new product by a friend is not “I want that too.” In fact, it is likely the reverse: “Oh … she’s got that, so I gotta buy something else.”

Ladies, isn’t it true that one of the most annoying things is to see someone in public with the exact same pair of shoes you are wearing? Isn’t it the most revolting feeling when one of your friends purchased the same Tiffany’s necklace as you, especially if that friend is someone whose taste you do not respect? Because that says something about you. …

Gentlemen, isn’t it awful when one of your best friends purchases the car that you’ve been dreaming about since you were in grade school? It’s horrible because now you can’t go and buy the same car. Even an alternate color will not be allowed. Your bud has crushed your dreams, and there’s nothing you can do but go into a corner and stew in anguish.

Products and brands are now tied to our very essence and identity. Everyone is now on a quest for distinction and individuality. To emulate signifies lack of identity, imagination and cultural knowledge. Emulation has no legitimacy in our social world. To do so is a cheap, low-brow Xerox strategy.

Let’s go back to the movie. Some audience members may be anxious that the Joneses may exist in real life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that greedy corporations could implement an insidious marketing plan such as the Joneses. Have no fear. It won’t work. "The Joneses" movie is operating on a faulty model that fails to recognize that it’s not necessarily emulation that is important for consumers, but how a product will aid consumers in their quest to distinguish.

That is the main motivation of consumption.

What is trust's role in O.C. consumption?
Marketing research has shown that trust can be decomposed into five dimensions: ability, concern, consistency, connection and sincerity. A recent study conducted by OC METRO on the Most Trustworthy Brands found that O.C. consumers weighted ability and consistency above the other dimensions of trust. I recently had the chance to sit down with OC METRO to talk about why that is. You could watch the video of it here, but I will provide a synopsis below.

What does the survey results say about O.C. consumers?

The finding show that O.C. consumers are more concerned about the performance-based aspects of trust as opposed to the emotional-based aspects such as sincerity and concern.

This is consistent with what is called “calculation-based trust.” When consumers engage in calculation-based trust they are assessing the trustworthiness of firms by evaluating their ability to fulfill orders on time, their overall reliability and whether their products are long lasting and durable. However, this form of trust is fragile at best, because any rupture to performance expectations will also result in a rupture in the consumer-brand relationship.

So to answer the question, this study shows three things about local consumers: that they are more utilitarian in their brand relationships than one might initially think; that they have high-performance expectations; and that they might not be brand loyal when performance expectations are not met.

Why are these five trust measures important for companies?

It is important that a firm’s reputation be linked to trust. Consumers avoid purchasing from firms that they do not trust. A firm’s reputation gets around fast nowadays, due to word of mouth and particularly online word of mouth.

Companies know this. That is why Toyota keeps pushing its apology commercials emphasizing the reliability of the vehicles, in the face of the automaker's recent technology debacles – to gain back consumer trust.

What is the role of trust in capturing consumer allegiance to a brand?

The role of trust in capturing consumer allegiance is two-fold.

The first deals with repeat purchase. Over and over, research has shown us that trust is a key element to successful relationship marketing, especially in environments where there is minimal interaction between the seller and the buyer, such as the online world. Consumer purchase decisions are made on the basis of trust, and consumers will engage in repeat purchase behavior with brands that they trust.

The second deals with transgressions. Research has also shown us that trust can work to a brand’s favor in the event of a transgression. Consumers might forgive a brand for a violation based on past positive experiences with the brand. Such was the case with Harley Davidson. HD is a brand that is built on the values of American patriotism and machismo. But several years ago HD started to manufacture its bikes in China – a violation of the brand. Consumers ultimately forgave them.

Five everyday problems I seek to fix
A function of design is to identify and solve problems that consumers face in everyday life. The problem-solving orientation of design parallels the central axiom of marketing – that successful products satisfy consumer needs.

Please allow me the opportunity to focus on issues of the everyday variety. Below, I identify five problems that represent product-design opportunities for marketers. Will someone please create solutions for them?


With the advent of movies such as "Alice in Wonderland" and "Avatar," 3-D movies are no longer just gimmicks. They might be the way of the future. If these movies are the future, then someone has got to do something about developing 3-D glasses for people with glasses.

Putting two pairs of glasses on my face is quickly turning into a pet peeve of mine. It is turning me away from the 3-D IMAX experience. It is cumbersome, odd, and I am definitely not trying to looking cool by putting plastic 3-D frames on top of my Ray Bans.


Today, men are carrying around more and more in their pockets. They have wallets, keys, a mobile device (or two), pens and coins, just to name a few common things. After all this stuff is stored in the pockets, there is an unaesthetic bulge that resembles a bag of oranges. To make things worse, when in a seated position, it is nearly impossible to access these items. Try collaring your cellular phone when driving – without performing in-car acrobatics. It’s hard!

In Asia, men have started carrying man-bags as part of the solution, but that is not yet socially acceptable here in the U.S. We also have cargo pants, but sometimes we need the business-casual look. We need khaki pants that look professional, but also have functional storage and access capabilities.


Speaking of technology, someone needs to develop a Bluetooth headset that can be easily located once displaced. Bluetooth headsets are now mandated by California law for driving. But between recharging and carrying it around, it is easily misplaced. I am on my fourth headset. I spent more on headsets than the phone itself, and I know this isn’t going to be the last one that I lose. It is only a matter of time.


With Bluetooth and the development of other wireless technologies, one might think we would see a decrease in the amount of wires in the home. However, the reality is that the wireless technologies’ chargers and adapters have wires that plug into the computer or the power outlet. As consumers purchase more of the next great things that latch onto their home-entertainment-super-computer-system, the backend matter starts resembling an unstoppable Matrix-ian nightmare. Please save my home!


I credit my friend with this idea: Suppose you recently had your first baby with your partner, and you love your baby more than the world – except for the fact that you have to feed her warm milk.  At home this is easy. But one of the most annoying things is how to feed your baby warm milk when in public. You are tired of using your old method of warming the baby bottle by hauling an additional piece of Tupperware, running to the public bathroom to run hot water into it and soaking the bottle in the warm water.

Your friends tell you there are different options in the marketplace, and that you could easily shop for it. There are car-charger units, but let us say you are at Disneyland. You will not run back into the car to warm the baby bottle. There are battery-operated units, but they seem a little too big to be portable. There are single-use gel packs that use a chemical reaction to generate heat. But these don’t seem sustainable, and it gets expensive to purchase over time. So until a portable, convenient and sustainable solution comes along, the tried-and-true method of Tupperware-soaking will be maintained.


These five examples are problems that I encountered in my daily experience. There are so many more problems yet to be discovered. Next time you get really mad at something, don’t curse or yell. Instead, write down the problem on a Post It and send it to your local product designer or marketer.

Do infomercial products fix anything?
One measure to gauge the success of a product design is whether the product design solves a problem or not. The harder the problem solved, the greater the design.

Many problem-solving designs are found in infomercials. We hate them. We love them. We love to hate them. Infomercials are the sell-center for many creative inventors who develop products that help people improve their everyday lives. We have rotisserie grills that can cook a gourmet dinner for a medium-size army platoon in a simple device that is as small as your toaster. We have food processors that can slice and dice vegetables into an assortment of shapes and sizes. We have magic towels, sold by a desperate-looking fellow named Vince, which can soak up all the fluids in your body by a mere touch.

Today, I will be burning on two infamous infomercial products that purportedly solve soft problems. In other words, bad design.

One problem with the world today is that Americans do not have time to workout. That is a real issue. According to a recent study, Americans are the most productive people on earth (followed by the Irish, FYI). But because Americans are more productive, they are also the most out of shape. Some marketers have taken this as a call to design products that help Americans stay in shape during the course of their busy lives.

We don’t have time to workout because we are always at work. So would it not be wonderful for us to have a product that allowed us to workout while we worked? Enter the Hawaii Chair. The chair provides an abdominal workout while you are on the job! Incredible! Not really: Watch the video. One must be insane to think that any work could be accomplished while the mechanized seat rotates and jerks the body violently in circular motions! Not to mention one would look absolutely mad sitting in one these things.

Sometimes, one does have time to workout, but this can be grueling. Repeated reps from curling irons can impact joints in negative ways. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a product that did the hard stuff for us without us having to move? Enter the Shake Weight. It is a vibrating weight that a person holds in a stationary position (as opposed to curling). The workout emerges from the "challenge" of holding the weight still, while it furiously vibrates. And the kicker is that it now comes in a model built especially for men.

Besides being easy fodder for late-night talk shows, these products are epic fails for another reason. They fail because they do not properly define, or solve, the problem. With its ungainly motions, the Hawaii chair causes more problems than it solves. The only workout given is trying to stay on the chair. The Shake Weight doesn’t save Americans more time, because the time holding the Shake Weight can easily be spent curling a traditional iron. Overall, the products here speak more to the laziness of a small segment of Americans more than it does to real problems of working out.


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