Proceed Cautiously In Marketing New Tech, Study Warns

Don't Promise the Public Too Much

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Danger ahead! Caution! Watch out! This means you!

Those are the warning signs the authors of a new study would post on the electronic superhighway for the companies constructing the road and the marketers that want to travel on it.

The study, from Odyssey Ventures, a San Francisco market researcher, cautions companies not to overpromise and underdeliver for the consumer.

"If companies initially miss the mark on what consumers are after, they risk locking out key segments of the population or delaying their willingness to try new media products," said Nick Donatiello, president-ceo of Odyssey.

Odyssey surveyed 4,020 consumers via focus groups, telephone interviews and written questionnaires in November and December. The study dispels the idea of new media hitting a single market and instead finds six attitude groups based only in part on demographics. They are:

New Enthusiasts: Have a well above average desire to use new technology but insist on high performance.

Hopefuls: Have similar attitudes to New Enthusiasts but lack economic and educational means.

Faithful: Are happy with current TV and cable offerings and not turned on by new technologies.

Oldliners: Aren't interested in learning to use new technologies; cost a serious concern.

Independents: Are similar demographically to New Enthusiasts, but TV and technology don't play a big role in their lives. Can afford to pay more but aren't particularly interested in improving existing offerings.

Surfers: Are ambivalent about technology; can afford it but are cynical about big business and concerned about privacy issues.

Manufacturers of superhighway technology "must recognize there is not a single market and begin building products with that in mind," Mr. Donatiello said. Among the considerations to be kept in mind: How much does it cost? How will the consumer pay for it? What do consumers have to do to use the product?

Mr. Donatiello also said there probably won't be a single "killer application" of interactive technology, such as video on demand or home shopping.

For marketers of general consumer goods, Mr. Donatiello is even more cautious.

"Technology has enabled ad avoidance-and you ain't seen nothing yet," he said.

For agencies, "it's no longer a matter of whether to buy `Roseanne' or `Home Improvement,'*" he said. Clients must know "who is on the other end" of the TV and agencies must produce excellent creative to make the sale.

Advertisers also must create new opportunities to communicate in non-traditional ways. For example, he said, new San Francisco-based music service MNI Interactive tracks customers' music tastes and calls them at home with news of their favorite performers' most recent release and nearby concert appearances, and offers samples of new CDs.

"Advertisers need to get involved now before the rules are set," he said.

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