So you like that pair of mint green Converse sneakers your friend is wearing? Well, according to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business, you’re more likely to pick a blue pair—even if mint green is your favourite colour or the blue are more expensive—to ensure you look different from those closest to you.
These days many retailers offer consumers a range of options to customize both the aesthetic and the functional attributes of their products. New research looked at the motivation behind these custom selections using eight real-life product choice situations—from clothing and phone cases to music playlists—and what researchers found “surprises most marketers and consumers”, says study co-author Lisa Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the UBC Sauder School of Business.
“We tend to assume that people who are socially close are more similar to each other and more likely to imitate each other,” says Cavanaugh. “But our research highlights a very important context where that is not at all the case. In fact, people are actually more likely to customize a product to make it dissimilar to a close friend than to a distant acquaintance or stranger.”
Meaning, if a person sees a pair of customizable Ray Ban sunglasses that he or she likes and goes online to purchase these sunglasses, he or she is more likely to choose a different colour, design, and overall look than the sunglasses originally admired in order to be unique from a friend. However, if the original Ray Bans are worn by someone who is not considered close (e.g. distant acquaintance on Facebook or Instagram), then the consumer’s desire to be unique is relatively lower, and he or she is not as motivated to make different customization choices.
“In reality, it is the desire to express uniqueness that is the common denominator when we are looking to understand the motivation behind customization choices,” explains Cavanaugh.
The studies also found that consumers may even pay more or sacrifice their preferred choice to choose what they think is a unique purchase.
Retailers can capitalize on this motivation for uniqueness in several ways. When choosing to display customizable examples, marketers have the ability to display products customized by people with either close ties or distant ties to the target consumer. Dr. Cavanaugh and her colleagues suggest that marketers can make better strategic decisions based on the company’s objectives. For example, companies may be able to attract consumers to less popular options by strategically highlighting that the popular options were previously chosen by close others.
Similarly, labelling something as a ‘best seller’ among people the consumer may consider a close connection may actually drive away potential consumers who don’t want to be seen as being too similar to those closest to him or her.
The study also found that the desire to be unique is dampened when a product is customized for function.