By combining data on aesthetic design and sales, the researchers showed that while customers do not like cars to look too different from the market average, they also do not want something that looks too similar.
When buying a luxury car, it is more important that the car looks consistent with the brand, and less important that it looks like other cars in the market segment.
Cars in the economy segment can gain in popularity by mimicking the aesthetics of their luxury counterparts, the study said.
The findings will help marketing professionals make better decisions on aesthetic design, and can be applied to a wide range of product categories including electronics, wearable technologies and household appliances, said Subramanian “Bala” Balachander, Professor at University of California, Riverside, in the US.
“Using our quantitative design model, product design managers in all sectors can forecast sales and profits of alternative aesthetic designs,” Balachander said.
Although quantifying the physical appearance of real products is challenging, the researchers used a recently developed morphing technique to construct the “average” car in a particular market segment or brand from a series of individual pictures.
Once developed, the researchers determined the similarity of more than 200 car models from 33 brands sold in the US between 2003 and 2010 to that average, examining their segment prototypicality (how typical a product is compared to other products in the same market), brand consistency (how much a product looks like the average product in a brand’s product lineup) and cross-segment mimicry (how much the design of an economy product mimics a luxury product), while controlling for other variables such as price and advertising.
Their results, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing, showed that the aesthetic design of a product can have a significant effect on consumer preference, with consumers preferring products that are neither too similar to the average product nor drastically different.