Harbingers of failure: meet the customers you don’t want to love your product

Unbeknownst to themselves, some of these apparently happy consumers are actually harbingers of failure. (credit: Flickr user Peter Hilton)

A central premise in marketing seems so obvious that it doesn’t even bear scrutiny: if customers give you positive feedback on your product, that’s good. And if those people buy the product repeatedly, that's even better.

But what if certain customers just don’t have great taste? Or, more precisely, what if their tastes don’t match up with those of the rest of the population? Positive feedback and early sales from these customers might actually not be good news—they could be a sign that the product’s going to tank.

A recent paper in the Journal of Marketing Research has identified a group of customers whose support for a product is a “harbinger of failure,” a signal that the product will eventually flop. “Increased sales of a new product by some customers can actually be a strong signal of future failure,” researchers write. So who are these people?

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