Embedded (Lead) Users as Catalysts to Product Diffusion
Posted: 18 Apr 2013 Last revised: 2 Dec 2014
Date Written: April 18, 2013
To increase and speed up diffusion of new product introductions firms may rely on network marketing. They select individuals in customer and user networks whose own product adoptions and opinions influence adoption decisions of others in the network. In this paper we transfer this rationale to firm employees. More specifically we focus on “embedded users” who are employees of a firm, but at the same time users of the firm’s products. We aim to find out if certain use related variables (access to user networks, use experience, and lead userness) impact on the embedded users’ disposition towards opinion leadership and domain-specific innovativeness. We also aim to show how cognitive empathy towards external users is a mechanism to explain these relationships.
Drawing on literatures of user innovation and consumer behavior we derive nine hypotheses which are tested in a sample of 54 firm employees in gaming hardware firms. We find that use experience is positively related to employees’ innovativeness but not to their opinion leadership. We find support for the hypothesis that lead userness and both innovativeness and opinion leadership are positively related. Cognitive empathy mediates all relationships in our study. Employees who are product users of the firm’s own products, i.e. embedded users, have characteristics which can speed up product diffusion processes outside the firm. They act as boundary spanners, as they are both more likely to be opinion leaders for other consumers outside the firm, and are also more likely to adopt new products early themselves. Therefore managers should encourage their employees to use the firm’s products to build use experience and thus develop cognitive empathy towards external users.
Keywords: user innovation, lead user, diffusion, organizational behavior
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