University of Southern California

A World of Difference in Consumer Trendsetting Behavior
Study Finds that Trendsetters Around the Globe Share Universal Traits
August 25, 2009 • by Anne Bergman

As the world marketplace expands, a new study shows how marketers can more shrewdly channel their resources to target "consumer innovators," people who are the most likely to adopt a new technology or manufactured good, when launching a product worldwide. It turns out these consumer innovators have a lot in common, despite their cultural differences.

Understanding consumer innovativeness across countries, demographics and product categories was the impetus for the unprecedented, large scale study, Global Consumer Innovativeness: Cross-Country Differences and Demographic Commonalities” led by Dr. Gerard Tellis, Director of the Center for Global Innovation and a marketing professor at the Marshall School of Business with co-authors Eden Yin University of Cambridge and Simon Bell University of Melbourne.

Among the study's findings:

  • In assessing an individual's propensity to try new products, demographic predictors age, wealth, education and mobility were common, despite strong cultural differences.
  • Certain demographics predict consumer innovativeness in certain categories. For example, younger consumers ages 20-29 are more eager to buy automobiles than other age groups. While highly educated consumers are more eager to buy financial services.
  • Consumer eagerness for new products varies substantially by product category and country. Examples include: the countries most eager to try new food products are Sweden and Canada; while India, Korea, China and Brazil are less eager.
  • Brazilians are most eager to buy cosmetics, while Japanese are most eager to buy electronic products.
  • Researchers need to be clever in asking questions about innovation because of consumers tendency to overstate their innovativeness.

Dr. Tellis and his co-authors collected data from about 5500 consumers from 15 major countries, including the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, India and Brazil. "This research was performed on a huge scale," said Tellis, adding that the study has direct implications for the crafting of business strategy and government policies.

For example, based on this research, Tellis,  who has experience launching new products via his past service as a sales development manager at Johnson & Johnson, recommends businesses employ a "waterfall strategy" i.e., a country-to-country tiered release  versus a "sprinkler strategy" all at one time for new products, making sure to vary their approach depending on the country and product category.

Governments can apply this research when introducing new products, such as fuel-efficient cars, and services to their citizens. "This study tells them whom to target first in which regions," Tellis said.

Management consultant firm A T Kearney funded the study's data collection, while Don Murray, executive chairman of Resources Global Professionals provided the annual grant to USC Marshall Center for Global Innovation that paid for the data analysis.

To read the complete study, please visit

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.