As customers, we all search for Information in order to make a buying decision. There is a trade-off between the cost and benefit of searching – the amount of search that customers do is a function of the cost and benefit of the search. For example, a company may rightly create a dedicated team to undertake a long, costly search for a large capital purchase, e.g. new enterprise system, because the benefit and consequences make the cost and time worthwhile. They would not do the same for the office coffee maker.
When discussing the role of prior experience, one would have thought that the novice or neophyte with the least expertise would devote the most amount of research. As one gains expertise, you would expect a number of possible paths: 1) some decrease in the amount of search, then a 2) a leveling off or increase of some order (due to expertise leading one to knowing more of what to ask).
One could arguably expect a representation of "Amount of Search" compared "Prior Expertise" to resemble something like this:
The ones with the most prior expertise, the “experts” also do the least amount of research because they “think that they already know”. Since they felt that they already knew the solution, they saw no need to discover new options. In their minds, the benefit of search is low. Once people have formed strong beliefs, it becomes very difficult to change them due to their bias. Duncan gave a great example of a new, promising drug failing because the doctors felt that they were already experts and knew what to prescribe based on past experience.
Note that it is not the actual benefit of the customer search, it is the perception of the benefit of searching. If customers can’t see the point in searching, they won’t. This phenomena also varies among segments and will change over time. From my own personal experience, those with engineering backgrounds can do search to the point of being anal. ( I researched beyond the "four C's" when I was buying a diamond engagement ring: angles, leakage, plugging numbers into calculators, etc. - the jeweler finally asked me if I was doing a research paper.)
So what does this all mean for a product manager or marketer? For starters, understand that your customers are not all the same based on their prior expertise and adjust your message accordingly. Avoid jargon with neophytes and focus on a more consultative selling approach. Case studies are a useful way for prospects to visualize themselves in a similar situation and help them better understand the problems that your product or service will solve. For the "experts", you may need to focus on technical, industry media / conferences and target high profile, respected leaders in that industry to help spread the message,
This topic was discussed in a very informative web broadcast by Prof. Duncan Simester, “Why Good Products Fail”: