Educating the consumers to become experts in a product category, or target existing expert segments will be a clever strategy for companies launching new products, according to BI Norwegian Business School study.

Research @ BI: Consumer Behaviour

On what basis is a product judged? Is a product always evaluated on the basis of their attributes? 

Previous research has established that consumers can value a product irrespectively of the nature of the product’s features, and instead on the basis of the mere match between the expectations about the product and the actual experience of it. 

The importance of expectations

When a product does not meet expectations a cognitive mismatch or incongruence occurs. This incongruity has a separate effect on evaluations of the actual product (i.e. irrespectively of product features).

In theory, congruity between expectations and the actual product leads to mild positive evaluations because of familiarity and moderate incongruity leads to positive evaluations of the product because this congruity is cognitively resolvable and therefore associated with pleasure. We call this effect the incongruent expectation effect.

Judgment of wine

The incongruent expectation effect is exactly what we observed in a study of consumers’ judgment of wine.

307 residents of a small town in Northern California were recruited for a one-time session in a sensory lab at the local university. The session was divided into three parts:

  1. A training session where the consumers were introduced to judge wines by written and oral information. Tasting was part of part, but the wine used was different from the wine used to manipulated incongruent expectations.
  2. Evaluation of expected liking and sensory description of the experimental wines. The wines was not yet smelled or tasted.
  3. Evaluation of the actual wines for liking and sensory description. The wines were smelled and tasted.

The Wine Tasting Experiment

In the congruent condition the actual wine, which was constant across conditions, was preceded by a label that correctly specified it (Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage: 1999, Region: Napa Valley, Barreled: Old oak barrels) whereas in the incongruent condition the same wine was preceded by a label that incorrectly specified it (Grape: Zinfandel, Vintage: 1994, Region: Napa Valley).

A 20-item quiz-type scale (with three answer alternatives) measured expertise in wine aspects including grape varieties, sensory characteristics, wine-making procedures, and wine-food matches.

Consumers liked the wine that was moderately different from what they could expect on the basis of the wine label prior to taste better than the wine that accurately matched what they could expect from the label.

In addition, we observed that the incongruent expectation effect was only prevalent for wine experts. Wine novices’ liking were unaffected by incongruity.

Managerial implications

Our research has shown that the very process of considering products has evaluative effects regardless of the value levels of product features.

Moderate incongruity between the product and its corresponding expectations leads to positive response. The contribution of such cognitive process-related evaluative outcomes should be important in categories where products are very similar in terms of features and for products not readily associated with affect.

With the findings reported in this research, we know that the incongruity effect holds for experts, but not for novices.

This means that educating the consumers to become experts in a product category, or target existing expert segments will be a clever strategy for companies launching new and/or incongruent products.


This article is based on Lanseng, Even J. and Hanne Sivertsen (2011): “Incongruity and Expertise Effects on Consumers’ Wine Judgments”. Paper presented at The Association for Consumer Research Annual North American Conference, 2011.

This article is published in BI Marketing Magazine nr. 2 - 2011.


Text: Associate professor Even J. Lanseng, BI Norwegian Business School and Hanne Sivertsen, UC Davis.


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