Too close to the sun? Antecedents and implications of being compared to exemplars



The study of how distinctive firms and their offerings should be has recently honed in on exemplars—the most salient offerings in a market category. Yet, knowledge about how audience members select exemplars, their characteristics, and the implications of being compared to exemplars remains limited. We develop a novel audience-based approach to identifying exemplars by studying critics’ references to prior products in their reviews of focal products. Analyzing 10,196 PC games on Steam and their expert reviews on two leading review websites (Gamespot and IGN), we find that exemplars are not just top-sellers, but also tend to be better-reviewed, are more often based on novel intellectual property, and possess more distinctive products features. Moreover, critics invoke exemplars based on shared product features with a focal game regardless of whether the exemplar has the same genre as the focal game. Finally, the comparison to an exemplar can go in three ways (better, comparable, or worse), each with specific performance implications. Our findings offer several important contributions to our understanding of strategic positioning as they lay bare novel evidence of the seemingly double-edged nature of firms positioning their products relative to exemplars.

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