Much prior research on firm reputation has emphasized established firms. Some research has examined new firms, but in highly familiar contexts where stakeholders can assess new firms on the basis of affiliates and records. There has been little consideration of organizational reputation in contexts of low familiarity. The omission is significant because the uncertainties associated with low familiarity increase the difficulty of assessing reputations while, paradoxically, rendering them more valuable. This paper addresses the gap by asking: What reputational signals are consequential to customers making product trial decisions when there is low familiarity with firms in the industry?

This question is of practical significance because low familiarity with industry players is characteristic of the internet, which has been seen as an important mechanism for opening up markets to new firms. It is of theoretical significance because it extends our understanding of which entrants are mostly likely to be assessed favorably in a new industry.