Friday, October 30, 2020

Lessen Emphasis on Less Bad Sometimes

When Coca-Cola announced, “Our Bonaqua lightweight mineral water bottles are specially engineered to use 34% less plastic,” you might expect the purchase likelihood of the product would grow. But studies at City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, and The Chinese University of Hong Kong indicate that the opposite can happen. Consumers could respond, “Gee, I wasn’t even thinking about how my mineral water comes entombed in a slug of plastic. I’ll stop buying bottled mineral water.”
     To avoid this negative response, the researchers discovered, persuade shoppers to pay more attention to the decrease in the bad than to the presence of the bad. Accomplish this by discussing the upsides of change generally. When presented with a benefit claim of reduction in a negative attribute, accompanying it with “We understand that customers always change over the course of their lives,” resulted in greater product attractiveness than did, “We understand that customers are always committed to consistency over the course of their lives.”
     It also worked to briefly describe the advantages of even small decreases in the negative characteristic. Again, the objective was to portray the characteristic as occurring in degrees of intensity rather than as a binary “there or not there.”
     Studies at Indiana University and University of Pittsburg cover another approach on this issue: Consumers distinguish between resolvable and irresolvable attributes. Resolvable attributes are those which can be corrected or repaired. Irresolvable product attributes are those for which correction requires purchase of a replacement item. Whether an attribute is resolvable or irresolvable comes from how the customer thinks about it. To reduce the possible damage from claims about a decrease in the negative, present it as resolvable. “To deliver mineral water to you, we need to have a container, but the nature of that container can be improved.”
     Still, because of the risk of it doing damage, you might choose not to highlight the decrease in a negative attribute. If you’re doing well enough, it can be best to leave well enough alone.
     Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania researchers compiled a list of thousands of the retailer’s customers who could lower their monthly fee by changing their monthly plan. Of those contacted about the available decrease in cost, about 10% cancelled their service within three months. Of those not contacted, about 6% cancelled. Being told they could have been saving money led to subscriber disquiet.

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Resolve to Investigate by Attribute Type  

Monday, October 26, 2020

Herd Conformity Away from Deindividuation

Customer conformity can be a wonderous thing for marketers. It makes it easier to predict what your shoppers will want or not, so inventory matches sales. The underlying purpose of fostering word-of-mouth is to encourage conformity. The unity of conformists into a herd drives charity fundraising campaigns and powers political movements.
     However, herding stimulates deindividuation, where the conformists neglect personal responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. The problem with this is that herds can explode into mobs. For example, during deep discount sales, the insides of stores, and during civil unrest, the outsides of stores, are at risk of mayhem from mob violence.
     Researchers at University of Melbourne find that herding is facilitated by physiological arousal. In their studies, participants who had jogged in place for one minute were more likely to select the “popular choice” pizza or the “popular model” toy than were participants who sat at a computer during the one minute. The researchers went on to discuss how this effect extends to items beyond pizza and toys as well as to physiological arousal from loud music or voices, not only from vigorous physical exercise.
     To encourage conformity which proves fruitful to you and your shoppers, generate excitement. But to head off herding which threatens to escalate, maintain sufficient calm. This means preparing. When a retail store is confronted by an unexpected mob, the shocked staff can go mentally numb and close down their sensory channels. This erodes defenses against criminal behavior. Rehearse staff on how to handle all sorts of situations in managing crowds. This reduces, or can even eliminate, the traumatic shock. In particular, unambiguously designate who to contact for assistance during the incident and then after the incident.
     Still another way to disrupt the negative side of herding is to encourage self-identification. Understand the psychology of crowds as part of preparing for having people fill your aisles when you hold Black Friday sales, limited quantity sales, celebrity appearances, releases of new video games, and similar events. If shoppers will be waiting in line, have store staff wearing name tags talk to the shoppers. Invite those in line to fill out a sweepstakes form with their name and other identifying information. Because they lose some of their individual identity and therefore their sense of individual responsibility, people in crowds are driven to actions they would not take otherwise. Name-to-name contact helps head this off.

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Expect Shopper Conformity & Variety Seeking 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Even the Odds for Romance Seekers

Marketing targeted to people wanting to find a romantic relationship with a significant other are more successful when messages include numbers divisible by 2. Researchers at University of Sydney produced this effect by asking consumers to say how likely they would be to buy a set of products. In some cases, odd numbers were associated with the products. The hunk of cheese was 2.25 pounds, the box of chocolates included 17 sweets, and the jacket cost $68.83. For the remaining consumers, the numbers were even. Cheese at 2.24 pounds, the box of chocolates containing 16, and $68.82 for the jacket.
     These study participants also were presented with a questionnaire which included items like, “It is important to me to find a romantic partner.” It was found that the people indicating higher agreement with such items also expressed stronger purchase intentions for the items carrying the even number information.
     The easiest explanation for these findings is that people whose thinking is occupied on pairing with a significant other find even numbers to be more familiar, and what is familiar to a consumer tends to be favored by that consumer. A similar finding had to do with V8.
     Researchers at University of Florida and National University of Singapore ended up asking study participants whether they’d prefer a glass of V8 or Campbell’s tomato juice. But before this question, the participants had been shown an advertisement for V8. For one group of participants, the ad read, “Get a full day’s supply of essential vitamins and minerals with a bottle of V8.” For the other participants, the ad read, “Get a full day’s supply of 4 essential vitamins and 2 minerals with a bottle of V8.”
     Those who saw the second version of the ad were especially likely to select the V8 over the tomato juice. The ad which used the numbers 4 and 2 subconsciously generated the numbers 6 (4 plus 2) and 8 (4 times 2). A preference for V8 was created because of familiarity with the number.
     Such nudges are subtle. In the study of those seeking romance, differences were not large, although noticeable and statistically significant. There also are limits on when they apply. Greater preferences were not seen among people who had already achieved the romantic relationship. They also were absent among people aiming for simultaneous relationships with a bunch of partners. That’s not even odd, though, right?

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Hit Shoppers with a Two-by-Four

Monday, October 19, 2020

Eke Out the Best IKEA Effect

The “IKEA Effect” refers to the consumer research finding that consumers are willing to pay substantially more for a product they’ve had the opportunity to customize. IKEA, like a number of other retailers, encourages shoppers to select among sets of options in configuring a purchased item. These are “mass customization toolkits.” Although the name is ironic in that an IKEA product is usually priced lower than a completely assembled corresponding item, the IKEA Effect has been seen in a number of studies.
     Some years ago, studies at Tulane University, Harvard University, and Duke University attributed the IKEA Effect to the reinforcement of self-identity experienced via the choice of options, plus the value to a consumer which comes from validating their competence in assembling the personally-selected components. That second prong has its own irony, highlighted by the use of “toolkits” in “mass customization toolkits.” Many jokes are rooted in the incompetence faced by many as they attempt to put the pieces together. Clearly, there are limits to that second basis for the effect. Don’t count on it.
     Researchers at SUNY-Oneonta, National Chiayi University, and National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology explored limitations on the first basis, with implications for retailers getting the best from the IKEA Effect. They found that the exertion of time or effort in choice and assembly is not a significant factor in building value for the purchaser. This argues for keeping the processes simple.
     Important factors included a wide range of options, but not at the expense of simplicity. Provide ways the shopper can easily sort through the choices to fit their desired identity Researchers at University of Alberta and University of St. Gallen created and then evaluated a technique for this: Develop a limited number of combinations of the major item attributes, then encourage the shopper to choose one of them and personalize using the other attributes. A fit with the individual’s aesthetic preferences counts.
     In a set of nine studies covering the item categories of shirts, automobiles, vacation packages, jewelry, and financial products, the researchers identified clear benefits of this customization via starting solutions. The purchasers were more satisfied with what they ended up buying and found more mental stimulation in using the items. And the store or retail firm owners were pleased with how the purchasers selected a greater number of item features, which resulted in a higher-dollar transaction.

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Ask “Whither Art Thou Helping?” 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Open Wide to Calm Complaint Intensity

Smaller bodies spew fiercer complaints. Whether that’s true or not for people, researchers at China’s Zhongnan University of Economics and Law found it’s true for computer devices with screens. In an analysis of over 7,800 complaint posts, those sent from a mobile phone, compared to those sent from a desktop computer, averaged more indicators of emotional intensity. The indicators included words such as “angry” “sad,” and “entrap,” plus format cues like words in all caps and use of exclamation marks. Similar findings were obtained when the researchers had groups of participants use either an iPhone with a 5.5-inch screen or an iPad with a 9.6-inch screen to file a complaint. The complaints from the iPhone were more intensely negative.
     Further study indicated that the reason for the difference has to do with a sense of spatial crowding. A smaller screen feels more constrained, and constraints aggravate pre-existing irritation. Along with this, the findings provide guidance for reducing the effect: Make the screen less crowded and more open, such as by omitting a frame around the area where the consumer enters the text of the complaints. In the studies, this simple change eased the fierceness.
     We want our customers to be psychologically open to expressing dissatisfactions. Whatever the severity of the problem, you’d like to know about it so you preserve good relationships with your customers and prune out suppliers of flawed merchandise. By designing the small-screen interface to be physically open, you protect against misinterpreting the depth of irritation.
     Other studies, conducted in a Western culture using a different approach, suggest an alternative explanation for the small-screen complaint-fierceness effect. University of Pennsylvania researchers find that people are more candid when communicating via smartphones than via personal computer. That could account for the increased intensity in the griping when a consumer feels cheated or otherwise wronged.
     An important extension to this, though, is that candor also can swing complaints toward less intensity when it leads customers to recognize their own responsibility for dissatisfaction. Researchers at Bayer Healthcare, Columbia University, and Maastricht University found that placing a mirror behind places where you accept complaints reduces the intensity of customers’ disgruntlement. Mirrors cause us to pause and look at ourselves. Moreover, the reflection in the mirror helps people sense emotions they’re experiencing, again arousing self-awareness which can ease extreme irritation. Signage including words like I, my, and mine also helps.

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Bring Flaws to Life Before Living with Them 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Originate Creative Ads with Seniors’ Skills

Although the cognitive deterioration often accompanying advanced aging leads to rigid thinking, healthy older adults are, in fact, more creative on average than are younger adults. A task commonly used by psychologists to assess creativity is to ask the person to think of as many uses as possible for a highly mundane object like a brick. The superiority of older adults on just such a task was documented in a set of University of Michigan studies. Not only that, but another group of older adults generated more creative recipes than did a group of younger adults when limited to using corn, carrots, and tomatoes.
     We might explain this enhanced creativity as due to longer life experiences. Older adults have had more opportunities to observe a brick being used in unusual ways or to come up with a new way to combine the few cooking ingredients left in the pantry. When we talk about how the wisdom from aging compensates for the slowed responsiveness, we could refer to the additional and broader range of life experiences. Moreover, the slowed responsiveness might in itself enhance creativity by generating contemplation.
     The Michigan researchers had an additional explanation, though, one in which another common negative of old age—increased distractibility—becomes an advantage. Seniors find it difficult to suppress intrusive thoughts. But intrusive thoughts provide a broader range of ideas when your objective is to be creative.
     Workgroups responsible for marketing are wise to include among their membership senior citizens. Seniors constitute the fastest growing consumer demographic in the world, and who better to know the psychographics of seniors than other seniors? Plus, because of the increased creativity which comes with advanced age, those seniors in marketing workgroups could be a bonus to produce winning campaigns for every aged target.
     Research findings from University of Cologne show the dramatic effect of additional creativity in ads for a store or the products and services sold by the store. In the studies, money spent on a highly creative ad campaign bounced sales up nearly twice as much as did a campaign with little creativity. But not all aspects of creativity pay off equally well. Elaboration, which refers to how many different details are presented, and artistic value, which refers to how the ad use words, music, sounds, colors, and/or images to produce aesthetic pleasure, were especially powerful. Look for those skills in senior citizen marketers.

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Cut to the Chase of Old Voters’ Shortcuts 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Gang the SKU on Shoppers

Displaying multiple versions of the same product—such as five replicates of a cordless drill model in an ad or an array of a household cleanser package for a store display—builds in consumers a perception that the product is powerful and a good value. The University of Cincinnati, University of Miami, and University of Georgia researchers who documented this acknowledge that featuring an item in isolation—such as with white space around it in an ad—indicates other benefits, such as scarcity or luxury. Balance these considerations in deciding how to display the item.
     The explanation for the gang effect is “entitativity,” which refers to the extent to which a collection of related items is viewed as a single entity. When shoppers see five identical visual images, they tend to consider the five as one unit. Five of anything are more powerful than one of that same thing. This implication carries over subconsciously to consideration of each single item in the collection.
     Discount marketers make use of entitativity in the form of power aisles—those shelves with the overwhelming numbers of a limited selection of products which researchers at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Youngstown State University have shown give the impression of high returns for the money spent. Entitativity implies efficacy.
     Entitativity research has its roots in person perception, not item perception, and person perception provide an example of the phenomenon sometimes being to the detriment of a marketer. Researchers at University of Michigan and London Business School analyzed funding activity on, a micro-financing site. On the site, photos and descriptions are presented of people seeking small loans for commercial endeavors. The researchers were interested in what happened with listings which included photos of a group of fund seekers. Some of these photos were judged in a preliminary study to show a group who looked tightly organized, as if ready to act as one.
     Those appeals were more quickly funded than the appeals in which the group looked loosely organized. Those researchers also found that charitable donations to help poor children were higher when the children were described as belonging to the same family than when not. However, when the researchers described the charity recipients as a cohesive group of child prisoners, the average donation amount was less than when the “child prisoners” were shown as isolated individuals. Power here was viewed by consumers as a negative.

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Offer Aspirational Shoppers Subtle Signals
Account for Contextual Influences on Sales
Collapse to Soles When Asking for Money

Monday, October 5, 2020

Fear Fair Trade Discount Promotions

Savvy marketers realize there are circumstances in which dropping the selling price of an item retards sales rather than enhancing them. Studies at McGill University and Auckland University of Technology created one of those circumstances by offering promotional discounts on fair trade items. Consumers whose interest in fair trade was heightened by reading about its purposes were less likely to purchase a fair trade chocolate bar offered at 30% off than when offered at the regular price.
     The fair trade movement advocates a willingness to pay a premium to suppliers who treat workers humanely and conduct their operations in ways which sustain the environment. Its origins were in sales by producers in developing countries to consumers in developed countries of items like coffee and handicrafts. The spirit of free trade can now apply to sales within a developed country of a broad range of items and of the humane treatment of animals, not just workers.
     The researchers’ explanation for the drop in interest from promotional discounts is that the shoppers worried the lower price would impede adequate pay and proper employment conditions for the workers. Consumers who showed no particular interest in fair trade campaigns were, not surprisingly, more likely to buy the chocolate bar when offered at a 30% discount.
     For the fair trade proponents, the damage to the marketer from the price discount extended beyond missed chocolate bar sales. The researchers saw a drop in brand credibility, which would affect its other offerings to the marketplace. Again, this was not true for shoppers low in fair trade involvement.
     Knowing this, you might choose to avoid featuring in your promotional discount campaigns items carrying a fair trade benefits claim. Instead, harvest the extra revenues which come from shoppers willing to spend more money to express their values. If you do discount fair trade items, emphasize in the promotion a clear rationale which proves the discount does not lessen fulfillment of the fair trade objectives. This avoided the sales drop.
     Attention to shopper values is also important with green products, a benefit related to fair trade. Consumers expect to pay a premium for products with the sensitivity to environmental impacts which qualifies the products to be called green. But Drexel University researchers saw consumers in their studies get mighty irritated if consumers came to realize products had only trivial modifications in the direction of environmental sensitivity.

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Notch a Niche for the Fair Trade Spirit
Wash Away Your Greenwash Products

Friday, October 2, 2020

Tip Yourself Off with Tipping Tracking

The size of tip a consumer gives a restaurant server is commonly thought to be directly related to the degree of quality the consumer judges the service to have shown. This suggests that monitoring the amount of tips a server receives—relative to what other servers receive and correcting for the number of hours worked—will give a measure of that employee’s job performance.
     Beyond this, studies at Drexel University, Fordham University, Iona College, and Korea’s Soongsil University found that the size of the tips provides information about the consumers—how empowered they feel themselves to be. People who perceive themselves as having little power leave tips more out of desire to avoid embarrassment than to reward good service. Given enough data on tipping to the wait staff, restaurant management and the servers themselves can identify repeat diners who feel little power. They are the ones consistently leaving tips higher than the overall average of tips to that server.
     Researchers at HEC-Paris and Northwestern University concluded that when the large size of a product or package implies power, consumers craving more power go for the large. A set of study participants were offered a choice of different-sized bagel pieces. Those participants who felt powerless in the face of threats chose bigger pieces. But when small size implied status from exclusivity, consumers who felt relatively powerless would forgo the large.
     Other studies have identified ways a retailer can influence a shopper’s sense of power. In a Northwestern University project, it didn’t take much: Some of the study participants were asked to imagine an actual episode in the past when they possessed high power in a situation. You could adapt that to discussions you have with a frequent customer.
     In a dining situation, the customers usually feel more powerful than the servers. This can be influenced by words the server uses. “Here, you’re the boss” and treating with deference raises perceptions of power. “Here, we take care of you” and treating with authority does not. Strangely, even the colors worn can make a difference. Waitresses working in a set of five French restaurants were instructed to wear the same design T-shirt in one of six assigned colors. Those wearing red received tips that were 27% higher than with other colors. The difference was largely attributable to males dining alone and to how seeing red makes men question their sexual power.

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Go Intense with Threatened Shoppers
Keep Your Distance If Customers Expect It