Monday, November 30, 2020

Wed Couples to Distinctive Brands

Couples living together often use the same brands. We’d expect this since, in most cases, one member of the pair does the shopping for both of them and differences between brands can be inconsequential. But studies at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and Berry College indicate there’s more to it. A purposeful decision to use the same brands is an expression of a romantic relationship.
     Moreover, to develop a romantic relationship further, a couple will seek a brand distinctive for them. What’s thought of as “our song” generalizes to “our consumer brands.” This is true for shopping at certain outlets as well as purchasing within brand families of complementary items, such as the same brand of soap and shampoo. All this was verified in the research for couples who were married, cohabitating while not married, and in a romantic relationship while not married or cohabitating.
     The implication for marketers is to build brand loyalty among romantically involved pairs by offering items which will impress them as distinctive and which they can consume together. The bonus appeal comes in them taking on a new experience as a pair. Short of this, encouraging one member of the pair to introduce the other to a favorite brand might strengthen the loyalty between the two of them and between them and you. In such situations, studies at The University of Western Ontario and Washington State University indicate that having the male member of a male-female couple introduce the female member works better than doing it the other way around.
     The researchers predict that brand loyalties developed in these ways will last as long as the romantic relationship does, gaining deeper roots because of the appeal of nostalgia. Marketers strengthen this when tying brands to the couple’s shared experiences such as hobbies or special occasions.
     Still, romantic relationships don’t always last forever, so this basis for brand loyalty can twist around. Researchers at University of New Hampshire and Duke University found that when a husband or wife feels low in relationship power and is irritated at the spouse, oppositional brand choice arises. A brand clearly different from the one selected by the spouse is preferred. The researchers point out it could be a temporary situation. When the relationship is mended, the underlying brand preference again shows itself. But accommodating the temporary situation helps you make the sale as well as resolving your puzzlement about what’s going on.

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Build on Couples’ Decision-Making Rituals 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Push Down Talking Down to Seniors

In what ways does a patronizing salesperson influence an elderly adult’s interest in patronizing a mobile phone store?
     Researchers at Saarland University, German Institute for Japanese Studies, and Akita International University asked seniors to read one of two descriptions of a store interaction. In the first scenario, when the elderly shopper says, “I’m looking for a cell phone,” the salesperson replies, “We have a phone with supersized buttons,” and when the shopper asks if the phone supports UMTS, the reply is, “Those modern abbreviations used by the younger generation often cause some confusion.” In the other scenario, the replies are, “What were you thinking about buying?” and, “This phone supports the UMTS standards.”
     We might expect that the first scenario would strike the study participants as showing sensitivity to the characteristics of the individual shopper, a desire to save the shopper’s time, and an effort to reassure the shopper that lack of technical knowledge is fine. But in fact, the older adults reading the first scenario were, on the whole, less receptive to purchasing the phone and shopping at that store in the future than were those reading the second scenario. Those reading the first scenario were also more likely to say they felt they were being talked down to as if they were a child.
     Women were more irritated by the patronizing salesperson behavior than were men. This might be due in part to the scenario being about a mobile phone. Women tend to think salespeople will underestimate their knowledge of technologies. This problem could be addressed by having more women salespeople available in the store and showing more female salespeople in ads.
     The salesperson’s responses were more likely to be seen as patronizing when that salesperson was described as being about 28 years old than as being about 58 years old. A general finding is that shoppers prefer to be served by people who approximate similarities to them. Having older salespeople available to shoppers could help here.
     Culture makes a difference. The study was conducted with German consumers. The researchers note that previous work shows Mexican salespeople being perceived as especially rude and French salespeople being perceived as especially arrogant.
     Still, across cultures, transactions with seniors go best when the competencies of the shopper are assumed by the salesperson unless shown otherwise. Failing this, even what is intended to be respectful can be perceived as the opposite.

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Stem the Tide of Female Shopper Discomfort 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Proceed to Protect Your Staff from Insults

When frontline store employees are bombarded with verbal aggression from shoppers—shoppers who are feeling frustrated and those who are just being mean—we require that the employees refrain from firing right back. Far from surprising are the findings by University of Macau researchers that this restriction generates employee anger and that the anger corrodes store profitability. When under high stress, people fight or flee. Here, fight takes the form of active sabotage of the business’s standards and flight takes the form of ignoring even respectful customer requests.
     What the Macau studies do add to our knowledge is a way managers can ease this fight-or-flight anger: Maintain procedures and procedural justice for handling jaycustomer behavior. In the studies, procedural justice was measured by answers to questions about how store management handles employee concerns in general. Among the survey items were, “Have you been able to express your views and feelings?,” “Have procedures been applied consistently?,” “Have procedures upheld ethical standards?,” and “Have you been able to appeal an outcome?”
     When perceptions were of higher procedural justice, shoppers’ verbal aggression toward store staff was less likely to cause anger and the sabotage of good shopper service. It’s in the interest of management, then, to maintain excellent procedural justice. The pressure to do so, and to support employees with decisive action, became even greater when expectations for enforcement of mask requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic were implemented. The risks grew to include physical and well as psychological damage to employees from aggressive consumers who refused to cover their faces. Anger and rigidity from both sides set off explosions.
     Store employees should also receive procedural justice when the rudeness comes from the bosses themselves. A supervisor reprimanding in front of a complaining customer the employee responsible for the shortfall may be intending to demonstrate respect for the customer. But this message is severely undercut by the failure of the manager to show respect to the salesperson in front of the customer. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions which can lead to dysfunctional consequences
     It’s best you not be harsh even when in private. Psychologists at New York University and University of Tulsa estimated that about 70% of retail employees do less well when more emphasis is placed on fixing the blame for the problem than on fixing the problem. Hold employees responsible, but fix the problem instead of fixing the blame.

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Build Up Bawl Outs When Telling Complainers

Friday, November 20, 2020

Unmask Personal Heroes for Life

As the COVID-19 pandemic filled consumers’ minds with thoughts about death, consumers’ bellies got filled with unhealthy foods. The cause-and-effect is called Terror Management Theory. When facing our mortality, our consumption leans into the indulgent. One direction this takes is purchase of luxury items. Another is eating and drinking sugary treats.
     Studies at University of Leeds, University of Limerick, and Copenhagen Business School saw a way for marketers to bend habits back toward the life-sustaining: Encourage people to think about their personal heroes. A classic pop psychology tenet is that our personal heroes inspire life-affirming positivity. Now the psychology research studies, conducted during the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, see this other positive from heroes during times of widespread disease, local terrorist attacks, or other reminders of approaching or potential death. The mechanisms of action are increases in the meaning of life and in personal power, each climb shown to result from reflecting about an individual hero.
     In the studies, the prompt to the consumer was as simple as, “Think of a person you consider to be a hero, and then write down a description of this hero.” Heroes are often characterized as brave, self‐sacrificing, honest, and strong, with moral integrity. For the study participants who were identified as pondering about their mortality, thinking about the hero led to more choices of offered healthy foods, such as apples and bananas, over less healthy foods, such as cookies and chocolate cake. Compared to those not thinking about a personal hero, those doing so were also more likely to agree with statements such as, “I think I have a great deal of power.”
     The agent of persuasion also can become a hero of sorts in the mind of the consumer. Fans of psychiatrist Carl Jung maintain that when people shop, they see the salesperson as playing a dramatic role. People shop to solve problems, and clinical research convinced Jungians we expect specific sorts of problem solvers in our lives. Among these, the Superhero takes responsibility for rescuing us. The customer expects the Superhero to go above and beyond what most salespeople are able or willing to do.
     However, studies at Boston College indicate this dependence on a salesperson decreases rather than increases the shopper’s sense of power. Don’t count on these short-term transactions facilitating healthy habits in the same way that conjuring up recollections of a long-term personal hero will.

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Use Terror Management Theory for Status Items 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Stick It to Some Shoppers

Consumer loyalty isn’t straightforward. Many people who are completely satisfied with a store will start shopping elsewhere because of a need for variety or a fear of missing out on what else is out there. People clearly dissatisfied with a store will continue shopping there out of habit or because the effort in switching would be a bother.
     Researchers at Texas State University wanted to identify ways to iron out such irregularities so that a retailer’s initiatives to improve customer service would directly increase loyalty. The process they conclude works well is to move the shopper from pleasant experiences on to emotional attachment.
     Pleasant experiences at the store are necessary, but not sufficient. Emotional attachment comes when customers frequently think about those pleasant experiences. Get your customers to stick around by making the store personality sticky for them. The researchers verified that doing this does, indeed, increase return business intentions.
     Consistency in delivery builds emotional attachment. However, consistency doesn’t mean boring. Regularly seek ways to personalize services which track the inevitable changes in your target audiences.
     Researchers at Neoma Business School in France and University of Gafsa in Tunisia measured emotional attachment at retail by asking consumers the degree to which they agreed with these four statements: 
  • I am very attached to this store. 
  • I feel this store is a part of me. 
  • I feel like there is a bond between me and this store’s personnel. 
  • No other place can compare to this store.
     A major finding of the studies was that a store’s target audience is composed of people who have widely varying degrees of interest in forming an emotional attachment with a retail store. For those seeking such attachment, birthday cards and invitations to special events could satisfy the desire. But those same techniques are likely to alienate shoppers who are pleased to give a retailer business, yet fear the commitments associated with an emotional attachment.
     This caution is consistent with the finding from University of California-Riverside, Boston College, and Southern Methodist University researchers that there are fewer repurchases from customers who say they’ve been thanked too much by the retailer, and this tipping point is different for different customers.
     For those not wanting emotional attachments, improving customer service may have little effect on building customer loyalty. This isn’t license to neglect service, but instead a caution not to count on a net financial profit from it.

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Monitor Variety Seeking 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Grasp the Right Preferences of Shoppers

Almost a decade ago,
studies from Brigham Young University and University of Michigan revealed that the direction in which a dining utensil was oriented influences attitudes toward the item. Now, researchers at Rutgers University, Oregon State University, and KEDGE Business School say a similar effect works for wall clocks, yogurt containers, and tax software. 
     The effect has to do with the positioning of an object and whether the viewer is right-handed or left-handed. With the dining utensils, if a fork, spoon or mug is portrayed in an ad in the position the viewer would prefer in order to easily pick it up, the product is liked better. With the wall clocks, yogurt containers, and tax software, including in the ad, close to the featured item, a mug with the handle oriented for grasping by the dominant hand improves product appeal.
     Notice that this means the more effective ad is showing a mirror image. The consumer is looking at the ad, so what would be closest to the consumer’s right hand will have been to the left of a person whose image faces us in the ad. Because most people are right-handed, a natural tendency would be for the marketer to orient photo setups the other way around. That detracts from the motivational power of the ad. All this applies not only to ads, but also to in-store displays and to customer-facing demonstrations of the items.
     The earlier research concluded that all this happens because the proper positioning allows the viewer to more easily imagine using the item themselves. The more recent research, because of some additional experimental conditions, extends on this by saying that the ease of imagining a grasp on the item leads to ease in grasping the idea of subsequently owning the item.
     The size of the effect is not large. The researchers estimate it adds about 0.7% to the chances the shopper will form a more favorable impression of the item. It provides what I call “a retailer’s edge.” In using the dominant-hand-positioning tactic, you risk overdependence on it, forgetting that the quality of the offering counts for much more.
     Another danger is that in positioning the cue to appeal to right-handers, you would decrease the appeal to the approximately 10% of adults who are left-handed. Would it be best to have a pair of cues, each one positioned for one or the other group? Maybe.

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Hand Shoppers An Aid to Imagining Usage 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Secure Distance with a Second Language

Never negotiate to buy a used car from an owner who has their toddler sitting in their lap, advise researchers from University of Toronto. People place a higher value on items they’re selling when personal associations to the item are activated, such as subconscious associations to the toddler having ridden in the car. It’s an aspect of the endowment effect, which refers to how people set higher values on objects they own than on equivalent objects they do not.
     Asking the seller to relocate the toddler into their playpen before negotiating eases the endowment effect by increasing the emotional distance from the car. Researchers at Koç University suggest another way for cars and all other items: Conduct negotiations in the seller’s second language. For about 20% of North Americans, that second language is English. Worldwide, mastery of more than one language is relatively common. The Koç studies included dual English/Spanish and dual English/Turkish speakers.
     Multilinguistic skills affect more of consumer psychology than only the endowment effect. When surveying consumers about their likes and dislikes, use the respondent’s favored language. But if this becomes overly cumbersome, use images of happy and sad faces on degree-of-agreement scales, say researchers at Erasmus University in the Netherlands.
     The researchers’ argument is that even when survey respondents comprehend English just fine, those who are not native speakers tend to interpret emotion words differently. Specifically, according to findings, they tend to report more intense emotions when answering in a non-native language than when using their favored language. “Love” and “hate” don’t feel as strong in the second as in the primary tongue. It loses something in translation. So where the Spanish-speaker might say “disagree somewhat” on the Spanish-language version, they’ll say on the English-language version, “strongly disagree” in an effort to correct for the reduced affect.
     Every enterprise benefits from valid surveys of their target audiences. And if your enterprise sells used merchandise or accepts trade-ins, the endowment effect complicates negotiations. A set of Boston University and University of Pittsburgh research studies saw differences of over 20% between price estimates of buyers and sellers. Then those researchers found a way to dramatically reduce the gap with a method which transcends linguistic culture: Demonstrate empathy. Acknowledge the special value the item at issue has to the seller.
     It also wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge the special value to the seller of any toddler sitting in their lap.

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Empathize to Ease the Endowment Effect 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Stay Interesting

Researchers at Stanford and Harvard Universities asked college undergraduate NBA fans to play a version of fantasy sports. Given high ranking performance statistics on a small set of basketball players, the undergraduates were assigned to state the salary they’d be willing to pay each player during the player’s sixth season with the team.
     For some of the undergraduates, the statistics were said to have come from the player’s first five years with the NBA. For the other undergraduates, the statistics were said to be projections of performance for the first five years with the NBA.
     Compared to the players with a proven record of excellence, those for whom only potential was stated averaged higher salary figures, $5.25 million versus $4.26 million. It appeared that potential was valued over achievement.
     There are a few possible explanations for this finding. It might be that performance excellence is expected to fade over the years, so while the young rookie would be expected to get better, the older veteran would not. Or the undergraduates may have assumed that player salaries would continue to go higher each year, and the bid for the veteran was for the upcoming year, while the bid for the rookie was for six years beyond now.
     However, the main explanation identified by the researchers was instead that potential is more interesting, and therefore more valued, than achievement. This was seen in further studies done by these researchers regarding job candidates and in separate studies by University of Wisconsin researchers about brands. Brands labeled by consumers as interesting sold better and generated more word-of-mouth.
     What makes a brand interesting?, asked the second set of researchers. The answer is mastery of novelty. Interesting brands intrigue consumers because they break routine, yet those item and store brands are felt to be interesting only if consumers believe they can comfortably cope with the differences.
     Importantly, a brand experience doesn’t have to be thoroughly pleasant in order to be interesting. In a Cardiff Business School and Kedge Business School study, repeat customers for Tough Mudder found the program highly interesting even though it included wallowing in a ditch of cold mud, running among four-foot-high flames, and crawling through high-voltage electric wires. Mastery provided the payoff.
     Few people might choose to navigate those hazards while purchasing their weekly groceries. But regularly introducing novelty, as long as you equip shoppers to handle it, maintains interest and, consequently, sales.

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Tool Up for Word-of-Mouth 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Solve Mysteries of Tribal Cues on Items

In a study of U.S. consumers, researchers at China’s Zhejiang University and Shanghai University of International Business and Economics found that displaying an American flag image on a T-shirt produced lower evaluations of the item. Yet a team of researchers from Duke University, Cornell University, and University of Waterloo saw that featuring an American flag on a T-shirt increased interest in purchasing the item among a group of U.S. consumers.
     An explanation for these seemingly contradictory outcomes might be seen in another study of tribal cues—a study which used for American residents not an American flag, but instead a Christian cross and Muslim crescent moon plus a star. But as with the American flag studies, the findings were not straightforward.
     For this University of Wyoming study, participants were shown a print ad for a coffee shop they’d not heard about before. In some cases, the ad included one or the other religious symbol and for the remaining participants, there was no religious symbol. All participants were asked how likely they’d be to patronize the coffee shop and their feelings about the coffee shop. Those participants shown the ad which included a religious symbol were also asked to speculate on why the owner of the coffee shop would choose to do that.
     The overall finding was that use of the religious symbol didn’t make much difference in patronage intentions. But digging deeper, it was seen that the assumed motivation for use of the symbol did. If the motivation was to reach a specific target market, it was a positive. This held true across participants, not only for those who had identified themselves as Muslim.
     This brings us back to the studies with the American flag. The Chinese researchers’ explanation for the negative impact, as verified by additional studies, was that the U.S consumers saw the inclusion of the cue as a contrived appeal to patriotism. The researchers described the study participants’ reaction as outrage.
     For the Duke-Cornell-Waterloo study, presentation of the T-shirt with the American flag had been preceded by asking the study participants to read an article highly critical of the U.S. The group among those participants who then were more highly attracted to the T-shirt were those who had high confidence in the American culture. The perceived motivation for the shirt including the flag was to provide an opportunity for consumers to bear witness to this confidence.

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Discount Doubts About Veterans’ Discounts