Friday, December 31, 2021

Focus Experts onto Their Feelings

Consumers feel good when being respected as experts in a field. But studies at University of Massachusetts-Boston and Northwestern University document how expertise numbs the feelings arising from consumers’ experiences in that field. 
  • Movie reviewers qualified as experts on the Rotten Tomatoes website were significantly less likely to use emotion-loaded words such as “exciting,” “loved,” and “exhilarating” than were everyday consumers who posted a review on the site. 
  • The researchers asked study participants to describe photos which had previously been rated as highly positive or negative in emotional arousal. Those participants who described themselves as photography experts produced less emotionally extreme descriptions. 
  • As studied consumers became more experienced tasting wine or beer, the strength of emotion in their reviews dropped.
     Further inquiry identified an explanation for the numbing as the experts’ use of their knowledge to cut up the items into categories. The Boston / Northwestern researchers were able to head off experts’ numbing of emotions by asking the experts to think about any feelings the assessed items might elicit. The expressions of emotions by the experts were then no longer substantially different from the expressions from people describing themselves as lacking high expertise in the domain.
     To obtain from your expert customers more of the emotional expressions which can help you persuade, encourage them to focus on their feelings as they are evaluating alternatives. Apply that same encouragement to yourself and your colleagues who consider themselves to be experts. It could cut down on lying. Here's why I say that:
     Researchers at University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, New York University, and University of British Columbia found that product and service experts don’t stay sufficiently familiar with details of their logic. They’re accustomed to giving advice from habit rather than tracing out the details each time. If pinned down by requests for those details, experts often make up reasons for their conclusions. When they can’t recall details in their reasoning, they assume it must have slipped from mind.
     What’s worse is that the experts tend to consider the reasons as genuine. They’ll create false memories on the spot and then accept those memories as real. They don’t know they’re lying. Focusing on their feelings allows the experts to dig deeper in order to identify the true rationales, which might be the emotional reactions themselves.

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Give Experts Novel Product Categories 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Use Loneliness to Sell Used Merchandise

In a used bookstore, the researchers found a higher percentage of people shopping by themselves than when the count was done in a bookstore selling new books. University students sitting alone were more likely than those sitting with a companion to select a fancier slightly used pen over a less fancy brand-new pen as a reward. When people were asked if they were spending Valentine’s Day with a romantic partner, those who said no were more likely to select a used item than were those who said yes. But that was true only for those asked the question on Valentine’s Day. People asked about a Valentine’s Day date two weeks later were equally likely to select a used over a new item regardless of their answer.
     Do you detect a pattern here? Those researchers—from Hong Kong Polytechnic University and University of Chicago—say it has to do with situational loneliness. Used products are perceived to contain the essence of the previous owner so they provide social connectedness. It’s related to the phenomenon in which shoppers will pay a bonus for mundane items that have been used by famous people.
     The effect was seen for situational loneliness, but not clearly among people who consider themselves chronically lonely. The effect was seen when potential owners were told the item had been given away, but not when they were told the previous owner had rejected the product.
     Also, the preservation of essence can operate to discourage interest. The researchers point to a study showing how people would enjoy wearing a shirt formerly worn by someone they find attractive, but would reject wearing a shirt from a random stranger. I’ll add to that how the reports of $14,000 paid on eBay for gum said to have been chewed by Brittany Spears should not be taken to mean the new owners wanted to try chewing the gum themselves.
     Other experiments find that loneliness motivates people to use items they themselves have used in the past. Here, the explanation has more to do with nostalgia than regarding purchases of secondhand merchandise. In one study, participants played a ball-tossing game. Participants told they’d been dropped from the game became more likely to say that belonging is important to them. They also made more consumer choices reminding them of their personal history. This included preferences regarding automobiles, food brands, TV shows, and even shower soap.

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Celebrate the Celebrity Appeal 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Mold Ratings Use by Shaping Modes

You might think that your shoppers’ interpretation of a ratings distribution comes from them objectively eyeballing where the mean average is and how the ratings are distributed across the categories. In thinking that, you could be wrong. Researchers at Germany’s TU Dortmund University find that the mode affects the impressions in a way that can mislead consumers.
     With a bar chart of results with a five-interval rating system, the mode is the rating point from 1 to 5 which receives the most responses. This makes it the longest bar. That rating number might not include the mean average. The mean average is calculated by totaling the numeric values of all the ratings and dividing by the number of ratings. When the mode differs from the mean, it’s the mean which better represents the overall impressions of those who used the rating scale.
     The pull of the mode occurs because decision makers seek shortcuts and the longest bar in a chart stands out, so is most quickly noticed and can be understood to be most representative of the whole ratings distribution.
     In reporting their results, the researchers do emphasize that attending principally to the mode can be appropriate. Shoppers could be looking for the most popular opinion, considering it to be especially reliable. But this is best done with an awareness of the potential decision-making distortion from the draw of the mode.
     In the studies, an alphanumeric presentation of a ratings distribution—listing each rating interval name, such as “Very good,” and then the number of ratings at that interval—showed less evidence of any mode bias than did a bar chart presentation. But because people appreciate graphical presentations, you might choose to address the problem by presenting both formats as well as a statement of the mean rating. The researchers also found it helpful to allow the consumer to animate the bar chart by stretching and compressing the bars.
     Still, in another stream of research about graphical presentations, it’s been seen how animation can lead to misperceptions about trajectories. People readily project ahead, such as with animated charts of weight loss or the anticipated completion of construction.
     Protect your business and consumers by staying aware of the dangers of flawed predictions from any animated presentations you do choose to use. Give disclaimers like, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Add the disclaimer of a flashing question mark at the end of the trajectory.

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Look At Mean, Median, Mode, and Range 

Monday, December 20, 2021

Invest in Financial Literacy Overconfidence

Consumer overconfidence often leads to poor consumer decisions. For instance, golfers fooled by experimenters into thinking they were more skilled than objectively true showed greater interest in unnecessarily sophisticated golf balls. However, researchers at University of Pecs in Hungary find an exception: Subjective overestimation of financial literacy can have beneficial effects for consumers. Given the proper support, those self-confident consumers are more likely to plan well for retirement than are those who accurately assess their financial literacy. The degree of self-perceived financial ability was a better predictor of financial wellbeing than was actual financial skills.
     The proper support here includes access to accurate information and to role models of skilled financial decision makers. The overestimation of financial literacy boosts people’s motivation to make full use of those resources. The exceptions to the exception—when overconfidence endangers financial stability—occur when actual financial skills are quite low.
     The combination of low skills and high confidence is more likely in younger consumers because of their inexperience. This argues for parents teaching financial literacy to their children. Based on their study results, researchers at Iowa State University, Ohio State University, and University Putra Malaysia recommend that retailers of financial services encourage parents to include offspring during presentations to clients and prospective clients. The researchers also urge parental support for children starting to invest at an early age and making investing a habit.
     With attention to the other end of lifespan, foster both financial skills and money management confidence in older adults. After all, American adults ages 65 and beyond hold about 35% of the nation’s wealth. I’d expect a similar percentage in other nations.
     An explanation for the helpful function of financial literacy overestimation is in comfort with the complexities of investing money. Researchers at UCLA found that interest in enrolling in a retirement savings program involving some risk was increased by asking the consumer an easy instead of a difficult question about finance. Further, when people were given an abundance of technical information about a particular mutual fund, the people reported a drop—not a climb—in their subjective knowledge, and thereby became less willing to invest in that fund.
     Being flooded with information made people less confident and more wary. Caution was also stimulated, in another of the UCLA studies, when investment prospects were reminded what they did not know about the mutual fund, again decreasing the self-reported subjective knowledge.

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Calibrate Your Shoppers Well 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Condition Nudges for Conditions

Successfully curbing harmful habits usually involves purposeful self-surveillance. Eating healthy, for instance, means ongoing dutiful attention to consuming the right foods and proper portions. Still, there are nudges which can help at a subconscious level. Because people are attracted to simplicity, default choices—requiring the consumer to make an effort if they decide to select a less healthy option---can be effective nudges. Smaller plates and larger forks are two interventions which have been found to reduce calorie intake.
     Based on their findings, University of Cambridge researchers suggest that worksite cafeterias implement a pair of nudges: Offer a higher proportion of lower-calorie items and reduce the portion sizes. Over the period of these two combined interventions, which lasted between four and thirteen weeks, the average of calories purchased by customers decreased about 12%.
     That 12% overall for the nineteen cafeteria sites was a statistically significant reduction. But for fewer than one-third of these cafeterias was the site-specific reduction statistically significant. The researchers attribute this fact at least in part to the strict threshold for statistical significance—which is based on a probability distribution—when nineteen tests are done. In my email exchange with one of the researchers, James Reynolds, about the issue, he wrote, “My conclusion from this would be that behavior might have changed at many individual sites.”
    Yet it does seem that the nudges were more effective with some worksite conditions than with others. In addition, conditions across all the sites might mean the conclusions would not apply universally. The researchers note how the nineteen facilities were generally in remote locations with few alternatives for purchasing food. Those cafeteria customers who were dissatisfied with the restrained-calorie offerings might have been driven toward the vending machines, which likely had sugary foods, or bringing lunch from home. The researchers’ recommendations of lower-calorie items and reduced portion sizes probably would be better for a school cafeteria than for a shopping mall buffet restaurant.
     The researchers wisely point out that their study has identified a potentially influential nudge toward better health, but that further inquiries are called for in order to best identify what will work and where. The lesson for marketers wanting to put these sorts of study results to use is to attend to the conditions which facilitate or impede the effectiveness of the nudges being considered. In doing this, go beyond analyzing what works. Determine why it’s working.

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Label as Small to Increase Trial 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Poke the Two Faces of Metaphors

In marketing a face wash for men, when would it be better to use the tag line “Regenerate your skin” or the tag line “Recharge your skin’s battery”? The first is a literal claim, while the second uses a metaphor. Or what are the tradeoffs in replacing the literal “Bring a cold refrigerator-freezer to your kitchen” with the metaphorical “Bring the Arctic to your kitchen”?
     The answer from studies at University of Montpellier and Institut Supérieur De Gestion is that a metaphor is best used to support claims of innovativeness, but risks disrupting claims of social responsibility. From the perspective of consumer personality, metaphors increase adoption intentions of shoppers who value innovativeness, but decrease those intentions for shoppers prioritizing social responsibility.
     Other research as well as anecdotal reports from marketing professionals finds that the ambiguity of a metaphor resonates the creativity associated with innovation. It’s true that the same ambiguity can lead to multiple interpretations, which in turn raise suspicions of socially irresponsible deception by the marketer.
     Still, the ambiguity necessitates time to understand, which holds attention to an advertisement at first exposure. Once having figured out the correspondence between the metaphorical object and the marketed item, the consumer often feels proud. That generates positive feelings about the item and receptivity to subsequent exposures to the ad. Because of the benefits of metaphors, look for ways to feature them while employing other ways to portray social responsibility to the degree necessary.
     Be careful not to overuse metaphors. You want to fascinate the reader, not irritate them with an unwanted puzzle. Although similes tend to be less persuasive than metaphors, you might choose to use a simile with audiences who are likely to move on rather than aim to comprehend. “This new item will be a jet pack for your success” is a metaphor. “This new item will be like a jet pack for your success” is a simile.
     As long as the meaning is clear, a visual metaphor—a picture or photo which symbolizes the retailer’s points—is more persuasive yet. Images are remembered better than words. Keep adding incidental details to verbal descriptions and soon some of the important elements are forgotten. Keep adding incidental details to images and those extras actually enhance memory for the important elements. Also, visual information usually enters the consumer’s brain below the level of conscious awareness, avoiding mobilization of the consumer’s resistances.

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Figure How Figurative Language Bubbles 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Initiate Personal Initiative in FLEs

To be fully effective, frontline employees must identify customer needs. Studies at Monash University and Swinburne University of Technology find that FTEs—those staff in the store sales area or serving a shopper remotely—also need personal initiative. This means them being willing to move beyond their routine job duties in order to address otherwise unanticipated problems arising during retail transactions.
     An organizational environment supporting risk taking and learning from errors facilitates personal initiative. The research shows how a pair of individual attitudes also is important. One of the pair is called “deep acting.” It was demonstrated in the studies with high self-ratings on items like, “I try to actually experience the emotions that I must show.” At the other end of this dimension is surface acting, assessed by items like, “I must pretend to have the emotions I need to display for my job.” Going beyond routine job duties adds to the already considerable mental exhaustion arising from frontline work. Deep acting aligns emotions with values, easing the exhaustion.
     The other individual attitude dimension which supports personal initiative is called “prove orientation.” It was demonstrated with high self-rating on items like, “I enjoy it when others at work are aware of how well I am doing.” The opposite here is avoid orientation, demonstrated by agreement with items like, “I prefer to avoid situations at work where I might perform poorly.” People who regularly exercise personal initiative seek opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and accomplishments to others.
     Based on their own findings and those of others, the Monash and Swinburne researchers advocate placing in FTE positions people with personal initiative to a greater extent than they advocate cultivating personal initiative in FTEs who lack it. Persuading an employee at any level—not just FTEs—to even recognize an initiative deficiency in any sort of job duties—not just retail transactions—can be challenging.
     An email exchange I had with Nora Silver, now a professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, about this challenge yielded an illustrative anecdote. Nora described a conversation with a woman she supervised: “In the employee’s annual review, I told her the program she ran had been exactly the same for a number of years and that I'd like her to take more initiative to improve it. Her immediate response to me? ‘Just tell me what to do about it, and I’ll do it.’”

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Prevail Using Customer Need Knowledge 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Sustain Reservations by Showing Sustainability

People might hesitate reserving a room at your hotel because of low customer ratings. Take the feedback to heart, making necessary improvements, and then publicize the changes. Promptly post responses to online criticism you find is unjustified or bogus. And let everyone know about your environmental sustainability or other social responsibility initiatives.
     That last technique for addressing reservations about making reservations comes from research at HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland, University of Neuchâtel, and Kedge Business School. In one of the studies, a group of Americans were told of a holiday hotel in Thailand that had received only a two-star rating on a five-point scale. In addition, some of the participants were told about amenities at the hotel—such as the pool, room service, and free internet—and that the hotel had received three environmental sustainability certifications. The other participants were told instead only about hotel amenities. Each participant was then asked to rate the quality of the hotel.
     The people told about the sustainability certifications rated the quality of the hotel as higher than did those told only about the amenities. It appears that the sustainability achievements compensated for the low customer ratings.
     News of the certifications made little difference when the customer ratings were high. This was seen with another pair of groups in the study who were told the hotel had received four stars.
     The researchers asked the participants another question, too, “How would you feel if you booked this hotel?” The response scales included “ashamed/proud,” “in the wrong/in the right,” “wicked/virtuous,” and “unethical/ethical.” The responses from each participant were combined into what the researchers called a “warm glow” measure. It turned out that this warm glow measure helped explain why the news of sustainability achievements compensated for the low customer ratings.
     Your hotel might earn a warm glow, and therefore higher guest ratings in the first place, with environmental sustainability initiatives during the stay. But how to foster participation by the guests?
     Researchers at Arizona State University collaborated with the Holiday Inn in Tempe, Arizona to place towel recycling appeals in the lodging rooms. One version began, “Help save the environment.” A second said a donation would be made if the guest agreed to reuse towels. But the version which got highest compliance reported that about 75% of guests asked to do so were reusing towels. Peer pressure was persuasive.

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Resolve Customer Complaints Carefully 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Firm Up with Consumers You’re a Family Firm

Restricting control of business operations to members of a single family can limit the size of the business. This shifts greater importance toward favorably distinguishing in consumers’ minds the image of the business from that of larger enterprises. Researchers at University of Bologna, The University of Adelaide, and University of Verona wondered in what ways marketing a family firm identity might augment this favorable distinction.
     For most of us, the concept of family does carry the association of long-term orientation, and the studies did document how this carried over to the image of a business known to be a family firm. Identity as a family firm also indicated to consumers that the business was socially responsible, strove for quality, and offered uniqueness.
     To varying degrees, these characteristics increased consumer trust and brand satisfaction across the study samples, consisting of wine consumers in Australia, Italy, and the U.S. However, for the Italians, long-term orientation was a positive, while for the Americans, long-term orientation was associated with lower consumer satisfaction. The researchers attribute this to an old-world country treasuring tradition, while Americans fear that long-term consistency means insensitivity to changing consumer needs.
     The researchers acknowledge the limitation of their inquiry to wine companies, but do show that the general conclusions are supported by studies covering a range of hedonic product categories. Talking of family control humanizes the business. Researchers at Babson College and University of Innsbruck suggest humanizing by using fonts which resemble hand printing on labels, ads, and signage. The researchers found that the use of these fonts enhanced the perception of a human connection with the shopper, resulting in more favorable brand evaluations and actions. However, this was true only for entities in which emotional attachment sells.
     Even when the product category is more utilitarian than hedonic, the success of humanizing operates through the emotional channel. In an East Carolina University and Hansei University study, two versions of a story in an ad for a fictitious luggage company differed only in these sentences: 
  • I needed something different—and that's why I started a luggage company…. Dura. 
  • I needed something different—and that's when I found out about Dura.
     Study participants exposed to the first version—the founder story—compared to those exposed to the second version, had more positive emotional responses. Still, both versions produced better emotional responses than did a version which gave just facts about the luggage.

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See the Handwriting at the Mall 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Entertain Entertainment’s Mobile Ad Value

Mobile phone advertising has been around for two decades, certainly long enough for an abundance of research about what’s most important for marketing success. Unfortunately, there’s no abundance of clear-cut conclusions. The credibility, informativeness, and entertainment in the ad make a difference, but to different degrees. And what would seem to be an advantage of mobile phone advertising when compared to media like TV or newspaper ads—the ability to personalize the ad to the recipient—doesn’t always help and could even end up irritating the consumer.
     Researchers at Griffith University and University of Minnesota suspected some inconsistencies would be resolved by analyzing results of past studies in terms of the ages and genders of the consumers in the different samples, the level of economic development in the country the ad was used, and whether the ad was text-based or graphic-based. The researchers’ indices of success were the audiences’ positive attitudes toward the ad and the intention to receive mobile ads.
     As expected, the results showed that a positive attitude produces a greater intention to accept the ad. Ad credibility was instrumental in establishing a positive attitude and greater intention. Credibility was defined as the audience’s perception of believability. Also important was informativeness, defined as the amount of useful information provided.
     It might seem that informativeness and credibility would each have the largest single influence of any of the characteristics studied. The marketing function of an ad is to influence behavior, and credible information is an influential tool. But an even more substantial influence came from the entertainment value of the ad. Entertainment value was defined as the ability of the ad to satisfy a recipient’s desire to escape reality, have fun, and release emotions.
     As an overall recommendation, the researchers suggest that, while providing credible information, marketers using mobile ads incorporate music and videos for entertainment value. Their analyses by audience characteristics also allowed them to give some more specific advice: 
  • The evidence is that entertainment value is more important for female than for male audiences and for consumers in economically developed countries than for those in developing countries. 
  • Informativeness of the ad appears to be especially influential with older consumers and with general adult audiences compared to the college-age audiences often used in marketing research. 
  • Credibility in mobile ads is assessed carefully by audiences in developed countries. Graphic-based ads are considered more credible than text-based ones.

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Drive Personalization by Fostering Narcissism 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Sustain Seniors’ Memory with Self-Esteem

In our transactions with the elderly, we often find it useful to inquire about their past experiences. We’re calling on what cognitive psychologists refer to as the senior’s episodic memory and about which those psychologists distinguish between recall and recognition. In free recall tasks, an elderly adult might be asked, “What places did you visit last time you toured that city?” The corresponding cued recognition task would consist of asking, “From this list of places often visited in tours of that city, which ones did you previously see?”
     As we might expect, advanced age brings greater deficits, relative to younger adults’ memories, in recall than in recognition. In addition, a mix of anxiety and low self-esteem operate differently to impair the two types of episodic memory in the younger than in the older adults. Researchers at France’s University of Tours found that among those ages 20 to 40 years in their sample, anxiety and low self-esteem operated in tandem to cause impairments. The effect of self-esteem on memory performance could be explained by how low self-esteem increased anxiety. However, among those in the sample who were ages 60 to 80 and free of signs of physical brain impairment, the degree of self-esteem impaired episodic memory separately from the effect of anxiety on memory.
     The researchers attribute these findings to older adults having a pronounced sensitivity to self-esteem. Related to this, because thinking about our past experiences is central to our identity in the world, the senior’s recognition that recall is fading can itself disrupt self-esteem, creating a vicious circle with memory problems.
     Studies at Springfield College and University of Missouri acknowledged the reality that the elderly remember facts less well than do younger adults. Causes include deterioration in hearing and vision, less effective functioning of the brain at encoding and filtering information, reduced storage capacity in working memory, and slower retrieval. Then there’s that other cause, which is reversible: The senior citizen’s belief that senior citizens have poor memory. Society’s prevailing view of the elderly as highly forgetful itself leads to their poorer performance in recall. The stereotype becomes the reality.
     While compensating for increases in memory lapses, avoid aggravating the problem. When your shopper experiences a senior moment, be patient and move on. Because recognition memory persists better than recall memory over the years, use cues, such as with lists of alternatives which you present to the senior.

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Cool Barriers to Senior Shopper Momentum 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Come Across with Organic Benefits

Shoppers for organic packed goods carefully scrutinize what’s written and pictured on those packages. Is that why researchers at Leibniz Universität Hannover found that such shoppers are willing to pay more for organic items when the container is aligned horizontally rather than vertically? Is it because the text is easier to read and pictures easier to appreciate when the lines are long instead of tall? Consumers are able to process a greater amount of information with a higher degree of fluency.
     The study results support that explanation and find there’s more to it. People generally select foods for both hedonic and utilitarian value. We want it to taste good and to fulfill some function such as easing our hunger or maintaining our health. Shoppers for organic foods place special emphasis on the utilitarian values of quality nourishment and environmental sustainability. Their willingness to pay is based on appreciation for the utilitarian benefits, and utilitarian benefits are more compelling when easy to decode.
     In the study, utilitarian value was measured with scales that had anchors ineffective/effective, unhelpful/helpful, not functional/functional, unnecessary/necessary, and impractical/practical. Horizontal packaging alignment positively influenced the rating of utilitarian value, and this rating positively influenced how much the consumer would be willing to pay for the product, which in the study was organic sesame crackers.
     In the studies, there was no clear evidence that the horizontal or vertical orientation of the package influenced willingness to purchase. In other studies, bold package colors persuaded people to consider making the purchase, but those seeking healthy foods were willing to pay more when the package colors were bland.
     Much past research concluded that consumers consider healthfulness and tastiness to be incompatible. This was especially true for children. If an item is really healthy, it is bound to taste really bad. Researchers at University of Vienna think they’ve found a way around this. They showed groups of consumers photos of packaging of snack products, smoothies, and juices. Some of the photos of the packaging were in bold colors, others less bold, and the remainder in grayscale with all color removed.
     The results said that people generally evaluate items portrayed as having boldly colored packaging to be both heathier and tastier. The researchers’ experimental design allowed them to spot an explanation for this: Bolder colors signal greater freshness. A bright red apple is more appealing to us than is an old brown one.

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Go Bold or Au Naturel for Packaging Healthy 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Trim Activity Apprehension for Experiencers

Many studies in consumer behavior research have found that people tend to prefer products with an abundance of functions during their shopping, but then, after purchase, often encounter feature fatigue. They get frustrated while trying to master all the different functions.
     When purchasing experiences—such as a cruise—rather than products, the fatigue—or fear of fatigue—happens prior to the purchase, according to studies at Washington State University, Arizona State University, University of Northern Colorado, Pepperdine University, and Kennesaw State University. Before purchasing the experience, consumers have activity apprehension.
     The explanation for this difference is in the perishability of experiences. Your drive to get full value for your money and time creates anxiety. Attributes of products can be enjoyed at leisure and in a range of sequences. But if you miss the visit to the pyramids during the tour or the zipline drop when in the rain forest, let’s say, the opportunity is gone.
     Yet that same drive has an opposite effect after the experience. You’ll feel better looking back at all you did. Plus, the more activities you engaged in, the greater the possibility of a memorable peak episode. In the studies, people gave higher ratings post-experience when there had been more activities.
     Knowing this and in the interest of return business and good recommendations, see if you can reduce the activity apprehension before trimming the activities. The researchers recommend designing the experience so, when considering purchase, the shopper will anticipate scheduling flexibility and options to participate in all or only some of the activities. Also point to nonperishable components of the overall experience, such as the availability of the hotel swimming pool or the cruise ship buffet for the entire duration.
     According to researchers at University of Chicago and New York University, another way to improve post-experience ratings is to rotate the activities for the customers. The tour operator who wants the trip to seem like the customer is getting more for the money would intersperse music events, historical stops, and sporting events on the schedule rather than group the different types together.
     This technique is also useful when the customer is given unlimited flexibility. An amusement park retailer could make a day at the park seem longer by emphasizing individual components rather than categorizing them. A guide brochure to the park would show the mix of rides, games, eateries, and restrooms in each area of the park.

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Ask Shoppers to Estimate Multifunction Usage 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Moderate Review Rudeness for Forgiveness

When we disappoint customers by providing less than adequate results, we’d like them to forgive us afterwards. Researchers at American University of Sharjah, University of Leeds, and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki say that one way to facilitate this forgiveness is to stifle rudeness in the customers’ complaining.
     Study participants were asked to recall an incident with a brand that had disappointed them during purchase or use. They were then asked to write an online post about the incident as if they’d submit this post to the brand’s Facebook page. The “content moderation group” participants were told that instructions for the page included, “Please do not confront the brand by using any foul language or with a bad temper. Please use moderate language for this task. Please do not write any disrespectful or defamatory content.” The other participants were instead told, “You are completely free in the way you would like to confront the brand about their wrongdoings. Please use your regular writing style. There are no restrictions in terms of content in the posting.”
     The posts from the content moderation group reflected a more positive tone than did posts from the other group. This isn’t surprising when considering that those in the other group had been encouraged to let loose, while those in the content moderation group were asked to censor themselves. Yet, as the researchers predicted, consumers in the content moderation group showed greater forgiveness toward the brand. Their agreement with items like “I feel sympathetic toward this brand” was stronger, and their agreement with items like “I am less likely to try this brand again” was weaker.
     Those in the content moderation group did say they felt their free speech had been infringed more than did those in the other group. It might seem, then, that they’d be angrier and so less interested in forgiving. Perhaps that didn’t happen because the rules to eliminate rudeness seem reasonable, having been presented as community guidelines and with abundant use of the word “please.” The researcher’s explanation is that the content moderation participants’ use of a more positive tone soothed their anger, allowing forgiveness to surface.
     The effect was stronger for people who felt a stronger attachment to the brand. Also, research at University of Alberta implies it’s stronger with items we depend on for emotional satisfaction than with items we depend on mostly to get a job done.

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Redirect Customer Tempers 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Dog How Names Impact Control Perceptions

Getting a dog to keep you company in your downtown condo? You’ll want to attend to the size of the animal and the dog’s temperament. It’s important that the dog be easy for you to control, given the tight quarters in which you’ll live together and all the distractions when walking a dog in a metropolis.
     So you’ll probably place importance on the dog’s name as well. Right? A study by James Leonhardt and Cornelia Pechmann found that people tend to consider a name which is difficult to pronounce as implying a dog which is difficult to control.
     The researchers asked one group of study participants to imagine they sought a, “calm and obedient dog to live in a crowded urban apartment.” Another set of participants were asked to imagine, instead, that they wanted a, “wild and feisty dog to live on a remote rural property.” Each participant was then told the name of the dog being considered. For some participants, the name was Belland, and for the remainder, it was Baxtiod. Participants were then asked questions about the dog’s name and the likelihood of selecting that dog.
     Overall, the name Baxtiod was judged as more difficult to pronounce, and those participants who had been asked to imagine the urban setting reported higher likelihood of purchase of the dog with the name rated as easier to pronounce. Further analyses indicated this difference in preferences was due to the degree of need to control the dog. For the participants asked to imagine a dog for a low-control rural setting, the name made little difference.
     Similar findings were obtained when the item considered for purchase was golf balls (Melvern or Machakw) or winter tires (Nordman or Hakkapeliitta). If there’s a definite need for control, there’s a higher likelihood of purchase when the name is easier to pronounce. Sometimes the need for control arises because of circumstances of item use. In other cases, it arises as an aspect of the consumer’s personality.
     In an email reply to my inquiry about the study, Prof. Leonhardt wrote, “We may see greater preference for easy-to-pronounce names during the pandemic. They should seem safer, which is a feeling associated with controllability and familiarity.” You might choose an odd item name to portray distinctiveness or provoke discussion. But this research indicates risks in such a strategy when introducing a new, unfamiliar name during periods of social uncertainty.

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Make Your Business Name Easy to Say 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Keep Flavors Simple for Depleted Diners

The reputation of monosodium glutamate has been unfairly tarnished, according to a feature article in The Washington Post. MSG is not an allergen, and only an estimated 1% to 2% of diners are at all bothered by MSG. Although it’s a manufactured food additive, the human body processes the glutamate in exactly the same way as naturally occurring glutamates, such as in tomatoes, and the small amount of sodium in a dash of MSG is little threat to health.
     Yet to attract customers, many restaurants, especially those serving Chinese food, find it necessary to post a “No MSG” notice because of the widespread belief MSG causes various physical and mental ills. What is less acknowledged is how a pinch of MSG accentuates less noticeable flavors, adding to the adventure on the palate from an almost universally wide range of foods.
     Which, as it turns out, might be a legitimate reason not use MSG or otherwise enhance flavor complexity in a certain limited range of circumstances—when diners are psychologically depleted. For then, simplify the mix of distinct flavor dimensions.
     Researchers at City University of New York, St. John’s University, University of Oxford, and University of California start their case by noting the prevalence of foods which offer intricate flavor layering. This is true with epicurean specialties and even with snack foods like salt-and-vinegar potato chips and chocolate mint candies. Complexity has been found to maintain interest in the consumption experience by delaying satiation.
     But complexity also can lead to a subsequent preference for simplicity. The researchers asked study participants to solve either a relatively easy or relatively difficult set of puzzles, followed by tasting and then evaluating the taste of either a relatively simple-flavored or relatively complex-flavored food. The results were that those completing the more complex puzzles reported less enjoyment of the more complex flavors, and that this was attributable to a reduced ability to identify the different flavors. Satiation occurred more quickly.
     Food fragrances hasten satiation, so keep those simple, too. When smells hit our brain, processing begins in the limbic system, which is among the most primitive brain structures. We make decisions instantly based on smells. Use appealing fragrances which are already familiar to diners. If a smell hasn’t been encountered before, with associations stored in the brain, it will be complicated for the shopper to decode, so the advantages of instant, subconscious influence are lost.

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Flex Shoppers with the Complex 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Reel Out Memories in Alzheimer’s

Memories of our past most often come to us spontaneously rather than in response to being asked directly to reminisce. This fact might lead us to misjudge the capabilities of those with Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe if we listened in to spontaneously generated recollections, we’d realize how much they remember.
     An Aarhus University study found that a group of Danish elderly adults with AD expressed more personal memories of the past than did a matched group of healthy elderly adults. More personal memories, not fewer.
     Study participants were shown a brief film featuring glimpses of everyday Danish life in the 1950s. The experimenter watched the film with the participant. If during the viewing or in the few minutes afterwards, the participant voiced reactions, the experimenter would encourage the participant to continue, such as by nodding or repeating the participant’s words. The experimenter did not explicitly ask the person to recall more, such as by showing great interest in the particulars of what the participant said.
     Subgroups of both the AD and the healthy participants had been asked, before watching the film, to, “Tell me about the events that have been important in your life,” and then given fifteen minutes for unprompted recall. This procedure did end up increasing spontaneous memories during and immediately after the brief film. Still, whether going through the pre-film reminiscence activity or not, the AD participants consistently generated a higher rate of spontaneous responses than did the healthy participants. The words of the AD participants also included more expressions of emotion.
     Playing music from the past has been used to cue memories among seniors with AD. The expectation is that the wealth of reminiscences will be closer—not exceed—that in seniors without AD. In this study using films, the AD group expressed more and richer memories. The researchers attribute this to the film’s addition of visual and auditory cues specific to a period in the past important to the senior. The right film clips can jog the memories of seniors with AD.
     The researchers say that the healthy group might have identified the session as an experiment while the AD group perceived it as socializing, resulting in the findings being attributable in part to more talking by the AD group. That might be a limitation of the study methodology, yet it’s also a cue: To facilitate the wellness reminiscing brings, socialize with those enduring AD.

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Accredit Seniors About Alzheimer’s 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Display Imagination in Item Displays

Constructing an imaginative in-store display of a product takes up time, effort, and space which could otherwise be devoted to another possibility for profits. But studies at Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, and Capital University of Economics and Business find that, when done properly, the imaginative touch noticeably activates shoppers’ purchase intentions. The influence derives from these displays both arousing pleasant emotions and highlighting product benefits. The best displays have been shown to generate unplanned purchases of regularly purchased product categories by almost 40%.
     Three success factors for imaginative displays are novelty, theme, and aesthetics. In one of the studies, a grocery store display for an energy drink consisted of a battle tank model positioned above a cuboid base constructed from cans of the beverage. This was rated by a group of consumers as more novel than a display consisting of just the cuboid base constructed using the cans. Then it was found that consumers exposed to the novel display—the one with the battle tank—expressed greater purchase intention for the energy drink than did consumers exposed to the other display.
     Additional analyses of the data attributed this difference to the display with the battle tank arousing stronger associations to an energy benefit. The theme of energy was successfully portrayed. In a companion experiment, the display with the battle tank depressed purchase intentions for a drink described as facilitating relaxation.
     Another set of studies used a display in the form of a bear stacked above a base constructed from bathroom tissue rolls. The other display was without the bear. The display with the bear was rated as more novel and more aesthetically pleasing. It also resulted in higher purchase intentions for the product. As to theme, the display with the bear was associated with higher perceptions of the bathroom tissue as strong. All this was true whether the featured item carried the well-known Charmin brand or the less familiar Sorbent brand.
     Even more creativity in displays could produce even better results. Where in the store the shopper encounters the imaginative display also will influence effectiveness. In studies at University of South Australia, placement at endcaps at the front of a store, facing the entrance or the checkout counters, uplifted sales by an average of 346%. Endcaps at the back of the store, facing the storage area or the building’s rear wall, uplifted sales by 416% on average.

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Create Sales with Creative Ads 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Take Comfort in the Comfort of Bad News

“Imagine you are suffering from appendicitis, which could be fatal if the appendix ruptures. The only treatment is surgical removal of the appendix. You visit your doctor. She runs a new type of blood test that will determine your risk of appendix rupture. The test will return a score between 1 and 7. A score of 4 or higher indicates you are at 'High Risk' and medical guidelines recommend surgery. A score below 4 indicates you are at 'Intermediate Risk' and it is unclear whether or not surgery is necessary. You will have to decide how to proceed.”
     Those were the instructions given to participants by researchers at Ramon Llull University and Harvard University. Some of the participants were then asked whether they’d prefer to receive from the blood test an intermediate risk score of 3.5 or a high risk score of 4.5. Nearly 40% of that group said they’d prefer to receive the high risk score. They’d prefer to have a high risk of appendix rupture than an intermediate risk.
     The explanation, say the researchers, resides in that phrase in the instructions, “You will have to decide how to proceed.” The high-risk score eased a difficult decision. In other conditions of the study, only 14% of those presented two high-risk scores and only 6% of those presented two intermediate risk scores said they’d prefer the higher of the scores.
     Accompanying studies yielded parallel results for other difficult decisions and gave further insight about the motivation. Some participants were instructed to imagine the score was either 2.5 or 5.5 and they’d chosen to have the surgery, but afterwards were told the surgery had actually been unnecessary. How regretful would the person feel about their decision? Much less when the blood test result had been worse, it turned out. The high score reduced feelings of personal responsibility for a questionable choice.
     Notice that in the earlier study, most people—about 60%—said they’d prefer the intermediate-risk blood test score. This preference for worse news in order to lessen subsequent responsibility depends on an individual’s personality, the nature of the decision, and the context in which the decision is made. Still, health care professionals and others who understandably find it stressful to deliver bad news might take comfort in knowing that when the truthfully bad news eases responsibility, the consumer might actually appreciate it. Delegating a consequential decision often is welcomed

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Shower Cold on Regretful Customers 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Play Out How Nostalgic Music Distracts

Humor which pings the listener’s funny bone can generate word-of-mouth about an ad. But there’s also the danger it will draw attention from the sales message. People spend significantly less time looking at an ad when next to the ad is a cartoon which makes them laugh out loud. An endorsement by a celebrity the audience had come to admire will generate creditability for an ad. However, the audience might be so taken with thinking about the celebrity that they’ll forget about what the endorsement refers to.
     A similar phenomenon occurs with music which arouses memories of the listener’s past. In a study conducted by Prof. Russell Clayton at Florida State University, people were found to pay less notice to radio advertisements when those ads immediately followed presentation of nostalgic songs familiar to those participants. In response to my email asking about the effect, Prof. Clayton explained that when the songs were familiar, lower attention was devoted to them, and this carried over into lower attention being paid to the ads. It likely happens because attention is being devoted to reminiscing and listeners comparing their current selves with their past selves. These diversions of attention weren’t seen when the presented songs weren’t associated with the listeners’ history. The range of ads used in the studies included those from McDonald’s, Progressive Insurance, and Casper Mattress.
     All the consumers in the Florida State University study were within the age range of 18 to 21 years old. We might not see the same pattern of results with older adults. For example, because older adults have been listening to music for a longer time, there might be more music associated with their past and so a higher probability of attention being diverted from an ad presented right afterwards.
     A person might compare their current to past self to maintain their identity, inspire self-improvement, or verify their worth. In the study, participants largely reported that they felt life was better now than at the period the music led them to reminisce about. The researchers saw no evidence that the emotional valence of the music affected this. However, other research indicates that listening to sad music from the past could lead listeners to feel better about the present. It occurs because being temporarily exposed to sadness leads to us feeling more joyful. To fully know what happiness is, we need to know what sadness is.

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Humor Your Customers 


Friday, October 22, 2021

Recall How Nostalgia Turns Toward the New

Between January 1 and May 24, 2020, there were 861,000 mentions of “nostalgia” or “nostalgic” in Twitter posts, according to a count cited by Prof. Lan Xia and two colleagues at Bentley University. These three researchers contrast this with the count of 404,000 mentions during the equivalent 2019 interval. They attribute the difference to a monumental event—the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The clear threat to our welfare stimulated nostalgic thoughts of former times, they say.
     Of interest to marketers is where the researchers took this next: Nostalgia generated by threatening events indirectly stimulated a desire to buy items newly introduced to the marketplace. In an email exchange about the study, Prof. Xia asked that I emphasize, “We did not find a main effect (i.e., collective stress event does not lead to higher new product purchase intention). The effect is indirectly through nostalgia induced when people cope with events such as COVID. So it is more of a silver lining effect that goes with potential negative effect on product release during stress times.”
     Prior studies have linked nostalgia to increased sales of items and experiences associated with bittersweet reminiscences of the past. That makes sense. But an increased interest in newly introduced items seems surprising. In her reply to me, Prof. Xia explains, “We find that naturally occurring nostalgia is more negative than that previously studied in the lab (e.g., recall a nostalgic event). But the effect is independent of positivity or negativity (which is consistent with prior research). Nostalgia promotes self-continuity and approach motivation (i.e., desire to search for meaning) and new products fit that motivation, thus the effect.”
     We want to continue our identity into the future, not just verify it from the past. The turn toward the new occurred during the time of the Black Lives Matter movement and demonstrations following the George Floyd killing as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social unrest is, as with a public health crisis, a collective threat. The effect also was demonstrated with the individually-oriented threat of imagining details of one’s own death.
     These results don’t advocate for releasing novel products during socially threatening times. Rather, if other factors argue for release, there’s no need for socially threatening times to cause a veto.
     I’ll add that these studies also don’t argue against offering retro products during socially challenging times. Nostalgia can stimulate purchasing both old and new items.

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Indulge in Group Nostalgia 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Stay Mindful of Mindfulness for the Elderly

When delivering painful news to a senior, keep your mindset and that of the recipient calmly on the present. This allows later contemplation of causes from the past and plans for the future to be less contaminated by stress. There’s reduced ruminating and catastrophizing around the pain.
     These techniques work for younger recipients of bad news, too. But it’s especially important for the wellbeing of the elderly. That’s because the elderly are more likely to feel out of control due to having fewer resources. Calmness facilitates the rest and recovery instrumental for making use of whatever resources remain available.
     Researchers at North Dakota State University, Concordia University, University of California-Berkeley, and University of Leipzig analyzed measures of calmness, excitement, perceived degree of control over life circumstances, and wellbeing. The measures had been gathered on a group of older adults as the adults aged for a decade.
     The analyses showed how the traits of greater calmness and less excitement develop as we age and that, for the seniors who felt less control, greater calmness and less excitement enhanced wellbeing. Calmness buffered against stress, depression, and the chronic physical conditions which stress and depression precipitate.
     Where excitement often arouses thoughts of the future, a trait of calmness has been found to facilitate conserving resources, adjusting goals, and being in the moment. Researchers at Australia’s Flinders University looked at the results of being in the moment as a short-term state of mindfulness rather than as an enduring trait. Of course, older adults who have the trait are quite likely to habitually be in the state. But perhaps those who have a weaker trait would benefit from intentionally staying in the moment when receiving potentially distressing news.
     This is indeed the case. The data were gathered over a ten-day rather than a ten-year period. Maintaining present-moment attention and, to an even greater extent, nonjudgmental acceptance eased upsets which could compromise wellbeing. Paralleling the findings about calmness as a long-term trait, these habits became more frequent in advanced age and the benefits were also found with middle-aged adults to a lesser extent.
     The findings are also paralleled by University of Zurich studies on “senior cool.” Those studies conclude that what distinguishes people who live happily into their advanced years is a habit of composure and poise which reduces problems of daily living to manageable levels. It works with daily hassles, not just painful news.

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Court Courtesy by Using Older Providers 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Engage New Customers with Episodes

At the times a retailer is interested in turning a first-time shopper into an ongoing customer, that shopper will be more influenced by specific episodes during the transaction than by overall impressions. It’s recollections of these critical incidents which exert outsized influence on the likelihood of future purchases and willingness to recommend the retailer to others. It is the episodes which engage or distance the shopper, say the University of St. Thomas studies.
     The researchers find that episodes which occur more recently exert a bigger influence. This is especially true regarding negative experiences. The researchers point out this finding could be due to how a negative interaction during a retail transaction might led to the shopper leaving the store. The negative experience becomes the most recent experience.
     Take care that the last experiences you provide the shopper are clearly positive. In addition, avoid any pain for the shopper during the critical incidents touchpoints likely to be recalled by the customer later. Which these are depends on the customer. But there’s less payoff from maintaining a peak positive tone throughout the transaction. To do so uses a great deal of energy from a busy retailer, and it is the specific episodes which will matter anyway. Consistency is more important than uniformity.
     This doesn’t mean shoppers’ recollections feel to them like discrete episodes. Generally, they remember and talk about the visit as overall impressions. Researchers at University of Texas-San Antonio and University of Virginia find that those overall impressions are influenced by whether the shopper is accompanied by others.
     Shoppers in a group are greatly influenced by what happens early on. First impressions set the scene. The initial sights, sounds, and smells play an outsized role in the global opinions about shopping with you.
     Solo shoppers are greatly influenced by what happens to them in the store late in their visits. If customers are asked afterwards to recall their experiences, the memories most likely to bubble up are about the interactions when they paid for their purchases, exited the store, or found the car in the parking lot.
     Researchers at University of Miami and University of Southern California found that similarity and contiguity matter. If your personnel dress in a distinctive outfit, memories of episodes with different employees merge. And if two staff members work physically close to each other, the consumer generalizes impressions from one to the other more strongly.

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Track the Trajectory of In-Store Impressions 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Pierce Seniors’ Willful Ignorance Shields

Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Freie Universität Berlin introduce their study about deliberate ignorance by recounting reports of respected experts choosing not to know facts directly relevant to their area of expertise. For instance, James Watson, who was instrumental in discovering the structure of DNA, declined to find out if he had the gene which creates a major risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
     The researchers note a commonality among people in their examples is they were not young experts. So as we age, do we become more likely to engage in willful shielding from potentially unsettling information? they asked. Their subsequent study of 1,910 adults ages 21 to 99 years indicates the answer to that question is yes.
     Some of the scenarios presented to the study sample were hypothetical, such as, “Suppose science will soon be able to determine conclusively whether a god-like entity does or does not exist. Would you want to know or would you prefer not to know?” Others were realistic, such as, “Suppose you are interested in art and have bought an expensive antique statue. Its authenticity was confirmed when you bought it. A friend of yours is a respected expert on ancient art. She offers to examine the statue to determine whether it is truly authentic or not. Would you want to know or would you prefer not to know?”
     The pattern of willingness to know across the items was similar across the age range. Certain items aroused more or aroused less preferred ignorance regardless of the respondent’s age. But overall, the older participants were more likely to defer.
     The explanation is that ambiguity protects against needing to live with fear of a future where no escape options are available or regrets about a past where the option chosen was a major mistake. Seniors have a marked positivity bias. Consequently, the shield thickens as we enter our advanced years. The implication is that even if the senior is confronted with negative information without them being given a choice to get it, they’ll avoid mentally and emotionally acknowledging it.
     There are circumstances in which it’s important for a senior to have certain information in order to make an informed decision. In such instances, you might choose to pierce a shield of willful ignorance by presenting the information with sensitivity, but persistently. Also, equip the senior to handle the news. Here, education can empower.

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Acknowledge Customers’ Willful Ignorance