Friday, July 30, 2021

Ally with Alexa Over Alex for Chatbot

In an advertisement featuring a human voice, consumers are better persuaded by a man rather than a woman, depending on the voice quality. Duke University researchers recommend the man use a creaky voice and the woman a smooth voice. The explanation is in how women are associated with smooth and men with angular.
     But when interacting with a voice-assisted artificial intelligence device, do users prefer hearing a female over a male voice? An explanation of why they might is provided by findings from the TBS Business School, University of Agder, and University Toulouse Capitole. People perceive women as more likely than men to experience emotions and consider our unique needs. Those assumptions subconsciously generalize to influence perceptions of an automated voice such that female chatbots are perceived to have more positive qualities than male chatbots.
     Because perceptions of greater warmth are associated in consumer psychology research with perceptions of less competence, we might think that there would be a tradeoff in asking Alexa to voice recommendations. However, because AI is coaching that voice, perceptions of competence can be preserved. People view artificial intelligence as knowledgeable, while rigid. It’s the emotional sensitivity and ability to customize advice which is felt by chatbot users to be augmented by the feminine touch. The researchers suggest that the gender choice would be especially influential in health care applications, where patients have resisted AI capabilities because of a desire for individualized answers.
     Although the researchers were based in France and Norway, the 3,000 participants in the studies were all from the U.S. or the UK. It’s possible that different cultures would have different perceptions of gender differences and that this would carry over to preferences for the chatbot voice gender.
     Related to this is an issue which concerned the researchers: Would using the female voice strengthen sex-role stereotypes in a culture? In the course of the studies, it became clear that along with female chatbot voices stimulating positive associations, male chatbot voices stimulated associations with negative aspects of human nature.
     Add to these concerns that people are most comfortable making requests of chatbots when they feel highly powerful. Those findings from Liverpool John Moores University, University of Vaasa, and University of Lorraine might mean that a male human regularly interacting with a female-voiced chatbot would strengthen an assumption that men are more powerful than women. Maybe it would be best for society in the long-term to let Chatbot Alex regularly have a say, too.

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Flirt with Deep Acting

Elaine Sciolino, based on her experiences while Paris correspondent for the New York Times, wrote that in France, marketing success depends on flirtation. Studies at Academic College of Tel Aviv and Ruppin Academic Center indicate that in Israel, flirtation might not be essential for positive customer service outcomes, but it makes them more likely. Tip amounts for restaurant servers were higher and reported salesperson-shopper rapport benefitted.
     The researchers defined flirting as social behavior which carries sexual connotations. Examples include compliments on personal characteristics, random or intentional touching, and lengthy stares. They recommend giving flirtation a whirl.
     A problem with this advice, of course, is that flirtation could easily stimulate the wrong kind of response from consumers, resulting in incidents of sexual harassment of your employees. It also can be perceived as sexual harassment by the consumers. After Ms. Sciolino published her observation about flirtation’s value, the 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident led to her adding a warning in the preface to her book. DSK, as the French economist prefers to be called, was accused of sexual assault in what he claimed was a misunderstanding of his behavior.
     Cultural expectations do matter. When Walmart opened stores in Germany, employees were expected to greet customer questions with a smiling, enthusiastic welcome. Shopper analyses showed that the customers thought this type of enthusiasm fit better with Oktoberfest than with a Walmart shopping fest. The customers felt the sales help were flirting with them. Walmart ended up leaving the German market.
     But another aspect of the Tel Aviv/Ruppin study does yield a valuable recommendation: Optimal yields from flirtation occurred when it was conducted with Deep Acting, defined as the service employee working to generate authentic positive feelings toward the target of the flirtation. This is distinguished from Surface Acting, in which the employee works to suppress any negative feelings toward the target and then to show positive feelings.
     Whether flirting or not, work to generate authentic positive feelings toward clients. After all, it’s their purchases which keep your business afloat or help pay your salary. Then in place of flirtatious behavior, you might choose to wear the proper T-shirt. 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 27% higher than with other colors. The difference was attributed to red as a sexual cue.

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Get Customers In Touch with Each Other 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Work Class for Warmth

Believing that a political candidate has a working-class background leads to seeing that candidate as having a warmer personality. This, in turn, tends to increase the attractiveness of the candidate regardless of the candidate’s gender or race.
     In the University of Richmond and University of South Carolina studies documenting this, the working-class background was portrayed by describing the occupations of the candidate’s parents as having been letter carrier and school teacher, the candidate having received full financial aid while in college, and the candidate having been captain of the college soccer team. The comparison profile, of a candidate lacking a working-class background, described the parents as an attorney and stay-at-home mom, not mentioning tuition financial aid, and saying the candidate had been president of the university sailing club.
     The researchers point out that a candidate for a high-profile political office portraying themselves as having a working-class background often takes a carefully crafted effort. Winning a high-profile election requires substantial money. The most promising way to navigate this may be to say you started out much poorer than you are now. If you’re running as a Republican, this approach has the added benefit of indicating business competence, a characteristic Republican voters admire.
     However, voters distinguish business competence from general intelligence. Researchers at Emory University and University of British Columbia assembled photos of candidates in past U.S. congressional races and asked people to rate a selection of the photos on personality traits. Some traits were related to competence—reliability, effectiveness, practicality. Some were associated with intelligence—cleverness, talent in discerning the motivations of others. Study participants were not told the name, party affiliation, or congressional district of the candidates in the photos.
     When the physical appearance of a Republican candidate had higher associations with competence than intelligence, the candidate was more likely to have won their election battle. For Democratic candidates, the winning combo was a physical appearance with higher associations of intelligence than of competence.
     Why? Voters are more likely to believe campaign promises from a candidate fitting the personality image associated with their political party.
     Yet, as most voters come to realize sooner or later, campaign promises may have little more than a passing resemblance to subsequent voting records. Political scientists at Duke University and University of California-Berkeley find that politicians raised in working-class families are not noticeably more likely to vote in ways which benefit the working classes.

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Attack with Credibility 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Machine Methods for Proper Nutrition

Perhaps inspired by public interest in robotics, organizations marketing healthy eating are comparing the body to a machine. Examples given by the Stanford University and University of Amsterdam researchers who studied the effectiveness of this approach include “power the human machine” from Centrum. Calorie count and nutrition label initiatives assume we process information like a machine.
     The tactic can be turned around to justify less healthy indulgences, such as in the tagline, “Working like a machine? Have a Kit Kat.” So over all, to what degree do these body-as-a-machine appeals foster healthy eating?
     In their studies, researchers portrayed the human body as a machine in one of three ways: 
  • The digestive system was illustrated as a set of mechanical devices 
  • A picture of a human face included machine-like features 
  • A virtual telepresence robot, looking and moving like people’s commonly held image of a robotic body, was shown
     Pairing these depictions with prompts to eat healthy made those prompts noticeably more effective. Often. At other times, though, it backfired. Those times were when the recipients lacked self-efficacy regarding healthy eating. They doubted their ability to monitor food intake as a machine would. The human-as-a-machine representations ended up nudging these individuals toward unhealthy food consumption as a way to ease their decidedly nonmechanical feelings of failure. A number of studies link a lack of healthy eating self-efficacy to obesity. It appears, then, that the machine representation tactic was worse than useless. It aggravated an existing problem.
     This finding fits with older research, from University of Miami and University of San Diego, which concluded that planning a program of healthy nutrition is less likely to help you achieve self-control in eating when you feel bad about your weight to start with. If a heartless machine has requisite mechanical capabilities, it can be programmed with plans to carry out a task regardless of how successful this machine has been at that task in the past. But even if the capabilities are there, a human-as-a-machine will be disheartened by perceptions of past failures.
     The Stanford/Amsterdam team did develop a simple way to ease the backfire, at least for the duration of their experiment: Included directly below the depiction of the human-as-machine was the text, “You CAN choose your food today with your head (not your heart).” Repeated reassurance of this sort might be expected to maintain the healthy eating effect of a machine representation.

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Guide Adolescent Eyes to Nutrition Information 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Hew to How Old the Senior Feels

It’s useful for salespeople and marketers to discover the age a shopper feels they are. A meta-analysis at University of Heidelberg and Philipps University of studies about subjective age concluded that most seniors shave between 11 and 21 years off their chronological age when thinking about how old they feel. The gap is about 20% of the chronological age. The tendency is found worldwide. In contrast, the meta-analysis concluded that when children are asked how old they feel, they add three to their number of birthday years on average.
     The general advice, then, would be to address toward seniors marketing messages which fit a demographic objectively a decade or two younger. But the size of the shave differs widely. In an article titled “I Felt So Old This Morning,” University of Luxembourg, Leipzig University, and Humboldt University researchers reported that the differences over the period of a day vary by an average of three years and are higher for those with a larger objective-subjective gap. In a study where I asked seniors how old they were and then how old they felt, a 69-year-old gave “100” as her answer to the second question. On other questions, she reported having significant health problems which severely limited her daily activities.
     You can assess subjective age by analyzing the nature of products and services in which the consumer expresses interest. When interacting directly with a shopper, you might get cues of subjective age by observing the ages of the people they’re shopping with and how they interact with them. If the companions are clearly younger and the senior defers to their judgment, this shopper likely has a higher subjective age. If companions are of similar age to the senior shopper and the senior participates actively in purchase decisions, the subjective age is probably lower.
     Although recognizing how the elderly feel younger than their chronological age improves the effectiveness of senior persuasion, there is a caution: Large gaps might endanger the seniors, interfering with necessary self-care and them seeking supportive assistance. Health care professionals and financial advisors, among others, should monitor for unrealistic optimism.

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Schmooze Away Problems for Seniors 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Care that Experienced Donors Know You Care

The nature of relationships between a nonprofit service organization and those who donate to that organization changes over time. Researchers at University of Arkansas, Northeastern University, and Arizona State University saw it happen when analyzing what motivates volunteers and those who contribute money. At the start, commitment to the organization’s mission plays the largest part, but over the years, the emphasis moves toward commitment to the other volunteers and the nonprofit’s staff members.
     The study context was the Phoenix Zoo, which has an active membership base. Some among them had donated $10,000 or more. Peer identity was assessed by asking survey respondents to state what roles they believed they shared with peers who associated with the nonprofit. In the case of the zoo, among the possibilities were animal lover, conservationist, outdoor person, and teacher. With different types of nonprofits, the candidate identities might be history buff, coach, builder, or musician, for example.
     Maintaining identification with and commitment to the other volunteers comes from shared service experiences, leisure social events, and news about the others, so these are helpful with the seasoned volunteers. The objectives include providing opportunities for friendships or at least mutual familiarity. For optimal commitment, go beyond this. What those experienced hands seek is valuing by their peers of their contributions and demonstrated care about their continued participation.
     Still, different volunteers and donors will have different preferences. Some are likely to value a recognition ceremony where all will give a round of applause. Other volunteers and donors would find this to be a punishing experience. Perhaps they’d prefer an invitation to serve on an advisory board. Offer a portfolio of possibilities, the researchers recommend.
     The idea of nonprofits maintaining a portfolio for donors was also suggested from studies at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Virginia. Contributors’ loyalty lasts longer when they’re encouraged to sponsor a variety of initiatives.
     The data set for that study covered twenty years of contributions to a nonprofit foundation. In those circumstances where the foundation’s outreach guided sponsors toward dedicating money to a different cause than with the last donation, the likelihood of subsequent donations and the donation amounts both increased. Also, compared to instances in which variety was not featured, the pattern of contributions maintained greater consistency over changing economic circumstances. Predictability as allowed by consistency is as important to a nonprofit as donation amounts.

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Enhance Variety in Nonprofit Donations

Friday, July 9, 2021

White Out If Product Color Matches Better

Some years ago, I presented my “Retail Profitability Tactics” workshop in Lakeport, California under Small Business Development Center sponsorship. As an integral component of these projects, I visit in advance the stores whose managers will be participating in the session.
     When I walked into a fashion shop along the main street, I was impressed by the fresh look of the walls, floors, and fixtures. Also by how few fixtures and clothing hanging on them there were on the floor. My first question to the sole salesperson was when the business began. “Three months ago.” Now my impression was of an enterprise that had spent all available funds on interior design, leaving little for ordering inventory.
     “There’s not much merchandise,” I said. The salesperson looked down and replied, in a tone indicating she was reciting well-rehearsed words, “Our store owner knows that leaving plenty of space instead of crowding the dresses in shows exclusivity.”
     Beyond the condescension in the explanation and the fact that only four standing racks in a store footprint of that size looked odd, the owner did have a point. In general, empty space when marketing does signal exclusivity, along with, as Prof. Nazuk Sharma at Fairfield University might add, sophistication and even extravagance. Desirable images for a fashion shop.
     A number of studies, principally one at University of Wisconsin and University of Alberta, documented that white space in an ad or signage gives those impressions, too. Prof. Sharma wondered if there was something superior about the white. Would it not be better to reinforce the product image by populating the empty space using a color associated with the product?
     The answer was a conditional yes. Use the product color instead of white if the product or experience is of the type subject to impulse purchasing. The product color in that circumstance increases impulse buys.
     One argument for white has been that it yields visual contrast, highlighting both the ad copy and the spaciousness. This makes an ad or banner easier to read. Ease of comprehension produces positive impressions of the item.
     Because the product color helps when impulse is at hand, you might choose to use white for the empty in ads, since a consumer probably can’t buy the item right at the time of viewing, and the product color to fill the empty space on in-store signage, where the urge to splurge can be promptly satisfied.

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Stand Out 

Monday, July 5, 2021

School Shoppers About Shelf-Life Labeling

The first broad appearance of shelf-life labeling of food products was in the U.S during the 1950s. Now in the European Union, shelf-life labeling is mandatory for food items. “Use by” states the date after which the item might no longer be safe to consume. “Best by” gives the date after which a food is likely to lose its desirable sensory qualities, even if it is still safe to eat. Shoppers might also see “sell by” or “expiration date.”
     In studies using actual food items, researchers at PoznaƄ University of Economics and Business in Poland saw examples of rational employment of the date labeling system. For example, people pay more attention to “use by” labels with products which carry safety risks of spoilage, such as fresh meats and dairy. “Best before” dates play a greater role with items where specific tastes and textures are highly important. People are wise enough to also smell and look at the food in deciding whether to consume it. With fresh produce, those, along with touch and sample tasting, generally dominate any shelf-life labeling.
     Still, the researchers saw apparently irrational use of the freshness dates, even when the implications of “use by” and “best before” are well understood. About one-third to more than one-half of consumers will eat food that is past its “use by” date. That risks food poisoning. And about one-quarter to more than one-half of consumers consider foods unsuitable for consumption when the posted “best before” date has passed. If the taste, smell, and look are still okay, this risks food waste.
     Food waste also can occur when your shoppers peruse the available packages of an item and then select the ones with the most distant dates. Left behind will be the packages closest to expiration, the ones most likely to become unsaleable.
     Facilitate proper use of the labeling by going beyond educating shoppers as to the meanings of various shelf-life terms. Educate them about how the different terms are best applied to different categories of foodstuffs. And emphasize that the smell, look, touch, and sample tasting are valuable. Setting freshness dates is a matter of best guesses.
     As to solving the perusing problem, consider advantages of Expiration Date Based Pricing, in which you lower the price of items as their expiration date approaches. Make a closer expiration date more attractive by pairing it with a discount.

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Risk Not in Misreading Risk Tolerance Show Shoppers Selective Transparency

Friday, July 2, 2021

Fit Displayed Items to Payment Denomination

A classic finding is that your shoppers are more likely to spend their cash at your store if they have five $20 bills than one $100 bill. The explanation has been that people resist breaking the big bill.
     Now researchers at Macquarie University, Virginia Tech University, and Ghent University identify an alternative explanation for the finding: People prefer to match the payment denomination to the cost of the item. When consumers shop for items costing around $20, they feel that using smaller bills like $20 bills is more suitable than using $100 bills. For items which do cost around $100, shoppers will feel more comfortable using their single $100 bill than their five $20’s. That’s what happened in a set of studies by the researchers.
     As long as the bills are genuine, you’ve little concern about which of those bills the purchaser pulls out of their wallet. But the finding does make a difference when it comes to gift cards. The desirability of a match held there, too. When a shopper appears with a gift card they’re seeking advice in using, start by showing them items with prices close to matching that of the gift card. All else equal, this increases the likelihood the transaction will be most comfortable for them and they’ll be most satisfied with their purchases. Consumers preferred products for which the price matched the denomination of payment.
     There are also implications for the denominations of gift cards you sell and vouchers you give for occasions such as product returns. If your store carries few items with prices around $100, but many in the $20 to $50 range, recommend to the gift card purchaser that they get two $50 cards instead of the single $100 card they originally requested.
     Other research findings support this principle of typicality in gift card transactions. People coming to you with a gift card bearing your store name are most comfortable purchasing with that gift card items typical of what you carry in your store rather than items outside your main merchandise lines. This means that if the shopper asks for guidance on how to spend the gift, begin by showing your best-selling items.
     That’s where to start, but I suggest you then move beyond the typicalities. The shopper with a gift card is more likely to browse your aisles than is the shopper without a gift card. Here’s an opportunity for them to become acquainted with the scope of your selection.

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Give Change in Varied Denominations