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 Universit√§t 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 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Anticipate Anti-Aging Becoming Skin-Deep

Contemporary societies value a youthful appearance, especially in women. So it might seem that the prime market for anti-aging physical appearance offerings would consist of those female consumers who are most aged. However, studies at Université catholique de Louvain find that, for those over age 60, the motivation to reverse the clock winds down. The coupling between physical appearance and self-esteem loosens. Physical appearance becomes more closely associated with wellbeing about personal health and less closely associated with interpersonal attractiveness.
     This doesn’t mean the elderly female consumer stops attending to her physical appearance or is wholly comfortable in her own skin in every sense of that word. You see, the study results suggest that a highly promising selling point for anti-aging products to women over age 60 is skin care.
     The objective is not so much to reverse the ravages of aging on the skin as to protect the skin from further deterioration. This leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that women who are satisfied with their appearance are more likely to use anti-aging products. The research findings were consistent with that conclusion. It seemed that the older women, all residing in France where physical appearance is particularly noticed, placed less importance on meeting cultural norms which favor youthful facial skin, but did derive peace of mind from healthy-looking skin appropriate for their age.
     The researchers note that this shift could account for how elderly women will continue to use anti-aging products even when harboring doubts the products are working. The women consider some deterioration in skin condition to be inevitable. The users take comfort in believing the products could be showing their effectiveness by slowing the inevitable.
     All this informs optimal strategies for marketing anti-aging products. The researchers suggest that for audiences in their 40’s, you talk about the interpersonal value of a youthful physical appearance, while for audiences in their 50’s, you emphasize easing the anxiety associated with acknowledging the aging process. For prospective purchasers in their 60’s and beyond, incorporate into the marketing messages cues of acceptance and wellbeing which will arise from use of the products.
     Multifunctionality also helps sell cosmetics. The NPD Group found that, not surprisingly, the single most important expectation of consumers for a blemish balm is natural-looking coverage of skin blemishes. But 47% of consumers surveyed said they expect a BB Cream to also moisturize the skin, and 42% wanted sunscreen protection included.

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Plan for Multifunction Marketability 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Prod Frugal Shoppers’ Needs with Discounts

Will a surprise deep discount on an item successfully persuade frugal shoppers to purchase the item? Researchers at Washington and Lee University, Virginia Tech, St. Edward’s University, and Auckland University present the arguments for opposite answers to this question. Yes, they’ll buy it because frugal people love spending less. No, because frugal people hate spending at all.
     Which path is taken depends on how strongly the frugal shopper decides that they need—not just want—the item. But the researchers find that encountering an unexpected deep discount can increase the frugal shopper’s perception of how much they need the item. The justification for spending the money is then the opportunity to take advantage of a serendipitous great bargain. The cautious spender is temporarily transformed into an impulse buyer.
     In the studies, self-rated need for the item increased notably after presentation of a “60% off” deal. This worked only if there was at least a moderate need for the item to begin with. There was no evidence the technique worked much at all with shoppers who are not clearly frugal or with frugal shoppers when the discount was for only 10% off.
     Historically, research has indicated that deep discounts are more influential on hedonic, pleasure-oriented, items than on utilitarian, functional items. The good deal gives the consumer an excuse to indulge. But this current research suggests that in circumstances of prevalent frugal shoppers, you’re better advised to reserve those margin-reducing deep discounts for the functional items, since at least a moderate need is already felt.
     A habit of carefully planning purchases and monitoring expenditures is stimulated by tight economic circumstances, such as during business recovery from a pandemic or natural disaster. But some people are by nature chronic tightwads regardless of the state of the economy. Tightwads aren’t the same as frugal shoppers. Frugality is driven by a pleasure in saving. Tightwads are driven by a pain of paying.
     Facilitate tightwads spending their money with you by reinforcing their sense of responsibility. Congratulate tightwads on how they shop carefully. Tightwads take pride in limiting their spending, but feel more comfortable when loosening up within reason. So describe upgrades as “small expenses.” Remind tightwads that you’ll be responsible in what you recommend to them. Then keep your promise by explaining how the products and services you sell give full value. Dealing with a responsible retailer will ease the pain of paying.

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Have Unannounced Discounts on Common Purchases 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Foster Senior Wellness with Reminiscing

People who engage to a greater extent in personal nostalgia are more likely to maintain or even increase their wellbeing into old age. This suggests that encouraging older adults to reminisce could benefit their long-term wellness.
     A set of University of Surrey, University of Southampton, and North Dakota State University researchers identified relationships between personal nostalgia and psychological wellness across the lifespan. These researchers describe personal nostalgia as reminiscences about fond, meaningful memories of one’s own social experiences. Sentimentality with a tinge of longing distinguish personal nostalgia from certain other contemplations about the past. Historical nostalgia, in contrast to personal nostalgia, consists of a preference for objects or circumstances which characterized a period in the past. The memories aren’t necessarily of specific situations, the emotions are less strong, and there is less thinking about the socializing.
     Personal nostalgia eases discomforts when there’s a limited time ahead for completion of an objective, say the researchers. This is why personal nostalgia facilitates psychological wellbeing. Throughout adulthood, people will call upon personal nostalgia in times of loneliness, discontinuity, and existential doubt. Because the elderly are more likely to have a shortened future time perspective, nostalgia has added influence on wellbeing.
     Yet please consider as promising, not definitive, my idea based on the study results that augmenting personal nostalgia in older adults will foster their wellness as they continue to age. The Surrey/Southampton/North Dakota study participants weren’t selected to be representative of the general population, the study design was cross-sectional by chronological age instead of longitudinal, and the data analysis was correlational. Still, the study conclusions are supported by other findings.
     There’s a possible exception to this overall support, though. Researchers at Dartmouth College and University of Pennsylvania discovered that younger and older adults derive happiness from different sorts of experiences. For the young, it tends to be the extraordinary and infrequent. For older people, it tends to be the ordinary and frequent.
     The explanation has to do with the place of experiences in self-identity. Young adults are often in a process of defining their self-identity. Distinctive experiences are of interest. Elderly adults are more concerned with strengthening an established identity as they approach the end of life. Reminiscing about repeated similar experiences helps with that.

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Appeal to Nostalgia