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 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 this, you could be wrong. Researchers at Germany’s TU Dortmund University find that the mode affects the impressions in a way which can mislead consumers.
     On a bar chart of results using 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 perceived to be representative of the whole ratings distribution.
     In reporting their results, those German researchers do emphasize that attending principally to the mode is sometimes correct. Shoppers could be looking for the most popular single 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 mode bias than did a bar chart presentation. Because people appreciate graphs, 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 a bar chart by stretching and compressing the bars.
     However, in another stream of research about graphical presentations, it’s been seen how animation can lead to misperceptions about trajectories. People readily imagine what is ahead, such as when viewing 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 tagline “Regenerate your skin” or the tagline “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 SupĂ©rieur 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 Flirt with Deep Acting

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 a 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