Monday, June 27, 2022

Pose the Nudes at a Distance

Naked models in ads draw attention. As marketers, we’d like to direct that attention toward the ad message rather than undercut the message because of audience objections to the nudity. Study findings from Paris School of Business and Athens University of Economics and Business help here.
     In one experiment, the researchers asked 435 U.S.-based adults to express reactions to a perfume ad which carried the slogan “Made to excite,” and included a photo of a male model and a female model with arms around each other. In a first version of the ad, the models were fully clothed; in a second version, the two were partially clad; and in a third, the man was nude from the waist up and the woman’s breasts were visible.
     Prior to answering questions about the ad, some of the participants were asked to imagine engaging in a set of tasks, such as reading a book, tomorrow, while the others were asked to imagine engaging in those activities a year in the future.
     Among those shown the ad with the nude models, the group asked to assume the far future frame of mind expressed higher purchase intentions for the perfume, overall, than did those asked to assume the near future frame of mind. They also had lower ethical objections to the ad. These differences were less for those shown the other two versions of the ad. An explanation resides in “psychological distance,” which is higher when a consumer: 
  • Selects an item for use in the future rather than now 
  • Believes they’ll need to travel a longer way to obtain the item 
  • Selects an item for use by someone else rather than themselves 
  • Considers returning or exchanging an item purchased by someone else rather than by themselves.
     When there’s higher psychological distance, the consumer places relatively more importance on objectivity than on feelings. Emotional reactions to an item and to marketing of an item are less intense. According to studies at University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Oviedo in Spain, and Lieberman Research Worldwide, this is true for highly positive emotions—such as the thrill in having the item—and for highly negative emotions—such as anger at flawed product performance.
     Taken together, this suggests that introducing temporal distance into an ad featuring naked models—such as proposing purchase of the item in the future rather than right now—would help maintain the intended sales stimulation.

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Drive the Psychological Distance 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Acknowledge Effort with Caregiving Items

When directly taking care of those they care about, people place high importance on verifying their own efforts. Outcomes matter. So does the ability to reduce efforts which the caregiver perceives as jeopardizing their ability to protect their child, elderly parent, sick friend, or others who are beloved and in need. Marketers should feature those benefits in advertising items for caregiving. But researchers at Texas A&M University, Northeastern University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard University argue for the appeals clearly acknowledging the caregivers’ efforts necessary to use the product or service.
     Some of the researchers’ evidence for this came from their studies showing how caregivers who did caregiving on their own felt better about themselves than those who depended on an effort-reducing product. Other evidence came from an analysis of online comments about the SNOO bassinette, a product advertised as lulling a baby into sleep by gently rocking along with playing white noise. Among the comments specifically noting how the SNOO reduced caregiving effort, 76% were criticisms, such as, “This seems so detached. Hold your child. Yes, your arms ache. Yes, your back hurts.”
     Supporting the researchers’ advice about the tenor of ads, the tag line, “You give the XOXOs, SNOO gives the ZZZs,” generated substantially more consumer interest than, “With SNOO, get ZZZs with ease.”
     The effort in itself signals love. In another exploration of this, researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison considered parents outsourcing planning of their child’s birthday party. In structured interviews with study samples, the researchers identified pivotal shopper questions the parents will probably ask. Here’s my version of those questions along with my suggestions for profitable retailer responses: 
  • “Will I feel I’ve carried out my parental responsibilities?” Reserve control for the parent. Because they have come to you to save time, take care not to overload with details. Have a set of three to five overall party packages to consider, and allow for customization of each package. 
  • “Will my family and friends give me credit for carrying out my responsibilities as a parent?” This question is similar to the first one, but it’s different. It’s the difference between psychological risk—“What will I think of myself?”—and social risk—“What will others think of me?” Go beyond reserving control for the parent in the party planning. Also reserve ample opportunities for the parent to be the focus of attention during the celebration itself.

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Reserve Control in Intimate Outsourcing 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Increase Health Compliance by Easing Stigma

The largest typeface used in the print ad was for the sentence, “A Lung Screening Could Save Your Life.” The offer read, “Mount Sinai Medical Center is proud to offer discounted low-dose CT screenings during the month of November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month,” and text at the bottom of the ad asked, “So what are you waiting for?”
     However, another question, this one at the very top of the ad, could easily undercut the effectiveness of the ad’s message, according to studies at Northwestern University and University of Washington: “Are You a Long-term Smoker?”
     The study results indicate that when a social stigma is attached to being a long-term smoker, that question at the top could interfere with the high moral identity of the ad, and high moral identity motivates compliance with health care recommendations. Long-term smokers reading the ad become resistant to appreciating the message. Further, the moral interference is so great that it can decrease compliance even among ad readers who don’t engage in the stigmatized behavior.
     We especially want to persuade people most at risk from a stigmatized behavior to follow health care advice. Here is two-pronged approach consistent with the study findings: 
  • Activate a high moral sense in the target audience. In the studies, this was done by including in the health message a header reading, “You are kind and caring.” The theme is self-affirmation. 
  • Deemphasize the highly-stigmatized behavior and highlight a low-stigmatized behavior or circumstance which has a risk in the same category. In the studies, this was done by highlighting air pollution as a cause of lung disease.
     Other studies assess the effects a health care professional’s reactions to non-compliance has on a patient’s subsequent behavior. The best approach, according to research at University of California-Santa Barbara, is to start by showing positive concern for the noncompliant patient and then follow this with an analysis of the reasons for the compliance shortfalls. The health professional’s attitude when showing positive concern should be enthusiasm. The attitude during the analysis and subsequent corrective action plan should be disappointment and impatience, but never blame. This works well because it fits patient expectations. Health care professionals are expected to be both caregivers and problem solvers.
     And modeling is always an influential tool for persuasion agents. Our customers, clients, and patients put more trust in what we recommend when we ourselves follow those recommendations which apply to us.

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Craft Fear Appeals 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Slow Decision Making Among Shortcutters

Sometimes we’re pleased to have our customers make choices quickly, allowing us to move on to other shoppers or other tasks. However, sometimes we’d like to slow down the shopper as they settle on a course of action. Premature purchases can have bad consequences ranging from returned items to safety risk.
     Easing the speed is a particular challenge when serving people high in a personality trait called “need for cognitive closure.” These consumers want to make shopping decisions promptly and then lock in those decisions. They’re uncomfortable with ambiguity. They are the polar opposite of shoppers who evidence a strong need to analyze as much information as possible before deciding. Researchers at Baylor University and University of Cincinnati report prior findings that this urge to achieve finality actually increases blood pressure and heart rate when decision making is delayed.
     That is, unless the shopper with high need for cognitive closure chooses to put noticeable time and effort into the choice. Specifically, those researchers found these people will slow down their decision making and work harder to analyze information when they believe the effort will be useful for making similar decisions in the future. An example of this is when the choice is about a newly introduced item or experience which is likely to be encountered repeatedly in the foreseeable future. A marketer can encourage more contemplation during a transaction by highlighting those characteristics of a choice.
     Trying to stop premature decision making by interrupting the NFCC consumer can irritate them. Most consumers are open to interruptions early in the purchase process. However, researchers at New Mexico State University and Sacred Heart University suggest that the retailer look out for the potential customer who seems pressed for time but is continuously evaluating choices. Minimize interruptions of these people early on and never interrupt early on with content not directly related to the purchase selection, such as with an extended greeting or casual conversation. With the shopper who is in this frame of mind, later interruptions are okay, and can actually create good will, as long as the interruptions are pleasant, such as reassurance or gratitude, and the interruptions aren’t frequent.
     Shopping is exposed to a plethora of interruptions from sources other than the retailer—phone calls, impatient children. Stanford University studies found that a disruptive interruption during the climax of a current transaction increases the NFCC for immediately subsequent purchases.

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Sidestep Heuristics When Ethical 

Monday, June 13, 2022

Dehumanize to Ease Dissatisfaction

All this talk about treating your customers as precious could get on your nerves, service providers. How about dehumanizing your customers instead? Results from University of Liverpool, Newcastle University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggest it will leave those customers happier when they encounter inevitable service failures.
     In a study demonstrating this, participants were assigned to imagine they went for a massage in order to ease their stress and relieve their shoulder pain. Some of the participants were further told that when they arrived for the massage, the receptionist assigned them a number as their ID. The other participants were told instead that the receptionist asked them the name they wanted to be used as their ID.
     All the participants were then told the massage therapist summoned them from the waiting room using their ID and designed a customized treatment based on a brief interview. But the massage therapist was rude, and the massage did not sufficiently relieve the shoulder pain. The study participant assignment ended with questions about how dissatisfied they were because of these service failures.
     Those participants told they’d been assigned a number reported less dissatisfaction than did those told they’d been called by name. An accompanying study identified the explanation for this difference as calling a customer by number instead of name producing feelings of dehumanization. When someone feels dehumanized, they become emotionally numb, so are less disturbed by lower quality service.
     Whether your customer who receives bad service on top of feeling dehumanized will come again is another question, not answered by this set of studies. The researchers recommend marketers consider using number IDs when perceptions of service failures are likely. I’ll add my impression that the method might be of most use in service situations where consumers expect some degree of dehumanization and the service is required. Department of Motor Vehicles transactions fit that description.
     In a related finding, researchers at Tilburg University, York University, and Cornell University suggest that when serving customers who are feeling crummy about themselves, you start out by showing inferior alternatives within a product category. Study participants chose between Budweiser lager versus Tesco lager, a BOSS suit versus a Primark suit, and Reyka vodka in a glass bottle versus Skol vodka in a plastic bottle. The participants also completed a self-esteem scale. Those reporting low self-esteem were more likely to choose for their own use the inferior alternative.

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Drive Personalization by Fostering Narcissism 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Present Price Increases as Percentages

Based on their findings, researchers at University of St. Gallen recommend that retailers justify price increases by telling stories which dramatize the benefits of shopping with the retailer. Fill the story with as much detail as the shopper’s attention span seems to allow, since the detailed recitation distracts the shopper from concluding the salesperson is being manipulative.
     Experts suggest also including in the stories some rationales for the price bumps. Principal among the reasons which shoppers will consider fair are increased costs to the retailer from suppliers. Explain that you need to increase your prices when your supplier increases their costs to you. Adapt the following to fit your style: “When our suppliers increase their prices to us, we need to pass those increases on to the customers so that we can stay in business and continue to serve shoppers like you and employ the people like me.”
     Studies at Aalto University find it best to state increases as percentages (“We’re increasing our price by 10% because of a 10% increase in supplier costs”) rather than precise dollar amounts (“a $10 increase) or a statement without a quantity (“a price increase”). This works well as long as the price increase percentage stated to the shopper is not greater than the stated supplier cost increase. Consumers tend to consider as unfair price increases which seem to boost the retailer’s profitability.
     Because a retailer’s educated pricing of an item will take account of considerations beyond just supplier cost, stating the retail price increase and supplier cost increase in percentages allows for raising the profit margin without appearing to be unfair. Another of the studies indicated that people generally find it easier to attend to the percentages instead of the base value dollar amounts. Store shoppers appreciate simplicity in decision making. Still, in exploiting this fact, take care not to exploit the shoppers.
     People are less astute in accurately evaluating percentages than the base numbers, especially when the percentages are combined instead of compared. With surcharges, the order in which the percentages are presented makes a difference. Consider the example of a baker who charges $17 for a standard-sized cake, levies 10% more for a large cake, and an additional 5% for a custom design. If the second surcharge comes as a surprise to the consumer, that second discount has more influence than the first in the shopper’s perception of pricing pain.

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Experience Higher Profits with Experiences 

Monday, June 6, 2022

Apologize via Corporate Social Responsibility

Being a good corporate citizen might lift the spirits of corporate staff. But to what extent does it lift sales? The answer from researchers at Indiana University, Georgia Tech, and Texas A&M. University is that it depends on whether audiences view the initiatives as primarily compensating for misdeeds or as primarily appealing for goodwill.
     Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to a broad range of actions intended to improve societal wellbeing. Funding a community orchestra. Maintaining a food bank. Cleaning a polluted lake. To qualify as CSR, the actions must be seen as voluntary rather than as being taken to comply with regulatory or legal requirements.
     The researchers categorized press releases issued by consumer packaged goods brands for a total of 80 CSR initiatives. Of the 80, 27 were considered as primarily emphasizing corrective actions to remedy societal harm; 19, compensating actions to balance out societal harm which continues; and 34, cultivating goodwill without addressing societal harm by the brand. Also collected were publicly available sales figures for the brands and for an equivalent set of brands not engaging in CSR initiatives. The sales figures covered one year before and one year after each focal brand’s CSR initiative.
     The data analyses revealed that corrective or compensating CSR actions seemed to increase sales, but actions primarily emphasizing goodwill were instead associated with a drop in sales. Follow-up studies pointed to the theme of sincerity as an explanation. What a profitmaking organization intends to be understood as a selfless initiative to combat homelessness or domestic violence, for instance, is often viewed with suspicion. You’ll derive greater sales boost from your CSR activities by positioning them as taking accountability for what your target audiences view as social misdeeds. Air pollution. Displacement of heritage businesses. Increases in obesity rates.
     Along with this, the study results indicate lower CSR initiative return on investment for brands already enjoying a reputation of consistent corporate social responsibility. Moreover, what counts as a misdeed depends on your business operations and can change over time. The researchers tell of Coca-Cola discovering how from a set of CSR candidates presented to focus groups, the favorite of the consumers concerned reductions in water consumption. My thought is that this might play better at times of anticipated drought than in other circumstances. In implementing the advice from the research, monitor what your target audiences are probably considering as most in need of apologies.

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Sustain Reservations by Showing Sustainability 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Warrant Your Use of Product Warranties

Researchers at Wayne State University, California State University-Los Angeles, and Salisbury University say that with low familiarity brands, a warranty which is extraordinarily strong provides a competitive advantage.
     For their studies, the researchers used as examples of low-familiarity brands Falken tires carrying an 80,000-mile warranty and Flint & Tinder hoodies carrying a 10-year warranty. These met the researchers’ criteria for an exceptionally strong warranty. Such a warranty substantially exceeds the typical warranty for the product category, consumers’ expectation of the product’s longevity, consumers’ expectation about how long they might use the product, and consumers’ expectation of how long other consumers might use the product. Compared to a standard warranty, the augmented one increased study participants’ quality ratings and interest in purchasing the items.
     The reason for the effect is that consumers tend to be highly uncertain about the quality of an unfamiliar brand, and the strong warranty acts as a signal of quality. The study findings indicate there’s a condition on this effect: The consumer must believe they have relatively high knowledge about the product category—tires or hoodies, for example. The consumer’s actual product category knowledge is not what matters directly. It is instead the consumer’s self-assessed knowledge—their subjective expertise—that helps determine an extraordinarily warranty’s effect on quality perceptions.
     The researchers do not claim that extraordinarily strong warranties will aid sales of well-known brands. In fact, studies at NEOMA Business School and The Korea Development Bank found that a familiar store or brand which offers no warranty is signaling that the superb quality of the item makes a warranty unnecessary.
     This works because of the functions a warranty serves for the shopper. Shoppers usually prefer a product or store when it provides a warranty. However, people don’t buy a product principally because of the warranty. Researchers at University of Chicago and University of Singapore found that warranties are more likely to influence purchases when presented in one or both of two ways: 
  • “The warranty is like an insurance policy, letting you know that if anything goes wrong, your costs to make things right will be zero.” 
  • “The warranty avoids you worrying that you’ve made a bad purchase decision”
     Shoppers usually think of the warranty more in terms of insurance against loss than in terms of assurance of product quality. When you exude quality, consider whether you want to even bring up the warranty unless the shopper asks you about one.

Note: My thanks to Prof. Sujay Dutta of Wayne State University for editing my text in this blog post about the study in which he was the lead researcher.  

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Know When No Warranty Is Best