Monday, July 30, 2012

What does "Last Chance" mean ?

Stratfor is probably the best place to go for really deep, insightful, analysis of geopolitics without a political interest (they charge both parties a ton of $$$ for their reports). 

But for 5 business days in a row I have received an email warning me that this was my "Last Chance" to subscribe for 63% off.  They come across as a late night infomercial.

So here is my question.  I have a ton of respect for this organization based on reading their (free) weekly reports for years.  But when they do this annoying and contradictory behavior (about once a year for a week), is that enough to hurt their brand? 

For Stratfor it is particularly relevant because their brand image is largely based on intelligence.  So doing something stupid is more damaging to their brand than it would be for many other organizations. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

Desire is more important than talent

The next time you think "I am just not good enough" instead think "I am just not good enough YET!"  (paraphrased from Heidi Grant Halvorson's blog here).

Innate talent has been shown to be a very small component of most expertise.  I have blogged about this before but Heidi's blog post made me think of another important component.  The book Talent is Overrated has some great advice on the how and the why.  But Heidi gives a short and sweet motivational message on the visceral motivation.  You have to believe in yourself.  To loosely paraphrase Yogi Berra, expertise is 99% practice, but also 50% desire.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How much do you lie, cheat, and steal? More than you think !!

Dan Ariely, who as you know is one of my favorite thought leaders in behavioral science, has been blogging a lot lately on the topics in his new book about lying and cheating.  

His post today is a good exercise in introspection and understanding the real prevalence of lying.   He asks his readers to think about the following questions.  Not because the answers are important, but because it shows you how often you lie, cheat, steal, or are hypocritical.  Just little things, but when you do them 100 times a day they really add up.

One of his conclusions is that we all do these things, but not so much that we question our self-image of ourselves as good people.  Taking home a few paperclips from work is no big deal.  But stealing five cases to sell on EBay is just not "who I am." 

But here is where it gets interesting.  When everyone is visibly and publicly taking home a few paperclips, we start to imagine that they are probably taking home a few other things as well.  So if everyone is taking home a few other things, that must be normal working behavior.  The company knows it and includes it in our salaries.  So if I don't take some things home, I am really just giving back part of my salary.  It is not me being a good and honest person at all.  It is me being a sucker.  And that is just not "who I am."  So I better find something to take home. 

I suspect that this phenomenon is largely what happened in the LIBOR fixing scandal.  The fact that these people were sending explicit emails back and forth talking openly about what they were doing makes it clear that they weren't worried about the company or even law enforcement finding out.  Some of them said that they wouldn't want it to be reported in the newspapers, but that could just be because the public just doesn't understand.  But among bankers, it is acceptable behavior.

I really don't believe it was bankers knowing that it was wrong but doing it because everyone was doing it.  I really think that the culture of self-image shifted so that this behavior really wasn't seen as being wrong at all.  It was part of the game. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

User Interface Quality and Brand Credibility

It is amazing how easy it is to lose credibility based on a simple user interface slip-up, even when the quality and effectiveness of your business is excellent. 

I received an email newsletter from a source that I read frequently, but never interact deep enough to develop a trusted relationship with.  So despite the frequency, I am still a "perennial novice" with them. I would guess that many of their readers are the same.  This means that their brand credibility is not durable. A simple UI mistake like this can be a bigger deal then they seem to realize.

Lesson for the day - proofread your mail merges. 

Postscript  (I have blogged about perennial novices before, but long enough ago that Google search function can't find it.  Perhaps it is time to start keyword archiving.  Is this my own UI flaw that risks my credibility?  Let me know in the comments.)

Friday, July 20, 2012

The language of technology culture.

I have an ambiguous title for today’s post because I am not really sure what I am asking about.

I was thinking about how language changes.  There was an interview on NPR that focused on how many incorrect uses of language get so overused that they become accepted practice. In addition to the stereotype “literally” when you mean “figuratively” they also talked about using very extreme modifiers when you don’t really have such a strong feeling.  For example, “incredibly delicious” implies that something is so tasty that it is beyond belief.  If you describe 25% of what you eat that way, you must have a very limited imagination!!  The problem with overusing our extreme modifiers is that when we really do mean something extreme, we have no words left to describe it accurately. If I describe most pizza as “incredibly delicious” then how do I communicate that I had a really really good pizza?  “No really this time!!  Literally!”

During the same interview, the host asked the audience to participate by asking question.  She said that they could join in by calling, emailing, or “Tweeting at me.”  The same interviewer used to say “Send me a Tweet.”  This shift is extremely broad.  Most people used to say “Send me a tweet” and now way “Tweet at me.”  It doesn’t seem like a big enough difference to motivate an entire population of users to shift, but without a broad consensus it wouldn’t happen.  So what gives?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Good experience with poor performance ???

Yesterday evening, I was rushing to catch a shuttle to campus.  I knew the bus was ALWAYS on time and I had 15 minutes to get there.  I was 17 minutes away.  If I hurried I could make it, but if I was even one minute late I would have to wait an hour for the next one.  Of course, an hour is plenty of time to grab a craft beer at a local pub.  But it got me thinking.

This bus is pretty rare, running so exactly on its schedule.  But I was thinking of the following reactions for someone in my situation:

The 5:00 bus arrives at 5:00
  • If I arrive before 5, I am satisfied that I don't have to wait extra for the bus. 
  • If I arrive at 5:03, I am really frustrated.  JUST MISSED IT!!!  DOH!! Now I have to wait an HOUR!
  • So net-net, the customer experience is negative.
The 5:00 bus arrives at 5:03:

  • If I arrive before 5 and the bus was late, I would have to wait 3 extra minutes.  A little sad, but 3 minutes is no big deal and better than most buses.
  • If I arrive at 5:03, I would have expected to miss the bus.  Imagine how happy I would be if it was running 3 minutes late and I made it. Whew!!!  On the other hand, I would have only myself to blame if I missed it, since I was late.
  • So net-net, the customer experience is positive.
Of course, this depends on the ratio of people who are on time v late.  But my point is that it may make sense, for different populations of riders, to intentionally have a bus run just a little bit late.  Not enough to annoy the people who are on time, but enough to make the people who rushed and rushed but were a little bit slow to make it.

Human factors strikes in amusing places !

A was reading an article (the specific article is actually not relevant but it was in Businessweek) that was about the big British health products company Reckitt Benckiser Group.  They have decided to take their worldwide market share-leading condom and compete with US market share-leading Trojan in its home territory.   This is a good demonstration of why a dominant market share when you are the only large player in a large market and the only competition is limited to pure play niches is not safe.  Most markets have two majors, so a single major market is ripe for an entrant from somewhere else. 

As much fun as talking about condoms is, my blog today is about something else. The very next page of the magazine was a set of “Business Briefs.”  Of course, that has a pretty standard meaning that everyone would get on their first look.  Except right after reading the article on condoms, my first thought when I saw “Briefs” was men’s underwear.   Just for a second.  But it is a good human factors example of the effects of residual activation on top down processing. I tried to talk enough in my introduction to get you to experience it a little bit too.  Anyone?  Anyone? 

I don’t have time today to go into detail about what residual activation or top down processing is.  If you have taken a cognitive psychology of human factors course you probably already know.  Quite a few of the “Isn’t this amazing” illusions that get sent around by email take advantage of this phenomenon. 

This happened to be a funny one, so I thought I would share.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Visible reminders to repurchase.

Here is a rare Idea of the Day that is solidly housed in the low tech world.  A powerful technique to increase sales to existing customers is to make sure that when they use up the first one (of whatever item  it is you’re selling), they buy another one.  This has three major benefits.

  • If they don’t buy yours right away, they have time to consider buying the competition
  • If they don’t buy yours right away, they might realize they don’t need it at all.
  • The more time that elapses between sales, the fewer opportunities you have to sell over the long term
So it is to your company’s advantage to have a salient signal of some kind when the customer is about to use up the current item to remind them to obtain a replacement.  Autoreplenish is easy when we are talking about monthly subscriptions, prescriptions that are taken on a consistent basis, or electronic products that can signal directly to the company through the Internet that they are about to run out.

But what about all the millions of physical products?  The state of the art in ubiquitous computing hasn’t quite got to the point that when your milk is about to run out (or spoil), it sends a message to the store to send a new one. For now, we need lower tech solutions.  But if you put a date on the package, that is not very salient.  And that doesn’t work for when products are about to run out and the package doesn’t make it as obvious. 

Here are a few good ones that Bri Williams at People Patterns recently blogged about and then a few others that I have seen around that seem clever. 

  • When you get close to the bottom of a box of tissues, you can kind of tell that it is getting low, but it is hard to tell exactly.  And for the square ones that fluff out the next tissue from the top  you have even less idea.  What if the last 10 tissues are a slightly different color?   In fact the last 10 could get progressively darker (or lighter depending on the starting color).  Bri also suggests they get progressively scratchy, but I have had enough runny noses to be firmly against that idea.  You could do something similar to this for anything that comes in rolls.  Toilet paper, tin foil, cling wrap – all of these could change color, pattern, or something when you get towards the end.
  • A related problem is that when you are using the product you know you are getting near the end, but then when you are in the store (or even when you are near your shopping list) you forget.  So what if you put a tag on the product that the customer could pull off when they were about to run out.  For the tissue box the tag could be hidden inside the box ten tissues from the bottom.  Or rolled into the cling wrap 10 feet from the end of the roll.  They you put the tag in your pocket and it is there when you need it.  Similar to this is a wine bottle that has a tag on the label so if you want to remember a great wine you have at a party or in a restaurant you don’t need to bring the whole bottle home.   For this last one you could take a photo with your phone, but that also might not come to mind when you are shopping.
Some other ideas. 

  • How about making the product change color as it ages?  This would serve as a reminder for products that don't get used up, but rather wear out or lose their hygiene after a certain amount of time, but where this is not obvious.  I have seen a toothbrush that does this by having some blue coloring on the bristles that disappears as the brush is used and when it is gone it is time to get a new toothbrush.  Where else can we use this idea?  Your pillow?  I have no idea how old mine is or if it needs replacing.  Firmness is fine, but hygiene?  Not a clue.  Sponges?  Water bottle?  All of them could be designed to change color as they get near their unhygienic state.  I have seen a version of this proposed for produce and raw meat.  As it gets near the spoilage date, something on the label changes color.  Or if the temperature gets too high for safety, it also has some kind of salient signal. 
  • How about a mechanical signal?  When you get to the end of your lip balm, there is a little hole in the center that is made by the shaft that rolls it up or down.  I am not sure if this was intentionally used as a signal that the tube is running out, but it works.  What else comes in a tube?  Could we do this with a roll on condiment container?  This would be a cool dispenser for peanut butter for many reasons.  You spin the wheel on the bottom and up comes an easily measured, easily removed serving of peanut butter.  And there would be none wasted at the end.  No more trying to get those last few bits from the bottom of the jar. 

Motivated Reasoning works even for unlikely events.

I heard an interview of Dan Ariely on BBC Business that covered one of my favorite behavioral science topics – motivated reasoning.  His point in this interview was that if something is clearly 100% likely (i.e. true), then we have a tough time convincing ourselves through motivated reasoning. But if it is even 99% likely (i.e. probably true), we can hope for the 1%.  We can even convince ourselves that the 1% WILL happen.  That it IS true.  

For example, why do we still think the free market always accurately prices the value of assets, despite the fact that we get booms and busts all the time (dotcom, real estate, banks . . .)?  Even though we have a ton of evidence against it, we cling to the hope that it is “different this time” because we really really want it to be.  This is classic motivated reasoning.  All we need is a 1% chance that something is true and we can convince ourselves.  The slot machine will hit three cherries today.  My favorite basketball team will come back from 15 points down with one minute to go.  My abusive spouse will come to his/her senses.  I can stop drinking any time I want. 

Ariely made an analogy that I thought was hysterical (definitely better than the ones I listed above).   Imagine you are at a public pool and there are a bunch of kids swimming.  What is the chance that none of them has peed in the pool in the past few hours?  NONE of them? Probably close to zero.  But we can cling to that 1% because we really want to use the pool.  It is HOT out here and the refreshing water would be great.  

But we wouldn’t go in to the pool if the chance was 100%.  Think about if you saw one of the kids standing on the edge of the pool and taking a leak right into it.  Would you go in for the rest of the day?  Just the thought of that could keep you out for a week.  Deep down, you know that this going on every day in a less obvious way.  But still we cling to the 1%.  This is what we are doing with free markets, politics, food safety, climate change, and on and on.  If there is even a small chance that the good outcome will come true, we use our motivated reasoning to convince ourselves that it will.  

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Free Samples and Swag

I seem to get a ton of offers these days for free samples, free swag, and other incentives to engage with a company.  Often, this involves something as simple as "Liking" them on Facebook.  One recent offer which was good enough for me to accept was Presto Pizza.  The offer was for a kitchen apron.  Is a "Like" on my Facebook feed worth the cost of the apron to them?  They offered to throw in kitchen gloves for a post on my blog.  Are you, my loyal blog readers, worth that cost to Presto?  Apparently so.

In general, I wonder if this is an effective business strategy.  In the first dotcom boom, Internet companies were all about eyeballs.  No one cared about revenue let alone profit.  But that all went away with the crash in 2000-2002.  Now, companies need to have a clear monetization plan to get any kind of investment funding.  That doesn't mean immediate profitability, but at least some clue how to get from here to there.

So where does the freebie pitch fit in?  With the incredible growth of social media, all it takes is a couple of dozen people to share the offer and it could spread to thousands of people's screens.  On one hand, this is very inexpensive advertising and could have a strong impact on brand recognition.  But does that lead to new customers?  Will you buy any Presto Pizza now that you know they have given me (and maybe you too) a free apron?

There are two ways we can find out.  We can take the conceptual approach and analyze the marketing research literature for relevant studies and research results.  Or we can take the empirical results and see what happens.

Please let me know if you get the free apron from Presto after reading this post or my FB feed.  And also, let me know if you buy any Presto pizza.  I will count up the results and post a summary later.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Jealousy causes vengeance. What did you expect?

Fantastic interview on Radio Boston of David Disteno at Northeastern University – who coincidentally just published a new book.  His research is on what makes us jealous and what we do about it.  The interview covers a lot of his work, so I will pick out one piece and give you the links to the book and the podcast if you want more. 

One study involves getting unsuspecting volunteers to interact with very attractive confederates who are posing as other volunteers.  After working together for a few minutes answering trivia questions a third person comes in.  The attractive volunteer chooses to work with this “intruder” on the next part of the activity.  Later, the spurned volunteer has to decide how much hot pepper to put in a sauce for a “blind taste test” for the other volunteer - the supposed purpose of the study.  The way the study is put together is really devious.  The results are just what you would think.  Both male and female volunteers got back at their partner by putting a lot of extra hot pepper in the sauce.  I am probably not doing justice to the study in this short post.  I really recommend reading or listening to the whole thing.