Showing posts with label Choice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Choice. Show all posts

Monday, October 4, 2010

Give me more choice. No, less choice. And never tell me what to do!

Continuing to find some interesting articles and posts about consumer choice and consumer behavior:

1) Well, it must be really good: Indexed

In my last post: Should brands tell the truth?, I referenced research that showed wine preference is more influenced by how expensive people think it is than what was actually in the bottle--the exact point made on this Indexed card.

2) What We're Following in Consumer Behavior: HBR
Jack Brehm, a psychologist, coined the term "reactance" to describe how people respond to a perceived threat to their independence. Recent research shows this consumer trait has all sorts of affects on behavior. For example:

  • If people have an opinion about something, an expert telling them something different is not going to help, in fact it will only get them to dig in their feet.
  • If you tell people they are brand conscious, they will react by choosing things that aren't branded.
  • If you confine people in tight spaces, they'll respond with independence-asserting behavior--researchers showed that shoppers will increase the variety of things they buy when they're shopping in crowded aisles of grocery stores.
3) A Better Choosing Experience: strategy+business
Given our ornery nature, how can we be encouraged to make better choices? We can't handle all the choices we already have but we still insist on more choice and we're highly resistant to having anyone tell us what to do or make choices for us.

In this well-worth-a-read strategy+business article, Sheena Iyengar and Kanika Agrawal suggest (and illustrate) four actions to to take to help consumers help themselves:

  • Cut the number of options
  • Create confidence with expert or personalized recommendations
  • Categorize offerings so that consumers can better understand their options
  • Condition consumers by gradually introducing them to more complex choices
4) Want People to Save? Force Them: Dan Ariely
Chile has decided that, when it comes to saving, its people get to choose some things, not others. They don't get to choose not to save, for example. By law, 11% of every employee’s salary is automatically transferred into a retirement account. Dan thinks that this system is brilliantly conceived and forces consumers to act in a better way but acknowledges that such a system would probably not fly in the States. He wonders why we accept so much government intervention in some areas (like driving) and won't tolerate any in others (like investing). He suggests that it's because of our limited abilities to imagine negative consequences-- we can "see" what will happen if we crash our car but we can't see what will happen if we don't save and invest sensibly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Should brands tell the truth?

We can't go through life doubting our abilities at even the most basic tasks. We have to have some confidence in ourselves.

Yet research continues to show that, below a veneer of competence, we are extraordinarily inept. For example, wouldn't you think that most people, asked to choose which of two jams they liked the best would notice if, immediately afterward, they were offered the wrong one when asked to explain their preference? You would. But, in fact, Lars Hall and colleagues found out that only 20% of the people they tested thought they'd been offered the wrong jam, even when the jams in question were as different as Spicy Cinnamon-Apple and a bitter Grapefruit.

This example of choice blindness shows that we're just not very good at using our senses and we're easily confounded. (Puts the famous Folgers instant coffee ad into perspective, doesn't it?).

To compensate for our sensory failings, our brain adopts some interesting strategies:

1) The use of other cues
I previously described an experiment where a group of CalTech researchers showed that people's preference for wine was much more influenced by how expensive they thought it was than what was actually in the bottle. What made the experiment really interesting was that the CalTech scientists had their subjects wired up to an fMRI machine. This showed that wines labeled as high-priced fired up the medial orbitofrontal cortex (responsible for the cognitive processing of decision-making) which then sent out instructions to the rest of the brain telling it that these wines tasted better, overriding any evidence from the taste buds to the contrary. Once our cortex has spoken, that is our reality.

2) What does everyone else think?
Hartbeat has a great article about choice which shows, among other things, the strong influence of society and culture on the decisions we make. We will jump on one bandwagon, then another, sometimes reversing ourselves. Once we were happy with water from taps, then we had to have our water in plastic bottles and now, maybe, we're going back to water from taps. Our perceptions flip-flop in synch with whatever bandwagon we're on. We see what we want to see.

Let's recap. Brain's ability to judge things by our senses? Low. Influence of other cues, culture or society? High.

So, should brands tell the truth? Yes, of course. But what truth? Just the facts, pure and simple? There's a school of thought that, in a world where traditional advertising is losing ground, marketers should go back to basics--just make sure that they make the best product and let the rest take care of itself. But such thinking credits we consumers with abilities to discriminate and form our own independent opinion that the evidence contradicts.

What counts is how people perceive brands and our perceptions can be shaped by many more things than what's in the product. As marketers, it would be a mistake for us to ignore all the other opportunities for influence in a misguided belief that truth can be measured by reality alone.

Photo by Sean Rogers1 on Flickr

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