Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Monday, January 21

Avoiding Stereotypes: The Color Of Ideology

No one really knows what Martin Luther King, Jr. would have thought had he lived to see the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (Aug. 28, 1963). On one hand, Americans had not only elected but re-elected the first African-American President. On the other, it has created one of the most divisive socio-economic-political climates since President Abraham Lincoln.

I, for one, would like to think he would stand by the lines delivered in the I Have A Dream speech, holding firm to his conviction that people not be judged except by the content of their character. For although racism has largely been abolished in the hearts and minds of a majority, the propensity of humankind to divide has reached a crescendo on dozens of other fronts, ranging from the values people hold to the rights they are willing to defend as part of the definition of freedom.

Whereas in the era of Martin Luther King, Jr., people were unjustly and commonly segregated by the color of their skin, hate speech and stereotypes have found a new home that often ignores the color of our skin and ravishes us instead for religious views, political leanings, and urban-rural localities. While few people would defend hate speech aimed at racial heritage and cultural identity, it has somehow become accepted to characterize some religions as deserving censor, some political parties as callous, gun owners as redneck bigots, and even whether they take notes on a notepad or laptop. And today, rather than enacting segregation in schools, most of it takes place in news outlets and social networks.

So let's be clear. Stereotypes are ignorant, regardless of righteousness. 

A stereotype is a thought about a specific group of individuals that is used to forward the belief that a single commonality about that group can accurately define all characteristics about that group, usually intended to cause others to emotionally react to the naming of the group with good or bad prejudice.

In the past, it was most commonly associated with heritage. Today, it's most commonly associated with ideology and identity. But what hasn't changed is: they are almost always wrong, especially when they are used to dehumanize people; they are exceptionally damaging, especially if we accept derogatory stereotypes that other people assign us; and they are hardwired into our brains, which means we have to be ever vigilant in dismantling almost all of them.

Some people are surprised anytime it is suggested that we are hardwired to invent stereotypes; the truth to it is scientific. Our brains invent stereotypes in order to make our world less cognitively demanding. It's all tied to cognitive psychology, which was always my favorite sub-discipline of psychology (and one of the most useful for communicators and marketers).

Cognitive psychology delves into how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems. And one of the mental processes is how we categorize and compartmentalize information. For example, when we learn fire is hot, we categorize it as something that can burn us. Later, when we learn an oven or stovetop can be hot, we might put it into the same category. We need it to survive.

But then something happens sometime between junior high school and high school. Our cognitive processes begin to take on more abstract forms as we begin to define our world based on arduous notions not much better than The Breakfast Club, a film about five high school stereotypes — jock, geek, stoner, outcast, and socialite — who find temporary common ground around being detainees.

Unfortunately, few people ever really evolve from these baseless social roles. They simply trade them in for new ones, making the world easier to understand even if this understanding is flawed. Worse, we sometimes compound the problem by pursuing the characteristics of stereotypes that we want to belong too, making them seem all the more valid, and creating campaigns to prove they are true and desirable.

The evolution of cognitive thinking relies on individual character. 

There is one simple reason that I tend to attract diversity among friends and associates. Much like their heritage, their ideologies mean less to me than how they behave and treat others, especially those they seem ideologically opposed to across any number of socio-economic-political issues.

And for that, I grant them equal tolerance even as we disagree, especially if we can maintain a relationship without having to dress up in a costume and, most assuredly, if we can agree not to censor or subjugate other people's rights, property, and values. It's called respect. It's called refusing to drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred. It's called character, built on trust and understanding that all men and women are created equal without being forced to carry the loadstones of ancestry and stereotype.

That's my dream. And while I could be wrong, I would like to think it was Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream too — that the flaws of one character within a thinly connected group ought not be used as a weapon to vilify each and every perceived associate. This is, after all, America, a place where we are supposed to be uniquely accountable to our own behaviors and actions and deserve to be judged according to our character and not the behaviors or actions that people attempt to assign us.

That said, it is my dream that people think twice before embracing hate speech and stereotypes, carelessly sharing and spreading such messages across their social connections without any thought of the disparagement they might cause others because underneath it all, no matter how we divide people, we really are all brothers and sisters of the human race. And so, in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. day, good night and good luck.

Wednesday, January 9

Reporting Responsibly: The Psychology Of Rights

Sometime in the 1990s, I signed on to pen a few articles for the most aggressive First Amendment advocacy magazine I've ever read. The content was rough enough that I still sometimes question my decision to participate. I have and had mixed feelings for a couple of the columns I wrote, although they were nothing compared to some of material submitted by others. But that is why I wrote them.

I was challenging my own convictions. I was contributing to a publication Stephen King supported, which was how I discovered it. I had also just recently participated in a win the ACLU had over the old America Online's TOS, which included an aggressive censorship policy against its members.

After a couple of issues, I dropped any future assignments, but it wasn't the limits of the First Amendment that shook me off. The editor/publisher and I had a falling out despite our developing friendship. The argument that did it was over the Second Amendment. I couldn't fathom that a publisher might hold one inalienable right up high but dismiss another outright.

The lack of responsibility and hypocrisy of the Journal News. 

This previous experience was one of the first things that came to mind when I read about the Journal News publishing a map that included the names and addresses of almost 34,000 gun owners. The story, which began two weeks ago, has since escalated. In a case of tit-for-tat, someone decided to publish the names and addresses of the reporters and editors who work there.

Some of the editors are now unhappy and even frightened for themselves and their families. The newspaper has even reported that someone sent bags of white power to their offices, reminiscent of the terrorist scares several years ago. The paper's publisher, Janet Hasson, has hired armed guards for the offices.

Assuming the white powder reports are true, that is unquestionably over the line. But the rest of it, the publishing of names and addresses of reporters and editors, was fair. The paper's own blatant disregard for the responsibility that comes with the freedom of the press wasn't well thought out. The fear they feel isn't much different than the fear they instilled in gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

Perhaps one of my colleagues said it best, pointing out that at least some of those people on the list might be stalker victims or domestic violence victims, only purchasing a gun out of personal necessity. Or maybe there is even more to consider. Publishing the names of gun owners also gives criminals a potential list of gun-owning targets (or non-gun owning targets), gives neighbors a reason to be suspicious, frightens concerned seniors, gives prisoners the names and addresses of corrections officers and police officers, and invites everybody into everybody's personal affairs.

Incidentally, the map isn't even accurate. Many people listed have since moved or are deceased, making the map nothing more than an attempt to justify some notion that neighbors have a right to know who owns a gun or guns — an argument that suggests the public has a right to know which neighbors are journalists, people inclined to transform private lives into public affairs. It's all sad and silly.

The psychology of rights and press ethics.

Personally, it seems to me that there is a maturity in appreciating that the Bill Of Rights was included in the U.S. Constitution not because these rights were convenient or safe or popular. The Bill Of Rights are inalienable rights, meaning that they supersede the government's ability to grant them. They came about because it was the other way around. The citizens who made this government said they wouldn't give these rights up to the government.

Moreover, as inalienable rights, the expressed concept is that such freedoms are not granted by a majority at their privilege to a minority but rather owned and preserved equally by majorities and minorities alike, even when that minority consists of a single individual. In other words, we don't get to pick and choose which inalienable rights we want without the consequence of losing all of them.

That said, the Journal News might have been well within its rights to publish the map, but it doesn't excuse a blatant disregard for responsible news reporting. The same can be said for those who published the names and addresses of reporters and editors in an era where publishing is cheap and relatively easy, but I can't blame them. Equal opportunity sometimes breeds equal jeopardy.

What I do wish is that both publishers would have heard one of my former media professors challenge the ethical vs. free vs. responsibility perceptive of a free press in my media law class. He didn't speak about guns. Instead, he talked about the unwillingness of most newspapers and media outlets to publish the names of rape victims under the age of 18.

He proved his point by escalating the news value of the story, painting the progression that an editor might not publish the name of a 14-year-old victim, but would have a harder time not publishing her name if she was the daughter of a mayor, or if the mayor was responsible, or if other publications do. As he progressed, the hands of those who would not publish the name fell away with shattered convictions.

No, what the the Journal News did is not an exercise of two rights rubbing up against each other, creating the illusion that we have to make a choice. It is something much simpler. It is having the common sense to know that just because you can publish something, doesn't mean you have to publish it (or create laws to censor it). And maybe that is what the discussion ought to be about.

Friday, December 21

Looking For Newness: You Could Be

For every advantage big established companies have in the field today, they have some disadvantages too. Part of the problem is newness or, more precisely, the lack of newness. They just do what they do.

Even if they do what they do well, they have a disadvantage on the newness scorecard and it's not only cosmetic (as in a new advertising campaign). It has to do with what they are doing or aspiring to do that conveys a sense of urgency and excitement. But more importantly, there is a psychology to it all.

A steady stream of newness helps make everything worthwhile. 

The biggest cliche in business circles (and sometimes individual lives) is that everything is going well or good, real good. Few people ever offers and specifics. They treat the entire conversation as a string of obligatory niceties.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine, you?"

"Good. How's business?"

"Oh, you know. Moving along."

"Anything new?"

"No, not really."

If zombies could talk, this would be their conversation. It's frightening and pathetic all at once while explaining why zombies have resurfaced as leading paranormal lore. We're terrified they might be us.

The problem with many businesses, even startups after a surprisingly short time, is they all gravitate toward the same. They experience a tremendous surge of elation before falling into routine or boredom. Complacency is the same thing with just another name. Newness tends to be inspired.

The three paths to prevent zombification. 

There might be more, but three is enough to illustrate the point. The businesses that are most susceptible to boring either tell it all, have nothing to tell, or are too busy shrinking themselves into nothingness. The objective is to do the opposite without killing yourself.

Initiate one new thing every month. While this is scalable to company size, the point is to make it manageable. Having even one new thing (with a definite beginning and end) can ensure your company is always moving forward. It's all right if it overlaps other months. It's the start that counts, especially if you can break up one project into several milestones.

Don't blurt out every idea today. It's one of the hardest things for startup businesses to manage. They want to share every product, service and success story on the front end. Share inspiration in little bits and pieces to show progress rather than sharing everything with nothing new to share for months and months. (Interestingly enough, social media almost demands constraint because several months of nothing feels like an eternity.)

Bring more to life than you kill. Whether or not there is an economic recovery in progress, many businesses have become too used to the idea of cutting back. Even when cutbacks or putting things on hold becomes a primary objective, companies and organizations cannot afford to kill more than they create — even if that means creating while cutting back. Newness can come in efficiencies too.

To recap, companies and organizations can plan initiatives to phase over the course of a year (phased in to prevent overload and burnout), show restraint in communicating anything until it is relevant (even if some of the work is already done), and always plan to create more newness than they kill.

The latter is important, especially in light of how many organizations I have seen kill off programs without replacements. Doing so almost always creates the impression of surrender while demoralizing employees and board members at the same time. Worse, even if the organization attempts to salvage a program later, resurrection (especially at 50 percent) will only reinforce that they let something go.

The same holds true for individuals. Musicians are always working on the next track. Artists are always working on the next work. And authors are at least thinking about the next book. It's how they keep their audiences engaged — something new is always on the horizon.

In fact, it doesn't even have to be as lofty as all that. Newness can be big or little, long or short term. The "what" doesn't matter as much as the continual "when." People like 'newness' news, especially the good kind. Almost anything might work (or ask your kids for some vicarious newness), just as long as you don't have to bore people by saying fine, good or the same old thing. Do that too often and they might not even bother to ask.

Wednesday, December 5

Making Messages: Negative Means Negative Results

When you think of the most memorable anti-drug commercials of all times, the analogy that likened our brains to eggs usually comes out on top (or at least in the top five). It was straightforward and powerful.

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.

Unfortunately, for as memorable as this classic campaign is, it doesn't do the job. According to researchers at Indiana University and Wayne University, negatively framed messages are not the most effective way to reach the people in need of persuasion.

The following advertisement or even the entire "just say no" campaign has very little impact on people who are substance-dependent. In fact, the study found that the substance-dependent group showed little brain activity in response to negatively framed messages.

In some cases, the negative messaging led to worse or riskier behaviors. It makes sense that they would. Most substance-dependent people have already accepted the risks. Intellect doesn't rule addiction.


The real takeaway here is how negative messaging doesn't work on intended audiences. As the researchers have shown using neuroimaging, the negatively charged messages didn't stimulate the brain in substance-dependent people.

One possible explanation might be that substance-dependent people have not only accepted the risks but also developed a resistance to risk-aversion based messages. (The phenomenon might even be likened to how stuntmen, soldiers and others can perform in life-threatening situations.)

Being clever isn't enough. Being positive might not be either.

In lieu of negative messages, one suggestion was to promote the benefits of staying clean as opposed to telling people what not to do or why something might be bad for them. While this might be on the right track, it still neglects the dynamic relationship between substance and abuse.

In order to work, the long-term benefits of staying clean would have to outweigh the perceived and immediate benefits of the drug (from the perspective of the substance-dependent people). Unfortunately, there is a point when substance-dependent people cannot comprehend the possibility. Many of them elevate the immediate rewards that the substance provides until it eclipses everything, including their lives.

From a broader advertising perspective, risk-aversion messaging and negative messaging rarely have as much impact on the intended audience as creatives think. Instead, such messages tend to bolster a deeper reaction in people who see such ads as a clever or emotional affirmation of their own beliefs. In this case, people who would never do drugs. So you have to ask yourself. What's the objective?

Monday, December 3

Thinking Social: How Automation Hurts Awareness

Although many social media practitioners are quick to equate exposure to awareness, they aren't the same. Quantity does not always replace quality. Too much exposure can diminish awareness.

This might explain why some social media practitioners who have tried to make social media more scalable with auto-sharing tools might be missing out in the long term. As they continually send out a steady stream from the same sources or send out similar broadcasts throughout the day, their followers slowly begin to tune out.

Although many of them will try to adjust by changing out their sources, the problem might not be the content. The problem is over exposure. Too much exposure can actually diminish awareness long term.

A psychology study that hints at the over-exposure phenomenon.

The over-exposure phenomenon isn't too far off from a new study being conducted at the University of California. It shows that people do not always recollect things they may have seen (or at least walked by) hundreds of times.

In the first experiment to consider the validity of the theory, researchers asked people where they could find the nearest fire extinguishers in their office. Despite walking by them every day, only 24 percent could recall where they were located (and not always the nearest ones).

Think about this for a minute. Fire extinguishers are designed to stand out. They are often painted bright red and set against neutral or beige backgrounds. They are also important. In the event of a fire, they could help prevent catastrophic damage and save people's lives. And yet, our brains tune them out.

Sometimes social media tries to hard to be a fire extinguisher. 

The brain does more than tune out fire extinguishers. When faced with over stimulation on networks like Twitter or even Facebook, it automatically tries to tune out everything irrelevant. The brain only wants to see relevant content.

One illusion that illustrates this exceptionally well is a red dot placed in a blue circle. As people try to focus on the red dot, the circle will eventually fade away and possibly disappear as the brain decides that the circle is as irrelevant as white noise. It doesn't even matter if there is more blue than red.

The same thing happens with sharing. People tend to scan streams for relevant content — things they want to find — and everything else eventually falls into the background (e.g., someone using hashtags for a Twitter chat, a steady stream of auto links, a restaurant reminding them it's lunch time).

Worse, over exposure can lead to negative impressions too. Bad commercials, overwritten billboards, political advertisements, and other aggressive marketing tactics are often cited as bothersome, eliciting as many negative impressions as positive impressions. And no, it doesn't matter if the message is important or, as in the case of fire extinguishers, painted bright red.

Friday, November 23

Building Spaces: Environments Impact Minds

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
Fast Company recently covered a story in the Pacific Standard that explores how certain types of spaces affect our behaviors and ultimately our brains. Designers and programmers might take note of it.

Architecture isn't the only design that ties into neuroscience. When people click on a link and land on a page, design and organizational function create a cascade of immediate reactions, sometimes before anyone has the chance to read the first word. It dictates how we feel when we visit a platform.

The reason is simple. Our brains can't always distinguish the difference between stories, pictures, programs, and real-life experiences. This is the reason horror flicks can trigger our "fight or flee" mechanism. It's also why some photos, like the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, have an immediate calming affect on our mood. In at least one case, as Fast Company noted, it inspires clarity.

Thinking spatially, contextually and visually will become a dominant design driver. 

In fact, neuroscience studies in this fascinating field use virtual renderings of architectural models to test their theories. One of their many findings concluded that design is often responsible for making people feel lost or providing enough guidance to create a confident, intuitive sense of where they are going.



There is a dual edge to this kind of design theory, both architecturally and online. While our brains may have some design preferences that may be universal (something along the lines of feng shui), some of our preferences are built upon other environmental factors that help set our expectations.

Ergo, there is a reason that architectural movements tend to occur in waves or that Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ all create similar streams of content. Advertising design sometimes does the same (the dark and edgy advertisements that dominated much of the 1990s have fallen off, for example). But that doesn't mean designers and programmers ought to be concerned with trends alone.

There do seem to be universal design elements and structures that touch our subconscious, which is why certain natural and classical architecture immediately appeal to our senses and feel timeless. Such consideration could make the design-build stage of everything — advertisements, websites and social networks — much more effective in delivering a memorable, automatically comfortable experience.

Perhaps there is a Pinterest connection to intuitive design.

This could even be why Pinterest took off as its own unique niche network. While there were several sites that were launched (and relaunched) around the same time, Pinterest propelled itself forward because it stumbled upon an interesting, universally appealing platform design that felt natural.

Sure, some people believe that Pinterest took off because it was all about visuals. But it seems to me to be much more than that. While the structural layout wasn't necessarily original or new, it did take advantage of a more universally appealing design — one that "feels" cleaner than other networks but not overtly sparse as Google+ looked when it was originally rolled out.

In other words, it seems a few answers to why some platforms succeed and others do not might be more linked to design and neuroscience than we think. And if it is, better design-program integration will eventually become a priority.

Monday, November 12

Marketing To Races: The Biggest Lie In Politics

In post-election discussions, we can expect to see plenty of racial graphics. It's the kind of analysis that makes my skin crawl because it reinforces blatant ignorance — that people somehow pick candidates and political parties based on the color of their skin or presumed minority status.

Maybe some do — those that do are falling for a political parlor trick — but not really. It has much more to do with cultural identity as demonstrated by a study from Columbia Business School. The more someone identifies with cultural ideology, the more likely they are to be predisposed or sympathetic to specific issues — especially if they believe one candidate wants to reinforce that minority grouping and if that minority grouping believes (and is enabled to believe) they need help to "level" the playing field.

The reality is that minority groups don't need any special advantages, perks, or handouts to make it, at least not along racial or ancestral lines. To say that they do, it seems, is more racially loaded than saying they don't. Hispanics don't need "help" to make it. African-Americans don't need "help" to make it. German Americans don't need "help" either. While some people might need help to address some socio-economic disadvantages (e.g., growing up in a poor neighborhood), race doesn't play a factor unless people pretend it does. And if they pretend it does, then they likely have something to gain.

A personal and anecdotal analysis of minority status.

While some people argue that statistical data shows minorities have unfair disadvantages, they might consider that the continued reinforcement of such statistics is the problem and not the symptom. When you raise someone to believe that their racial minority is disadvantaged, they will eventually believe it.

The concept is easy enough to test. All you need to do is look to people who have the genetics of a minority but not the cultural upbringing of being in a minority, saddled by this concept that they are disadvantaged. Incidentally, I recently learned that I qualify to this unique subset.

My father's paternal lineage (my grandfather) was always a bit of a mystery. Most accounts speculated he was a Spanish-Irish solider serving in the British army. But in recent years, my German grandmother changed her story, saying that he was a Mexican-American serving in the American army (his name escapes her) in the post World War II theater around Berlin.

Not that I distrust her, but the news was somewhat of a surprise because it contradicted the little bit of ancestral thought that I had managed to scrape together for my kids. I was tired of guessing so I finally decided to splurge and purchase an ancestral DNA test. It turns out everyone was close, but wrong.

My missing 25 percent is Bolivian (with some distant Greek European). The United States lumps Bolivians as part of the greater Hispanic/Latino grouping used in politics. In fact, Bolivians represent the third-smallest Hispanic group in the United States. Genetically, for me, it's a dominant match.

Except, I never knew it. I was more inclined to think any early "disadvantages" were limited to poverty as well as a physical handicap (mentioned in comments) I was fortunate enough to leave behind. There was no predisposition in my life to think I would have a harder time succeeding because I was related to the Hispanic/Latino minority. I didn't need special grants. I didn't need to seek MOB status.

While I find it interesting that after almost 45 years that I qualify for these things — a minority group member is an individual who is a U.S. citizen with at least 25 percent Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic, or Native American heritage — it seems I had a different advantage. I wasn't saddled with the label. Interestingly enough, many Asians aren't either. As a grouping, they have no problem excelling as a minority group in the United States, even if their ancestors began in poverty.

In fact, they tend to be among the least likely to pursue MOB status. So are Portuguese-Americans (my wife is half Portuguese), which has an exceptionally unusual relationship to the Hispanic/Latino minority grouping as Gregg Sangillo noted about Benjamin Nathan Cardoza's service on the Supreme Court.

Being a minority, identifying as a minority, marketing, and politics.

In much the same way Supreme Court Justice Cardoza has been used to discuss the uniqueness of  Portuguese-Americans, I think there is a deeper issue. There is a difference between "being" a minority and "identifying" as a minority because the thought of minorities continues to permeate our culture, both in marketing and especially in politics. To that end, it seems there are two takeaways.

• Reinforcing that minorities are disadvantaged is a lie. The people who continually attempt to label minorities as disadvantaged so they can "help" them does them a disservice. Individuals who have no knowledge of being in a minority group tend to excel at the same pace, suggesting race or ancestral heritage has very little to do with success. What is more damaging is the chronic promotion that these individuals are disadvantaged. They have a better opportunity to succeed without such dubious distinctions. They have a better chance at excelling in education without specialized tests or educational programs. And you can expect this to be heard more and more often by the Supreme Court.

• Cultural identity is a temporary status. Over time, cultural identity tends to change. Even if a certain minority group doesn't fully assimilate in a geographically-based culture or tends to maintain some semblance of their heritage, the minority group does change over time until it takes on characteristics that uniquely align to the origin. Ergo, in another 100 years, most Mexican-Americans will have almost no commonality to their Mexican ancestors (even if they preserve their heritage), much like Mexico bears no distinctions to Spanish or Native Americans. It has been this way throughout history and political pundits who ignore this simple truth will eventually be dismissed as being irrelevant to the bigger issues of ideology regardless of skin color.

Sure, I suppose both categories of exploitation among marketers and politicians (marketers to boost sales and politicians to curry votes) have some short-term gain. But over the long term, there is no truth to it, except one. The more we classify individuals based on race and ancestral heritage, assigning preset stereotypes into how they behave or what is important to them, we fall prey to circumventing the collective American experience in favor of one that panders to narrower and narrower special interests. I'd rather pursue Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision. It just doesn't matter.

Well, it does matter from a personal perspective. I am curious and fascinated by my newly discovered ancestors as much as I was curious and fascinated by the ones I have always known. Otherwise, I'm still just the same person before I knew anything (because racial and cultural identity is not innate).

Monday, November 5

Marketing Psychology Convergence: What's Wrong With It?

Larry Dignan, writing for ZDNet, was covering the Gartner Symposium when analyst Andrew Frank laid out a scenario where marketing, data and IT will come together so algorithms will find and use so-called influencers. It's part of what many marketers consider to be the holy grail of marketing.

In this case, Gartner believes that it will produce a new area of specialty that it has dubbed influence engineering. Let's hope not. While data, marketing, psychology, and analytics could use some convergence, the direction is continually plagued by an overemphasis on developing one-way communication that drives action through influential third parties. That tactic already has a name.

It's called propaganda and it's a big step backwards. 

The dream of some marketers is becoming increasingly simplified under the banner of influence. They want to be able to reach consumers through third-party influencers in order to make purchases.

The idea is so old, it was nearly perfected by the father of modern public relations. Edward Bernays was a pioneer in manipulation by fusing media and communication with crowd psychology and psychoanalysis. He frequently used the media as his influencer, given the power it had at the time.

It worked so well as a dubious proposition that future public relations practitioners would spend the next century attempting to distance themselves from the work and toward a more enlightened concept, Scott Cutlip, the father of public relations education, among them. Rather than resort to using big data to identify and manipulate, he forwarded the concept that big data was best used as a measure from which an organization could realign itself in the public interest.

As a result, influencers were just as likely to reinforce the organizational message and brand perception in following public opinion as they were to be coerced by manipulated influencers. In other words, the difference between the two is philosophical. Specifically, it is tied to who changes and by how much.

The difference between propaganda and public interest. 

It's plainly simple. One marketer hopes to listen, analyze, and then market an adjusted message in the hopes of changing behavior to preset measurable outcomes. The other listens, realigns (sometimes at the core product level), and then reinforces how they meet or exceed public interest and expectation.

The tendency for marketers to attempt the other approach — manipulation — frequently wins out. It's also the very reason that many marketers eventually need to use their crisis communication plan, assuming they have one. They overreach by trying to perfect an image that they cannot hope to meet.

That is not to say Gartner is all wrong in its thinking. It is right that the science of psychology can link data architects and marketers. But where it is off the mark is in thinking that chasing down patterns of influence is the right use or that optimizing pitches is the crux of a successful business.

It's very much the opposite. Some of the most successful businesses and agencies in the world operate on the principle that the better they understand the consumer, the better they can meet customer needs. In other words, you don't have to optimize a pitch when you've optimized the product or service offering. And the way to remember this critical fact is to always ask who changes and by how much.

Friday, October 26

Influencing And Being Influential: They Are Different

influencer
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information, which was headed by George Creel and staffed by several notable figures (and somewhat notorious) like Edward Bernays, who went on to become credited as the father of modern public relations. They were largely responsible for creating anti-German hysteria in the United States to promote war efforts during World War I.

Some of what they told the public was true. Some of what they told the public was made up. All of it was by design. And yet, despite exerting one of the most influential campaigns in history, one wonders whether the men themselves could be considered influential as the ghosts behind the propaganda.

Why influence cannot be measured by actions. 

Most people include actions as a measure of influence, online and off. While there is some truth to the notion, it is becoming one of most misunderstood and misleading measures employed by marketers, public relations professionals and social media advocates. Any communication, after all, can produce a response, a.k.a. action. But not all actions represent a compelling force on an individual or group.

For example, if Subway drops the price of its foot long to $5 and I happen to buy one, it would be difficult to argue that Subway influenced me or had influence over me. Sure, some might say the price point did (and many marketers do). But the truth is that nobody really knows why I bought it (or if I would have bought it without the social media coupon). 

• Maybe I was already inclined to order a sandwich and stumbled upon the coupon after the fact. 
• Maybe I intentionally follow Subway on Twitter because it offers coupons from time to time. 
• Maybe I know someone who likes Subway and I'm increasing my so-called influence over them. 
• Maybe I ran out of salami and the lack of salami and proximity of Subway influenced me to go. 
• Maybe there really is something to the Mayan calendar and I'm stocking up.

You don't really know. Even when we measure using benchmarks and look for upticks along the social graph, we don't really know much more than what seems to be. But more important than that, even if I execute an action, it doesn't mean Subway has any influence on me whatsoever.

I will give Subway some credit in terms of marketing. It has successfully positioned itself as a healthier alternative to fast food. However, even that doesn't necessarily mean that it influences people to eat healthier. All it means is that it has positioned itself to meet the needs of people who are already influenced to eat healthier. Ergo, the action could be a result and not a persuasion.

Being influential is different from influencing. 

The same case can be applied when people click a link, share a tweet, or post story. Sometimes it might be the individual who shares it because of their reputation or popularity (not because they have direct or indirect influence over me), but sometimes it is the headline or topic. And then? Once I read the story, it could have any degree of an outcome — ranging from reading a sentence to subscribing to ... name it.

Online, most measures are tracked at the click or the share. The irony is that most compelling forces do not occur at the click or the share. They only occur at the compelling force (content), assuming the thoughts and opinions exert any influence. Not all of them do. And that is different from an influencer. 

Influencers, on the other hand, are something different all together. They are people who exert influence for any number of reasons. 

oprah
Oprah, for example, can consistently put a book on a best sellers list by merely recommending it (regardless of the author or subject matter) because she earned influence. Sometimes someone in a position of authority has influence regardless of awareness or the number of interactions they have with someone (and sometimes people with authority have no influence). Sometimes someone who has dedicated a lifetime in the pursuit of knowledge is influential. Sometimes nobody is influential until fate requires it. It all depends. 

What is missing from marketing and social media from being able to accurately and authentically account for influence is the immeasurability of the "compelling force" required to be influential, which is largely based on the charisma and possibly reputation of a person combined with their ability to deliver the right message within the right sphere, at the right time, in the right environment, to the right environment. 

What is happening all too often in communication today is that individuals are too worried about taking actions in order to give themselves the appearance of being influential rather than taking actions that elevate themselves to positions where people are known to become influential. And this simple fact is why I lead with Creel and Bernays. The pursuit of an influential appearance isn't communication or influence as much as it is manipulation and propaganda, which is the exact opposite of being influential.

Friday, October 19

Managing Messages: Repetition Works Enough To Fool Us

A few years ago, there was an interesting study conducted on the power of repetition. Specifically, the work done by Kimberlee Weaver (Virginia Polytechnic Institute), Stephen Garcia and Norbert Schwarz (University of Michigan), and Dale Miller (Stanford University) demonstrated that repetition from a single source infers the popularity of an opinion across an entire group.

It's our brains. They tend to trick us. And in this case, they tend to trick us consistently, given that the researchers constructed six different experiments to show it. The opening nails down the research.

"From college students gauging their peers’ views on alcohol, to stockbrokers speculating about consumers’ confidence in the market, to everyday Americans wondering how scared others are about terrorism, our estimates of group opinion affect not only the decisions we make on behalf of groups but also our perceptions of reality." ... However, "perceivers integrate information about the number of times they have heard a sentiment expressed [without] information about the number of people who have expressed it."

The same idea applies to the credibility of the sources. It hardly matters. The more familiar the opinion seems, the more perceivers think that they have heard the opinion from multiple sources — even if it comes from one source or less credible sources. The opinion itself feels familiar through repetition.

How did the researchers test their theory?

1. Participants reading opinions in favor of open space preservation were more likely to support open space preservation when they read similar opinions from three different sources and one opinion from a single source, three times.

2. Participants believing they were helping a company make a decision about whether to hire a CEO from outside the company were swayed by three employees suggesting it and one employee suggesting it multiple times (saying the same thing in different ways).

3. Participants in another test estimated more widespread support for a moderate stance on a reproductive rights issue after reading one opinion statement advocating that position three times than those participants who only read the opinion once. (It didn't matter that it was the same statement.)

4. After being exposed to a string of words related to open spaces (a similar scenario as in number 1) or neutral words, participants were more likely to support open space preservation if they had been exposed to a string of words related to open spaces.

5. In another study, researchers tested repeated opinions that were contrary to what participants knew to a specific group's preference to be. This was the only time that repeated opinions had no affect on the outcomes.

6. In the final study, the researchers provided one statement of opinion to a group, one statement repeated three times, and three similar statements from three different people to test their theory against time delays. They were then asked how they perceived the opinion as it was representative of a group immediately after the presentation and after a time delay. Interestingly enough, agreement with one opinion waned whereas agreement with the repeated or reinforced opinion increased over time.

What does this have to do with marketing and public relations?

In connection with earlier research on how misinformation spreads, repetition seems to have significant weight in shaping our perceptions, provided a pre-existing opinion doesn't already exist. (In which case, people tend to have a defense mechanism against changing their opinion, even if it is wrong.) It doesn't matter whether or not we receive the information from multiple sources as much as the information is repeated by the same source.

This is a pretty significant study when coupled with the more recent study on misinformation. It sheds some light on why children, for example, tend to adopt the opinions of their parents, even when those opinions represent inaccurate bias. It also shows how difficult developing objectivity as a skill set can be if the communicator doesn't vary their sources of information.

Ergo, one biased media source will eventually be able to frame the narrative of policy, position or candidate merely by repeating similar statements over and over. Without any countering opinion, the study suggests people will be that much more likely to adopt that opinion and even feel that the opinion is somehow reflective of the population (whether it is or not). On the flip side, it also shows how marketers are better positioned by focusing on a few clear messages than attempting to sell everything.

Wednesday, October 10

Marketing Madness: How Stereotypes Hurt Campaigns

I've always believed companies need to be culturally sensitive, but I've never been a fan of most "cultural" marketing campaigns. A new study by Columbia Business School underscores the reason.

Columbia Business School's Michael Morris, the Chavkin-Chang professor of leadership, and Aurelia Mok, assistant professor, City University of Hong Kong (she received her Ph.D. from Columbia Business School in 2010) set out to better understand bicultural identities and how marketing cues might influence their response. It turns out that culturally-skewed campaigns may not resonate.

Cultural campaigns ignore the integration of cultural identities. 

The researchers do an excellent job setting up the myth. When a Japanese-American woman strolls through a food court at the mall, is she more likely to opt for sushi or a hamburger? It depends on the woman. It depends to which degree she has integrated her cultural identity.

Prior research found that bicultural individuals switch between their two sets of cultural habits in response to cues in their current setting. Morris and Mok show that these responses differ between two kinds of bicultural individuals: "integrated-self" individuals exhibit chameleon-like behavior, expressing Asian tastes after exposure to Asian symbols, while "divided-self" individuals behave like cultural contrarians, expressing American tastes even after exposure to Asian symbols.

This holds true even when cues are presented subliminally, suggesting that unconscious motives are at work. It's these unconscious responses that can add the most weight, but it's also the hardest to measure.

So the researchers devised a subliminal priming technique in which participants were repeatedly flashed "Asian" or "American" while reading words in a word recognition test. The cues could not be seen, but were flashed long enough to be caught by their subconscious minds. The subjects were then shown different products that they could click on for more information.

These Asian-Americans did not skew toward Asian presets. Instead, subjects responded based on their degree of bicultural integration. In some cases, integrated individuals experienced a self-defense response that caused them to respond with less interest to marketing messages that skewed Asian because they felt (consciously or subconsciously) the ads were exclusionary and even caused them anxiety in losing their self-identity versus a cultural one.

The brilliance in understanding people and not stereotypes.

Modern marketers place considerable effort on lacing campaigns with cultural markers in the hopes of reaching a specific segment of the population. The idea might show cultural awareness, but it is equally likely to prey on stereotypes and cause some members of that segment to become disinterested or even disassociated with the brand, depending on how integrated the individual's identity might be.

It is especially prevalent in Hispanic marketing efforts, which often attempt to reach a Hispanic public based on the pre-conceived belief that they fit certain stereotypes. They do not.

Not only does Hispanic marketing run the risk of alienating diversity within a broad definition (e.g., Cuban vs. Mexican vs. Dominican Republican, etc.) but each generation removed from their cultural identity becomes less motivated by Hispanic messaging and more likely to identify with being American. In such cases, much like Asian groups, they may even have an aversion to the message.

Likewise, although not part of the study, there are other differences as well. Hispanic and Latino publics in California, Florida and Texas are all very likely to have different regional identities unique to their geographical region. But despite this, marketers frequently insist on developing campaigns to the broader base.

Certainly, some cultures seem to be more resistant to assimilation than others. But at the same time, given cultural identity is strongly associated with individual preferences and not groups, marketers need to start asking themselves if attempting to capitalize on cultural identity is worth the long-term risk of alienation. And, perhaps even more importantly, if attempting to base marketing campaigns on stereotypes is the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish.

People are more likely bound and identifiable based on specific interests and experiences. Marketers need to give more cadence to those identifiers than cultural bias, especially in a country like the U.S.

Wednesday, October 3

Managing Misinformation: Bringing Clarity To Bear

When psychologists from the University of Western Australia, University of Michigan, and University of Queensland released their abstract on misinformation, I was especially interested in reading their conclusions and solutions. They didn't have many solutions. The ones they did have sounded like entry level public relations. It isn't enough.

The psychology perspective on managing misinformation. 

• Provide people a narrative to fill the gap left by misinformation.
• Focus on the facts you want to highlight, rather than the lies.
• Keep new information simple and brief in its telling.
• Consider your audience and their pre-existing beliefs.
• Strengthen your message through repetition.

None of it is wrong, per se. But all of it can make any misinformation about you, your department, or your company worse. Managing misinformation requires much more than casual interpretation of multiple studies. For comparison, consider five tenets from crisis communication.

The crisis communication perspective on managing misinformation. 

• Talk about it as soon as possible.
• Tell the whole truth, even if it means bad news, negligence, or wrongdoing.
• Be clear and concise, addressing details without obscuring the situation.
• Offer full disclosure of all relevant facts, history and related information.
• Demonstrate empathy or remorse as appropriate to the situation.

These tenets are a step up, but even these aren't perfect. Any crisis caused by misinformation requires a delicate hand, much like managing bad news. While you can use almost any model from public relations or crisis communication as a guide, professionals have to develop plans unique to the situation.

Specifically, the abstract misses the finer points, as do the tenets. A temporary narrative is fine while an investigation takes place, but most publics will assume it's a cover up unless you have a definitive deadline to get to the truth. Focusing on the facts is always a good idea, but sometimes a correction creates the impression that there is some validity to the misinformation. Considering the audience is smart, but information cannot be contained — everything has the potential to go global. Strengthening a message through repetition sounds good, but it can make the crisis live longer than needed.

A deeper look into understanding misinformation management. 

Establish the truth before misinformation. Far too many companies don't see a "tangible" return on investment for critical communication components like branding, public relations, and social media because the ROI is relatively soft compared to direct response that delivers concrete numbers. Unfortunately, those concrete numbers dissipate like quicksand compared to long-term reputation.

The narrative that psychologists suggest ought not be a reactionary measure, but a preventative one. Businesses with well-established brands are not exempt from misinformation being spread about them, but they are given a longer timeframe to investigate and prepare a defense as needed. Once you have a strong brand, do not deviate from it. You reinforce it with words and actions. Brands are fragile.

• Choose A Suitable Level Of Response. One of the most challenging aspects of any potential misinformation crisis, real or imagined, is to determine whether it needs to be left alone or if it needs to be addressed straight away before it spreads. One negative review left by a competitor under an assumed name requires very little action against the weight of 50 positive reviews.

However, if it needs to be addressed, attempt to address it with those exposed as quickly as possible while preparing for a possible escalation. For example, if the questionable review is on Yelp, address it there not on YouTube. The point is that any time someone addresses misinformation, it is an acknowledgement that there might be some truth to it or that the organization can be damaged by it. The weight of any counter measure determines the importance of the misinformation.

Prioritize the facts and keep it simple. One of the areas where the abstract shined was in illustrating how misinformation has an advantage because it is simple. A simple message almost always sticks better than a complex message. If someone needs 12 paragraphs to explain why five words are a lie, it's an uphill battle. Likewise, a one-point sound bite sticks better than 12.

And yet, sometimes the best solution is to have three or four related and reinforceable points that can be changed out depending on the audience without alienating the larger global audience. Years ago, when helping facilitate the first flood control detention basins in the area, we developed several points to appeal not only to specific audiences but also to different people within the same audience. Resident concern was based on losing views, property value loss, and construction hassles. Our primary points were safety, aesthetics, public participation, and long-term property values (floods kill property values, not detention basins). We didn't have to negate or agitate detractors. We developed a partnership of trust.

• Empathy is an emotional appeal. As the abstract correctly illustrated, misinformation tends to win because it elicits an emotional reaction as opposed logical argument. It doesn't have to be this way.

Sometimes facts naturally exhibit an emotional appeal. Sometimes they don't. When they don't, empathy carries an emotional appeal for a logical argument. Ergo, it is possible to acknowledge that some people might believe misinformation (without vilifying them) and move to the truth.

In the abstract, for example, they point to the "myth" about death panels being built into the national health care program. While the psychologists dismiss it outright, they neglected to note that the proponents of national health care resorted to diatribe rather than address the underlying questions about oversights, caps, and other controls. The truth was somewhere in the middle of misinformation and not many people were up to the challenge of pursuing it. An objective analysis was needed.

Reinforce, but be wary of repetition. No one can drive the truth home with a sledgehammer. Simply presenting the truth over and over will not make people believe it. On the contrary, overzealous repetition has an equal opportunity to entrench opponents or reinforce the myth. It almost goes along with a marketing adage. Those who oversell have nothing to sell.

Addressing misinformation and managing it effectively requires more than a reaction. It requires action. Once the misinformation is addressed, assuming the evidence is objective and accurate, stop addressing the myth and move on to accurate messages that ought to have been part of the brand before it was challenged.

For example, as Apple makes corrections to its Maps program, shoring up its brand will require new demonstrations that it is still about innovation and not slipping into a model of production that so many other companies subscribe to. The worst thing it could do is keep talking about it — long after a resolution or the fervor of one blatant jump-the-gun mistake.

Misinformation isn't always bad, assuming it didn't come from you. 

There are two things to think about misinformation. The first is to avoid being the source of it, which was the primary point of the previous article on this subject. People need to work harder at developing objectivity as a skill set, especially while the media has slipped in this arena.

Author Gore Vidal once addressed this topic, citing a student of Confucius who asked what would be the first thing Confucius would do as emperor. Vidal said Confucius was quick to answer.

"I would rectify the language. If people do not understand the emperor, there is no nation. Now that lying is the usual discourse of our rulers, we cannot grasp any reality from the true cause of hurricanes to the lies used to compel us into disastrous wars."

While Vidal was talking about blatant lies, not all misinformation is crafted out of blatant manipulations and fabrications. Most of it is derived from either an overall brand weakness, the lack of clear and accurate information, or arrogance in the belief that the public cannot be appealed to with logical discourse. But as such, this kind of misinformation need not be the cause of panic, but an opportunity.

Even within the psychologists' study, you can see it. If you ask yourself objectively why climate change, national health care, or even a birth certificate fiasco became fodder for what is called misinformation, you will inevitably find the contentions grew out of overreaching data, lack of details, or an initial unwillingness to provide evidence. The cause wasn't detractors. It was the proponents who provided cracks, hoping to appeal to emotional reactions over logical discourse, perhaps because the truth wasn't as patently accurate as they wanted people to believe.

Just as shadows cannot grow in brightly lit rooms, misinformation cannot rise out of truth alone. As communicators, we must continually strive to turn on lights to eliminate shadows rather than be tempted to turn them off and add more shadows of our own. No good ever comes from it. Only darkness.

Monday, October 1

Sharing Misinformation: Why Big Lies Stick

Psychologists from the University of Western Australia, University of Michigan, and University of Queensland recently published a new abstract that delves into the psychology of misinformation, and why people are more apt to believe falsehoods over accurate information. (Hat tip: Farron Cousins.)

The simple answer? Believing misinformation requires less brain power. But there is something else that is striking to consider, especially because people are resistant to correct misinformed beliefs.

Misinformation is simple, memorable, and emotional. 

The attacks on two U.S. embassies that resulted in the deaths of four Americans provide an example. The initial reports attributed the attacks to a spontaneous reaction to the inflammatory anti-Muslim film by Sam Bacile. The U.S. government initially cited the film as the primary cause.

However, it has now become clear that the attack on the consulate in Libya was not spontaneous. It was a planned act of terrorism believed to be led by militant Ansar al-Shariah and al Qaeda. Although the administration knew it was a terrorist attack within 24 hours after it occurred (and possibly before the attack), it continued to link the attack to the film for a week.

Focusing on the film has given it even more credence and escalated tensions in the Middle East. So why did the administration do it? Possibly, in part, because the misinformation was easier to report.

Misinformation tends to be grounded in an emotional appeal whereas the truth tends to be grounded in logical appeal. The truth requires more reason and deliberation. The cause-and-effect model applied to the film is easy to believe. It requires no thought. The act of terrorism, on the other hand, requires deliberate thinking because the administration has consistently suggested that al Qaeda has all but lost, the administration's foreign policy is sound, and that Americans are safer today.

In essence, because accurate information requires people to reassess other administration "truths," it is more difficult to believe that this was an emotional reaction caused by the film. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of this misinformation have now fanned real protests across the Middle East. As a result, it has given rise anti-American sentiment once again.

If misinformation has the advantage, what can we do about it?

Misinformation isn't used exclusively by governments and politicians. It impacts communities, industries, companies, and individuals every day. Although the abstract suggests that the cause is linked to rumors, governments, vested interests, and media (including the Internet), their more compelling point is psychology. People have no real safeguards against it.

Specifically, the researchers say that most people look for information compatible with what they believe, how coherent the story might be, whether the source is credible, and how many other people believe it. These strategies do not guard against misinformation. In fact, they often compound it.

Having a presumably credible source deliver a well-crafted story to people who are likely to believe it (and the more the better) is the recipe for propaganda. When you look at several crisis communication studies, almost all of them include some of these criteria to spread misinformation, intentional and accidental, whether they are proponents or detractors.

In many of the case studies I've covered, there does tend to be a short-term lift associated with misinformation, which is then followed by long-term consequences. In most cases, credibility erodes until nobody believes the fraudulent source anymore (even when they do tell the truth).

This is one of several reasons I frequently teach public relations students that the truth is hard enough. There is never any good reason to compound a crisis with misinformation. It's hard enough to tell the truth because, as the abstract alludes, misinformation is difficult to retract and nearly impossible to erase.

In fact, it is so difficult to manage, the conclusions in the abstract represent the researchers' weakest points (along with a tendency to show other bias in their examples). I think a few communication tenets can do better than the abstract (and they will follow on Wednesday). But in the meantime, we need to appreciate that the first step is always the same.

We have to reduce our own susceptibility to misinformation. 

Much like journalists used to do (and some still do), objectivity needs to be considered a skill set. This means we have to develop the ability to put aside personal beliefs, seek out opposing points of view, ferret out facts regardless of how coherent the information might be, ignore the so-called credibility of sources until the evidence bares out, and never mistake "mass appeal" as an authority.

Some journalists I've met along the way have become bold in their belief that being objective is a myth. I disagree. So does reporter and correspondent Brit Hume, who recently noted that attorneys develop objectivity as a skill set in order to successfully understand both sides of a case. It's a reasoned analogy.

For public relations practitioners specifically, it's especially important to strive for objectivity because it helps us develop empathy for the publics beyond the organization. It's important because even if our opposition is wrong, we have to understand their point of view and find mutual ground if it exists.

Ergo, only once we've reduced our own susceptibility to misinformation can we ever hope to have a chance to manage it. If we don't, then we're equally likely to become the source of falsehood as opposed to the trusted source that most professionals hope to become. Start with that.

Wednesday, September 19

Interesting Opinions: Wi-Fi Is Not Enough?

When I read the article with Glenn Lurie, an AT&T executive who sees every new consumer device before they are released, I was surprised. Although it is not his call alone, he has taken the position that Wi-Fi is not enough.

"We try to look for all the opportunities in the world to get the OEMs to understand that they shouldn’t be building two devices," he said in the All Things D interview. "They should be building one device with Wi-Fi and 4G. It’s more efficient for them than having two [product] lines."

He believes it is a simple matter of education. Consumers must learn that they need always-on connectivity, he said. Naturally, eliminating Wi-Fi only would serve AT&T too. More connections means more subscribers and more subscribers means a better revenue model if they choose AT&T.

I appreciate his candor, but the comments immediately following the story tell another story. Even with the best of intentions, Lurie is out of touch with the customer. People see subscriptions as traps.

Understanding the consumer mindset and product usage. 

It really isn't that hard to understand. People opt for Wi-Fi only iPads and tablets so they don't have to pay for another cellular subscription. Many of them believe the phone subscription is enough.

From the consumer perspective, it makes sense. It even has an historic context. The number one reason that newspaper and magazine subscriptions dwindled is because people are genuinely tired of subscriptions that eventually begin to feel like utilities — fees you have to pay for the basic services.

Among monthly fees, publications are frequently the first to go. Especially if your income is unstable (tip workers, etc.), elective subscriptions go twice as fast. So you have to pick and choose from a long list of fundamental and elective expenses.

For most people, mandatories include: electric, gas, water, municipal services, mortgage payments, car leases or payments, car insurance, telecommunications, mobile telecommunications, cable or satellite, and taxes. Now add health insurance (especially with new government requirements) and life insurance. Immediately following those payments are the electives, ranging from gamer accounts and clubs to gym memberships and lawn care. All of them cause a dwindling supply of disposable income.

Where do iPads and tablets fit? For many but not all consumers, it's closer to the bottom because those who opt for Wi-Fi only are satisfied with using their smart phones when they are on the go and Wi-Fi only when they have access at home, work, the hotel, and a growing number of other venues (both public and private hot spots). In fact, given how many places are adding Wi-Fi and AT&T's support of such hot spots to cut down on system overload, it seems more likely Wi-Fi is preferred (doubly so because some functions require Wi-Fi access to work). All things considered, why pay more?

Obviously, some people do have a need. The split between the products is generally 60 percent Wi-Fi only and 40 percent 4G. The slight advantage Wi-Fi has is a lower model price and no subscription fee after you purchase the product. But there is even more to the story.

AT&T and other providers have contributed to Wi-Fi only sales with usage throttling, data usage caps, service issues, roaming charges, high overage changes, etc. Maybe it's not the consumer who needs to be educated. AT&T could learn something about consumers and make 4G more tempting.

Making a better future to marry Wi-Fi and 4G. 

I'm not one of the many people who equate AT&T with the evil empire. I genuinely prefer them as my phone provider, think they have better customer service, and they recently did us right by offering advice on how to handle our phone service (for three phones) while traveling in a foreign country.

So how do carriers sell always-on connectivity? For starters, they could break away from device subscription models and replace them with account subscriptions instead. If you already have an iPhone, your iPad subscription is, gasp, inclusive because you're less likely to use both at the same time.

Or, they could implement lifetime plans built into the product price much like they did for Amazon Kindle (with a better fallback for usage overages). Or, they could give people the option of buying 4G-ready devices without a subscription, allowing them to add it (or drop it) at their leisure.

Of course, they could improve their system so it isn't affected by high-usage customers (thereby killing the throttle concept). And, if they are among those who want to regulate Internet traffic and bandwidths, they could give it up and stay focused on their core service to provide a better experience.

Simply put, it's not education that consumers need. They need an incentive, especially those who get along fine without 4G connectivity, using their iPad mostly around their already Wi-Fi friendly home.

Remember. AT&T is pushing "Think Possible." And right now, people think Wi-Fi everywhere, which is a better fit with Steve Jobs's old vision to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind. Something like that makes subscriptions optional.

Wednesday, August 22

Being Steve Jobs: Where The Open Forum Got It Wrong

Barry Moltz is a pretty smart guy. But he really blew it when writing up why business owners don't want to be like Steve Jobs for the Open Forum by American Express. Sure, with a broad brush stroke, we can call Moltz right — it's one thing to be influenced by someone, it's another to mimic them.

So he's right in saying that small business owners don't need to learn how to be "just like Steve Jobs," but not for any of the reasons included on his list. The real takeaway from Jobs is that you never want to compromise being yourself. And Jobs, if he was good at anything, was being himself.

Rehashing the list: Where it's on and where it's off.

Demand More From Your Employees. Moltz took exception to the fact that Jobs frequently told employees that they could never do anything right. Some of them were even afraid to take an elevator ride with him for fear of losing their job by the time they reached their floor. Moltz says it's better to be just be blunt (but not lambasting them or embarrassing them in meetings).

But there is another dynamic here that is missing. Jobs operated from an position that no matter how good something was, it could always be better. He was right. The challenge that many small business owners have is that they are always trying to reach some place of complacency where they can just go with the flow. That place doesn't exist. Maybe Jobs was too harsh for some tastes, but people knew where they stood. Those who excelled also developed a knack for fearlessness, which is critical for creativity.

Tell Customers They Are Wrong. Jobs also had a knack for telling customers that they were wrong, sometimes firing off emails in the middle of the night saying so. Moltz says the lesson is to cool off before firing away an email. The advice is mostly right. I tell people the same thing all the time, except when they are passionate. In those cases, I tell them to draft it up exactly what they are thinking as long as they don't hit the send button until they can read it fresh in the morning.

Still, I think the bigger lesson here is that sometimes you have to tell customers they are wrong. The quickest way to lose a customer is do exactly what they want when it's the wrong way and watch it fail. Communication people, in particular, do this all the time. They think they are preserving an account by doing what customers tells them to do (even if they know its wrong). Then they lose the account anyway because the customer holds them accountable to the outcomes. The grief isn't worth it.

Claim Your Employee Ideas. Moltz relates how Jobs frequently reviewed employee ideas and presented them on as his own. Moltz says it is always better to share credit when credit is due.

Jobs was hardly the only person to do it. Andy Warhol and Charles Eames most immediately come to mind, which is why I have mixed feelings about placing idea ownership in the black and white column.

While Jobs' style is not mine own, many small business owners could use a dash of it. It isn't necessarily appropriate to steal ownership, but neither is it appropriate that small business owners undervalue themselves. They create the environment, fund the work, inspire the direction, etc.

Never Settle For Less Than You Want. Moltz sets up the lesson by showing Jobs as uncompromising on two points — both in business and smallest details. He wasn't afraid to break bad contracts and cared about the inane (even if it what kind of flowers are in a hotel room). Moltz partly agrees, saying that you ought to never stick to a contract that doesn't meet your needs and ought to push people past their limits. But he wants to negotiate resolution and leans light on the details.

I've met a few self-made millionaires and billionaires. All of them sweat detail. I know one who won't eat an orange unless it measures out to perfect circumference. I often wonder if maybe they are right. Maybe those inane details matter. Or maybe you need to decide if they matter to you.

More importantly, small business owners sometimes get mixed up anytime the word "negotiation"  comes up in a conversation. It's because many small business owners have their words mixed up. "Negotiate" and "compromise" are not the same thing. You can negotiate a win-win contract. But "negotiating resolution" smacks of compromise, which is a settlement of mutual concessions.

The last point is probably the biggest takeaway of all. Compromises are often lose-lose propositions, with both parties losing, even if one party thinks they are winning. Small business owners can't afford to play that game. If you can't negotiate a win-win with someone but you can with someone else (assuming quality, price, etc. are all equal), you have to move forward. If you compromise or force someone else to compromise, then you're likely headed in the wrong direction. Never settle, but never ask someone else to settle either.

Monday, August 13

Liking It Now: The Attention Generation

A recent study by Performics, a marketing firm owned by Publicis Groupe, finds that 49 percent of respondents prefer text messages over phone calls and 40 percent are more comfortable connecting with people online than in person. In other words, more people are connecting to social networks but disconnecting offline.

It seems participation also comes with expectation, with 49 percent of social network members annoyed, sad, hurt, or even angry when people do not like their status updates. In fact, 75 percent expect a response and 41 percent expect a response within the hour. Others, 21 percent, expect responses in 1-6 hours.

Social life is changing behavioral etiquette.

While it is no surprise that online on demand has become increasingly dominant, some people might be surprised just how much time is being invested in maintaining online connections. In an average week, for example, women spend 9.4 hours on their mobile phones (outside of texts, phone calls, and other connections) and men 5.8 hours. That doesn't even count other devices like tablets and desktops.

Even when people are engaged in other activities, they are likely to remain connected. Approximately 55 percent say they watch TV, movies or video on their computer at least once a week while 29 percent watch on game consoles and 28 percent watch on mobile devices. Multi-tasking has become the norm.






Naturally, the study was undertaken to assist marketers in understanding the behavioral changes in consumers. One notable finding was that individuals frequently place brands and people on equal status.
 
"These new participants are comfortable increasingly replacing real-time communications with social media interactions," said Daina Middleton, global CEO of Performics. "In this new social normal — one where people prefer online communication and maintain high expectations about two-way relationships — brands must utilize social channels to build exceptional, interactive digital experiences."

Basically, people want brands and brand representatives to interact with them like people, including reciprocal acknowledgment. However, brand managers ought to be cautious in overreaching. While online participants expect responses, other studies show interruptive marketing has negative outcomes.

Consumers, after all, are in transition. While social networking has become the new normal, it also comes with unintended consequences. As more think that social media runs the risk of making us less social, marketers have to avoid becoming part of the problem by inflating urgency for no reason.

Friday, July 20

Marketing Choices: Does The Customer Come First?

You can read any number of articles about it. Fast Company has three ways to put your customers first. KONE in the United Kingdom made it part of its mission. Goldman Sachs frequently said it too. Customers come first.

But do customers really come first? If you ask most companies, they are all on board. Nobody ever says they put their customers last. No one readily admits that customers are a necessary evil. Few people ever come straight and say that almost every business decision they make is all about sales and never about customers. Or maybe they do.

Ten Ways Companies Say Customers Come Last.

1. Rewriting return policies for products to include a restock fee.

2. Selling sales data to third-party marketers without oversight.

3. Employing aggressive telemarketing firms to sell.

4. Rewriting the terms of service to fit the needs of the company.

5. Delaying customers just to sell plus service with no benefit.

6. Creating hidden fees in order to advertise at a lower price.

7. Loading up websites with pop-ups and email capture forms.

8. Engaging in black hat SEO tactics to boost search engine relevancy.

9. Making promises on the front end and renegotiating on the back end.

10. Cutting staff or corners that directly improves profits while diminishing customer service.

Companies make decisions that put their customers last every day. So why do they insist on saying they put customers first? It's bad enough most companies don't care. It's worse when they lie about it daily.

If you really want to put your customers first, make sure every decision you make starts with putting the customer first. Otherwise, all you are really doing is lying to your customers on top of putting them last. And while that might work with a wink and a nod for awhile, one day they won't be your customers anymore.

Friday, June 22

Being Candid: It's Easier Than You Think

How well do people communicate when faced with a face-to-face communication dilemma? According to a questionnaire created by the Travel Leaders Group, not so well. The research found that many air travelers do not know how to react in uncomfortable situations.

The questionnaire presented a series of scenarios and asked participants how likely they were to handle a situation based on the response offered. The Travel Leaders Group said that airline passengers aren't sure of proper etiquette while traveling. However, given the questions relate to broad scenarios, it might mean that people aren't sure how to communicate in many circumstances, whether they are traveling or not.

Highlights From The Travel Leaders Group Survey. 

1. If another airline passenger seated near you won't turn off his/her cell phone while in flight, what would you do?

34.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
27.1 percent would say something to the person.
23.9 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

2. If another passenger seated near you is using headphones to listen to music or a movie and the sound is so loud that everyone around him/her can also hear, what would you do?

47.5 percent would say something to the person.
26.5 percent would call a flight attendant.
17.3 percent would sit quietly and do nothing.

3. If a child was seated behind you on an airplane and constantly kicked your seat, what would you do?

62.8 percent would turnaround and say something directly to the parent or child.
10.2 percent would call a flight attendant.
9.7 percent would sit quietly and hope the parent will stop it.
6.7 percent would ignore it because children will be children.
6.1 percent would turn around and glare at the parent or child.

4. If you were flying alone and a couple asked you to switch seats to that they could sit together, what would you do? 

44.7 percent would gladly move, regardless of the seat.
27.2 percent would move if the new seat was not a middle seat.
13.6 percent would move if the new seat was an aisle seat.
6.4 percent were not sure what to do.
4.4 percent would move if the new seat was a window seat.

5. If you were traveling with a companion on a vacation and you received an upgrade to first class, you would... 

38.4 percent said it depends on who they're traveling with.
29.9 percent said they would pass on the opportunity.
11.8 percent weren't sure what they would do.
7.8 percent would give it to their traveling companion.
6.3 percent said it depends on the length of the flight.

6. If you placed a small bag in the overhead bin and were asked to place it under the seat in front of you so someone else could put a very large roller bag above, would you... 

54.6 percent would do so without a second thought.
22.1 percent would do so, but grudgingly.
9.9 percent would politely decline.

7. While passing through a TSA security checkpoint, if a traveler in front of you is taking too long removing shoes, etc., would you... 

51.3 percent said they would patiently wait.
37.8 percent said they would wait, but be frustrated.
9 percent said they would jump in front of them.

While the survey did not seem to include the best possible responses, it is an interesting statement on communication. In most scenarios, the best possible answer is to say something directly to the person.

The hesitation is largely the result that many people don't know how to communicate directly, honestly, and politely. For example, if someone is using their cell phone, asking if she or he heard the announcement to turn off the cell phone might suffice. Or, if a child is kicking the seat, politely asking the child to stop first will usually be enough. Or, if someone is taking a long time in the security line, asking if she or he if needs help might be appreciated. Maybe they'll suggest you skip ahead.

Allowing yourself to become quietly frustrated or immediately resorting to rude behavior only hurts you. Likewise, the questions revolving around courtesy are equally solvable. Unless you have a physical reason for not taking the middle seat, you move. And if someone needs you to move your bag, you move it (perhaps mentioning that they might consider checking such a large bag next time).

This applies to business too. People are frequently afraid to be candid, causing them to accept deadlines that impact quality, make deals that aren't win-win, etc. Most of the time, open and honest communication will suffice and everyone will be better for it. Don't assume, ask questions and find out  if more flexibility is available (assuming you need it). It's very much like flying on a plane. Fly right.
 

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