Wednesday, May 30

Migrating Profession: The Internet Is A Petri Dish

Five years is a long time on the Internet. In fact, it was five years ago that someone concocted the Online Identity Calculator, which has since migrated to a new address. But what the Online Identity Calculator never considered is the extent to which online identities would be out of our hands.

I'm not talking about professional criticisms, erroneous articles, or discrepancies in how we perceive ourselves compared to what has been posted online. I'm talking about the next generation who will have an online identity before they can talk. Ninety percent of them will have an online history before they are two years old, written by their parents and other relatives.

The next few years will be different too. By the time they are 5, more than 50 percent will interact with a computer or tablet. By the time they are 8, almost all of them will be playing video games and reading (if not participating) with associated forums. By the time they are preteens or early teens, they will open a Facebook account (even though you must be 13 to legally join the site). And by the time they are teens, they will spend more time with media than their parents and teachers combined.

It's improbable to believe that the open, media-driven world that today's children are being born into won't have an impact on them, infinitely greater than television did to the generations before them. In this new world, they aren't just tuning in to find entertainment — they are the entertainment, for better or worse. Along with every triumph posted, some parents delight in sharing tragedies too — unerasable bits of information that establishes our online identity before we even have an identity offline.

As media and technology change people, psychologists will migrate to the space. 

Although psychology ranks relatively high on the list of degrees leaving recent grads unemployed or underemployed, the field is already beginning to add another layer as a viable potential career path. Psychologists don't have to settle for the proverbial choice of listening to people's problems or teaching mice to press bars for cheese.

The subset to watch is media psychology (for lack of a better term), and the directional choices a psychologist might take it in are as diverse as the application. Sure, marketers and advertisers (the good ones anyway) always considered psychology and sociology as assets. But compared to the greater number of psychologists working in the field, relatively few focused on communication and media.

That's not going to be the case anymore, given that media has become so intertwined into our lives that it is somewhat difficult to separate the two — even more so than all those babies who were born into a world that celebrates their arrival with increased exposure to the world, e.g., public Facebook posts have replaced semi-public baby announcements. And that's only the beginning of media psychology.

• Marketing. The primary reason marketers sometimes struggle with determining ROI on the web is because most of them have no scientific or psychological training to boost their understanding of the human experience. Few of them run studies with control groups, preferring to guess at analytics instead of knowing the truth behind the abundance of measurements at their disposal. Expect psychologists and sociologists to be working with marketers and network programmers in the near future.

• Public Perception. Along with marketing, public policy and socio-economics could use a lift. With legislators listening too keenly to the loudest voices online, psychologists would add real research into the mix to determine the "why" behind any outcry. This would be an asset, given many political decisions are knee-jerk responses instead of an attempt to truly understand where people might be on any given topic. (Ergo, people are more likely to sacrifice liberties after a highly visible threat, but then push back as the threat becomes less immediate.)

• Societal Change. Some psychologists have already noted that media and social media shape our perception of reality (accidentally, purposefully, and cohesively). Psychologists can treat entire populations as their petri dish. They know it too. Some are already starting to study why types of individuals use social networks for what purposes and how — much like some dedicated significant time studying whether or not violent television programs make the world a meaner place.

• Real-time Psychology. Sooner or later, we might anticipate some psychologists who work with individuals to consider the Internet as a tool to provide greater insight into the social interactions their clients have with others online. One can only imagine what this might look like 20 years from now, when psychologists look online to not only track social interactions but also scroll back to early family photos and random posts. Who knows too, what kind of psychological stigmas might be created as some parents not only reinforce a child's potential to be one way or another, but also post semi-permanent evidence in the process.

Personally, I have always seen psychology and sociology as critical components of communication planning and message development. But it seems to me that those professions might see a boost in relevance in the years ahead. After all, if social media has changed anything it is that we've given permission to let people study us as a public. You might be surprised by what they find.

To illustrate (although it might make its own post someday), I remember an old sociology project in college that asked us to team with a partner and then study three or four of their high school yearbooks. Based on the information those yearbooks contained, the best students (with surprising accuracy) could outline various niche groups within the school, what they liked, and how they behaved toward others.

Now imagine the same thing online, except without the confines of a few years and a handful of pictures. If a narrow field of information could reveal so much about people, then the vastness of the net could open up almost anything.

Monday, May 28

Honoring Sacrifices: Memorial Day

"We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them." — Francis A. Walker

Last year, on Memorial Day, I included a list of nonprofit organizations working to preserve the memories of fallen soldiers who served in the United States Armed Forces. These men and women, who served their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice, have earned our admiration as all those who serve do.

This year, I wanted to draw attention to something else. Often times the sacrifices they make in service to our country are not exclusively their own. As sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, they are other people who also bare these sacrifices in life.

Among the best known survivors are American War Mothers, especially those distinguished as Gold Star Mothers, women who have lost a son or daughter in service to their county. And it is their stories that help put the sacrifices of our soldiers into perspective.

And along with these women who carry on in the face of tragedy, are the men and women who served alongside them. There are more than 23 million of them, veterans of the Armed Forces who live, work, and play in your hometown. They remember, unable to forget the sacrifices made for and by others.

And along with them, there are hundreds and thousands of children who made sacrifices too. To help them cope and learn to live with loss is the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides an immediate connection; and Children Of Fallen Soldiers, which is dedicated to helping mentor these children to help them achieve their dreams. Here is a clip that helps explain TAPS, the first programs mentioned.

These videos, whether viewed independently or alone, hopefully convey a different message about Memorial Day. Many people from around the world have the mistaken notion that Memorial Day is an extension of national pride in the United States. In reality, when it is observed, it a somber reminder of a people who value peace, appreciate the cost of conflict, and understand the sacrifice of too many.

A Brief Perspective On Memorial Day.

Even its establishment, originally as Decoration Day, was not a celebration of war but rather the efforts of formerly enslaved African-Americans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War who died for their freedom. Later, Southern states held their own Memorial Days, helping rebind the common cause of this country and by 1866, both Union and Confederate casualties were commemorated.

Later still, the holiday began to include the casualties of other conflicts, servicemen and women who may not have died in the country's internal conflict over freedom but rather in conflicts related to freedom all over the world.

While many American observe this day differently, the least people are asked to do is to pause for minutes at 3 p.m. (their time zone) for the National Moment of Remembrance. The goal of this moment is understood. It is a call to remember that the price of freedom is never free. The cost of it is paid for with the lives of brave men and women in an instant, and then by their families forever. Good night and good luck.

Friday, May 25

Humanizing Business: Brand Research, Part 3 of 3

The Relational Capital Group (RCG) published some compelling brand research across seven different white papers in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. As a continuation of our RCG research review, which began with Four Brand Dynamics Every Marketer Ought To Know and Three Critical Questions To Ask About Brand Relationships, the third abstract to focus on is the paper by Nicolas Keryn, Susan Fiske, and Chris Malone.

The abstract builds upon the Stereotype Content Model and tests several brands against the Intentional Agents Framework, which suggests consumers have relationships with brands much like they have with people. The study has the potential to change the way marketers think about brands and interactions with customers, consumers, and the general public.

People And How They Relate To Brands.

The concept that people relate to brands much in the same way they relate to people (and objects) has been around for more than a decade. The paper cites several studies, some dating back to 1998.

Although early research frequently refers to models of social perception developed in social psychology, we noticed that there is considerable crossover (not referenced in the paper) in the field of cognitive psychology. Simply put, cognitive psychology recognizes that people categorized people, places, things, qualities, etc. in groupings. This is an asset because it aids recall and association. It can also be a detriment because it provides the framework for stereotypes, incorrect or otherwise.

We can see this phenomenon in one of the examples provided by researchers. By asking people to assign warmth and competence to a variety of groups, they identify different groups as warmer or colder, more or less competent. For example, wealthy people might be seen as more competent but colder. The disabled as less competent and warmer. (Neither is necessarily true, I might add.)

Brands were categorized in much the same way. In the study, for example, Campbell's, Johnson & Johnson, and Coca-Cola all scored high in terms of warmth (intention) and competence (ability). Mercedes, Porsche and Rolex scored lower on warmth but high on ability. Veterans's Hospital, Public Transport and USPS scored high on warmth and low on ability. And AIG, BP and Goldman Sachs all scored low on competence and low on ability. (The paper includes 16 brands.)

It was mostly these brand clusters that suggested the combination of warmth (intentions) and competence (ability) was formed. These were also paired against another framework model, which showed how brands elicited feelings of pity, admiration, envy, and contempt.

Expectedly, the study found that well-intentioned brands received much higher warmth ratings. Unexpectedly, high ability brands also received slightly higher ratings, suggesting that brands with high  ability (those that do what they say they will do) have an advantage. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that marketers ought to strive for warmth and competence.

Although the researchers did not identity the correlation, the difference between brands scoring higher or lower on warmth is frequently tied to accessibility and frequency of contact as much as good intentions. Even brands that have earned public contempt are further hampered by their distance from the consumer, with many of their products being passed through to the consumer by another party.

What Does This Mean For Marketers And Brands?

While it only scrapes the surface, tempering the findings of this paper with the article presented by Jennifer Aaker, Emily Harbinsky, and Kathleen Vohs could be critical in any decision making. They argue that while warmth and competence is an ideal pursuit for many brands, they also found that competency is more important than warmth in spurring consumers to purchase.

One may also surmise that brands that do not naturally fit into a persona of warmth could undermine their own competence if they try too hard to exhibit that quality. In fact, the Aaker, Harbinsky, Vohs paper notes that brands that are overtly warm (like nonprofits) can unintentionally reduce the perception that they are competent. They also note that other brands, those that earn too much admiration, begin to express another emotion that wasn't necessity tested for in the original studies. That emotion is awe.

What this means for marketers and advertisers from our perspective is how important it is to tie the four brand dynamics and marketing messages to the observed mission, vision, and value statements. By observed, I mean mission, vision, and values that are actually being applied in every facet of operation (not those that collect dust in old annual reports).

It also suggests how companies ought to prioritize their overall operational objectives to how they want to position the company in the marketplace (as well as the appropriateness of that position), with an emphasis on competence (high quality products and services). And, although the researchers did not include for it, unless the company is trying to be disruptive in a space, degrees of warmth and competence can also be tied to the overall feelings people have toward an industry, the accessibility of the brand, and the frequency in which people come into contact with it.

To learn more about the papers and abstracts released to the study by RCG, visit their page dedicated to the research. The company specializes in the principles, process and science of lasting, mutually-beneficial business relationships. This study is groundbreaking in its ability to tie scientific data to long-standing theories within the fields of advertising, communication, and marketing.

Wednesday, May 23

Humanizing Business: Brand Research, Part 2 of 3

The Relational Capital Group (RCG) published some compelling brand research across seven different white papers in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. As a continuation of our RCG research review, which began with Four Brand Dynamics Every Marketer Ought To Know, we look to the extension published by Deborah MacInnis.

While the original research concludes that consumers judge and interact with brands in much the same way they do with other people and social groups, it also suggests that brands which exhibit warmth and competence have an easier time establishing trust and long-term loyalty. MacInnis questions that conclusion, recognizing that relationships to people and objects are much more complex than that.

In fact, she suggests that warmth and competence are not necessarily traits for brands to exhibit as much as they might be outcomes related to the people involved in the relationship. In other words, when consumers trust a brand, they may judge the brand to be competent (trusted to do the job) and warm (trusted to have my best interest at heart) whether the brand exhibits those traits or not.

Three Critical Questions To Ask About Brand Relationships.

How Impacting Are Relationship Types? MacInnis suggests that if consumers do develop relationships with brands like they do with people, then the varied degrees of relationships might apply. For example, some brands might secure a committed partnership (best friends) while others might be emotionally intense but short lived, like a fling.

If this is true, marketers might consider the true psychological weight of social media, which tends to create more intense but superficial relationships en masse than committed relationships. In fact, many online connections are causal in that people who are already committed to brands seek out online relationships with those brands. They also require significant affirmation that the brand can live up to the relationship that they have come to expect offline.

Are There Consequences In Relationships? In practical terms, communication professionals generally believe that brands which are more trusted, competent, and warm are more likely to survive a crisis than brands that are perceived as cold or less competent. But MacInnis suggests that this might not be the case. She surmises that  the more committed a consumer is to a brand, the greater the impact any infraction might cause.

This idea correlates well with our Fragile Brand Theory, which suggests that the further brand perception drifts from brand reality, the greater the eventual crash. Where warmth and competence might help facilitate forgiveness are likely confined to one-time innocent mistakes. BP provides an excellent case study in this area, given the company had established a trusted position as leading the way in green energy, which one careless accident quickly undermined and angered people.

Does Everyone Become Attached The Same Way? There has been other research conducted on how people interact with and attach to objects that might be relevant here. From those studies, researchers have noted that there are additional relationship influencers, such as the degree of relationship anxiety people have or the degree of relationship avoidance they may have.

In such cases, some might require reassurance of the relationship status while others might avoid such attachment all together. The reason this is significant is that it demonstrates how warmth and competence might appeal more heavily toward one personality type than another. "Specifically, whereas brand warmth may be critical to individuals whose attachment styles are characterized by high anxiety, it may actually be a relationship deterrent to those whose attachment styles are characterized by high avoidance," MacInnis wrote.

The takeaway here for marketers is that even if evidence suggests that brand relationships occur much like individual or group relationships, it doesn't mean that marketing will be even easier. If anything, the conscientious marketer will recognize that brand relationships are as challenging to maintain as any relationship.

From our perspective, the relationship does not always occur by a brand's ability to exhibit certain admirable traits, but rather its ability to do what it says it is going to do. Ergo, one would assume that if warmth and competence are always the advantage, then an airline like Spirit Airlines could not exist. Instead, what we learn is that Spirit Airlines sets an exceptionally cold expectation (in potentially charging people for bathroom usage) but consumers accept it because the company is up front about it.

To learn more about the papers and abstracts released to the study by RCG, visit their page dedicated to the research. The company specializes in the principles, process and science of lasting, mutually-beneficial business relationships. This study is groundbreaking in its ability to tie scientific data to long-standing theories within the fields of advertising, communication, and marketing.

Monday, May 21

Humanizing Business: Brand Research, Part 1 of 3

The Relational Capital Group (RCG) published some compelling brand research across seven different white papers in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. It was conducted in collaboration with social psychologists at Princeton University and University of Louvain.

The overall conclusion suggests evidence that consumers judge and interact with brands in much the same way they do with other people and social groups. As a result, brands that exhibit warmth and competence have a greater ability to establish trustworthiness and long-term loyalty.

"It turns out that recent efforts by brands and companies to digitize, automate and outsource their interactions with consumers are fundamentally at odds with the way humans perceive, judge and build loyalty to brands," said Chris Malone, co-author of the lead research paper and chief advisory officer of the Relational Capital Group. "As a result, consumers are more cynical, distrustful and disloyal toward large brands and companies than ever before." 

After studying the seven interrelated abstracts, I thought it might be useful to explore and highlight several of them this week in three parts, with the first abstract highlighted [Journal of Consumer Psychology 22 (2012), 186-190] written by Kevin Lane Keller, professor of marketing, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College. From the Keller abstract, marketers can extract four brand dynamics.

Four Brand Dynamics Every Marketer Ought To Know.

Brand Knowledge. It is broadly defined as all the attributes, benefits, images, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and experiences that become associated with a brand or, in other words, represents the collective exposure someone might have to a brand. As my firm has said before, it can be generally defined as the net sum of all positive and negative experiences as they are tied to brand equity.

Brand Functionality. One of the standout observations in Keller's paper notes that while some brands attempt to appeal to consumers by focusing on image, the most successful brands tend to first ensure that their products and services are made, sold, advertised, and discussed in a way that profoundly affects consumers in the head and the heart. It underpins what I call the Fragile Brand Theory in that everything begins with the product or service and not the "image."

Brand Credibility. Most brand credibility is established not by what brand says, but what it does (and what it says about what it has done). It is best established by their ability to provide products and services that fully satisfy customer needs (which is sometimes offset by the expectations they make); their ability to be honest, dependable, and sensitive to those needs; and their ability to be likable (fun, interesting, dynamic, or any other personality descriptor). For most brands, establishing credibility seems to be much easier than maintaining it.

Brand Resonance. Keller introduces the concept as it refers to the nature of the consumer–brand relationship and, more specifically, the extent to which a person feels that he or she resonates or connects with a brand and feels “in sync” with it. It conjures the words of Phil Dusenberry, former chair of BBDO Worldwide, who seemed to know this instinctively.

The Impact Of Duplicity Between Functionality And Resonance.

One of the most pressing challenges for marketers is operating within the confines of communication that makes sense for the individual brand. Ideally, as outlined above, the most successful brands develop specific products or services that meet customer expectations, and then communicate that functionality in such a way that it connects with select customers.

Instead, where some brands struggle is in their attempt to alter communication with the hope of reflecting a personality or image that appeals to the public (or segmented market) even if those qualities they communicate do not exist. Within social media, others adopt "popular personas" that appear to be successful on specific social networks, even if that image does not reflect their functionality of the brand.

As an illustration, imagine a mediocre technology company attempting to talk its way into being on the cutting edge of its field. While the "talk" might attract attention, it could also set expectations too high for a company more suited to push affordability. Another example might be how many companies attempt to create likability by being fun on a social network like Twitter, but then staffing their brick and motor locations with drones who would rather be somewhere else.

Unfortunately, such tactics tend to create the perception of duplicity between the brand functionality and its resonance, much like Malone pointed out. As a result, the brand continually loses credibility until it eventually collapses. Conversely, marketers that are able to address both their strengths and shortcomings in an authentic way that makes sense for their products, services, and culture stand to have an easier time connecting with consumers and establishing brand loyalty.

To learn more about the papers and abstracts released to the study by RCG, visit their page dedicated to the research. The company specializes in the principles, process and science of lasting, mutually-beneficial business relationships. This study is groundbreaking in its ability to tie scientific data to long-standing theories within the fields of advertising, communication, and marketing.

Friday, May 18

Marketing To Hispanics: Think People First

Ten percent. That is the number of people in the United States who can trace their ancestry to Mexico. It doesn't include any other Hispanic or Latino cultural connections, which is why I'm sometimes baffled by the way companies try to segment Hispanics and the way some Hispanic organizations suggest those companies market to Hispanics.

If you ask most of these companies and consultants, they seem to think Hispanic marketing means adding Spanish messages to their marketing mix or making a Hispanic media buy. The Forbes article (referenced above) even highlights a Volkswagen spot as an example.

It features two white guys who listen to a Spanish tape during a car trip. At the end of the spot, they speak Spanish. That's it?

Don't misunderstand me, it's a brilliant little spot. But the reason that it works has nothing to do with dropping in Spanish. The spot is about gas mileage, which is a cross-cultural message. It could have been French and had the same impact. It just feels more relevant given the increasing number of people who speak Spanish (as a first and as a second language).

I might be more convinced if they added subtitles for English or dropped the subtitles for Spanish. But more than that, I don't believe Hispanic marketing simply means adding foreign flags, select fashions, subtitles, and actors who look the part. It's about doing your homework and understanding cultural values while avoiding cultural sensitivities. 

But doesn't this apply to everyone? Depending on your product and your market, it always makes sense to consider cultural values and sensitivities. It could be any group, even those that aren't based on heritage. It might include socio-economics, job description, faith, or political views too.

Likewise, it seemed disingenuous that the thrust of the article suggests that companies sustain a dialogue with Hispanic consumers rather than trying to push a message with monologue.

The secret to market segmentation is listening to individuals over groups. 

The dialogue tip isn't exclusive to Hispanics — it's a marketing lesson that includes everyone. And therein lies the problem with choosing market segmentation based on demographics alone. Marketers really need to do their homework and have a dialogue with consumers because Hispanic has become too big of a segment to work.

In the United States, for example, Hispanic is usually defined by the government as "persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, Central or South American, or other Spanish or Portuguese culture or origin, regardless of race." Each of these sub-segments are as unique as the various sub-segments by the overly generic term Asian. And in some cases, those subgroups can be segmented too (Mexico is a big country, with many regional and urban-rural differences if you take the time to listen).

So where does that leave us? Hispanic marketing seems like a good idea today because research points to a rapidly growing Hispanic population that retains a significant amount of their cultural heritage (more so than many European immigrants). But over the long term, the Hispanic culture in the United States will not be synonymous with Hispanic culture as it is identified today.

It will eventually be something else, which it already has if you consider just how different Hispanics in California are when compared to Hispanics in Texas (or how different Californians and Texans are for that matter). In other words, marketing segmentation works but it works its best when marketers assess their entire customer base instead of trying to appeal to national demographics. Think global, act local.

In fact, it might surprise some to learn that the difference between Apple and Droid consumers is greater than the difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic smart phone subscribers.

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