25 February 2014

The Paradox of Journalism and Information – The Irrationalities of Why (3)

Journalists and media institutions say that their job (duty) is to inform the public.

(Most) People tend to trust media organizations and journalists. This is most true when it comes to believing that the information presented in the media is worthy of knowing. Some people simply take for granted that whatever is in the news is important, relevant and it deserves our limited cognitive resources.

Most media organizations (companies) and subsequently the (most) journalists have income depending on the audience reach they have. TV stations, Radios, internet websites and even newspapers get their income from advertising which in a nutshell means that the media organization sells “thousands of views” (exposures).

Here is the paradox. Media organizations need to get as many “views” (audience reach) as they can. This depends (in part) on which information is transmitted to the audience and on how it is presented. Thus the incentive of media organizations and journalists is to present appealing information in an appealing manner so that they get the widest audience-reach possible…

But appealing is not the same thing as important, relevant, worthy of knowing…

So people in the audience think that a piece of information is worthy of knowing (important) because it was presented in the news (media), but at the same time the media chose that piece of information because it knows that people will find it appealing and subsequently will consume it.  

Use (commercial) media just for entertainment … the important stuff is usually not there…

14 February 2014

Applying Behavioral Science in Service Design Implies Open-Minded Skepticism

Applying Behavioral Science in Service Design Implies Open-Minded Skepticism 

When we think of someone being “Open-minded” we imagine a person who is willing to try anything and who does not reject (from the start) ideas that are not perfectly aligned to her existing beliefs.

When we think of someone being “Skeptic” we imagine a person who is overall reluctant to trying new things and who is not very comfortable with ideas that have not been proven.

When applying Behavioral Science in Service Design one needs to be, at the same time, both Open-Minded and Skeptic. 

This apparently is (close to) impossible since our prototypes of “Open-minded” and “Skeptic” people are (almost) opposites. 

Nonetheless, both traits are essential when one wants to translate the scientific findings of behavioral sciences into practical insights.

We know that features of the physical environment strongly influence human behavior. 

However, this knowledge is for many people counter-intuitive. Take the following pieces of information:

A.  Diffusing the scent of lavender in a restaurant influences the time spent by customers in the establishment and their consumption – how much they order and pay. (see Gueguen, N., & Petr, C. (2006) “Research note Odors and consumer behavior in a restaurant”. Hospitality Management, 25, 335–339)

B.  Playing classical music in a restaurant influences the average value of an order across all categories of products (i.e. main course, desert, drinks etc.) (see North, A.C., Shilcock, A., Hargreaves, D.J. (2003) “The Effect of Musical Style on Restaurant Customers' Spending”. Environment Behavior, 35, 5, 712-718)

These pieces of information apparently make no sense. That is if one believes that time spent and what is ordered in a restaurant depends exclusively on the clients’ pre-existing and stable preferences and on deliberate decision-making. To someone who knows a bit of behavioral science, these pieces of information will seem less outrageous, but this is not fully relevant at the moment.

Now let’s imagine that at a state authority (e.g. city administration) there is a new boss who wants to improve citizens’ experience when having to deal with the authority. When thinking of improving people’s experience with state authorities, first come to mind things like simplifying procedures, the staff being friendlier etc. There are, however, some shortcomings with these things… many procedures can’t be changed very fast and quite often they depend on laws, regulations etc. that are set by other institutions than the state authority that has a new boss. The staff of the institution can’t be changed at the command of the new boss (there are laws, unions etc.). Moreover, the staff’s behavior depends, in part, on how the citizens behave with the staff. For example, if one has to deal eight hours a day with angry, irritated people will, most likely, fail to be very friendly.

So the endeavor of the new boss is not as smooth as it appeared to be…

How about applying the knowledge I mentioned earlier… the one on the effects of lavender scent and classical music in restaurants?

I know that for a lot of people the “gut reaction” goes something like “are you crazy?”, but I’m not crazy (or at least I like to think so)…

Of course, at first sight the proposition of diffusing the scent of lavender and (or) playing classical music in a public institution seems outrageous. 

Why in the world would citizens have a better experience in dealing with the public authority if the waiting room would be smelling like lavender and (or) there would be classical music playing?

Here is where being open-minded comes into play. 

The influences of the scent of lavender and of classical music on people’s behavior in a restaurant are real and there are some psychological mechanisms that power them. These mechanisms and many more are presented in detail in my Master Class Design Influence.

The same mechanisms may work in a public authority waiting room setting… So the new boss of the institution might succeed (partly) in his endeavor of improving citizens’ experiences with the institution by simply playing some classical music and (or) placing some scent dispensers in the waiting room. The new boss needs to be open-minded to accept this proposition.

Here comes the skeptic part… 

We know that lavender and classical music influence several types of behavior in various settings (e.g. restaurants, shops etc.), but we are not certain that they will have the same effect on the behavior and satisfaction of citizens who have to deal with a public authority.

Skepticism in applying behavioral sciences does not mean being reluctant to new ideas or to apparently outrageous propositions. Skepticism refers to asking relevant questions and testing (experimenting). In the situation described above, here are some very pertinent skeptic questions:

Does the scent of lavender / classical music have an influence on citizens’ experience with the public authority?

What is the combined effect of the scent of lavender and the classical music on citizens’ experience?

If, for example, the lavender scent does not improve people’s experience, would any other scent do a better job?

When applying behavioral science in practice, skepticism is necessary because there is a huge risk in going head-on into unknown territory… and spending lots of money on something that we don’t know if it works.

I am fully aware that bosses (aka managers) favor safe, tested, proven etc. solutions.  At the same time everyone “loves” innovations and thinking outside the box etc.

The particularity of behavioral science that prevents it from being a tested, proven, safe, sure “plug and play” solution is that behavioral science takes into account context. If anyone thinks that applying insights from behavioral science is similar to plugging a USB stick into a computer, I’m sorry to say that it is not so… contexts that involve people are not standardized computers and simply applying (plugging in) an insight from behavioral science can have different outcomes in different contexts.

10 February 2014

Psychology of Money Workshop by Pikant & Naumof at Storm Software Solutions Bolton UK

On 4-5 December 2013 I, Nicolae Naumof - The Behavioral Science Trainer, spiced up with a session of the Psychology of Money Workshop – Thinking Money the activity of Storm Software Solutions in Bolton UK.

Four very eager to learn employees of Storm Software Solutions attended the workshop. Here’s what Paul Flood, Managing Director of Storm Software Solutions said about the Thinking Money Workshop:

Engaging content from Nicolae who provides both an academic and real world perspective on how people think and make decisions about money.

Here's a pic taken while the participants were solving the case studies on increasing and decreasing the pain of paying.

For me, giving this training was a pleasure and I was delighted by the participants’ openness and their willingness to learn. Moreover, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Northern English Hospitality.

6 February 2014

See Your Customer in 4D

Marketers as well as other business professionals have to work with or for clients, customers, consumers, potential clients, target groups, people etc. Regardless of the names we use to describe who marketers are dealing with all day long, the naked truth is that all these terms stand for humans. Whether you call them customers, consumers or anything else has no real importance. You as a marketer have to work with and for humans.

At first glance this is trivial. I personally don’t believe it is so obvious that in our daily work we deal with humans and my belief is based on observation, not on hunches. Too often marketers as well as other professionals simply ignore human nature. I honestly hope that ignoring human nature is due to mere lack of knowledge on the topic.

The core of a marketer’s job is to understand, predict and influence human behavior, or at least a very small part of it. Quite often, endeavors aimed at understanding or influencing the behavior of people, clients, customers etc. are based on assumptions that are not fully accurate. These assumptions regard the elements that influence human behavior and human judgment.

The general assumption is that human behavior is the result of the interaction between cold-reasoned judgment and the personality or character of the individual. Quite often we believe that our customers, colleagues or simply people around us are very similar to Mr. Spok from the StarTrek series. We believe that people are some sort of reasoning machines. To some extent this is true, in the sense that humans are capable of wonderful reasoning. Looking at the modern world we live in, we should acknowledge that the buildings we live and work in, the bridges we cross to get from here to there and the myriad of high-tech tools we use every day are the product of cold-rational reasoning. However, most of human life is not guided by this type of thinking. In fact most of human thinking is based on the so called rules of thumb or in more sophisticated terms – heuristics. When we go to buy a pair of jeans or groceries we do not engage in very elaborate thinking. We simply want jeans that fit well and look good. We want to get it over with shopping for groceries and get back home to watch the football game or play with our children. When your colleague goes to make some photocopies, very likely she has something else on her mind and presses the buttons of the photocopying machine without giving it too much thought. Her goal is to get things done and not to maximize the efficiency of using ink and paper in the office, even if the boss told everyone to be careful with the office supplies because the firm needs to cut costs.  

The second source of human behavior that is established in popular belief is the character or personality of the individual. We infer that what a person does is the reflection of her character. We believe that bad things are done by bad people whereas good things are done by good people. To a limited extent this view is correct. Indeed, there are individual differences among people and they are valid predictors of human behavior. However, these individual differences are good at predicting patterns of behavior and not instances of behavior. For example, personality traits such as conscientiousness can predict professional success which is a long term pattern of behavior. At the same time, this personality trait is not a very reliable predictor of an instance of behavior such as the quality of a presentation given in a certain day at work.

Much of marketing related activities are centered on getting to know who the customer is; to create a profile of the prototypical client. Subsequently the marketers will adapt the product, the distribution, the communication etc. to fit with the prototypical client.

In essence, there isn’t anything wrong with that. However, this approach is incomplete. If the marketer’s job is to understand, predict and influence consumers’ (humans’) behavior, the marketer should know that human behavior is not determined only by who the person is. In fact, personality is the weakest predictor of instances of human behavior. We tend to believe that what we do is determined (solely) by who we are, but this is not the case. A few paragraphs later, I will present the other sources of human behavior. If marketers, or any other professionals that want to understand and influence human behavior, focus only on who the customer is and subsequently adjust their offering, they ignore influencing behavior through other means.

Let me illustrate with an example how factors other than personality influence behavior. Imagine Dana, a young ambitious person. Her boss asks her to give a presentation to some very important prospective clients. Her boss decides to give this responsibility to Dana because she is very hard working, methodical and somehow perfectionist. In personality jargon this would be translated in Dana has a very high score on the personality trait conscientiousness.  However, Dana’s presentation is less than satisfactory and her boss is unhappy. 

Do you think that Dana’s score on conscientiousness suddenly decreased? The answer is clearly no and Dana is as hard working and methodical as she ever was. The explanation for her unsatisfactory performance lies in what has happened in the previous days. Two days ago, as she was working on the presentation three colleagues came and asked her to join the celebration of another co-worker. Dana was reluctant because she still had to work on the presentation. However, her colleagues insisted and told her that she is not a good team mate if she doesn’t join the celebration; that members of the team have to properly honor their colleagues on their birthdays. Dana decided that she could finish the presentation the next day and joined her colleagues. The next day some unexpected emergencies arose at the office and she couldn’t finish the work. She would have stood over time, but she had a date with a nice guy and she had already postponed their date three times. Dana decided to go on the date and get home early so that she could wake up at 4 A.M. to finish the presentation. Unfortunately, Dana got a really bad indigestion from the sea-food she had on her date and could barely sleep. She did some work on the presentation between two instances of sickness. Just as Dana got to the office, she received a call from father learning that her mother is ill and was admitted into hospital. As you can see, nothing has changed in Dana’s personality. However, situational factors are quite often more powerful than someone’s character.  

My approach on understanding, predicting and influencing human behavior is based on a model that includes four major factors that influence human behavior. I call it the 4 DimensionModel of Behavior. One of the dimensions is Personality. Although it is not a very powerful predictor of instances of behavior, personality is a reliable source of long term patterns of behavior. The other three dimensions are Social Influences, Personal Internal State and Physical Environment.

Earlier on, I have emphasized on human nature and one major characteristic of it is that humans are social beings. We live in organized societies and each of us has our relevant others such as family, friends, rivals, co-workers, people who we admire and people who we despise. As social beings, humans are influenced by the social environment. When we are in a novel or ambiguous situation in which we do not know what the appropriate thing to do is, we tend to copy the behavior of other people around us. This happens to a larger extent if the other people are somehow similar to us.

Imagine that you are visiting a foreign city and you get hungry. In the city square there are a few terraces that sell food. On which terrace are you going to sit and eat? You know absolutely nothing about any restaurant. Are you going to sit on the terrace that has only one table occupied or at the one where only two tables are free? Very likely you will choose to sit on the one where many other people are already sitting on. If other people sat there it means that they know that there the food is good. At the same time, you have absolutely no reliable information on the reasons that led those people to sit on that terrace. You imply that they know something, but you have no proof of it.  

Other times, we do what other people do simply because we want to fit in a group. If at your office there is a money collection for, say donating to the local animal shelter, and many of your colleagues are giving ten euros, very likely you will also give ten euros despite the fact that this month you are short on cash. You need to fit in with the relevant social group of co-workers and this makes you behave similar to them. These are some illustrations of how human behavior is impacted by the social influences dimension.

Another characteristic of human nature is that we are biological creatures and have biological needs. If you have ever gone shopping while being hungry you have probably noticed that you have bought a lot more than you planned and needed. Very likely you have realized this only after you arrived home and ate something. Hunger creates an approach state of mind. We want to get food and this makes us buy more things. The most interesting thing is that when hungry not only do we buy more food items, but also more nonfood items.

Human nature also includes our emotional states, our feelings. Sometimes we experience very powerful emotions such as fury or bliss. When we are under the influence of strong emotions, most of our behavior s is very different from the behavior we exhibit when we are in a cool state of mind. If you are furious because your boss didn’t keep his word on sending you to that conference, don’t write him an e-mail saying that his is a low life creature. Even if taking out all your fury makes perfect sense on the moment, in a couple of days you will regret the bad words you addressed him.

These biological and emotional influences on our judgment and behavior are transient. Usually people are not hungry for long periods of time and thankfully we are not furious for more than a couple of hours. Most often we are blind to their influences and, in general, we are almost incapable of predicting their impact on our behavior and judgment. All these influences on behavior belong to the Personal Internal State dimension.

The fourth dimension of the 4D Model of Human Behavior covers the influences of the physical environment. One such category of influences concerns our senses. Throughout the long evolutionary process humans have developed ways in which to perceive the surrounding environment through the five senses. Although the environment in which we live now is very different from the one in which our very distant ancestors lived, our senses serve us quite well. However, the reactions and psychological mechanisms that are triggered by our senses are the same as tens of thousands of years before.

For example, for our very distant ancestors food was scarce and ingesting and digesting as much highly nutritious food as it was possible to find was perfectly natural. This is why we like sweet or fatty foods. In today’s world such drives to eat fat and sugar are not exactly useful and this is because today, at least in the western world, highly nutritious food is abundant. A related illustration is that of the influence the smell of freshly baked bread has on purchasing behavior. When smelling the freshly baked bread our sense of smell tells the digestive system to get ready for a treat. Digestion begins, but if there is no actual ingestion, the sensation of hunger occurs. In turn, hunger changes our thinking by inducing the approach mindset and this, in turn, leads to us buying and spending more.

Let’s go back a bit to Dana’s unsatisfactory presentation. You have learned earlier that the lack of quality was not due to whom Dana is as a person, but rather those social factors, physical influences and a change in her internal state, both physical and emotional, were much stronger than her personality. If you are a marketer, don’t you think this is the case for your clients’ behavior? Don’t you think that all these three types of forces influence their behavior to a larger extent than do their personality traits? Who you client is might give you a base-line long term pattern of behavior, but actions and instance of behavior are influenced mostly by the other three dimensions from the 4D Model of HumanBehavior.

Discarding any of the four dimensions from the 4D Model of Human Behavior is equivalent with ignoring human nature.

4 February 2014

How (Much) Your Clients Think

Before trying to change people’s minds, understand how they work!

If you believe that your clients actually give more than three seconds of thought to what you are selling, read this article with eyes wide open. It is far more valuable than 10(0) articles on five ways in which you can effectively tie your shoe laces and definitely more valuable than five-thousand articles on eight ways in which you can screw up. … After all, who doesn’t know how to fail?

First, if you think that your clients give more than two-three seconds of thought on your product/ service, there are two possibilities: (a) you are dead wrong; (b) the client doesn’t get too much on what you are trying to sell.

In the first case things are straight forward: three seconds is too little for the deliberate reasoning to switch on and your clients use some kind of “rule of thumb” (heuristic in psychology jargon) to make the decision.

In the second case, since your clients face ambiguity their judgment is prone to using heuristics and then finding solid reasons to justify their decision (post-rationalization in even more sophisticated psychology language).

You, other highly skilled (or not) marketers and the overall way of life of the XXIst century modern living make people think very fast and very superficially about most of day-to-day life’s decisions. Whether we admit it or not, much of our daily lives is on auto-pilot.

Second, think hard if you are asking yourself the questions your clients are answering when making a decision regarding your product (brand). Much of human decision making (which includes your clients’ decisions regarding what you are selling) is powered by simplistic judgment processes known as heuristics.

The fundamental process of heuristic judgment is “attribute substitution”. This means that when trying to answer a difficult question, most often we are, in fact, giving the answer to a simpler question.

To illustrate this with an example: Answer the following question: “what is the capital of Australia?” Don’t Google it!

I am sure that some of you gave answers like Sidney or Melbourne … but the Capital City of Australia is Canberra (you can google it to confirm)… The question “what is the capital of Australia?” is quite difficult if you don’t know the answer (read are Australian). However, you know some cities in Australia and the first ones that come to mind are Sidney and Melbourne … moreover these cities are larger and better known than Canberra… So, while trying answer the difficult question of “what is the capital of Australia?” some of you gave the answer to the much easier question “which city in Australia is most known?”

Coming back to marketing, take the example of package redesign. When redesigning the packaging, most often marketers want to give their brand a fresh(er) look and they want to keep most of their existing (regular) customers. Marketers will ask many questions in their market research, but most clients (particularly the current ones) don’t care too much about your brand-refreshment. (Really! They don’t.) They want to buy the, say, apple juice they’ve been buying in the last five years and suddenly at the juice self in the supermarket they don’t find it. What is the question your clients are answering?

They might ask themselves “where is that juice I’m looking for?”, but they will answer the following one: “Which one of these bottles looks like the one I’ve been buying for so long?”

Take another example from the real-estate market. Marcel and Samantha are browsing the market to buy a house (apartment). Naturally houses are highly complex products and the commitment (read bank-loan) is a long term one. Regardless of what they say that they are looking for, the (main) question they will answer during and after viewing a house is “Does this feel like home?”

If the answer is “no” they will identify numerous (objective) flaws in the house that will support their answer. If the answer is “yes” they will find all the virtues of the house and will find flaws in the other houses they have viewed and on which they were not sure if they feel like home.

Third, emotions, emotions, emotions. Quite often marketing efforts are based on asking people what they think about something (read brand) and on trying to convince (persuade) them to buy your brand. It’s not wrong, but this approach discards one blunt reality: thinking leads, usually, to conclusions… Feeling, usually, leads to action.

To better understand this, let’s make a short trip in the area of motivation. Who is going to wake up at 5 A.M. and go to work with a good stamina? (a) The person who works for a company that offers high-speed (broad-band) internet in developing countries or (b) The person who contributes to decreasing domestic violence by empowering women in poor countries?

If you answered “b”, you got the point.

The Power of Emotions comes with both up and down-sides and here is not the place to discuss this topic in detail. What you need to understand is that: First we feel and only after we think.

Before trying to change people’s minds, understand first how they work!