Archive for August, 2010

August 25th, 2010

Training Consumers to be Cheapskates

By Kyle Morich

With the Economy sub-context vector in full effect these days, I’m certainly not above joining the public scramble for saving money.  Every morning, I wake up to my Inbox full of offers from ScoutMob, Groupon, Half-Off Depot, MyDailyThread, Gilt Groupe, Buy.com and several others.  Coupon usage went up 27% overall in 2009 alone, and as the economy continues to sputter, more and more coupon distributors keep popping up, urging small and large businesses alike to get with the program and start bringing customers through the door by offering steep discounts (50% or more) on their products and services.  My favorite service, ScoutMob, sends me 50% off coupons to my phone for restaurants and bars in my area, and it works — since I started using ScoutMob in March, at least 4 out of every 5 of my restaurant choices has been for a ScoutMob deal.  Getting quality food and drinks for half off is still a surprising and pleasant experience.  And I’ve tried new restaurants, places I would have never tried (or heard of) otherwise.  I habitually check my ScoutMob email this morning and almost always get the coupon, just in case.  So yeah, as a marketing effort, this must be a pretty solid effort, right?

Not really.

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August 20th, 2010

Friday Face-Off: Facebook Places

By Kyle Morich

Like everyone else this week, I’m here to talk about Facebook Places. Please, before you close the browser tab with contempt, give me a chance.  Today the Habit Lens launches a new series called Friday Face-Off, where we look at a topic from two perspectives.  Today, I pit my personal views of location-based social networking against my professional ones.

Facebook Places (more…)

August 18th, 2010

New Website, New Habits

By Kyle Morich

A week ago, Google performed an overhaul on its GMAIL application.  The update was mainly to the Contacts feature, but there was a slight aesthetic change to the layout of the labels on the left side, moving the Mail, Contacts, and Tasks links to the very top and creating a button for Compose Mail.  Minor, yes.  But the redesign was messing me up, if only a little bit.

The small changes to the Gmail interface

One of my old Gmail habits was to click on the Inbox link to get back to my main message folder.  I did this hundreds of times per week without thinking – automatically, unconsciously.  The unconscious mind is non-verbal.  It doesn’t read words and interpret its response accordingly; to the unconscious mind, words are just chunks of sensory information.  My unconscious mind wouldn’t look for “Inbox” in the old Gmail design.  All it knew that there was the Gmail Logo in the top left, there was a separate chunk of words below that (“Compose Mail”), and then the next section was the “Inbox” chunk, and it would click there.

Why is this relevant?  Because for the first three or four days after the redesign, I kept clicking the new “Compose Mail” button instead of the Inbox link.  And considering how the brain works, this makes sense.  My unconscious mind was still looking for the Gmail Logo (same place), ignoring the first chunk of words (now the Mail, Contacts, and Task links), and clicking on the next chunk of words (now the Compose Mail button).

It only took about a week to stop doing this, after several days of consciously forcing myself to read the words and click in the right spot.  Now I’m automatically clicking below the Compose Mail button to get back to the Inbox.  No big deal.  But the larger point is that the unconscious mind has the capability to learn and automatically perform extremely complex and nuanced behaviors, even if the interface it is learning is non-intuitive or complicated.  The classic example is Microsoft’s major redesign to its Office Suite a few years ago.  At my old company, a management consulting firm, my colleagues often used Microsoft Excel between 6 to 12 hours a day.  The “new and improved” Excel interface in Office 2008 with it’s “Ribbon Menu” really upset a lot of people.  These former Excel Gurus couldn’t figure out how to change the font.

When companies redesign websites  (Delta and MetaCritic, to name a few recent examples), they are doing so (I assume) to better the user experience and make the website easier to navigate.  But they often forget that habitual users of their site have highly ingrained unconscious behaviors related to the old design, and will very likely experience frustration having to think about using the site again.  If the changes are small, the frustration and errant clicking will pass quickly, but big enough and the experience can be exasperating for some of the company’s most habitually loyal users.

August 9th, 2010

Priming Bunches of Oats

By Kyle Morich

I have a cereal habit.  Every morning, I eat two bowls of cereal for breakfast. This week my cereal options were Honey Bunches of Oats and Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds (yes, they actually taste exactly the same, but there was a 2-for-1 deal at my grocery store and I couldn’t bring myself to buy two of the same box).  If I have the supplies, I almost always add some fresh fruit to the bowl – usually bananas, strawberries, or blueberries, depending on what strikes my fancy.  I’ve been doing this for years, and with the exception of Lent and other periods of time where I try to consciously cut my carb intake, I do it automatically.

This morning, I had a shocking revelation.  With the regular Honey Bunches of Oats, I usually add bananas or strawberries.  But unless I’m actively trying to use up some overripe fruit, I almost always add blueberries to the Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds.  Remember, except for the slivers of almonds, these cereals taste identical.  My only explanation is that the color of the box (a vibrant blue for the Almond variety) is subconsciously priming me to choose the blueberries to accompany my cereal.

Priming occurs when something perceived by the brain on the non-conscious level influences a future behavior.  Scientists have demonstrated priming through a variety of ways.  In one study, participants who were shown pictures of stadiums and other loud settings unknowingly increased the volume at which they spoke.  In another, students were asked to write down the last two numbers of their social security number and then bid on a bottle of wine.  The students with higher SS digits tended to bid higher.  In yet another, participants completed a word search puzzle before playing a card game.  Some of the word search puzzles contained words associated with achievement.  The participants who were primed by the achievement-laden puzzles were shown to play the card game much more competitively.

I’m not advocating subliminal advertising or manipulation here, nor implying a vast conspiracy between Post Cereals and the Blueberry Industry.  I like the cereal and I like the blueberries, and at some point in my life I made a conscious decision to use both products.  The Blue Box wouldn’t have primed me to choose blueberries over strawberries if I didn’t like blueberries.  Priming is a powerful tool, but a subtle one.

This is a good lesson for marketers.  Priming behavior is extremely important when it comes to establishing consumer habits for products and services.  It is basically giving the unconscious mind clues about what it should be doing.  The unconscious mind is responsible for up to 95% of behavior, but most advertising and marketing efforts consist of verbal, conscious-level appeals.  Priming is silent and non-verbal, and is a way to speak to the part of the mind that controls the majority of consumer behavior.