Posts Tagged 'decision-making'

comparing apples with apples

A few weeks back, Seth shared this interesting anecdote on his blog:

“At the farmer’s market the other day, three perfect strangers
asked me what sort of apple to buy…

People are now afraid of apples: afraid of buying the wrong kind;
of making a purchasing mistake or some sort of pie mistake.”

From a certain perspective, I understand what he’s saying: it’s widely accepted that too much choice can actually lead to ‘decision-making paralysis’.

However, there’s an alternative interpretation of Seth’s apple episode that’s equally intriguing:

Maybe the questions weren’t asked in fear.

Perhaps those three strangers struck up conversation because they were excited about this abundance of choice.

In recent years, the apples available in Western supermarkets have become commoditised: the same few varieties, in the same standard sizes, with the same bland taste.

But people who visit farmers markets tend to care deeply about their food: they’re passionate about taste, colour, texture, perfume, and about the gastronomic experience in general.

So, when they’re presented with an exciting array of new apple varieties, it seems natural that they’d want to share their excitement.

Here are some alternative reasons why people might have asked Seth a question:

Questions quickly establish rapport by engaging people in active conversation. They give the respondent a chance to share their own excitement without feeling challenged or inferior, fostering a freer exchange of information and opinions.

Each farmers’ market offers different foods and different varieties, but a good proportion of visitors tend to be regulars. Faced with a wide variety of unknown apples at a new farmers’ market, I’d seek the opinion of those around me too, because foodies love to share their passion and recommend favourites to others. Indeed, this sharing and conversation is a central part of the market experience.

The broader appeal

There’s a more general truth here that offers marketers a fascinating opportunity.

When people are passionate about something, their passion often spills over: they like to share their excitement with other people, and their own enthusiasm often extends into adjacent areas of interest.

For example, a love of wine can easily extend into passion for Scotch and Cognac.

And while it’s unlikely that we’ll ever succeed in arousing everyone’s passion for our category, those who do get passionately involved are worth a lot more.

This is because people love to indulge their passions: wine enthusiasts tend to spend a lot more on wine than ‘average’ drinkers, and they often buy a range of expensive accessories too.

Putting it in context

The trick is to understand where your brand sits in people’s world, and how it relates to their passions.

Part of this involves understanding that people can get passionate about things that we’d never expect, and as a result, even seemingly mundane brands can become highly relevant to their lives.

For example, I know many people who are passionate about their homes, and who spend hours researching new ways to make their home cleaner and fresher.

Although these people are unlikely to get excited about bleach as a category, a household cleaning brand that extends its relevance beyond simple product attributes to offer advice and solutions for the houseproud is much more likely to engage them.

As we’ve seen before, the task isn’t necessarily to become their favourite brand ever; rather, it’s about demonstrating how good your brand is in relation to everything else it competes with.

This is more about two-way engagement rather than advertising: finding more immesrsive ways to share things with them, and more importantly, helping them to share things with us and their peers.

UPDATE: Just noticed this wonderful post by Spike over at Brains on Fire – some very wise words that add an important focus to the words above:

“…many [people] are still treating people’s passion as something a company can find and then own. Find? Yes. Own? Never. Passion is not a sales transaction.

Passion is sacred. Passion is a part of a person’s life. Their soul. To find it, you have to clear away everything else. You won’t find it in a focus group that is created to talk about you and your product. You won’t find it when you do all the talking. And you won’t find it wd a tree until it falls for it.

Passion is not a commodity. It is a gift. Treat it like one.”

Go read the rest here.

reasoned response vs classical conditioning

thinking process

A conversation around a recent post on medium vs. message reminded me of another debate that arouses strong opinion: reasoned response vs classical conditioning.

It’s a fascinating question: do we absorb advertising messages and subsequently respond to them in a reasoned manner, or are our responses more subliminal?

This question has significant importance, because it relates to the broader issue of whether advertising’s purpose is simply to influence people’s attitudes, or whether we expect it to drive behaviour more directly.

Let’s examine the two sides of the argument.

Reasoned Response

reasoned response

The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) was originally proposed by behavioural psychologists Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen in 1975. They asserted that people’s behaviour results from a series of mental processes, and that our actions are cognitive responses to our inner desires, the context in which we become aware of those desires, and the associated societal norms.

In simple terms, the TRA proposes that people evaluate a variety of influences before deciding how to behave.

From this perspective, TRA incorporates elements of  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In his seminal study, A Theory of Human Needs, Maslow asserted that people’s behaviour is guided by a predetermined hierarchy of physical and emotional needs:

maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow suggested that people only attempt to satisfy higher-order needs once needs lower down the hierarchy have been met. I’d contend that a reasonable level of confidence that these lower order needs can or will be satisfied is sufficient for the person to focus on higher-order needs.

So, for example, in a situation where someone is literally dying of thirst, the ‘physiological‘ need is dominant – that person will drink whatever they can find. However, when it comes to having a relaxed, social drink in a bar, ‘love and belonging‘ and ‘self-esteem‘ needs take precedence, and the decision-making process changes.

If we extend this theory to brand communications, we can infer that advertising’s role is to stimulate reasoned behaviour by influencing people’s attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions.

Classical Conditioning

pavlov's dog

An alternative school of thought suggests that at least some of our behaviour is involuntary – a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to external stimuli.

It builds on a ground-breaking piece of research by Ivan Pavolv. By repeatedly ringing a bell shortly before feeding his dogs, Pavolv noted that, after a while, he could induce them to salivate purely by ringing the bell; the dogs had been ‘conditioned’ to associate the ringing of the bell with the imminent arrival of food.

Some advertisers have taken Pavlov’s findings to mean that we can ‘train’ people to respond directly to advertising stimuli, and so ‘control’ their behaviour. While such a hypothesis may appear extreme, Pavolv’s findings do suggest that such ‘involuntary’ responses are plausible.

However, a more reasonable interpretation of Pavlov’s findings can be found in the principles underlying effective frequency.

What’s the consensus?

Psychologists still can’t agree which side has more validity, as this recent post from Matthew Taylor illustrates.

From an advertising perspective, my personal belief is that Reasoned Response is a more sustainable approach to establishing and nurturing relationships. However, I recognise that others put more faith in the Classical Conditioning model.

What do you think? Let me know by voting in the poll below:


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