The mind of the uber driver

Why do people drive for Uber?  An obvious, surface-level answer is “for the money.” However, as this NPR story suggests, People’s Uber, which operates in China, attracts drivers for other reasons.

The correspondent says his interviews with Uber drivers have revealed that many drive to ameliorate the impersonal feelings of living in a huge, sprawling city like Shanghai. One driver tells a poignant story of how her passengers helped get her through a divorce and a diagnosis of breast cancer. “Sometimes customers help us,” she said, “other times we help customers.”

Another driver quit his job as an engineer because he worried that his work was numbing him to the thrill of living. “Our jobs are like tepid water. After a while we don’t want to jump out.”

What a great insight for Uber (and other ride-sharing services) to have as they seek to recruit drivers – and passengers.

Better memories, better pizza

The article discussed in this video was named the best article published in 2014 in Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Kathryn LaTour (professor at Cornell) and Lou Carbone (of Experience Engineering) discuss their memory distortion research for Pizza Hut in the UK.

They asked customers to describe their experiences at Pizza Hut, and then a week later asked them to recall their description. Not only did important memories fade, but consumers added negative attributes (long lines, dirty tables) that were not a part of their original experience.

The outcome was to design some pilot stores filled with cues to make the experience more “sticky” and memorable. (See image above.) Within a few months, these pilot locations reported a 40% increase in sales and a 20% jump in customer satisfaction – along with increases in employee motivation and job satisfaction.

The full article is here. Very novel approach to research and some courageous thinking by the client to implement some important changes.

Keep on truckin' style


If you have a free 45 minutes or so, please consider investing it in this webinar from Peter Boatwright from Carnegie Mellon.

His book is called Built to Love, and it deals with why emotion is important to brand success, even in the B2B space.

One of his striking examples is from Navistar, maker of big rigs. They got an insight that truckers, despite their critical role in the economy, don’t get a lot of societal respect. So Navistar wanted to build a truck that conveyed the kind of status and respect that these people deserve.

The Lonestar truck is pretty amazing.  The interior resembles a private jet or a high-end, modern living room. When they unveiled the design at a truck show, truckers were lined up to get tattoos of the grill or the logo.  This for a truck they had never driven or even seen before. The design clearly made a big emotional impact.

For the love of God

Chapel Lord knows whether this new research may or may not mean anything but it was weird and counter-intuitive, and thus a good Z-Files candidate.

Researchers at Stanford have published an article in the journal Psychological Science that suggests people are more likely to engage in risky behavior if they are first primed – even in a subtle way – with the idea of God or the divine. This runs counter to previous research that suggests that religious people are more risk-averse.

Apparently the idea of God “makes people feel safe or protected,” according to one of the study authors. And this probably has little to do with whether the person actually believes in God or not.

For example, the phrase “God only knows what you’re missing!” apparently prompted increased interest in a fictitious ad for skydiving classes.

So if you are a brand that is whose product or service involves some element of risk, for all that is good and holy, please take this into consideration. The results could be miraculous.

Now you see it, now you don't

Apple+(six+false+logos)_mid Could you draw the Apple logo from memory? Could you even identify it if you saw it? A new study suggests the answer to those questions probably is “no.”

Eight-five UCLA undergraduates – most of whom were Apple users -- were asked to draw the Apple logo. Most people were very confident they could do it. But 84 of them got it wrong. Most of them even identified the logo incorrectly when they were asked to pick it out from a group of similar logos (as depicted above.)

The man who led this research also authored a 2012 study that showed most people couldn’t describe the location of a fire extinguisher in their office building, even though they passed the extinguishers every day for, in many cases, years. (Interestingly, these people could find a fire extinguisher very easily when asked to do so – but most of them couldn’t describe its location).

So in market research, it can very tricky to ask people to recall details– especially when it comes to things like product attributes. Our memory is limited; it screens out things that seem to be irrelevant.

(By the way…none of the logos above is correct. The actual logo looks like one at the bottom-center, but with the leaf facing the other way)

Leave ' em laughing

20-laughing-friends.w529.h529.2x Thanks to Jessica Ames for sending along this article about humor as a social lubricant.

A study from the University College London suggests that people who have been laughing are more likely to share intimate, even embarrassing details about their lives.

Three experimental groups each were shown a different video – one to induce laughter, another to induce a pleasant mood, and a third to induce no particular feelings at all. After watching the video, participants were asked to write a biography that introduced them to other members of the group.

Those who saw the funny video were significantly more likely to share secrets in their bio (e.g. “In January I broke my collarbone falling off a pole while dancing.”)

Maybe there are implications here for consumer research, especially when dealing with sensitive or embarrassing topics. Perhaps laughter can be a bit like a truth serum.

Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry

emotion This won’t be surprising to most people reading this blog, but...

P&G just completed an internal study of 300 TV ads, 85 online videos, 100 Facebook posts and 50 in-store displays. They found that communication that generated an emotional response was nine times more likely to be successful.

Positive emotions were most likely to lead to success…but even negative emotions made a significant impact. As a P&G exec says, “The real killer is indifference.”

As for those straightforward, factual, “rational” appeals…don’t waste your time. They’re probably not going to work.

Virtual reality redux

Warriors This is a follow-up on my virtual reality post from a few weeks ago. VR remains in the news, with articles about different applications of the technology that could drastically change consumer experiences.

The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are both experimenting with VR. In fact, the NBA has already tested a VR live stream at a game, which enabled the owner of the Golden State Warriors (above) to have a first-hand experience.

Imagine if you could have an infinite seat on the front row of your favorite team’s games. You could look around and follow the ball just like you were there – except you could be sitting in your sofa 3,000 miles away. It could redefine what it means to be a fan and could even change how sports are consumed and played. (If you can have the best seat in the house at home, why go to a game in person? And if there’s no need to go to a game, why would teams travel from city to city to play those games?)

And secondly, an article on how VR could change movies and the arts. As one director says, “The stories I would like to make [using VR], I don’t even know what they are yet.” A good movie creates empathy…but what if you could actually live the movie through the eyes of a character? That could be cool…but also could risk empathy overload and all kinds of ethical dilemmas.

It’s all very exciting and very complicated to think about.

The hardware store of tomorrow

Lowes Brick-and-mortar retail shopping hasn’t changed much over the years; however, one company is using technology to transform the experience. It is a company that might surprise you – Lowe’s.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs is responsible for at least two breakthroughs that have the potential to change the hardware store experience. One is called the OSHbot. Big hardware stores like Lowe’s can be overwhelming – there is so much stuff it can be hard to know where to go to find a very specific kind of screw, for instance. The OSHbot is a robot that greets you in the store and directs you to where you can find a product.

The human in me asks two questions – do I really want my store experience to be stripped of human interaction like this? (I want to say no … but honestly, I probably wouldn’t mind). And second, why doesn’t Lowe’s just hire more employees rather than building robots (Lowe’s claims this will free its employees to perform more creative problem-solving for consumers, like how to use products instead of just where to find them).

The Oshbot isn’t perfect yet but you easily could imagine products like this in stores of all kinds within a decade or so.

Another innovation is the Lowe’s Holoroom which invites customers to visualize their home improvement project thanks to 3-D and augmented reality technologies. (IKEA has rolled out a similar app.) If you want to see the Holoroom in action, skip to the 2:35 mark in this video.

Airbnb vs. Japan

001_m This article hit close to home for me because:

1) I just had my first Airbnb experience 2) My honeymoon in Japan was one of the most amazing experiences of my life

The article deals with the challenges that Airbnb is facing in Japan. It is one market where the company is really struggling to establish itself. The theory presented in the article is that Japanese are not particularly hospitable to outsiders and thus are not eager to open up homes and apartments to tourists.

It provides fodder for an interesting thought experiment. If Airbnb came to us for help in solving this riddle, what kind of study would we design? Who would we talk to? What would we ask them?

Turning back time

o-GRAND-570 I am disappointed that I had never heard of this study until yesterday because it is the coolest piece of research ever. (It also has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so please take that into consideration.)

In 1979 Dr. Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard, invited two groups of elderly men to a monastery. These were men in their 70s and 80s and in average health for men of that age.

Langer’s goal was to turn back the clock 20 years, to 1959. So the first thing that happened was that no one offered to carry these men’s bags or help them up the stairs. They listened to 1950s music on 1950s-style radios. They watched 1950s TV shows on 1950s-style TVs. They were told to discuss things that had happened in 1959 – what was going on in the last months of the Eisenhower Administration and the ’59 World Series, for example.

To complete the effect, she removed all the mirrors from the walls, lest the men see themselves and get shocked back into the present.

Group 1 was asked to just reminisce about 1959. Group 1 was asked to actually pretend they were 20 years younger and still living in 1959 (essentially impersonating their younger selves).

After a week, all the men scored better on a battery of cognitive and physical tests. But the men who pretended they were younger showed significantly more improvement. This seems to suggest the power of the unconscious mind to affect not only our behavior but also our physical health. Now almost 40 years later, more and more evidence is piling up that mindfulness can have tangible effects on our health – at least slowing the aging process, if not necessarily turning back the clock.

The Right Stuff

NASA A number of organizations use social media to tell their brand story quite effectively. One of the best might surprise you – NASA.

The sheer number of social media tools NASA uses is mind-boggling – Google +, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Vine…and more. And various divisions within NASA all have their own social media accounts. And virtually everyone employed by NASA in a high-level position has at least a Twitter account that they update regularly. In short, NASA is basically everywhere.

More importantly, NASA uses these tools creatively and effectively, as this article describes in some detail. The organization has come up with all kinds of ways to tell a very simple story – one of ongoing exploration and learning. My favorite example is the NASA Social, in which people who engage with NASA on various social platforms are invited to an in-person behind-the-scenes look at the organization.

(NASA, of course, has a 50-year track record as a master marketer, back to the days of the Mercury program, as this new book details.)

Obviously, NASA has an advantage over most firms in that they are constantly doing new things and they produce content this is literally out of this world. But this blog post discusses how more “down to earth” firms can use some of NASA’s social media principles and apply them to their own marketing plans.

Immerse yourself

BurberryThe image above is from Burberry World, located in Burberry’s London flagship store. It is a 19th-Century themed store that includes high-tech twists like RFID tags that activate various videos. They have live models and bands and incorporate sound effects into the experience.

Burberry is highlighted in a new white paper on Immersive Experiences from PwC Strategy &. The paper highlights how various brands have used technology and their retail space to tell stories about themselves. Advertising is not the only place brand stories can be told – as this paper shows they can come through at every touch point.

Lines, Lines, Everywhere Lines

Lines The Atlantic discusses the psychology of waiting in line.

Research suggests long lines are paradoxical. Sometimes, of course, they are simply annoying. Other times, however, they increase the perceived value of what you are waiting for (e.g. waiting in line for a top-notch New York City restaurant) and/or they can get your attention and make something seem attractive.

Organizations have different ways of dealing with lines and waits. My favorite is Hobby Airport in Houston. It was inundated with complaints about long wait times at baggage claim. Its response was to move the baggage claim area further from the gates, so people would spend an extra five minutes walking rather than standing at the carousel and waiting. Complaints dropped to zero.

Ovulation motivations

women In case you missed it when it was first published – a study from researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Texas at San Antonio suggests that women change their economic behavior and need for status when they are ovulating.

Ovulating women were much less willing to share with other women, and in experiments were willing to make economic sacrifices in order to improve their status vis-à-vis other women. As this summary of the research explains:

"[W] omen indicated if they preferred to have a $25,000 car while other women got $40,000 cars (Option A) or have a $20,000 car while other women got $12,000 cars (Option B). The study found that ovulating women preferred Option B, choosing products that would give them higher standing compared to other women."

Interestingly, although ovulating women “played tougher” with other women, they were much more cooperative with men than were non-ovulating women.

The full article is available free until the end of February.

In the pink

Pink We have tried to raise our children (boy and girl) in a gender neutral way, but we have been amazed that they have gravitated toward very stereotypical boy/girl preferences. Our daughter, for example, LOVES the color pink.

Olson Zaltman's Bianca Philippi sends along two articles about this (they sort of remind me of Carrie’s Patterson-Reed's fascinating Medium piece about the history of indigo). The first article suggests that pink was not always a “girl color.” In fact, a 1918 catalog for children’s clothes recommended blue for girls. It wasn’t until after World War II that pink because closely associated with femininity, at least in the US.

The second piece is a commentary about the cultural baggage associated with pink. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with the author, redefining pink would be challenging. From the very moment of your child’s birth, girls get pink blankets and boys get blue ones. It’s almost inescapable.

What's in a name?

NY TImes namingEntertaining piece in the NY Times about the “weird science” of naming new products.

As you probably know there are agencies – and divisions within larger agencies – that specialize in this. The people in these jobs come from a variety of backgrounds; the man featured in the article studied linguistics but there are also poets, musicians, rappers, comics – you name it. Anyone can do it as long as they have a gift for words.

Some of the highlights:

  • In 1955, Ford used the poet Marianne Moore to name what eventually became the Edsel – that was kind of a disaster. One of her suggested names for the Edsel: The Mongoose Civique.
  • These specialists understand thoroughly how various sounds unconsciously convey both emotions and physical properties (e.g. fip sounds "faster" than fop).
  • Product naming in the pharma industry is especially complex. The Food & Drug Administration has published a 33-page manual about it.
  • This might be a whole lot of nonsense. All else being equal, you would rather have a good brand name than a bad one, but there are plenty of brands with seemingly awful names – iPad, Yelp, Gap – that have been quite successful.

Time (Clock of the Mind)

3473125_eafd_1024x2000This article from The Economist analyzes why everyone seems so busy today – especially in the US.

We are busy, but the article argues it is largely by choice rather than by necessity. And when I say “we,” I am referring to white-collar workers. Blue-collar workers, although they aren’t necessarily prospering financially like they used to, have significantly more leisure time now than white collar workers.

A lot of the tendency toward overwork is rooted in the metaphor of “time in money,” which is so deeply rooted in western culture. That metaphor implies that time not spent working is unproductive time. This is exacerbated by heightened feelings of job insecurity and economic insecurity.

Also, multi-tasking makes us feel more harried. You feel like you have better control over your time when you can focus on a single activity.

It is a fascinating read and one that might encourage you to re-think your own approach to work and life. (And it is not unrelated to Nick Kimminau's most recent Medium post in the Olson Zaltman collection about the “Second of the Day” project.)

You've got the look

FACESGRID-articleLarge While on break, I came across this article from the New York Times, about how the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association have hired a facial coding expert to assess potential draft picks.

By watching players – apparently while on the court in games – this expert claims to be able to understand the character of each player and whether they have the resiliency and leadership ability necessary to excel.

While I think facial coding probably has valuable applications in certain contexts, this one seems like a huge stretch.

1) It is one thing to read someone’s micro-expressions when they are sitting in a chair in a controlled environment and engaging with a single stimulus (like an ad). But how do you read the expressions of a basketball player who is running all over the court and engaged in intense physical exertion?

2) And what are you measuring? A player is interacting with coaches, officials, opponents, teammates, and perhaps even fans. How do you know what the player is reacting to?

3) A National Football League executive is quoted as saying, “I believe his insights could be valuable in helping teams understand an athlete’s emotional makeup and provide implications for how he may perform, both on and off the field.” Is there any evidence that someone’s facial expressions while engaged in a sport (or even while engaged in an interview) are an indicator of their future off the field behavior? As I recall, OJ Simpson was known for his winning smile back in the day.

4) The examples in the article are highly questionable. The expert says Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder has a face that radiates joy because he has natural smiles. Westbrook also is a great player on a consistently excellent team. Is he great because he smiles a lot or vice-versa? Would he look as happy if his team was in last place?

5) What evidence is there that great athletes have a common personality type? The article talks a bit about tennis. Roger Federer and John McEnroe were both great tennis players, but they couldn’t have been more dissimilar in their on-court demeanor.

What do you think?

Sonic Boom

Sonic boom I highly recommend Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy by Joel Beckerman, a composer and audio engineer.

The book contains a number of examples of how sound unconsciously influences how we feel and behave. As Beckerman says, when we watch a horror movie, we often cover our eyes so we don’t get scared. What we should do is cover our ears because it is the sound that stimulates the feelings of shock and horror – even though we don’t necessarily notice it.

Some of his cases include the transit systems in Tokyo and Moscow, which use sound in innovative ways to ensure that passengers know they are headed to the right place. The sound of the sizzling fajitas at Chili’s entices restaurant goers and somehow makes the food taste better. On airplanes, the droning sound of the engines makes us less sensitive to sugar and salt.

Other examples include Disney, which subtly uses sound to usher people around its parks; and supermarkets, which Beckerman insists dramatically under-utilize the technology at their disposal. He makes a compelling case that supermarkets easily could leverage sound effects and music to completely transform the grocery shopping experience.