Monday, May 30, 2016

Breaking Bad: How Freeing Us From Bias Will Spark A Revolution

We've all experienced it. Exploring hotel rooms or airline prices online a pop-up will tell us of how many people are looking at the same options right now.  Or the number of people who've been looking in the past 24 or fewer hours. Heightening scarcity preys on an unconscious mechanism in the mind, a primitive force that triggers us to act out of fear. 
The fear is the loss of a outcome we want - a hotel we like, an airline price we like. Unfortunately for homo sapiens our attachment to the option to buy something is as strong as the desire for the thing itself. It might seem odd but the logic is simple: if you lose the opportunity to buy something then what is being sought is lost too. It's a vulnerability called loss aversion - and accomplished behavioral economists like Dan Ariely have been researching it (Keeping Doors Open) and writing about it (Predictably Irrational) for some time. 
Like confirmation bias, loss aversion is an easy target for marketers to zero in on as a basis to exploit. It's refreshing to find a company rejecting this marketing ethos and giving its customers a freedom from fear rather than fueling it.  It's what Options Away is introducing to revolutionize the airline and travel space
Airline and hotel pricing are governed by the algorithm: prices are subject to fluctuate wildly based on a host of factors invisible to average buyer.  Airlines and travel aggregators typically force prospects to buy at the price prevailing at that moment and be unable to change it - unless shoppers pay a significant premium for a fully refundable booking. Taking a page out of the financial services book, Options Away is introducing the equivalent of a derivative for shopping for airfares and hotels. Options Away sells customers the option to buy at a certain price for 48 hours (or longer depending on the option). It offers freedom rather than lock-in. So while buyers might feel a scarcity pressure to buy when inventory is limited or when other people at the same time are reviewing a hotel or airfare Options Away sells an antidote to loss aversion through its option-to-buy product. 
It's smart marketing because freeing people from acting out of fear makes them far more likely act. A much bigger market exists for people wanting to reserve the right for a future outcome rather than being forced to commit with an irreversible risk.  Forty airlines have signed up with Options Away as well as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hipmunk and Kayak. This is a change in the travel industry you are going to notice.
Hats off to the behavioral science community for continuing to shed light on unconscious mechanisms of the mind that govern our waking hours from which we are better freed.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Listen To The Data. Literally, Advice to Heed.

One part of ‘Big’ in Big Data refers to the size of the opportunity: it represents a new frontier for accelerated progress that will leave few areas of human endeavor untouched.

The other part of ‘Big’ is the challenge. Beyond the digital dexterity required to conquer unprecedented data complexity through modeling and algorithms there’s a harder, human hurdle that must be surmounted for the promise of Big Data to be realized: the physiological limits of a human’s visual system to process input, whether data or information. Visual analysis of data still dominates the business and scientific fields but we can’t handle the visual complexity from Big Data.  The emergence of infographics and performance dashboards do little to overcome the challenge.

‘Listen to the data’ may be a familiar refrain in business – an appeal to be guided by numbers not subjective whim – but an emerging field of scientific inquiry suggests taking this advice literally can generate breakthroughs not possible through a sight-based approach. Sonification is the field of turning data into sound. Multidimensional in nature, hearing presents a different set of strengths from that of vision: the fidelity of time sensitivity is 100 times greater for hearing than for sight.  

This creates huge potential for marketing whose transformative impact has yet to be explored.  Imagine the application of sonification to cross-channel customer journey assessment. The ability to convert into sound and review customer-set level interaction data across touchpoints and time can help identify meaningful moments along with their contextual influencers, from changes in auditory patters.

Sounds promising.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Don't Hack Life - Hack Yourself

As a cultural trend, hacking has evolved dramatically since it's inception. The latest exciting developments, however, exploit an approach that is centuries old.

The term hacking took off in the digital realm, the result of much publicized efforts by programmers trying to break into systems to steal their contents (a sabotage that continues to grab headlines today). Now hacking has expanded to include any activity that adapts existing methods, resources and tools, fusing them with new thinking that invents or reinvents.  It's become as much a physical world phenomenon as a digital one, and far more versatile and advanced than The A Team exploits that introduced a generation hungry for resourceful improvisation three decades ago.

Today hacking is a mindset, a way of looking at and adapting the world around us (whether analog or digital) so that it works better for us.  It's a mainstream orientation for Gen Y (Millennials) who have the ambition for life to work better and smarter to serve what they want. It's a noble aspiration indeed.

The latest frontier in hacking may not be to adapt the world around us, but rather to hack ourselves. It could be far simpler (and cheaper) to adapt our sensory response to external elements than adapt those objects or conditions that surround us.

Here's a fascinating perspective on how this might play out in the food category: Food Hacking: Electric Fork It might revolutionize dieting. Imagine if a healthy but bland tasting food could be experienced as enticing and flavorful?

As with much technology what is considered an innovation is not itself new; rather it is treading an existing path, leveraging an 'old' idea but applying it in a new medium or a new way. The forerunner to hacking one's self for food is with medicine.  Philosophically, that is what the science of pharmacology does: it adapts the body's physical, emotional or mental state not just to an inner condition but to respond to outside, exogenous ones. We've been benefiting from it for centuries.  It will be fascinating to see where hacking our response to food leads us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More Than Salutation, Brands Must Change How They See People To Stay In-Sync

On many levels identity is undergoing significant transformation in our culture, reflected in the zeitgeist of increased empowerment, personalized choice and self-expression. Lately there’s been renewed media attention upon the revolution in gender identity. The binary, male vs female way to identify ourselves has given way to a multiplicity of new concepts reflected in the emergence of a whole new language of pronouns and prefixes.  The development and popularity of the Furries subculture reflects not just identity fluidity but expansion, anthropomorphically.

Arguable there are few things more fundamental to how we define ourselves than our gender. For brands who want to demonstrate they understand us and respect us, how they approach us is key to getting that right.

The challenge for marketers is that culture is in flux. It’ll be a while before the dizzying gender alternatives in circulation will thin out and stabilize.  No one can predict where it will land.  Facebook can get away with it because as the social platform for the planet a huge part of its concept is rooted in connection across people’s individually created profiles so there’s implicitly a greater understanding of and receptiveness to the organic nature of how we define ourselves through culture. For other brands moving early risks a misstep, which could temporarily make the brand look foolish or worse evoke a backlash.

The opportunity for a brand in embracing an emerging cultural theme is that gives it a modern, progressive character.  The brand is not just of the ‘now’ it is leading the times as a social innovator.  It’s incredibly hard for brands to stand out and apart from their competition today so making this kind of move can deliver distinctiveness that is meaningful – because there are few things more personal than identity.

Trip Advisor conveys its modern recognition for gender choice by offering “Another gender identity.’ rather than only the male or female option.  It enables people to express what they don’t identify with without having to convey what they do associate with.  It avoids a rush to categorize alternatives that might leave some options unrepresented which might invoke a backlash.

Caremark, a medication fulfillment company for BCBS, have also stepped up. Inquiring about the primary insured, they asked whether it was me, my spouse, my wife or husband.  These choices do not presuppose any specific kind of orientation and signals not just a recognition but an embrace of a more open, less assumptive approach to a circumstance.

A move by a brand towards gender sensitivity might seem small but there are few things as great as gender in how we see ourselves. Brands that show they understand us by how they greet us will inspire empathy and will stand apart from those who don’t.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Elevating Value Through Values

The opportunity might have easily been overlooked. The no-charge for bag check or ticket change could have been merchandised as just that: individual product features. It would have still delivered value to consumers. But by uniting it with values the brand holds -  transparency, predictability, doing right by the customer - they enjoy greater value. The no-charge feature now embodies principles the customer believes in (or at the very least feels good about) and triggers a human connection shared with the company they are about to entrust their life to (it is air travel after all).

This is smart marketing. Giving what could otherwise have been only a rational benefit some emotional appeal makes it not only more compelling, it elevates the value consumers get by aligning with their personal values - at no cost to the company.