Guilty until proven innocent

To customers you are guilty until proven innocent

There was a judge in the US who, at the start of every trial, would step out from behind the bench, approach the defendant and shake their hand. “I have just shaken the hand of an innocent person,” he would proclaim.  Why did he bother?

The justice system is predicated on “innocent until being proven guilty”. The challenge is those on the jury are prone to judge the defendant before the facts are even introduced, and seek confirmatory evidence for their view. A case of “guilty until proven innocent”.

By proclaiming the defendant innocent, the judge was using his authority to correct the decision-making frame for jurors. Start from a point of innocence, not defence.

What this means for you

In business, your customers are like jurors who come to the task of purchase with expectations. You are like the defendant. They will be predisposed to not buy your story (product, service).

The upshot is you can often be at cross-purposes with your customer.

You think they will make a decision based on grounds you believe are important (e.g. how much time you’ve put into your product or service, your credibility, why you are amazing) when they are using their frame of reference (e.g. how price compares to other options, the opportunity cost of their time and money if they spend it with you, their deep-seated motivations for wanting to buy).

Tips for you:

  • It is important not to talk too much about yourself, particularly early on (e.g. your value proposition, using “we do this, we do that” statements). Instead you need to prove you understand their objective and fit how your solution fits.
  • Re-frame the decision context if you need to move the customer away from their frame of reference to yours.  Red Bull, for example, did not frame itself as an aspirational drink and compete in that hyper-competitive soft-drink space. Instead they re-framed the category (a functional drink) so they could charge substantially more.
  • You don’t have a judge to proclaim you innocent, so instead use testimonials and credibility cues to signify why you are worthy of trust.
  • When people are used to something being free (like online news) it is very difficult to charge for it. You need to significantly shift the benefits they receive in order to substantiate a charge and distance it from the free service.
  • As the popular meme attests, when the CFO says, “what if we train people and they leave?”, the CEO can reframe as “what if we don’t and they stay?” In other words, flipping the context can be helpful to have your customer rethink their position.

A Lazy Susan for business

I think of Macon Leary often.

Macon, the main character in Anne Tyler’s book, “The Accidental Tourist”, was reeling after the murder of his son and painful separation from his wife. Adjusting to his solitary life, Macon proceeded to eliminate unnecessary effort in his life. He adopted a nondescript tracksuit as his uniform, alphabetised his pantry for easy access and sewed his sheets into something like a sleeping bag to avoid the need to make his bed.

I think of Macon whenever I systematise my life. As someone who dislikes wasted effort, I like to do things once and as efficiently as possible.

Take breakfast for example, I have all the elements to add to my oatmeal on a Lazy Susan in the pantry, so the next ingredient comes to me as if it’s on a production line. I don’t forget anything and it arrives at the point it is needed.

A Lazy Susan for work

Imagine if we had a Lazy Susan for work? What would that look like? A systematic way of getting answers about an issue at exactly the point you need them?

That’s effectively how I use behavioural economics. On my Lazy Susan are three main ingredients:

  • Apathy (System 1)
  • Paralysis (Paradox of Choice)
  • Anxiety (Loss Aversion)
Lazy Susan for business

When I am helping a client through a business issue, we metaphorically spin the Lazy Susan and explore which of the three reasons for resistance to change is in play.  Is it because the people you are seeking to influence:

  • Can’t be bothered? (A system one issue);
  • Are overwhelmed by everything you are telling them? (Paradox of choice); and/or
  • Are worried about proceeding? (Loss aversion)

By probing these three questions you can flush out all possible reasons for resistance.

While Macon was using his regimented lifestyle to make the world feel safer, and stifled himself in the process, taking a leaf from his well ordered book can be enormously beneficial in business. By always starting at the same spot, clarifying what kind of issue you have, you will eliminate wasted effort and use your time in the most effective way possible.

I have a free resource to help you do that. It’s called the Behavioural Analysis tool, is self-guided and will prompt you to think through what resistance you may face.

Traffic noise increased car insurance payments 11%

That background hum your customer hears may be impacting whether they buy from you. New research investigating the impact of background noise on willingness buy car insurance and try new foods has found that low pitch sounds trigger customer anxiety, which leads to greater risk avoidance.

The power of environmental primes

The environment in which a decision takes place plays a large, and often overlooked, role in shaping the outcome. I’ve written before about how music, smells and shapes can impact customers, and this latest research reiterates the importance of paying attention to how you shape your customer’s environment.

Hypothesising that low pitch subconsciously primes people to perceive threat, Lowe, Loveland and Krishna (2018, forthcoming) were interested in whether this would result in greater risk avoidance. Across a series of seven studies, the researchers varied the pitch of background noise between low (below 250 Hz) and moderate (between 250 and 1000 Hz) levels.

In one task, participants were asked to complete a computer survey on financial choices. Sine waves were played through a hidden speaker at a level they could not consciously hear.  Those in the condition where the waves were at a low pitch took significantly fewer financial risks than those in the moderate condition.

In another, participants were asked to listen to and evaluate a 35 second ad for car insurance. In the ad where background traffic noise was set at a lower pitch, customers expressed a willingness to pay $98.98 for the insurance, reducing their perceived risk. When the background traffic was set at a moderate pitch, this dropped to $88.63. An 11% difference based on imperceptible sound levels!

Moving out of the lab, the researchers set up an experiment in a self-serve yogurt store, inviting people to sample as many flavours as they wished before making a choice. Those in the low pitch environment tried 1.26 flavours on average before committing to their preferred, whereas those in a moderate pitch sampled only 0.9 flavours.

I don’t know about you, but I’m both excited and terrified of research like this. Excited because it shows how we can more effectively engage our customers, but terrified for the ethical boundaries it dances along.

What gave me some comfort is how easy it can be to counter balance these effects. Across the studies in which the researchers pointed out the background noise and gave a benign reason for it (e.g. “you might notice a hum because our speaker is broken”), any perceived, non-conscious threat was removed and the differences between low and moderate pitch levels, attenuated.

Implications for you

As the researchers note, “background sound in retail environments and marketing communications can alter a customer’s comfort level, and value placed on products that have the potential to reduce risk and their desire to try products before purchase to decrease risk.”

In other words, priming anxiety can be advantageous if you are in the business of risk reduction, like insurance and healthcare, but problematic if you are trying to get your customer to commit to something they cannot try first.

As this latest research affirms, priming is one of the most powerful tools of behavioural influence. You are susceptible, I am susceptible, and your customer is susceptible. Please use it responsibly.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Arming your advocate

“What happens when I’m not there? How do I influence through others?”

These are two questions I often get when training people in behavioural techniques. They understand how they can influence the person with whom they directly engage, but what about those beyond their circle? Like your boss’ boss for example?  Or your client’s manager? Or your customer’s family?  When you’re not there to do it yourself, what can you do to influence the situation?

Relying on others to make your case

Influencing someone to influence someone else revolves around two considerations: “I” and “we”.

“I” considerations are about how your potential advocate feels about what you are proposing and how they may take it forward to stakeholders. This is the “what’s in it for me?” angle that sometimes gets conflated with “what’s in it for the business?”

“We” considerations are what your advocate can use to sell-in your proposal – the “what’s in it for the business?” angle.

Too much emphasis on the “I” context personal concerns of your advocate and you risk wasting time on developing a proposal that doesn’t go anywhere.  You may have a willing advocate but they wield no power. It’s passion without action.

Too much emphasis on the “we” context concerns of the business and your advocate won’t feel personally engaged in fighting for the project. You will find yourself in project purgatory and your ‘advocate’ will find better things to do than answer your calls.

The sweet spot is ensuring your project appeals both to your advocate’s personal interests and those of the business.  Conceptually it looks a little like this…

The behavioural science behind “I” vs. “we” considerations

As much as I’d love you to take what I’m saying without delving further, I know that I will need to provide some harder edged information before you bother sharing it with anyone else. Why? Because researchers have found that “I” decisions are often made on emotion, but as soon as we know we will need to explain our decision to someone else, then we want facts.

In one study by Huber and Seiser (2001), participants in the “Accounting group” were told they would later have to explain their decision about a job candidate. Others in the “Convincing group” were told they would have to convince the executive board to vote for their selected candidate. No justification was requested of a third and final group.

The researchers found that those in either of the justification groups were more likely to use more information, and those in the Convincing group went through a more elaborate choice process. It seems that when we are explicitly aware that we need to convince someone to support our decision, we up the ante on due diligence.

More recently, researchers Hong and Chang (2015) looked at the impact of self-construal on whether people use feelings or reasons to make decisions. They found people who think themselves unique individuals (i.e. have independent self construal, typically in Western cultures) were more likely to rely on their feelings about a decision, and those who had inter-dependent self-construal (i.e. feel bound by others, which is more typical in Eastern cultures), were more likely to rely on reasons. However, when people in either category of self-construal had to justify their decision to others or make decisions on behalf of others, reasons won out. In the study that meant people preferred ads for apartments and laptops that highlighted functional benefits (e.g. apartment size, laptop battery life) to emotional attributes (e.g. apartment view, laptop visual aesthetic).

Having to explain options to others also changes which choices are preferred. In a study by Stanford researcher Itamar Simonson (1989), people were more influenced by how choices were presented when they knew they would have to justify their decisions to others. In this case, people were more likely to go for a compromise option (i.e. the middle rather than extreme choices a.k.a. the Compromise Effect) and more likely to be pulled towards an option that was presented alongside a decoy whose role was to steal attention from a third alternative (a.k.a. the Attraction Effect), when they had other people to convince.

What do these studies tell us? Two things.

  1. How you present options is critical to your success (we’ll cover that in more detail another time) and
  2. There’s a difference in what you will use to influence your advocate (emotion, feelings) and what you will furnish them with to influence their stakeholders (reasons, facts)

Arming your advocate

As you may recall from earlier blogs, the core of behavioural influence is getting people from point A, what they’re currently doing, to point B, what you would like them to do. In order to do so, you need to anticipate and address three behavioural barriers – apathy, paralysis and anxiety.

In short:

  • Why should they bother?
  • Are they clear on what to do?
  • Are they comfortable to do what you’re asking?

Thinking about this from your advocate’s perspective, we can break our behavioural challenge into two tasks.

First we need to analyse and address the behavioural barriers in the personal “I” considerations context. That may look something like this…

And then we can analyse and address the behavioural barriers in the business “we” considerations context. That may look something like this…

By completing the Williams Behaviour Change framework for both your advocate’s personal and business contexts, you will be able to flush out any potential objections and ensure they are ready and raring to go into bat for you.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

The Instagram of 1862

What if I told you Instagram culture isn’t new? It seems that everyone, all around us, is capturing their lives and curating these moments to greatest possible advantage.

Just like they did in 1862.

In 1862 John Solomon, a successful Sydney businessman, commissioned popular artist Richard Noble to paint portraits of him and his wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Solomon by Richard Noble 1862

It was the painting of Elizabeth that I noticed on a recent trip to the art gallery of South Australia. More precisely, it was the description next to it that got me thinking.

“John Solomon commissioned this portrait of his wife to reflect his financial and social success. Solomon’s motivation for displaying his success and refinement…was perhaps his desire to mask his convict heritage”.

You see, John Solomon was not only a businessman; he was the son of Ikey Solomon, a thief and trafficker of stolen property. So notorious was Ikey that he is said to have inspired the character Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

By representing him and his wife as distinguished, wealthy, refined members of society, John Solomon was attempting to recast perceptions of his family.

In other words, he was signalling to the world how he wanted to be regarded, much like present day Instagrammers, Facebookers and LinkedIn-ers do. In fact, just like each and every business does.

Along with how we look, here’s a run down on just some of the ways researchers have found perceptions can be influenced.

What things are called

There’s a reason café’s serve us banana bread, muffins and smoothies for breakfast rather than banana cake, cupcakes and milkshakes. What something is called can impact how it is perceived, and in this case, the healthier the food sounds the more likely they will be consumed.

Names are value-loaded, bringing with them either positive or negative associations. In one study that proved this very point, participants felt and acted more intoxicated when the cocktail they consumed had “Red Bull” in its name. Those who consumed the same drink with the name “fruit cocktail” were not as affected.

Similarly, referring to a serve as spaghetti as “double-size” was found to influence people to eat less, and dieters ate almost twice as many lollies when they were called “fruit chews” rather than “candy chews”.

How we sound

Before you pick up the phone, remember, people make snap judgments based on your voice in the time it takes to say “hello”. Across 320 participants, researchers found there was broad consensus on ratings of trustworthiness, warmth, dominance, aggressiveness, attractiveness, masculinity and femininity. Whether these assessments were accurate was not the point – it was that they were being made.

What we wear

Spotted someone rocking “active wear” in a high-end boutique or wearing red sneakers to the office? Researchers have found that these types of nonconforming behaviours are a form of conspicuous consumption that can increase perceptions of higher status and competence. We may finally have a justification for Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie!

Importantly, the power of this effect only holds when the choice in apparel is seen as violating a convention (so active wear in a suburban shopping centre would not be seen as an act of autonomy, and nor would wearing a hoodie in a Silicon Valley start-up).

Red sneakers aside, in another study of how snap judgments are made, researchers found that people were able to guess 90% of a person’s characteristics based on the shoes they most often wear. Affordable, practical shoes? You are likely to be agreeable. Pointy, expensive shoes? Less so.

What colours are used

Colour is something I am asked about a lot, particularly in relation to website design and call to action buttons. Hubspot published a handy infographic on colour psychology that you may wish to check out, and while I can’t vouch for the research that sits behind it I do like how they have showcased different brands by colour.

Like all summaries, the infographic is a useful starting point that should be tested in your specific context. Before rushing to include a red button on your website, for instance, consider whether you want to signal stop or go, urgency or calm, and whether red complements and contrasts other elements on your site, or whether it gets lost amongst similarly coloured features like your logo or banner.

Further, green may signal healthy in a general sense, but that doesn’t mean it will be right for your product. As I’ve mentioned before, packaging experts found people cited a preference for a green bottle when surveyed about a healthy drink, but were more likely to actually consume the product when the bottle was amber.

The hidden world of signalling

The lesson from all of this is that behaviour is influenced by all sorts environmental cues. I know this isn’t particularly new thinking, but as John Solomon reminded us, we can and should take matters into our own hands and shape how we and our businesses are perceived. Sure, it’s easy to focus on pricing and product, but overlook the power of subconscious cues at your peril.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

How smells, sounds and spaces influence what people do

Right now I am enjoying new car smell. You know, that particular smell that only a new car has? So important is this smell that you can buy “air fresheners” in lavender, pine and…you guessed it, “new car”.  The smell makes me feel different, which has got me thinking about all the environmental cues that influence us and how you can use these techniques to shape customer behaviour.

The smell of success

According to a paper (PDF) by Robert Van Lente and Stephen Herman, “of all our genes, one percent is devoted to the detection of odours — more than for all other senses combined.”  Added to that, 75% of emotions are generated by smell.  In the words of one marketing professor in the NY Times, “With all of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scentyour brain responds before you think”. That means we need to pay attention to what’s wafting around us because smell can change behaviour.

For example, Van Lente and Herman cite research that smell has resulted in:

  • Greater in-store lingering time  
  • A 45% increase in gambling (where odorants complimented a casino’s theme)  
  • Increased sales (from a pine odorant in a furniture store’s heritage line department)
  • Reduced in-hospital patient insomnia plus patient calming (through exposure to heliotropin, a key ingredient in baby powder scents).

Other studies have found:

  • Purchase intent increased by 80% when Nike stores added scent
  • A petrol station convenience store increased coffee sales by 300% by pumping the smell of coffee through the store
  • Exposure to pleasant scents made people more creative in problem solving and more vigilant during tedious tasks

Hear hear

Sounds become associated with actions and brands.  They provide reassurance that an action has been completed (like the whoosh when you send an email) or alert us to something new (like a ding when a new message arrives). Known as “sonic branding”, businesses are investing heavily in what their products and services sound like.

Take, for example, the “thunk” sound of a car door closing. Mercedes have a signature sound (listen here), with their “manager of operational sounds” telling Bloomberg that while an SUV may sound slightly different to a sedan, “it should always sound like good quality, be authentic, and be a Mercedes.”  

Not to be outdone, Volkswagen even promoted the sound of their car door in an ad for Jetta (watch here).  This was particularly important because Jetta is one of their smaller cars, so they wanted to convey that size does not compromise quality.

It would have been no small decision by Apple, therefore, to remove the start up “chime” from its latest MacBook. Sure it’s great for people who want to open their computer in a quiet lecture hall, but Apple have just ceded some of their brand equity.

Space race

Beyond sound and smell, physical characteristics like dimensions and weight also have a bearing on behaviour. For example:

  • Heavier wine bottles being perceived to be higher quality
  • Mineral water served in a heavier plastic cup being judged less pleasant than a lighter cup
  • Higher ceilings encouraging expansive, creative thinking and lower ceilings, detailed work
  • Curved glasses leading people to drink more quickly than straight glasses
  • People eating more salads when seated at a window seat, and more desserts when in a booth

Lessons for you

One of the biggest mistakes we make when seeking to influence behaviour (our own or some else’s) is underestimating the environment. And here’s the thing: you can’t NOT have an environment. Your workspace is an environment. Your shop is an environment. Your website is an environment. I’d even go far to say that the collateral, letters or brochures you send your customers are part of the environment. The environment IS having an impact on how your customers are responding to you. The question is whether it’s impacting in the way you want?

P.S. An interesting read on the importance of sound is “The Sonic Boom: How Sound transforms the way we think, feel and buy” by Joel Beckerman.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.