Bye-bye baby

We were recently reminded of Freakonomics’ tale of a nursery with a problem: some parents habitually collected their children late – increasing the nursery’s costs.

To combat late collections they implemented a fine, punishing the truant parents. Instead it led to more late parents.

When psychologists investigated the cause, they discovered that now the fine assuaged the moral guilt. It had become a transaction. The fine was promptly cancelled. Unfortunately, the damage was done. The situation was reframed, now being late for free was a win. Late collections persisted.

Misunderstanding your audience’s motivations can have unintended consequences.

Driving Behaviour Change

In the ten years from 1988-1998 US alcohol-related traffic fatalities fell 30%. All because people were watching TV.

Harvard School of Public Health collaborated with Hollywood and leading TV networks to implant the ‘Designated Driver’ concept into the public consciousness. Alongside a traditional advertising campaign, the powerful psychological tactics of authority, norms, and social proof were brought to bear through 160+ shows and movies.

By 1991 ‘Designated Driver’ was in the dictionary.

That incredible societal shift came from moving beyond traditional methods to meet the audience where they were.

‘Why didn’t I think of that?’

We’ve all seen or heard something that makes us think ‘why didn’t I think of that?’. We usually think this because, once we’ve seen it, it really is so simple.

A nightclub once had a problem come closing time with fighting and general noise. So how did the local police reduce this? Not with ‘quiet please’ signs or even more police officers.

Stevyn Colgan tells in his book how they gave out lollipops to everyone leaving the nightclub. Pretty hard to shout with one of those in your mouth.

The best solutions don’t always need to be overcomplicated or cost the world. They just need to be effective.

Sundae Service

Imagine a bowl of cherries. Then imagine a cockroach crawling out of the bowl. Puts you off the whole bowl.

Now imagine a bowl of cockroaches. Unpleasant I know. But what if we put a cherry on top? It has absolutely no redeeming effect.

This example, from a radio show on the psychology of disgust, is true of customer experience.

The cherry on top is the archetypal deal-sweetener, but it only gets you so far. And just one cockroach can ruin your day.

One thing after another

Mapping a customer journey, and planning the subsequent comms, should follow the same principles as constructing a story.

It’s never just a series of ‘and then…’ moments strung together with no rhyme or reason (other than ‘because they’re the business objectives’).

Instead it should always follow and react to a series of actions undertaken by actors, linked together by ‘therefore…’, ‘but then…’, or ‘meanwhile, elsewhere…’.

They’re not a passive audience to be strung along, they’re the actors to be engaged.

Kontext ist König

If you ran a wine store that wanted to sell more German wine than usual, how would you do it? A big display? A promotional offer?

Actually, you’d only need to change the music.

In various experiments (as featured in Freakonomics, Choice Factory, etc.) customers’ wine choices were demonstrably influenced by the in-store music.

German music led to more German wine purchases. French music, French wine. Classical music led people to buy more expensive wine.

Because the context subtly influenced them. Shape the context, shape the behaviour.

What’s so special about 1729?

The number, not the year.

It’s the Hardy–Ramanujan number, named after two mathematicians.

When Hardy visited Ramanujan recovering in hospital he noted the number of his cab, 1729, which he remarked was dull, and hoped was not an unfavourable omen.

Ramanujan replied “No, it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

The data is only interesting when viewed the right way.

Fake it until they make it

The town of Agloe, New York shouldn’t exist.

It was a ’paper town’, a made-up place cartographers use to prevent copyright infringement. Any competitor map that replicates the fabricated town therefore must have copied theirs.

But, as novelist John Green’s TED talk about Agloe demonstrates, it wasn’t that simple. Travellers saw it on the map and visited but finding nothing there, people built what they expected to find.

Agloe became a real place because it fulfilled a need nobody previously knew they had.

Brands sometimes forget their power: to not just meet needs, but inspire them.

Being the best

Lebron James is arguably the best basketball player in the world.

To give some context, an ex-manager once told how they watched him in a game tell an opposing player where they were supposed to go. They were running a play and he said ‘No Pat, you’re supposed to stand over there and you’re gonna pin down for DeMar over here’.

It’s easy to get caught up solely on how you are performing.

But being great is not just focusing on your individual performance. It’s about knowing what’s going on around you, better than anyone else.

Why can’t you get a cab when it’s raining?

Logically, in the rain, cabbies would work longer to meet increased demand and make a tidy profit.

Instead, as told in the likes of Freakonomics, research suggests many drivers set daily targets for their earnings; when it’s rainy they hit that target quicker, clocking off early. On pleasant days, with low demand, they work longer hours instead of raking it in when it’s raining, and then enjoying those summer days.

This irrational myopia costs them their summer – and leaves you out in the cold all because they’re chasing targets, and not reappraising the situation.

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