New Coke – Market Research Fail?

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New Coke, or Coke II, is the biggest marketing mistake ever. Why did New Coke fail when Coca Cola spent $4 million on development? The company conducted over 200,000 taste tests and commissioned numerous focus groups and surveys. Executives claimed that consumers preferred the taste of New Coke to that of Coca Cola.

In his book Consumer.ology – The Market Research Myth, consumer behaviour consultant Philip Graves argues that market research was to blame for the mistake. Graves points out that conventional market research fails to allow for the psychological underpinnings of consumer behaviour. Coca Cola did undertake extensive market research. Is research a scapegoat to cover up for deeper failures in strategy and management?

The History:

At the end of the Second World War, Coca-Cola dominated the full-calorie cola market in the US with around 60% market share. However, this gradually declined and by 1983 Coca-Cola’s market share had fallen by over half to 24%. This was largely down to strong competition from Pepsi which improved its distribution in supermarkets. Supermarket own brands also contributed to this decline.

Consumer preferences were also changing. In the 1980s people were buying more diet and non-cola soft drinks, many of which were Coca Cola. This meant that the market for full-calorie cola drinks was already in decline. In 1984 Coca-Cola’s senior executives decided they had a problem. Pepsi’s market share was continuing to grow, and if maintained it would overtake Coke by 1990. Executives at Coca-Cola perceived this to be caused by two main factors.

In 1974 Pepsi had introduced the “Pepsi Challenge” – a blind taste test which suggested most Americans preferred Pepsi to Coke by a margin of 53% to 47%. This was put down to Pepsi being sweeter than Coke as it had more sugar. Secondly, Pepsi used aggressive celebrity endorsements from the likes of Michael Jackson and hip advertising music to position itself as ‘The choice of the new generation’.

The Danger of Market Research:

Coca-Cola decided to conduct market research to better understand consumers’ preferences. This indicated that “taste” was the main reason for the decline in Coke’s popularity. As a result they decided to develop a new formula which had more sugar than old Coke and Pepsi. They then conducted over 200,000 blind taste tests, focus groups and surveys to understand if consumers preferred New Coke over both old Coke and Pepsi.

The vast majority of participants in blind tasting tests, surveys and focus groups preferred New Coke to both regular Coke and Pepsi. A majority of respondents also said they would buy and drink it if it was Coca-Cola. However, some tasters did have reservations and said it would take some getting use to. Furthermore, around 10-12% of tasters expressed anger and felt alienated. Some of them even said they might stop drinking Coke as a result of the change.

Executives also noticed that focus groups were sometimes overly influenced by the negative views of tasters. This is a common characteristic of focus groups, but it also demonstrates the importance of peer pressure on attitudes and behaviour. For many brand managers the magnitude of negative response from tasters might have rung some alarm bells. However, survey respondents were generally less negative towards New Coke. Coca-Cola executives decided to pay more attention to their views. This is a classic case of confirmation bias where we are prone to ignoring information that contradicts our opinions and we seek out data that confirms our views.

The New Coke Launch:

On April 23rd, 1985, New Coke was launched with the expectation that it would reverse the fortunes of Coca-Cola. It had new packaging and old Coke was to be discontinued because they didn’t want to have two competing products at the same time. However, they anticipated this wouldn’t be a problem because they assumed consumers would be happy with the new formula and taste of New Coke.

This decision became the most costly marketing mistake ever. Within a few days of original coke being withdrawn there was a huge backlash from both consumers and the media. The company received over 400,000 phone calls and letters of complaint from customers unhappy with the decision to replace old Coke.

So, what went wrong with the decision making at Coca-Cola?

A Brand Is More Than its Features:

Brands are more than a list of individual physical characteristics and so it is highly dangerous to focus on a single product attribute (e.g. taste). Our brains respond to implicit/psychological goals such as reassurance and conformism that we associate with a brand. These implicit goals differentiate brands that may be very similar to each other in terms of physical characteristics.

Coca-Cola had been telling consumers that Coke was “it” and “the real thing” for many years. Now New Coke completely undermined this strategy by changing the formula and discontinuing old Coke. Little thought was given to the attitudes of loyal customers and that they might prefer tradition and stability over novelty. In the USA in particular Coca-Cola has a strong symbolic meaning and is seen as a cultural icon by some consumers. This contributed to the sense of loss when old Coke was discontinued.

Beyond Reason Model of Implicit Motivations

People are motivated to buy brands by implicit (psychological goals) that conventional market research struggles to identify

This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

The Beyond Reason model of implicit goals

The above has been developed from the latest psychological and neuroscience research. This identifies individual psychological motivators of brand purchase.

Conventional market research struggles to isolate these goals. It relies on direct questioning which generates a rational response from our slow, rational mind (see System 2). However, our attention is largely activated by our quick, intuitive brain (System 1). People don’t have full access to their psychological motivations and post-rationalise decisions when asked to explain a choice. This is why interpretation of market research is so difficult and also so important.

Image of difference between System 1 and System 2

The blind taste test completely ignored the influence of brand perception as participants weren’t informed of the brand until after they stated their preference. Indeed, a 2003 study using the implicit research technique fMRI found that the results of the Pepsi Challenge were reversed when respondents were shown the packaging of the product they were drinking.

What else was going on with Coke?

Despite being a strong brand, loyalty is largely driven by habit and availability. Coke lost the huge Burger King account to Pepsi and Pepsi’s “new generation” advertising campaign positioned Coke as old and boring. These factors are more likely to have contributed to Coke’s decline in its market share than the product’s taste.

Loss aversion is a strong motivator:

Psychological research has repeatedly shown that people are more concerned about avoiding a loss than making a gain. By withdrawing old Coke customers felt an emotional loss of a brand they had probably consumed since childhood. In addition, scarcity magnified this loss. When old Coke was withdrawn there were stories of people going around and buying up old stock and selling it on ebay for up to three times the normal price.

In-Group and Out-Group:

Coca-Cola was such a well-known brand that many loyal customers saw it as part of their identity. Conforming to your tribe or in-group is an important motivator of behaviour. The market research ignored the importance of identification and herd instinct with relation to brand loyalty.

The conscious mind is more receptive to new ideas:

Conventional market research relies on responses from our conscious mind. Unfortunately for Coke the conscious mind is also more open to new concepts than is the unconscious mind. New recipes arouse curiosity in the conscious mind. But it is the unconscious mind that motivates most of our brand choices and results in an emotional response when achieving an implicit goal.

The conscious mind automatically tries to post-rationalise decisions after we have responded to underlying motivations that we are often not fully aware of.

Familiarity means safety:

The mere-exposure effect means that people associate familiarity with safety. People naturally prefer familiar brands. The mere-exposure effect increases our preference for a brand the more we are exposed to it. Coca-Cola was such a familiar brand to so many people that New Coke was always going to struggle to replace it. People perceived them to be separate brands as old Coke was so entrenched in their psyche.

Groupthink:

The decision may also have been partly due to groupthink. The CEO of Coke, Roberto Goizueta, formed a small committee of 5 coke officers and his PR consultant, Harold Burson. The danger with such a small team is that it would encourage conformity and discourage dissent. This can lead to overconfidence in a small group. But also a lack of input from people outside of the committee would have narrowed how they framed the problem.

Executives Ignored The Warning Signs:

Due to a combination of confirmation bias and groupthink, Coca-Cola executives ignored the strongly negative feelings of a significant proportion of respondents. They dismissed 10-12% of tasters who were going to stop drinking Coke as a result of the product change. The opinions of these alienated consumers should have been investigated further. If this had been done the researchers might have found many issues. We suspect Executives already made their minds up, so they ignored the negative feedback.

Conclusion:

By relying on conventional market research Coke didn’t listen to the part of the brain that makes most of our decisions. However, the quantitative research was also poor because it focused on a single physical product attribute. A decision of this magnitude should never rely on a single study using such a simplistic binary approach to market research.

It should have been obvious that a brand is more than a single physical characteristic and that correlation does not mean causation. Focus groups are a flawed method of research. They can easily be influenced by a single participant and force respondents to over-rationalise a subject. In this instance the results of the focus groups were ignored for exactly this reason. No one thought to explore the potential for peer pressure to work against the brand when the new product was launched.

However

This unlikely blunder may support claims by author Constance Hays that the real reason behind New Coke was actually to save money. The New Coke formula would have saved Coke around $50 million a year as it replaced some the most expensive ingredients. Adding more sugar to Coke may have in fact been a cost saving strategy to boost profits rather than an attempt to improve the brand.

This would explain why the research solely focused on the taste of Coke as the CEO may have just wanted to justify a decision he had already made. This is not uncommon in business where market research is often used as a device to win political arguments or cover someone’s arse. So in this instance market research may have been used as a scapegoat for poor management decision making.

However, whatever the reason behind the decision, it was a disaster of epic proportions. In less than three months Coke had been re-branded Coca-Cola Classic and was back on the shelves. New Coke was also renamed a number of times until it was killed off in 2002. The whole sorry saga is a lesson to all companies not to try and fix a brand if it’s not broken.

Are Implicit Techniques The Future of Market Research?

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Explicit methods of research, such as focus groups and questionnaires are often very poor at predicting behaviour. Is it time to switch to implicit research techniques? When asked direct questions people are notorious for saying one thing, but doing something completely different. Conventional research techniques assume that people are independent thinking and rational decision makers who understand their preferences.

In reality studies from psychology and neuroscience indicate that a majority of our decisions are made by our automatic and mainly subconscious mind (see System 1). People can’t articulate what drives their behaviour because they don’t have full access to those deep and hidden mental processes. Implicit research techniques seek to measure underlying responses that we are often not fully conscious of.

Image of difference between System 1 and System 2

Perception is not reality!

Whether we like it or not, people don’t have a strong grasp of reality. Our brain maps our perceptions, not reality. This means that our perception of reality is different from others as we experience the world according to our own unique filter of biases, cultural and moral influences.

Many of our decisions are also influenced by other people. Although some of our internal drivers are genetically embedded, others are culturally directed. Our brains naturally reflect our culture because norms, customs, traditions, fads and superstitions are in our neural circuitry. It determines much of our behaviour.

We also copy the behaviour of others. This is either intentionally because we think we can benefit from the behaviour or unconsciously because our brain is influenced by what other people are doing. I have summarised most of the key influences on our behaviour in the diagram below. This demonstrates how complex human decision making processes are in reality. They do not reflect the rationality of the economic model most of us were taught at school.

Image of behavioural economics decision bucket

Why do people use flawed methods of research?

Many marketers continue to ask for focus groups and other traditional methods of research because they are quick, easy and cheap to use. There may also be an element of that’s all they know about. Humans are certainly very good at turning a blind eye to their ignorance.

There is also a certain amount of herd behaviour .People see others using conventional methods and automatically assume they must provide value and generate insights. Agencies also make a lot of money out of conventional methods of research. It’s not always in their interests to suggest more valid ways of doing research.

Whatever the reasons though, what marketers should by now recognise is that most conventional methods of research are deeply flawed and unlikely to predict future behaviour. So what should marketers use instead? Are implicit research techniques the answer and are they affordable?

What are implicit research techniques?

There are a number of research techniques that can access or offer insights about how the automatic and subconscious mind responds to marketing activities. These are implicit or indirect research techniques. They don’t rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As we can see from the table below there are relatively few methods that are truly implicit..

Neuroscience:

There are two kinds of neuroscience implicit research techniques, functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) and EEG. fMRI uses a powerful magnet to monitor changes in the brain’s blood flow in response to stimuli. It gives access to deep parts of the brain such as the reward centre. However, fMRI is mainly used in academic research because it’s expensive to use and participants have to lie completely still in a large machine.

Electroencephalography (EEG) involves placing a cap of electrodes to the participant’s scalp. It measures electrical activity from the synchronised activity of thousands of neurons. This allows researchers to analyse which areas of the brain are active at a specific time and then match this activity to audio and visual stimuli.

EEG though allows respondents to retain mobility during the research process and is much less expensive than fMRI. EEG cannot access deep into the brain to where the reward centre is located. It can identify instinctual emotions such as excitement, joy and sadness through changes in activity.

Other Areas it Can Help:
  • Perception – EEG can track which regions of the brain are activated when see an object and improve the visual look of an object for optimal perception.
  • Attention – EEG can help identify which object elements and features grab our attention.
  • Motivation – EEG can track whether people are drawn towards a stimuli or try to avoid it.

EEG technology is the fastest growing neuroscience technique and organisations evaluate advertising campaigns, packaging and product design.

Biometrics:

Biometrics are implicit research techniques that measure the body’s physical response to a stimuli. They monitor bodily functions such as heart-rate variability, skin conductance, respiration and eye movement. This allows researchers to identify unconscious responses to marketing activity that self-reporting would never be able to accurately measure. These techniques can measure emotional arousal to help improve website design, advertising campaigns, packaging and new product development.

Galvanic Skin Response (GSR):

GSR is an implicit research technique that monitors the electrical conductance of the participant’s skin as this changes in response to emotional reactions. GSR is often combined with eye tracking to identify the intensity of emotional responses and also the specific asset or message that triggered the emotion.

Eye-Tracking:

People can’t control where they initially look on a screen and so measurements of gaze can provide useful insights about the effectiveness of different designs or marketing messages. Eye-tracking technology uses a web cam or a video camera to monitor eye gaze and movement to identify areas on a screen which draw visual attention.

Eye tracking software

A web cam or a video camera that monitors eye gaze or biometric response to visual content. This generates heat maps of eye gaze to show where visitor attention is drawn to on the screen. This can provide valuable insights about the effectiveness of different designs and whether users are noticing important messages or assets on page.

Increasingly eye-tracking software now includes facial coding technology to identify the emotions a user is displaying in response to marketing material. The software uses vision algorithms to map key landmarks on a person’s face. Machine learning algorithms analyse pixels in those regions to classify facial expressions according to common emotions.

Eye-tracking company Affectiva provides such technology for gaming apps. This integrates into user interfaces to allow developers to make their apps adapt to the emotional responses of users in real-time. However, research by Nielsen discovered that when facial coding is employed in isolation it is a poor predictor of sales. This is why it’s important not to rely on a single method of research because it is only giving you one piece of the jigsaw.

Heart Rate Monitoring (ECG):

A participant’s heart rate can be tracked with an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine to monitor a person’s physiological response to marketing efforts. The assumption here is that changes in a person’s heart rate are symptomatic of unconscious emotional responses that people do not have full awareness of.

Affective Priming and Implicit Association Test (IAT):

These research methods measure implicit reaction times in response to priming participants with words, images or sounds. By priming respondents with a specific word or issue it helps makes a corresponding concept more accessible.

Implicit reaction time tests (IRTs) measure intuitive, gut reactions and subconscious reactions to brands, packaging, new product concepts, adverts and other marketing communications. Without the biases of conscious rationalisation and social influence inherent in traditional research methods.

Research by Steinman and Karpinski (2009) found that implicit not explicit attitudes towards the brand GAP forecast engagement and purchase intentions. Furthermore, Brunel et al. (2004) found that implicit research techniques can identify attitudes towards brands that explicit methods are unable to show (e.g. variance by race for brand preference was shown by implicit research, but not explicitly).

Image of Implicit Association Test

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is one of the most popular methods of implicit research. It measures how quickly participants sort words or images into categories every time they are primed by a stimulus. The IAT uncovers the strength of respondent’s feelings by measuring how each prime affects their mental processing speed and accuracy.

Implicit Research Agencies:

There are many research companies that offer implicit research methods to understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. At the forefront of applying implicit research techniques are new companies such as Sentient Decision Science. Established providers such Nielsen have also developed a suite of implicit research methods.

Eye-tracking companies like iMotions combine eye tracking with EEG, GSR and explicit research feedback to deliver insights to improve marketing content and user experience designs. Marketing consultancy firm Beyond Reason have their own model of implicit motivations. They use a form of the IAT to identify the subconscious drivers behind brand loyalty.

Will Implicit Research Techniques Replace Explicit Methods?

Implicit research techniques can help us better understand subconscious drivers of behaviour. But whilst focus groups are certainly past their sell buy date, other explicit research methods (e.g. one-to-one depth interviews or surveys) can still offer useful insights.

It’s important to recognise that System 1 and 2 don’t work in isolation and they often respond at the same time to our marketing efforts. Furthermore, observational techniques don’t suffer from the same flaws as self-reporting studies and should be employed when appropriate. Controlled experiments such as A/B testing also allow us to understand how users behave in reality to sometimes very subtle changes to the user experience.

So, whilst implicit research techniques are certainly a step forward in understanding underlying human motivations, they are often most powerful when combined with observation and explicit feedback. Having a sound and well thought out research design should always be your priority rather than being prescriptive about the techniques you are going to use.

Ask, Ask, Ask

Asking direct and often stupid questions is sometimes the biggest problem with explicit research. Avoid asking people to predict the future as if they were any good at forecasting they would be multi-millionaires. A collaborative approach to research where employees work alongside customers and prospects to explore problems and needs is likely to be more insightful than the traditional structured questionnaire approach.

Rapid prototyping with input or feedback from customers allows for a two-way conversation with consumers or partners. This is why many companies are now using Google 5 day design sprints to develop and refine concepts quickly. Although this process relies on explicit research it encourages a more collaborative approach. Respondents are given the opportunity to interact with prototypes which means the research is partly observational. Watching how people behave is often more informative because it does not rely on self-reporting.

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Why Is The Market Research Budget The First To Be Cut?

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Is The Market Research Budget Under Pressure?

A few years ago I was working for a UK commercial bank and the Marketing department had been called to meet the new Head of Marketing. As our new colleague was introduced to each area of marketing she acknowledged the value that they offer to the organisation. However, when she was introduced to the Market Research Team we heard the fatal words “Oh, yes, Market Research, the first area to be cut when there is a downturn.”

Ironically within a matter of months we were hit by the financial crisis of 2008 and almost immediately my budget was drastically cut back. So, why is there a perception that the market research budget is fair game when times are difficult? There are of course a number of inter-related reasons. From my experience here are the main factors behind this attitude to the market research budget.

Return on investment:

Senior managers understand numbers as they deal with them every day. To speak their language and gain trust it is important to provide figures on the value of research. Key here is stakeholder management to uncover all the potential benefits of decisions informed by research. But also follow-up on research by owning the action planning process, and agreeing how to calculate the value of research in monetary terms. This will put you in a stronger position to defend the market research budget.

Revenue is up image

Source: Freeimages.com

This will also help in trying to prioritise research budget from a ROI perspective. But more importantly if we are seen to estimate the benefit of research in monetary terms the budget is less likely to be perceived as a cost centre. Instead it may be a source of revenue and cost savings.

As managers are just as loss averse as the rest of us they don’t like to have to justify expenditure unless there is a benefit. Building trust by talking their language allows us to re-frame research in a more commercial sense. It opens up opportunities to discuss more strategic projects to address longer-term business goals.

Loss aversion can also be used to our benefit as research can help protect a brand by uncovering poor sales practices and training needs of customer facing staff though covert observational techniques. For digital communications research use A/B testing to measure any uplift in conversion. Then calculate the loss of revenue if the old content has been retained.

Herd mentality:

When other companies are reducing costs by cutting back on research and development. It is easy for a senior manager to use this as evidence to support their own plans to save money. This copycat or herd instinct is difficult to prevent as in times of uncertainty we like to follow what other people are doing.

Managers demonstrate a herd instinct by cutting the market research budget first

This of course is not always wise and when people copy behaviour blindly without assessing the risks it can end in disaster. The important strategy here is to identify and highlight those successful organisations that are not following the herd. Investigate their approach to research and their successes in the field of insights to demonstrate the value in having a longer time horizon. The market research budget should be an investment not a drain on resources.

Confirmation Bias:

Managers often suffer from confirmation bias as they look for information that will confirm their attitudes and opinions. The danger here is that managers often try to use insights from research to justify a decision they have already made. Rory Sutherland suggests that over 50% of market research may be commissioned as a kind of insurance against a decision going wrong. The manager can then blame the research if it proves a disaster. I suspect this is probably not far off.

If the research is for “arse covering” as Rory puts it I try to steer the research towards a more useful area of insight. Review the problem from a wider frame of reference and identify other questions that might be more valuable. Make a subtle suggestion to the manager by asking them if they had thought about asking this question instead. Explain how this new question would help their problem, but also how it might be more beneficial.

Also make sure you ask the commissioning manager what they think the research will discover to counter hindsight bias. You can add this to the brief and create a research hypothesis. The market research budget will be easier to defend if you can show you deliver findings that were not predictable.

Emotional attachment:

As human beings we are emotional rather than rational creatures. Our decisions are heavily influenced by implicit or psychological goals, such as power and autonomy. We respond most positively to people who take a genuine interest in our lives and make us feel important.

image of woman smiling to show emotions

Source: Freeimages.com

Make an effort to get to know your senior managers, find out what motivates them, from both a personal and business perspective. This will also help you identify their achievements so that you can give sincere complements to build a stronger relationship.

This should also allow you to find out about their perception of research so that you can consider how to counter common misconceptions about market research. But the important behaviour is to listen and get them to tell you what their priorities are. You can then go back later with plans to target these needs. As is often the case it’s not what we know, but who we know that matters. Having a senior stakeholder as a champion of the market research budget will help protect your funding.

Targets & Short-Termism: 

Understandingly there is a tendency among public companies to focus on hitting the next quarterly targets. This tends to result in an obsession with setting goals to help meet these targets. However, research from the Harvard Business School – “Goals gone wild” indicates that goals imposed on people by others (e.g. sales, quarterly returns, customer satisfaction scores etc), narrow our focus and limit our thinking. This reduces our ability to come up with innovative solutions.

There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that goal setting can result in unethical behaviour. Tesco and Halifax (now part of Lloyds Banking Group) in the UK and Enron in the US are prime examples of where lofty revenue and growth targets encouraged a race to meet them at any cost.

Image of Enron E logo

Source: Freeimages.com

Short-term thinking almost inevitably leads to less research and development. Research can help counteract the negative side-effects of goal setting and inform decision making. You can employ loss aversion here to focus attention on the dangers of missing out on new emerging trends or disruptive technology.

You can also ensure that your focus reflects the needs of the business to achieve efficiency’s and cost savings by proposing projects that assist this process. Behavioural economics for instance can be used to used in many areas, from call centres to production lines, to create new habits and improve customer decision making.

Over 40 Awesome Social Media Marketing Tools

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Why are social media marketing tools important?

Social media marketing tools have become more valuable as the use of online social networks have exploded over the last decade. For many people social networks are one of their main sources of information and news. Millions of people share photos, messages and content every day on social media.

Are social networks anything new?

Humans have always been super social animals and we thrive best when connecting with other people. New ideas, products and behaviour spread through our social networks. Consequentially social media is just a visible extension of existing off-line social networks. However, social media can heavily influence both online and offline behaviour and social media signals are an important factor in SEO. Shares on social media can also create back links which help improve domain authority.

How important is social media marketing?

Research by PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PWC) of over 20,000 consumers worldwide found that almost half (45%) of digital buyers indicated reading reviews, comments and feedback on social media influenced their digital shopping behaviour. The influence of social media is probably much greater than this for because many of our interactions happen offline via word of mouth and may be so subtle that they are very difficult to identify and measure.

Indeed, research suggests that we often copy other people without being consciously aware of our behaviour. This is because we have developed an almost automatic ability to replicate the behaviour of those who we admire or aspire to be like. As a result the potential power of social networks should not be underestimated. The forecasts suggests that online social networks will continue to grow rapidly.

To help you in this important area of marketing I have summarised below over 40 social media marketing tools that help improve your success in this area. A number of the social media marketing tools are free or have free trials available, so check them out if you think they could assist your social media planning and implementation.

Over 40 social media marketing tools to use:

1. Social Media Marketing Tools For Analytics: 

1. 33Across:

One of the most useful social media marketing tools which allows you to integrate analytics with your marketing efforts. 33Across offers traffic building and monetization tools for content publishers. SiteCTRL provides real-time insights on how people consumer and share your content. This includes Copy&Paste which monitors on-site copy and paste activity and auto-inserts the page URL to create organic back-links which improve search rankings.

SpeedShare enables and tracks sharing of your content across multiple social networks. The analytics tool helps you to understand how your users share your content in the public domain and privately.

RevCTRL generates insights into the best places where you should focus your marketing efforts and allows for better placement and more relevant ads for users. Select customized ad signals including social, search, contextual and more. As a result RevCTRL aims to provide higher CPMs and more revenue with fewer ads on your site.

Image of 33across.com social media marketing tools

2. Brandwatch:

Supports 27 languages and is an ideal tool for international organisations that require a multi-language solution. It is able to monitor conversations across the vast majority of social networks and offers highly targeted searches with industry leading queries powered by 22 Boolean operators. Using an advanced algorithm it offers spam-free data from millions of online sources.

Brand Watch

3. Facebook Audience Insights:

Free tool from Facebook that allows you to better understand the audience you plan to target before you begin any campaigns.

Image of Facebook Insights page

4. LikeAlyzer:

For Facebook growth this tool allows you to keep up-to-date with Facebook stats. LikeAlyzer weekly provides information on your Facebook page such as the number of posts per day, Likes, comments and shares per post, timing and length of posts.

5. Moz Analytics:

One of the most highly rated social media marketing tools on the market. This provides you with a single dashboard to browse your social media performance and other marketing efforts. As Moz is an SEO tool as well it will show you how your social media activity is affecting your SEO standing.

6. Qualia Media:

The company has developed an Intent Quality Decision Engine to measure a person’s propensity to purchase. The engine identifies intent across screens and digital journeys by collecting and analysing signals of intent and selects your ideal consumers to deliver highly targeted ads.

7. Social Analytics:

This is a Chrome extension that allows you to track real-time social engagement of any website to understand how popular a page or post is on various social networks. This helps you understand how content on a site is shared and where you might focus social engagement.

Social Analytics

8. SocialFlow:

Employs an optimisation algorithm that analyses your Twitter and Facebook data to ensure your content is sent at the optimum time. The tool uses three key criteria to determine when to post content. Message relevance, which of your messages in most likely to connect, your audience (who is currently online), and timing (when is the best moment to post this content).

Social Flow 2

9. Socialmention: 

A popular Free monitoring and listening tool. This covers over 100 social media networks and measures metrics such as sentiment, strength, passion and reach. Combined with an easy to use interface and the ability to export the data into an Excel sheet if required this is a highly useful tool that does not have any subscription to pay.

10. Sysmos:

A suite of social monitoring tools that help you collect and analyse relevant data within a framework that you can define to identify insights on what matters to you. It incorporates a workflow system that enables you to process large volumes of mentions to allow you to make data-driven decisions.

2. Content Discovery Social Media Marketing Tools:

 1. Anews:

An iOS app that allows you read all the news, blogs and social networks on topics that interest you in one place. The app also enables you to share any articles with your social networks.

2. Atomicreach:

This tool analyses the emotional appeal of your content and evaluates whether your articles are written appropriately for the kind of people that read your content. The app uses advanced data analytics to uncover how writing patterns impact your audience and machine learning to identify when they are interacting with your content.

3. EMV Headline Analzer:

The Emotional Value Headline Analyzer is provided by the Advanced Marketing Institute for evaluating how emotional a headline is to provide an indication of the chances of it being shared.

4. Pocket

One of the most popular social media marketing tools for content discovery and curation. This is a content curation tool that allows you to store articles, videos or other content for when you need it. It allows you to tag posts for easy sorting and filter by video, image or article.

Image of Pocket.com homepage

5. Portent Idea Generator:

If you ever need a bit of help with what to write about a certain subject this tool provides instant headline suggestions to build an article around.

Portent Idea Generator

6. RebelMouse:

A social networking aggregation tool that allows you to use flexible, dynamic rules to auto-publish content from social platforms and gather content from RSS feeds and APIs. It also offers a CMS and mobile app platform which allows you to choose from a variety customisable designs.

3. Content Management Social Media Marketing Tools:

1. Buffer:

Buffer has become one the most iconic of the social media marketing tools available. They offer a Free account manager for one Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn account with up to 10 updates in each of your buffers (account schedule). You can also have a 7 day trial to include Pinterest in your account.

This a great tool to optimise and automate the times when you post on social media. Further, it provides detailed analytics of the number of clicks, favourites, shares, comments and the potential reach of individual posts. The browser plugin for the tool means that you don’t need to access the Buffer website to schedule or share content.

You can go Awesome for $10 a month to manager 12 social profiles, with unlimited posts in your buffer, and have two users to manage the account. This allows you to decide on whether to send posts out of one account or multiple accounts across different social networks
simultaneously.

2. CoSchedule:

A Wordpress plugin that allows you to plan, schedule and promote your blog content across multiple social media channels. CoSchedule integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Buffer. You can also track post links though Bit.ly or Google tracking tags. You can manage all your content creation calendar and social media sharing schedule from the
backend of your WordPress website or blog.

The tool will also monitor social media engagement from your posts and produce an activity report which ranks posts based upon the level of engagement.

Image of CoSchedule.com

3. eClincher:

A comprehensive paid for social media management and publishing solution that starts from $15 a month. This includes automating publishing, engagement (live social fields), curating new content, post automation, social inbox, social monitoring, influencers, generate leads and social analytics.

Image of eClincher.com homepage

4. Edgar:

A paid for solution that automatically adds your new posts to a library which allows you to recycle all your social media posts so that you end up with a never-ending queue of content. You can determine what to post and when it goes out.

Image of Edgar.com homepage

5. Hootsuite:

This is one of the most well-known and popular social media marketing tools that helps you manage multiple social media accounts by monitoring, posting and delegating tasks within your team. This includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, Foursquare, Instagram and many more.

Hootsuite

6. IFTTT

This app allows you to connect many of your favourite apps to create automatic actions from one app to another when you complete a set task. These automated actions are called recipes and there are many to choose from.

Recipes include Tweeting your Facebook updates, share your Instagrams to Facebook, forward emails to save attachments to Dropbox, posting Vimeo videos you like to Tumblr, saving new texts you receive in Google Spreadsheet, copying any Instagram pictures you take to Google Drive, adding your latest iPhone screenshots to a Dropbox folder and saving articles saved for later in Feedly in Pocket too.

7. SocialOomph:

This tool allows you to schedule tweets in advance and auto-follow your new followers. The dashboard enables you to combine Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plurk and your blog into one place to schedule posts and monitor social media activity.

Image of socialoomph.com homepage

8. Sprout Social:

A management and engagement platform for social business. You can manage, post, monitor, and analyse multiple social media accounts from the tool. It allows you to post updates simultaneously across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Monitor your messages across social networks through on streaming inbox and their ViralPost algorithm analyses your followers’ engagement patterns to identify the best time to
publish content. Their analytics reporting allows you to customize social media reporting across networks and profiles. Offers a 30 day Free trail.

9. Tagboard:

This is a social search and display platform which allows you to get a snap shot of sentiment surrounding your hashtag. This allows you to identify where most engagement was generated so that you prioritise effort in the right social networks. In addition Tagboard allows you to reply to people from the snapshot page, which works well for conferences and generating conversations in real-time.

Tagboard

10. Tailwind:

An app for saving you time with managing your Pinterest account. It allows you to schedule pins in advance, schedule re-pins, easily pin any visual content from any website using the Tailwind hover button, obtain easy to understand analytics and get reminders about boards that you need to optimize.

The app also allows you to organise your Instagram photos based on likes, comments or most recent photos. Further, it allows you to post Instagram photos on Pinterest and connect with Pinterest users on
Instagram.

4. Design and presentations:

1. Canva:

A free web-based design tool that has some of the best elements of Photoshop and a range of designer templates. A very easy to use tool which offers an excellent range of design templates, fonts and layouts.

There are also free tutorials that show you how to produce better graphics. A great tool if you wish to customize images to post on social media.

Canva

2. Haiku Deck:

A web-based and iPad app for creating awesome looking presentations and with the additional benefit of integrating with SlideShare. A great tool for reinventing content as you can choose from a range of stylish fonts, layouts and image filters to create a really polished looking presentation.

 Image of haikudeck.com homepage

3. LeadPages:

Offers you the ability to create landing pages to encourage desired conversations from your social media activity. It provides a powerful (WYSIWYG) visual editor to design and launch landing pages within minutes.

Image of Leadpages.com homepage

4. Vectr:

This is a free and intuitive graphics editing app for web and desktop. Vectr has a low learning curve making graphic design accessible for everyone.

Image of vectr.com homepage

5. Word Swag:

Is an iPhone app that allows you add awesome text effects to your photos to create professional-quality posts and photo-quotes. 

5. Outreach Social Media Marketing Tools:

1. Discover.ly:

This is a Free Chrome extension that shows you the social networks that your email connections use and you can even cross-reference other social networks as you browse on individual social sites. This allows you to identify if you have the potential to connect with individual people across multiple social networks or how you might connect with someone new through a mutual connection.

Discoverly

2. Zoho SalesIQ:

This is platform for tracking website visitors that enables you to connect and engage with your users in real-time. It includes a language translator, integration with Zoho CRM and advanced triggers to segment visitors by how long they’ve been on your website, pages visited, type of visitor and many more classifications and responses.

6. Planning Social Media Marketing Tools:

1. Process Street:

A free process and work flow management solution that also provides downloadable, step-by-step checklists for your articles to make your content more engaging. The tool also allows you to add images, videos and other files to your checklist.

Image of process.st homepage

2. Todoist:

A useful tool to manage your daily task list. It also allows you capture ideas via mobile device, browser, email or desktop. You can then prioritise, schedule and add actions against each item on your list. It keeps individual project separate by using folders and labels and everyday it notifies you the day’s actions.

7. Podcast Social Media Marketing Tools:

1. RINGR:

Is an iOS and Android app that allows you to connect with someone you want to interview remotely and record the entire conversation over the phone. They simply have to install the app,
enter an invite code and begin the recording.

2. FuseBox:

A WordPress plugin for podcasters that is compatible with any podcast RSS feed from any podcasting hosting service, including Libsyn and SoundCloud.

The design of FuseBox allows you to display your podcast artwork, customise the colour of the radio track bar and adjust the colour of the full player between a light or dark coloured theme.

8. Share Content & Grow Traffic – Social Medial Marketing Tools:

1. Bitly:

A Free service that provides link shortening to post your content on social media accounts, together with real-time analytics, bookmarking your favourite sites and allows you to track clicks.

Bitly

2. Snip.ly:

This is one of the most well known social media marketing tools. Snip.ly is an awesome URL link shortener that when clicked shows a customised call-to-action snippet at the bottom of the page. It is a fantastic way of driving traffic back to your own website by sharing great content from others.

3. SumoMe:

This offers a suite of 11 free tools to help you grow the traffic to your site.

The Scroll Box allows you to ask visitors to submit their email addresses as they finish reading your latest post or learning about your product. Smart Bar is positioned at the top of your website to remind your visitors to join your email list, read your latest blog post, or whatever else you want them to do.

9. Twitter Analytics and Account Management:

1. Followerwonk:

A great tool to analyse Twitter profiles. 30 day Free trial is available.

2. Tweepi:

A useful tool for managing your Twitter account as it allows you to remove unfollowers, clean up inactive followers, reciprocate by following new followers and follow accounts that may be of interest.

3. Twitonomy:

A dedicated Twitter account management and analytics tool that will give you insights on the people you follow and those that follow you. It allows you to see who you follow, but do not follow you back, and those that follow you, but you don’t follow.

Conversion Optimisation Strategy & Poker

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Conversion Optimisation Strategy:

Poker is a game of strategy and just like conversion optimisation unless you have a clear strategy you are sure to lose.

When I was optimising a major poker website and app I decided I needed to get under the skin of the average player. One of the ways I did this was by learning to play poker and joining competitor sites to compare the user experience. As I became more experienced at the game, I realised that there are many lessons that can be applied to conversion optimisation strategy.

Understand the basic rules:

If you don’t know the hand rankings for poker you are going to make a lot of bad decisions and lose money quickly.

Similarly for conversion optimisation strategy you need to understand basic web conventions and have a clear process for optimisation and testing. This will help ensure that you can spot obvious problems with your site and you have a systematic approach to improving the performance of your sites. This will avoid random testing and improve your chances of making the best decisions to increase conversion. If you want to read up on this subject check out my post on the optimisation process and some awesome books to read.

Image of PokerStars.com new player tutorial

Source: PokerStars

Don’t be overly aggressive with your approach:

Many good poker players can be very aggressive at times. This can unsettle their opponents. However, it can also put off novice players and make them abandon the game.

With conversion optimisation strategy you need to assume that most new visitors are unaware of your brand. If you are overly aggressive you may win over some brave souls, but you will probably scare off the majority of your new customers. People don’t like feeling they are being pushed into making a snap decision. Pop-ups are almost universally employed on poker websites in an attempt to get visitors to take action. But these can often just annoy visitors. Conversion should be a pleasurable experience for the visitor and we should avoid over reliance on any single approach.

ClubWPT Cruise imageSource: ClubWPT

Players are emotional creatures:

To make the best decisions, it is essential to be calm, logical and to consider the probabilities of hand strength and the likelihood of other cards being revealed at each stage of the game. However, in reality many players struggle with the maths and let their emotions drive their decision making.

The behaviour of website visitors is no different to poker players. Visitors are heavily influenced by their emotional state, environment and what they think other people are doing. This all influences how they interpret content and functionality on your site. Conversion optimisation strategy should allow for the fact that most users are more concerned about potential losses than gains. Use money-back guarantees or free trials to reduce the perceived risk of customers making a poor decision.

We are generally poor at doing mental maths, so spell out bonuses or offers in simple terms so that users don’t have to work anything out. Use psychological hooks in your content to engage visitors at a non-rational level. This is often more important and influential than the purely logical reasons why we buy. This quote I recently came across sums up what we are dealing with:

“Few people are logical. Most of us are prejudiced and biased. Most of us are blighted with preconceived notions, with jealousy, suspicion, fear, envy and pride.” Dale Carnegie

Predictable reduces cognitive strain :

A good poker player changes their tactics on a regular basis to avoid being too predictable. This works because people dislike having to deal with constant and random behaviour. It creates uncertainty which humans try to avoid at all costs. It also makes people impatient and prone to making irrational decisions.

For conversion optimisation strategy it is also important to get a balance. Ensure you don’t have too many surprises on your website that may distract or disrupt the user flow. Follow standard web-conventions when appropriate and don’t distract visitors with too much content. Clutter and offering too many choices can cause cognitive strain.

Have a clear strategy and be disciplined:

To be a successful poker player you must have a game plan as otherwise you will constantly be changing your approach in response to other players. Only play when your starting hand meets certain criteria and don’t bet unless your hand is strong enough to justify it. Review the probability of getting a winning hand at each stage of the game and know when to fold.

Conversion also requires a clear strategy to formulate hypothesis and prioritise budgets according to the chances and value of success. There must to be a potential for a significant ROI for any A/B test.

Ensure you don’t waste effort on trying to improve conversion on poorly performing pages that don’t have the traffic or potential to justify the resource. Know when to cut your loses and move onto a more promising opportunity. Sometimes it is more profitable to to focus on your better performing pages that don’t require a large up-lift to give a handsome ROI. Prioritisation is key to your success as you will never have enough time or resources to test everything.

Competitor analysis can give you an advantage:

Respect your opponents as in a majority of cases at least one competitor will have a better hand than you. Take time to observe your competitors to see what you can learn. Copy and adapt loosely, but don’t replicate what your competitors do as otherwise your site will look exactly like theirs.

It is naïve to suggest you should never copy your competitors because it won’t work on your site. Sure, not everything will work, but if you are selective and use ideas in the right context they may enhance your user experience and improve conversion. But don’t assume they have done their homework and tested new designs. A/B test them before you roll out things you copy. Also look outside of your competitors for inspiration. Most new features are likely to be adopted in other sectors first before they get to your small area of the web. You should then apply A/B testing when appropriate to validate whether an idea will benefit your site.

Don’t treat all visitors the same:

There are many different kinds of poker players and to get the best result you need to understand their tactics and behaviour. Good players will adjust their behaviour accordingly.

To improve conversion you also need to segment your customers to tailor and personalise the user experience. If you treat everyone the same you can expect average conversion. Employ customer research, web analytics, and analyse your data warehouse to better understand and segment your visitors. Develop a more relevant and personalised user journey.

Use game mechanics to engage visitors:

Poker is one of the most difficult games to master. It requires a good deal of skill, an understanding of human behaviour and a large amount of luck. However, we love games and mastery is one of our strongest motivations.

As part of your conversion optimisation strategy have you considered using gamification on to improve the user experience and conversion? Why not use gamification of steps in your user journey to engage visitors and to create interest towards your conversion goals. This can be as simple as providing regular and positive feedback or prizes (e.g. badges or loyalty points) to recognise task completion and reward behaviour that leads towards your conversion goals. Make your website fun and interesting when appropriate and visitors may want to return more often.

Skypoker.com promotion image

Source: Skypoker.com

Remember the importance of the user experience:

Poker sites bombard visitors with welcome bonus offers and tournaments with big prizes for the winners. However, for the vast majority of players who won’t be making a fortune out of poker the user experience is what matters.

This means a good conversion optimisation strategy needs to be built around a strong value proposition. Use a heuristic evaluation to check how well the user journey is relevant and provides clear directional cues on interacting with the game mechanics. This should also identify if the application has minimised friction by avoiding distractions and anxiety. Urgency is also often forgotten about to nudge players to act quickly when required.

The whole user experience needs to be pleasurable and aligned with customer expectations if you want to encourage visitors to return to your site or app. This is the same for any online business and is often forgotten in the rush to get short-term sales. The danger is that too much attention is given to fancy new product features and website changes when the basic game experience may also need some attention. Fix your user experience first before trying to be persuasive or personalise your site.

Ensure challenges are realistically achievable:

Poker sites have in the past been notorious for offering bonuses that require levels of game play that are totally unrealistic for the average user to attain. Pokerstars, and 888 now offer instant release bonuses.

Other companies, such as Betfair, continue to promote offers that are highly complex and difficult to release. Making a task too difficult to achieve for your average customer creates disappointment and resentment. Ensure your conversion optimisation strategy considers what is best for customers and not just your organisation.

Winning involves luck:

Poker involves a fair amount of luck as even the strongest starting hand can turn to nothing when new cards are revealed that link to what another player has in his or her hand. Conversion also requires a reasonable amount of luck.

In terms of conversion optimisation strategy we are also poor at predicting which new designs will perform better than an existing page design or user journey. For this reason companies like Google and Netflix, who are in the mature phase of testing, often have test failure rates of 80% to 90%. Scale matters when you can’t rely on low-hanging fruit and so it is important to ramp up the number of tests you run to generate a few big wins. The more tests you run the greater the likelihood you will get lucky.

For a customer to buy at any moment in time requires that they are ready to act. If your proposition is not perceived to have the highest chance of helping them meet a current goal they are likely to go elsewhere. If a visitor gets distracted by a more urgent and pressing goal you will also probably lose them. Competitors are also constantly trying to move the goal posts in their favour so don’t be surprised if your conversion rate is in a constant state of flux.

Credit:

https://www.flaticon.com/search?word=gambling

Voice of The Customer Tools To Boost Conversions

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Do you want to use Voice of the Customer tools to get feedback from your visitors, but not sure how to go about it? I’ve outlined below a best practice guide on how to use online Voice of the Customer tools to gain insights and increase conversions. I’ve also reviewed over 15 online survey tools for you to use.

When to use Voice of the Customer tools?

Asking people questions hours, days, weeks or even months after a visit to your website is not going to deliver very accurate feedback on your customer experience. Our memories have to be reconstructed every time we recall them and as result they change on each occasion they are retrieved.

Voice of the Customer tools though allow you to gather data during the actual experience, allowing customers to express opinions and feelings when or immediately after an event occurs. This provides for much richer and accurate feedback on your site. Online survey tools can catch users in the moment when it is best to obtain feedback.

Surveymonkey.com customer satisfaction

Image Soure: Surveymonkey.com

How To Use Voice of the Customer tools?

On-line Voice of the Customer tools provide an important input into the overall conversion rate optimisation process. Online survey tools can provide valuable insights to reduce friction and help you develop hypothesis to be validated using A/B tests. Online survey tools can also help in a number of areas including:

Why
  • What are visitors looking for when they come to your site and is it meeting their expectations? Identify the main use cases – what are people trying to achieve and are they successful?
Barriers
  • What is preventing users to complete their task? Find out what is preventing visitors from completing everything they set out to do.

Missing information
  • Are visitors finding everything they need on a particular webpage? For example, audit your homepage to compare the content with what customers say they are looking for on your website. Segment the data by new and returning visitors as they may have different requirements. This can help identify unnecessary content on your homepage and highlight other information that you should consider replacing it with.
Competitors
  • Which of your competitors’ sites do your customers use? Digital marketing is a zero-sum game, if you can’t convince your visitors to buy from your website, one of your competitors may be more persuasive.
  • Voice of the Customer tools can be used to identify which competitor sites visitors are going to as their expectations will be influenced by these other sites. If your value proposition and customer experience does not compare favourably with these competitor sites you may struggle to convince visitors to convert.

Typeform.com mobile survey

Image Source: Typeform.com

Value proposition
  • What attracted new visitors to your website? Online survey tools can be used to identify what aspects of your value proposition are most appealing to new customers as this may not be the same as what you have on your website. Use this feedback to develop and test different proportion messages to see if this resonates better with customers.

Nebula by Kampyle

Image Source: Kampyle.com

Bugs
  • When your site is broken visitors can provide you with the evidence you need to fix it. Some on-line tools automate this process so that you can get screen shots and technical details sent directly to an inbox for quick and efficient resolution of problems.

Bugmuncher.com homepage

Exit surveys
  • Online survey tools are ideal for finding out why visitors leave your site. When users have decided to leave your site you have nothing to lose by asking them to provide feedback on what they thought of your site. Ask them if they found what they were looking for or what would make them return to your site.
Abandon basket
  • When someone abandons their basket this is a great opportunity to get their feedback to understand what is behind this behaviour. Has something on your site raised concerns or are they struggling to get the delivery date they require? Any feedback from these customers may help you identify issues that you can seek to resolve to improve your conversion rate. Online survey tools allow you to create a questionnaire and then you can email your customers a link to the survey to find out why the abandoned their basket.

A word of caution about Voice of the Customer tools:

Online survey tools are great, but don’t take what your visitors say literally. People are complex and we are not always fully aware of our own motivations and reasons for the decisions we may. Psychology shows us that cognitive short-cuts (e.g. stereotypes and confirmation bias) and our social networks are important drivers of our behaviour. This is why people will say one thing and do something completely different.

For this reason it is a good idea to validate insights from Voice of Customer tools by looking for supporting evidence from your web analytics, but also review session recording from user experience tools. If you have sufficient traffic you may also want to A/B or multivariate testing to measure the real impact on behaviour. Never only rely on online survey tools for informing decision making as user insights should be supported by other sources of evidence.

Over 15 Online Survey Tools Compared:

1. Bugmuncher:

Enables users to report problem & automatically sends your company screen shots with details of the browser, the operating system, the path they took & even which browser plug-ins they have installed. An ideal solution for any site that has more than its fair share of bugs to fix. Free trial available.

Price:

Plans range from $19 a month for a single user (Personal plan) to $99 for the Corporate plan with up to 5 users. For most small to medium sized companies the Start Up plan at $49 per month offers good value as it allows up to 3 users and 400 reports per month.

Bugmuncher prices page image
2. Feedbackify:

Voice of the Customer tools like Feedbackify use a fully customisable widget to deliver short online surveys for your visitors to complete. The Feedback Dashboard allows you to view answers with full context, including which page it was submitted from, your customer’s geographic location, browser, operating system, screen size etc.

Price:

Offers a Free full-featured 15 day trial. A single subscription plan costs just $19 a month.

Feedbackify price page image
3. Hotjar:

This is a great solution that offers a range of visual analytics solutions (e.g. heatmaps, session recordings, & form analytics) together with customer polls, surveys and an on-site usability recruitment tool. See our review of Hotar analytics for conversion optimisation.

The Free basic service offers up to 3 on-site polls, surveys and recruiters for live usability testing each month. The Pro and Business packages both offer unlimited polls, surveys and usability test recruitment. The Business service also allows you to remove Hotjar branding from the feedback widget.

Price:

The Free Basic plan allows you to run up to 3 polls or surveys a month and obtain up to 300 responses. Pro plans start from €89 a month for up to 20,000 page views a day.

4. InMoment: 

A Voice of the Customer tool that uses an “omnichannel” approach to gathering customer feedback, drawing from various channels such as text, email, video, social media, and more. Most powerfully, through machine-learning “active listening” technology, their platform encourages more in-depth responses from your customers by automatically formulating follow-up questions based on customer input. Finally, their robust analytics and reporting features will gather all your data to show valuable insights, allowing you to make informed business decisions.

Image of inmoment.com homepage

Price:
InMoment is more geared toward enterprise-level companies, and you can request a customised demo. Pricing is determined by location and a company’s specific needs.
5. i-Perceptions:

One of a number of free online survey tools. This delivers a pop up that asks three simple questions to website visitors. The three questions could include: “How would you rate your site experience?”, “What describes the primary purpose of visit?” and “Were you able to complete the purpose of your visit today?” You can use the feedback to understand how people engage with your website and find opportunities for improvement.

Price:

A Free and Enterprise plan. No prices on the website.

6. Omniconvert:

An optimisation solution that also provides Voice of the Customer tools including a flexible and professional online survey tools. This provides on-click surveys (triggered by clicks on a designated HTML asset), branching logic set up which ensures the questionnaire responds to the user’s answers and a segmentation engine for targeting of specific user groups. You can either serve pop-up surveys or use a widget which appears at the bottom of the page.

Image of www.omniconvert.com survey tools page

Price:

Free for up to 5,000 tested views and offers flexible paid plan (no pricing guidelines shown).

7. Qualaroo:

Offers a customisable widget for desktop and mobile devices. You can target questions to visitors anywhere on your site, and includes exit surveys to capture insights from visitors who are leaving your website.

They offer a Free trial and subscription plans start from $63 a month for desktop. The Professional plan costs $199 a month and includes exit surveys and mobile survey add-on. The Enterprise plan ($499) provides for integration with CRM tools and advanced segmentation.

Qualaroo.com pricing page image
8. Qualtrics:

Offers enterprise Voice of Customer tools that includes Site Interceptor which allows you to survey visitors as they browse your website. A fully flexible offering that includes over 100 different types of questions, drag-and-drop ordering, advanced flow logic, rich text editing, and the ability to include images, videos and audio in surveys. It also allows you to randomize the order of response categories, set quotas and set-up email alerts.

No pricing information on the site.

9. Upwave:

Voice of the Customer tools for those who have never designed questionnaires before and want some advice to complete the process. The tool finds respondents for your survey who meet your target audience from 17 countries by age, gender, geography and custom attributes.

You write your surveys questions, build your questionnaire using their self-service survey tool and an analyst will then review it and suggest edits based upon industry best practice. Upwave will then find the respondents for your survey and provide raw data in an Excel spreadsheet and in Statwing, a free partner analysis tool.

Price:

Plans range from $200 a month for Quick Read for surveys of up to 200 respondents per survey and $2,000 a month for Deep Read which offers up to 2,000 respondents.

10. Alchemer:

Comprehensive online survey tools that can be used to create fully-customisable surveys for distribution through email campaigns in HTML and plain text, on Twitter, Facebook and by embedding them on your website using JavaScript or iFrames.

For mobile forms Alchemer automatically re-formats questions for the device and only displays one question at a time. Mobile surveys also enable use of their File Upload question to gain access to the respondent’s camera and allowing you to capture photos for the study.

Automated reporting tools offer one-click advanced reports and cross-tabs for full analysis of your data. Export data to other data analysis packages. You can also schedule reports and email results to fully automate the reporting process.

Price:

Plans range from just $25 a month for Basic which offers over 30 question types and $95 a month for Premier. An Enterprise plan offers multi-user access for an unspecified price.

11. SurveyMonkey:

One of the most well-known and popular online survey tools that enables the creation of most types of surveys, including web, email, mobile, social media, and automated telephone surveys. If you need to find respondents, SurveyMonkey Audience allows you to define your target audience and will then provide you with the feedback you require.

Offers 15+ types of questions, customisable logo and branding and the ability to set skip logic by page and question. Fully integrated with the likes of MailChimp and Eventbrite. Comprehensive real-time reporting available, together with text analysis, SPSS integration, custom reporting, cross-tabs and presentation-ready charts and reports. A Free plan is available for 10 questions and up to 100 responses per survey.

Price:

Subscription plans start from £26 a month (Select) for up to 1,000 responses to £65 a month for Platinum that offers an unlimited number of responses.

Surveymonkey.com pricing plan page image

 12. Surveypal:

One of the most popular Voice of the Customer tools. It positions itself as an enterprise survey tool that uses an intuitive drag and drop style editor to make it easy to build high quality online and cross-device surveys. You can also choose to edit one of their professionally designed templates if you prefer.

They also offer customer support via phone, email and built-in live chat to make the process stress free as possible. All support staff are engineers which means you can expect to receive a high level of technical support to quickly resolve any problems.

Allows you to set up automated email alerts based upon your own business rules to instantly respond to certain types of customers or responses. A flexible reporting tool which provides automated visual presentations in a variety of formats such as PowerPoint, Word, Excel, SPSS and as an interactive dashboard.

Surveypal integrates with Slack, Zendesk, Salesforce and many other apps. Their API also allows you to send, receive and track surveys. A Free plan is available for up to 100 responses.

Price:

Subscription plans cost $40 a month for Premium for 1,000 responses per month. An Enterprise plan is also available with an unlimited number of responses per month.

Surveypal.com pricing page image
13. Temper:

People are emotional creatures and Temper uses smiley faces for its Voice of Customer tools to measure how customer feel about your organisation and the topics you ask them questions about.

It offers three options for delivery of surveys.

  1. Tab – Shows up at the bottom right of every page you install it on.
  2. Inline – Is positioned within your page anywhere you’d like to get feedback on a specific item or experience.
  3. Email – At the end of an email which is great for gauging how your customer support interactions are performing.
Price:

A 60 day money-back guarantee is available on all plans. Subscription plans range from Hobby at $12 a month to White Label at $199 a month.

14. Typeform:

Voice of the Customer tools that aims to delight respondents, keeping them focused on one question at a time and the versatility of their forms. Provides an enterprise survey tool for use across all devices. Offers Free plan (Core) for basic users.

Price:

The Pro plans costs $20 a month with unlimited typeforms and responses. A Pro+ for teams is currently under development.

15. UserReport:

A Free tool that offers both online survey tools and feedback forums. The online survey tool allows you to ask for feedback about your website and gather visitor demographics in over 60 languages. You can either use the ‘ready-to-go survey or customise with your own logo, colours and questions. Survey results are presented in intuitive reports that can be easily shared and exported as PDF or raw data.

The feedback forums give you the opportunity to gather ideas on how to improve your website. It also allows users to report bugs, submit issues, comment on and vote for ideas online. It works across devices and is fully customisable.

Price:

The solution is currently Free. 

16. UserEcho:

Offers a suite of online survey tools for better customer service and engagement. The main customer feedback tool is their Ideas Forum which enables customers to ask questions, share ideas and learn. Customers can vote and you can gather critical feedback of what they like or dislike.

Users can login via popular social networks which eliminates the need to go through a registration process. In addition, the Knowledge Base will automatically search for answers when a user writes a query, and in the case of a match will display the item to the user.

UserEcho also enables live chat conversations with visitors on your site. 15 day Free trial.

Price:

A single plan is available for £15 a month

17Uservoice:

Voice of the Customer tools that offers a all-in-one product management platform to make it easy to give customers, partners or internal teams a voice with private labelled feedback forums. You can collect customer feedback on web or mobile with a native user experience.

Uservoice does not require your customers to register which encourages participating. The forums work by visitors raising a ticket and then vote or discuss ideas and possible solutions. The tickets contain useful information on the user including their OS, browser and the page from which the ticket was raised.

Price:

Basic plan costs $499 a month and the Premium is $999 a month. An Enterprise solution is also available with quotations on request.

18. Voice Polls:

Create questions or use existing templates to poll your website visitors by embedding surveys onto your website or blog. If you agree to sponsored polls behind your own polls you will earn revenue for every sponsored opinion collected from your site. You can browse trending polls from other users add those to your website to see if they improve engagement with your site.

Voice Polls are a Free tool for online publishers. They can help you grow your traffic, engage your reader, learn from them, discover who they are and bring some interactivity on your pages.

Price:

For non-publishers each question is priced at $12.50 and $0.05 per completed survey.

19. WebEngage:

Voice of the Customer tools that offers surveys, feedback forms and in-depth information (including screen grabs) to obtain and resolve customer problems and notification to display messages to specific audiences (e.g. shopping cart drop-off).

Survey:
  • Collect insights from visitors. Target questionnaires at specific audiences using rule builder. Get real-time analytics and reports.
Feedback:
  • Add context to your feedback form with custom fields and automatic screen grab features.
Notification:
  • A push messaging tool which lets you display offers, discount codes, product launch announcements etc. to visitors with real-time statistics.
Price:

Plans range from $49 for Basic to $949 per month for the Enterprise Lite solution.

Use Voice of the Customer tools today!

Many of these online survey tools provide free trials and many have free plans so there is no reason not to give online Voice of the Customer tools a go. Further, using such tools can also help encourage a more customer centric approach to optimisation and website development. People are naturally curious about what potential and actual customers think about their ideas and designs so assist this process by giving your colleagues the opportunity to capture such feedback.

Does Social Influence Drive Most Consumer Behaviour?

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Can most of the things we buy really be the result of the behaviour and opinions of other people, whether openly or through covert imitation? This challenges conventional thinking about how people make decisions and common assumptions that most market research is based upon. However, many of these are false assumptions so isn’t it about time we looked at the data and came up with a model of human decision making that doesn’t neglect social influence?

The Power of the Herd:

In the book I’ll Have What She’s Having by Mark Earls, Alex Bentley and Michael O’Brien the authors assert that social learning (imitating other people) is the engine for the spread of culture, behaviour and new ideas. The basic premise is nothing new. ‘Herd behaviour’ was first popularised a hundred years ago by Wilfred Trotter in his book Instincts of the Herd in peace and war (1914).

Social influence and our herd instinct determines consumer behaviour more than we realise

However, more recently the economists Thaler and Sunstein suggested that social influence is important. Most people learn from others and it is one of the most effective ways to nudge behaviour.

They noted that in Jonestown an entire population committed suicide due the power of social influence. That teenage girls are more likely to become pregnant if they see other teenagers having children. But also obesity, academic effort of students, broadcasting fads and the behaviour of US federal judges have all been found to be heavily influenced by their peers.

Is it a co-incidence that we buy so many of the same brands as our parents and have adopted some of their behaviours’ and phrases? Some of these preferences change as a result of friends, partners, colleagues, and others in our social networks. But by who? Our personal belief system is also the result of interactions with other people. We largely rely on people we respect and trust (see authority) rather than actively seeking experiences to form our beliefs.

Super Social Humans:

Source: FreeImages.comEarls and his co-authors suggest that our tendency to copy results from humans being the most social of all primates. Living in groups we possess superior cognitive abilities that allow us to copy behaviour and ideas. These characteristics have enabled humans to adapt and survive in changing social landscapes. We only have to look at how people now use smart phones to see how quickly humans find new ways to interact and exploit opportunities that didn’t exist just 20 years ago.

That is not to say that people automatically follow each others like lemmings. Humans do of course innovate. Earls and co assert that ideas spread through a small amount of individual learning (innovation), and then social learning by the vast majority of people. Sales and motivation consultant Cavett Robert confirmed the same observation:

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators. People are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.” Cavett Robert

Interactions and Conformity:

Further, Earls and his co-authors point out that even if an idea or behaviour is intrinsically appealing, unless the knowledge of, motivation for, or acceptance spread through our interactions with others it will not get very far. Indeed, social norms emerge and change in our cultures as a result of behaviour spreading through conformity.

No one sets out what these norms should be. But people from a particular culture will generally agree on social norms without having to confer with each other. We learn what the norms are through our interactions with other people. Further, as Robert Cialdini and other social scientists have found social proof and norms can be a powerful way to persuade people to behave in a certain way.

  • Too much choice!
Image of brands on a supermarket shelf

The psychologist Barry Schwartz points out that as the number of choices we have continues to rise. People have no alternative but to rely on second-hand information rather than personal experience. His concern was about global telecommunications and how these networks copy and distribute the same stories. Even if a story is false the danger is that the more people hear it, the more they assume it is true.

“When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it must be true.” Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Revised Edition

In our modern societies copying is likely to be the most effective strategy for most decisions. We neither have the time or capacity to process so many choices. Schwartz visited a US consumer electronics store as part of the research for his book The Paradox of Choice. He estimated that the individual components in the store would enable one to create 6,512,000 different stereo systems. Perhaps it’s not surprising the iPod became so popular!

Market Patterns:

Earls and is his co-authors point out that patterns in market data are the best guide as to whether decisions are heavily subject to social influence. If people largely make decisions independently of each other, and use some kind of rational cost-benefit selection process, we would expect to see a normal distribution (short-tail) of brands. This is most likely to occur where there are relatively few similar products to choose from.

Furthermore, brand loyalty would not to be correlated with brand size and advertising would be as effective at attracting new customers as it is with existing buyers. Markets would be more stable as people wouldn’t follow trends. Sudden and massive cascades (e.g. the switch to digital cameras) wouldn’t occur as peoples’ preferences would not change until they had decided for themselves that a new product would better meet their needs. This indicates social influence is active all around us.

More Market Patterns:

In reality many markets are characterized by long-tail distribution that marketers recognize by the 80:20 rule. Andrew Ehrenberg’s work in social and market research identified that short-tail distribution can exist in static and non-segmented markets. This means there is no turnover of products. But in many of today’s highly segmented markets we can see countless products come and go during a year.

Ehrenberg’s work confirmed the double jeopardy law that small brand’s suffer from both fewer buyers and also less loyal customers compared to large brands. He also found that price elasticity declines in magnitude as a brand’s share rises. Why should this be if we are not subject to social influence from others? His work indicated that most promotions only have a short-term impact on sales and almost all buyers during promotions are repeat purchases rather than new customers. He concluded that most advertising simply raises awareness of a brand but rarely seems to persuade. Indeed, one of his key conclusions is that most FMCG markets lack any real brand loyalty. Purchasing patterns are from habit and availability than any emotional attachment to a brand.

Directed Copying:

Image of photocopying machine
Source: FreeImages.com

Earls and his co-authors make an important distinction between two kinds of social influence that humans use to learn from. These are crucial for marketers as they influence the dynamics of the social landscape and how markets change over time.

When we have a choice between many apparently equivalent options we often find copying the behaviour or decisions of a particular person preferable to trying to evaluate all the different options ourselves. Directed copying occurs where people copy in an advantageous direction. This may involve copying successful people, members of our family, people who are similar, or celebrities. When we copy people or groups that we wish to identify with this may lead to social diffusion within the confines of the group.

Undirected Copying:

Image of a large crowd of people
Source: FreeImages.com

Undirected copying occurs where we copy people, probably subconsciously, with little if any knowledge of the person we are imitating. This often happens where there are not just a huge number of similar options to choose from. But there are also too many people or groups of people to copy from. Further, people appear as equally uninformed as you and are probably copying other people themselves.

Undirected copying is particularly useful for all those thousands of little choices that we hardly given any thought to and so it is largely an unconscious process. However, it is a model that can be used at the population level. This is because even if individually we have specific reasons for copying someone else, there are likely to be so many and varied reasons for copying that we can consider it undirected.

Undirected copying is probably the norm in many situations and may help predict rates of change. It acts like the interactions of cascade models and is characterized by continual flux, unpredictability and long tail distributions. The latter reflects the fact that only a small percentage of new ideas ever becoming popular as most fail. This is why we see a turnover of ideas, as the most popular ones are more likely to be used again.

Some Implications of Social Influence:

  • Directed copying can explain variations in the normal ebb and flow that results from undirected copying. This could be from a cultural or media event (e.g. the Olympics or a motion picture release) as well the adoption by a celebrity. Celebrity endorsements don’t have the same impact, as it is not genuine behaviour.
  • When an idea is better than the rest, copying kicks in. It increases its popularity until something else comes along. Copying is from the quality of ideas. The more people in the population, the better the ideas.
  • The nature of copying among populations can be influenced by their interconnections. Large, interconnected networks of people where there are relatively few similar products tend to favour directed copying. In such networks the behaviour of individuals is greatly influenced by those upstream. If we hope that people will select on the basis of quality (i.e. the follow the copy if better rule) then this kind of network is more likely to benefit a superior idea. This is similar to the early adopters marketing model where innovators generate new ideas that are picked up by early adopters and then copied by others.

More Implications of Social Influence:

  • Undirected copying produces unpredictable landscapes where probabilities are the best guide to picking winners. In financial markets for instance a balanced portfolio has more chance of selecting a winner than trying to pick individual stocks.
  • The success or failure of an idea is often unpredictable and largely random. What determines success at any one moment is how popular it is.
  • Conventional marketing and market research thinking significantly underestimates the power of social influence in determining many of the things people buy and the behaviours we adopt. Further, emotional brand loyalty may be a lot less prevalent than many marketers believe it is. Behaviour mainly drives attitudes to brands, but what influences behaviour? I suggest that it may be time to believe the math, not the myth.
Further reading:
I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

The Contribution of Andrew Ehrenberg to Social and Marketing Research by John A Bound.

Featured image from Adrienn on Pexels

8 Reasons To Start A Blog Today!

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To Blog Or Not To Blog – That Is The Question!

  • It’s FREE and easy to set up and maintain. Using a blogging platform is very easy and it’s simple to choose from a range of free design templates. When you want to change the template you can do this for all your posts at the click of a mouse. For the more advanced bloggers some platforms also support free plugins or extras. These extend and expand the functionality of your blog. Examples include audio players, Facebook like buttons, Retweet buttons and language translators. WordPress.org which is one of the most popular platforms supports a wide range of plugins (see link at the end of this post).
  •  You can establish a network of bloggers on your subject of interest. By allowing other people to submit posts to your blog you can benefit from crowd sourcing and attract more content from other bloggers.
  • Become a leader rather than a follower. You are generating unique and hopefully interesting content. You will join a relatively small, but growing group of people who generate new content via social media.
  • There are many feedback mechanisms. To help you understand how your content is being received there are many feedback mechanisms including comments, ask me a question, and track backs (links from other sites to your blog).
  • It enhances your public profile and improves your online credibility. Blogging allows you to show the world what you know about a topic or interest. I am passionate about behavioural economics and conversion rate optimisation and so I write about those subjects. You can also demonstrate how you can structure a persuasive and engaging story or informative article. You can then post your blogs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites you use.
  • It improves the reach of your social media posts. When I RT someone’s link I often only get 4 or 5 clicks, and a single RT if I am lucky. When I tweet a new post from my own blog I normally get over 500 clicks the first time I tweet it. I can also rely on a few RTs depending upon how popular it is.
  • It keeps you focused during major life events. Personally I found blogging helpful when I recently left a job. It helped me focus my energy into a positive activity. You don’t have to blog about the life event, I didn’t. I decided to use it as a way of expressing my views on subjects that I felt strongly about and thought some of my Twitter followers might find of interest. It has worked best where I did some research, read a book or an article, and then put my personal thoughts down in my blog.
  • Finally, it’s fun. I enjoy being able to express my views in a blog. It’s great therapy! Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it as otherwise it becomes a chore.

Thanks to Lisa Radin (@milguy23) for giving me the idea to write this blog and thank you for reading it.

I recently came across 9 tips to help you experience the power of blogging which gives some great advice. For those more advanced bloggers who want to use some plugins for

WordPress here is a useful article on impressive blog plugins.

If you would like to read more of our blogs, click here. Featured image from Lauren Duncan.

What Makes Social Networks Tick?

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Why Do People Cooperate in Social Networks?

What underlies the evolutionary success of the human race and allows social networks to function? In the book I’ll have what she’s having by Bentley, Earls and O’Brien, the authors’ assert that cooperation between individuals is key to both.

Research into a diverse range of group activities by North-western University Institute found that individual performance was a poor indicator of team success. Group results are a combination of individual performances and how well people co-operate. This post examines how cooperation evolves in social networks.

BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE COST:

Image of weighing scales for time and money

Source: FreeImages.com

Co-operation can flourish in complex systems such as social media and modern highly interconnected societies. For co-operation to evolve game theorist Martin Nowak identified that the benefits must outweigh the costs to the individual. It is human nature that people will not persist with a behaviour that does not have a perceived return greater than the time or effort invested in the activity. Social networks rely on the benefits outweighing the costs of participation.

The authors’ grouped conditions that need to exist for co-operation to evolve into three categories.

1Group Mentality:

People support others who are either biologically related (kin selection) or belong to the same group (group selection). Despite the power of kinship it is group selection that is more common in our modern societies. Humans are naturally drawn towards cooperating as part of a group or social network. Psychological studies suggest that people have more positive emotions and are more motivated when feeling part of a community. This goodwill allows for sharing, bartering, trading, lending, borrowing and many other collaborative behaviours.

Cooperation allows people to provide different skills to manufacture complex products that an individual would struggle to build. To grow a single crop that can be exchanged for goods and services from other members of the group. People benefit from assisting the group because their long term interests are usually from the group’s success. As a result more cooperative groups, such as online social networks, tend to be more successful and grow at the expense of less cooperative groups.

2. Reciprocity:

Image of African-American male hands holding a red velvet box with gold ribbon.

Source: Freeimages.com

The system of indebtedness originating from the rule of reciprocation may be a unique characteristic of human nature. Indeed, the archaeologist Richard Leakey suggests that reciprocation is part of what makes us human:

“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.” Richard Leakey

Reciprocation acts as an adaptive mechanism that facilitates the division of labour, the exchange of goods and services, and the formation of clusters of inter-dependencies that link people together into social networks. Robert Cialdini asserts that reciprocation is essential for our ability to make social advances because it provides confidence to the person who gives something to another individual that their effort will not be in vain.

Reciprocation can work where an individual looks for another person to cooperate first before they cooperate. However this form of direct reciprocation can be unreliable because the mood can quickly be destroyed by freeloaders. But it also fails to explain why someone will cooperate with people they don’t know and may never meet again.

Indirect reciprocation, where co-operation has become common, if not the norm, is a more powerful form of reciprocation. This occurs when individuals respond in kind to the reciprocal behaviour of others. Twitter relies on the mechanism of reciprocation to drive the flow of information around the social network. Following other people, re-tweeting other’s posts, answering questions, and leaving comments on blogs all encourage reciprocal behaviour from others.

3. Reputation:

Image of businessman sitting on a sofa

Source: Freeimages.com

Authority or reputation is a further enabler of indirect reciprocation. Robert Cialdini asserts that our obedience to authority allows for the evolution of complex systems for resource production, trade, defence, and social control that would otherwise not be possible. Such obedience often takes place with little or no conscious thought. Often a communication from a recognised authority is used as a behavioural shortcut that determines how we act in a certain situation. For example on Twitter people will sometimes re-tweet a link before reading the post because of the reputation of the source.

Earls and his co-authors assert that reputation only works if a person has legitimate authority. However, Cialdini points out that in reality just the appearance of authority can be sufficient for people to be influenced by a person or group. For instance titles reflect years of work. But it is very easy for a person to adopt just the label and receive automatic submission to their judgement. Clothes, such as a doctor’s uniform, can also trigger our mechanical compliance to authority.

In a similar way group membership and kinship use various forms of identification so that individuals know whether they belong to a group or not. This could be a surname or clan name in some societies or you from your accent or appearance. Whatever the nature of the group though copying and conforming is an essential part of belonging to a group or social network. Because we are social creatures membership of groups often overrides our individuality and determines our place in society.

“The key to group membership, of course, is copying those around you so that when you’re in Rome you act as the Romans do, and not like someone else.” Bentley, Earls & O’Brien – I’ll Have What She’s Having.

Implications:

  •  Social networks take many forms, from close groups of friends located within a small geographical location, to global social media networks. As a result we can use the ‘rules of the game’ as the authors’ refer to them in many different situations to encourage cooperation and innovation.
  • There are huge benefits to be gained from encouraging a culture of cooperation within our diverse social networks. People are more likely to be able to achieve change when battling a bureaucracy if they cooperate than working in isolation. Similarly within organisations cooperation is essential for any change program to be successful. Conventional top down strategies will often fail because they have not got buy-in from people lower down the organisational structure. Management need to accept that they can’t force people to do things that they don’t agree with. Innovation is also more likely to result from collaboration.
  • Brands and organisations in general can assist the process of cooperation by making sharing of content easy and rewarding. Facebook, Twitter and other large social media appear to provide a ready-made solution for sharing. Analysis of the dynamics of Facebook communities by Emilio Ferrara discovered that there are relatively few large communities in Facebook. The vast majority are small size communities. However, members of such networks often suffer from information overload due to the number of connections each has. This reduces the chance that individual members will see and share content.Image of 3 people sitting on a bench talking

    Source: FreeImages.com

More Implications
  • As ‘super social’ apes humans benefit from being embedded within groups rather than acting in a selfish and isolated way. Research suggests that people who surround us influence and regulate our behaviour. Organisations can benefit from our social nature by engaging with people in a collaborative manner to encourage creativity and innovation. This helps build trust and is more likely to influence mass behaviour than conventional marketing approaches. Indeed, Rachael Botsman suggests that trust is the currency of the new economy and is our most valuable asset.
  • Organisations can encourage a culture of reciprocation by taking a genuine interest in their customers and staff. People are generally good at spotting insincere interactions, but appreciate communications that are both helpful and engaging. Offering interesting and unique content facilitates reciprocation because it is more likely to be well received when shared.
  • Reputation gives authority to communications. Organisations often adopt brand values as a way of demonstrating their commitment to key customer beliefs. However, Mark Earls suggests that actions are the most powerful means of communicating behavioural change. Organisations are more likely to be successful in achieving change if they align the company’s actions with their core beliefs. This demonstrates more clearly than any marketing communication that the organisation is serious about its core beliefs.
Further reading: 

I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

How Do Social Networks Influence Consumer Behaviour?

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Do People Act in Isolation?

People do not act in isolation, they connect with many people though highly complex social networks, this influences our behaviour. In ‘I’ll have what she’s having’; Mark Earls and his co-authors explain how social learning (i.e. imitating other people) acts as the engine for the spread of culture, human behaviour and ultimately innovation. The authors reassert the need for those wanting to influence mass behaviour to move away from the “me” to the “we” perspective.

But, why should we care? Well, the authors demonstrate how copying each other has been the driving force behind the success of our species and the spread of innovation. We are so adept at imitating each other that we are often not even aware that we are doing it. Furthermore, the nature of social learning has far reaching implications for organisations seeking to change mass behaviour or spread new ideas.

“Practically it matters because our social inheritance underlies modern human life in a huge, increasingly interconnected population of people to learn from and an enormous oversupply of choices in our lives.” – Bentley, Earls & O’Brien – I’ll Have What She’s Having.

  • Mark Earls and his co-authors examine the processes by which ideas spread through our social networks. This can often result from person to person imitation without people being aware of their actions.
  • This is common where there are large populations with a large number of options. People are inundated with choices that lack differentiation. But they are also faced with a multitude of social influences and recommendations. This ensures that at an aggregate level there is no clear direction of copying.
  • Sometimes people consciously direct their copying as they want to be with like-minded people and share similar experiences. They may adopt an idea because it appears better than what came before. We may seek to conform because it changes our perception of a social norm. There are numerous reasons why we imitate other people. Essentially herd behaviour is at the heart of the dispersion of ideas, behavioural change and innovation through our social networks.
Social networks influence people through our herd instinct
  • It is a myth though to suggest that herd behaviour leads to people increasingly behaving and looking the same. We all like to have our own identity and will copy different individuals or groups which ensure diversity flourishes. Indeed, for work clothes we may copy colleagues, whilst our music tastes may be driven by friends we socialise with. The model of car we buy may be influenced by people where we live.

“The paradox of social diffusion is that we all conform in one way or another, but this does not mean we all behave in the same way.” Bentley, Earls & O’Brien – I’ll Have What She’s Having.

SCALE MATTERS: 

So if our interaction with other people through our social networks is the key to understanding mass behaviour. Why does much of our marketing activity continue to focus on understanding what individuals think and do? The authors point out that predictive cascade models of how forest fires spread do not concern themselves with the characteristics of an individual tree and what it is made of. Instead they treat each tree as flammable material in a grid system. What matters is how close trees are to other trees and how they interact with each other.

Indeed, social scientists have noticed that many behaviours and lifestyle characteristics appear to cluster in social networks. A study by David Shoham, PhD, investigated why obesity and related behaviours cluster. The research among US school children found that it could only partly be from friend selection. They discovered a significant and powerful relationship between obesity and a child’s circle of friends.

Indeed, a child who was not over-weight was considerably more likely to become obese if they were close with children who were already. They concluded that it was important not to treat children with obesity in isolation. They also found that in this instance social influence operates more in detrimental ways. A TED talk describes the hidden influence of social networks.

Implications:

  • The analysis challenges the validity of generalising results from experiments and quantitative research to the wider population. The authors’ assert that “more” is definitely different. Of course humans are not inanimate objects, but as social creatures’ human society is more than the sum of the individual parts. At an aggregate level our social networks display complexities. They go beyond the traditional marketing and research approach that treats individuals in isolation.
Image showing complexity of social connections
Source: FreeImages.com – Social connections
  • As herd theory suggests we are more likely to be influenced by the actions of others in our network. To understand the spread of ideas and innovation we need to pay more attention to the characteristics of our social networks. We are likely to learn more by understanding the scale and structure of networks than studying with the views of individuals. This is about exploring how much social networks cluster, how big and how far they reach, and how they change over time.
  • Brands and marketing content are not important on their own. What matters most is what people (e.g. staff, customers and non-customers) do with them and also how they interact with other people in their networks. The scale and structure of social networks will influence how your brand adopts and evolves as a social entity. Organisations can’t control how people interact with their brands, but they can encourage interaction. They can adapt to how social networks interpret and change the context of the brand.
Image of brands on a supermarket shelf
  • Organisations can focus too much on the actions of their direct competitors. However, emerging trends and innovations from outside an organisation’s sector can often be a more valuable source of ideas. They are not subject to the same norms that evolve and constrain behaviour in their sector.

Further reading:

I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

Featured image from FreeImages