marketing

Hidden Brains and Revealed Truths about Human Behavior

Shankar Vedantam does what public opinion pollsters can’t do – look inside the hidden brains of people to learn why they behave as they do. [Photo Credit: NPR]

Shankar Vedantam does what public opinion pollsters can’t do – look inside the hidden brains of people to learn why they behave as they do. [Photo Credit: NPR]

A central purpose of research is to find out what people think. Shankar Vedantam, the host of Hidden Brain, explores how people behave.

Vedantam is NPR’s social sciences correspondent who reports on human behavior, with a flair for fetching headlines. Some of his recent reports include:

  • “Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others”

  • “One Head, Two Brains: How the Brain’s Hemispheres Shape the World We See”

  • “Rewinding & Rewriting: The Alternate Universes in Our Heads”

  • “Why did So Many Americans Trust Russian Hackers’ Election Propaganda”

  • “The Best Medicine: Decoding the Hidden Meanings of Laughter”

  • “Why Consumers Systematically Give Inflated Grades for Poor Service”

His Hidden Brain podcasts do what public opinion polls don’t or can’t do. He looks at research from the likes of psychologists, neuroscientists and cultural anthropologists that examines what people actually do and tries to explain why.

Vedantam doesn’t have the usual credentials for exploring human behavior. His undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering and his master’s degree is in journalism. Early-career fellowships dealing with mental health, public health, science and religion helped to steer his award-winning career in the direction of trying to understand why people do what they do.

For example, Vedantam reported that people shy away from giving extremely negative ratings for service because they don’t want people to lose their jobs. The business school professor who informed his conclusion compared it why teachers tend to inflate grades for their students. “Nobody complains,” he said, “when they get an ‘A’.”

The style of his reporting is more light than heavy. But it isn’t frivolous fluff. Vedantam authored a book based on his reporting titled, “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.”

Frustration with polling often centers on its accuracy in predicting how people will vote. Vedantam’s reporting bypasses that frustration by digging into the mindset of voters, consumers, students and people in general that causes certain behavior. It tells us something about ourselves that we might not realize or choose to ignore. It is a form of radio talk therapy.

The social sciences are playing a larger role in shaping business decisions from how to market a product, respond to complaints and design people-friendly features. Social sciences research offers clues to group behavior, organizational effectiveness and game theory. Companies are hiring cultural anthropologists. Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank’s brutally blunt investor, majored in psychology and environmental studies. 

Vedantam offers a gentler approach to the truth than O’Leary that can be valuable in helping listeners take stock of why they and other people think and behave the way we do. He makes uncomfortable reality easy to hear and consider.

 

Survival of the Biggest in Healthcare

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

In a case of a survival of the biggest, large health care organizations are getting bigger, raising eyebrows and concerns among Oregon business and government leaders who worry about the impact on prices, choices and even quality.

Oregon decision makers are raising the caution flag over consolidation in the health care industry. A recent CFM/Oregon Business online survey found nearly three in four (74 percent) are very or somewhat concerned about the ongoing trend of consolidation in healthcare.

The CFM/Oregon Business online survey was conducted in April among 293 business and government managers.

While the media has focused primarily on recent mergers in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, a similar trend has been largely overlooked in the healthcare services market, including health systems, hospitals and physician clinics.

In the Pacific Northwest, Providence Health & Services and OHSU have significantly expanded their market footprints through acquisitions, mergers, affiliations and partnerships. Legacy acquired the Silverton Health System and Kaiser acquired Group Health. A few years ago Southwest Washington Medical Center in Clark County Washington became part of the PeaceHealth organization. Similar consolidation is occurring throughout the country.

Industry leaders tout the benefits of consolidation, citing lower administrative costs, improved efficiencies in capital investments and better quality of care and outcomes. However, Oregon decision makers aren’t sure bigger is better. In addition to being concerned about merger activity in general, decision makers think the problems associated with consolidation will outweigh the benefits in the following seven of eight areas: 

A majority of decision makers say consolidation will have a negative impact on:

· Cost of healthcare services (66 percent negative impact)

· Access to routine healthcare services in rural areas (53 percent negative impact)

· Overall customer service (52 percent negative impact)

 Managers think the impact of consolidation would more likely be negative than positive for:

· Ability to schedule appointments for routine care when you want it (44 percent negative impact)

· Overall quality of healthcare (38 percent)

· Level of respect and courtesy patients will experience (37 percent negative impact)

· Access to medical specialists (32 percent negative impact)

At best, managers were evenly divided about the range of services available (30 percent positive, 29 percent negative impact).

So what does it all mean? Healthcare providers face an uphill battle to reduce concerns about consolidation. As consolidation continues, as it surely will, organizations should develop trust and confidence by implementing these five key pieces of advice.

· Deliver on the promise of better quality of care.

· Be transparent about costs.

· Improve operations, like billings.

· Increase access and availability of care in urban, suburban and rural areas.

· Make every patient touchpoint a positive experience.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.

 

Buyer Personas Bridge Market Research and Marketing

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

One way to bridge market research and marketing is collaboration  to build buyer personas that humanize your target audience and give you insight into their motivation and source of influences.

Constructing buyer personas is a great way to close the gap between market research and marketing.

Buyer personas built from solid market research help marketers understand their target audience, how and where to connect with them and the journey they take to become buyers. Buyer personas also make buyers more human and less like ciphers, a quality that goes a long way in the marketplace of the 21st century.

The path to red-blooded buyer personas is to talk formally or informally with every kind of buyer imaginable: current buyers, previous buyers, buyers who stopped buying and super buyers who influence other buyers. Their comments about your product, service, quality and customer experience can paint a telling picture and a real-life video of the buyer journey.

For the picture to be more than a sketch, the market research needs to dig deeper than superficial observations about product characteristics and customer behavior. Market research must probe the “why" behind what customers do at different stages of the buyer journey so buyer personas reflect motivation, sources of influence and trigger points.

Once constructed, buyer personas represent an invaluable tool to segment customers for customized marketing outreach, product offerings, targeted discounts and purchasing options.

Well developed buyer personas don’t belong on the shelf or buried in a desk drawer. They should be the equivalent of having an actual customer sitting on the corner of a marketer's desk whispering into his or her ear.

Few may dispute the value of buyer personas, but many marketers overlook or ignore them in doing their jobs. Buyer personas can get in the way of a great marketing idea or message.

One solution to the disconnect between market research and marketing departments is to work together in fashioning buyer personas. The portraits from collaborative thinking are likely to be even more three dimensional than from isolated or strictly statistical market research. The conversations with present, past and potential buyers can explore marketing concepts to test their viability and bake in the findings to buyer persona portraits.

Perhaps the greatest contribution for marketers from buyer personas is a human-scale map of where to track down their ideal customers. Great content, useful information and fantastic offers can fall flat if they don’t reach their intended audience. Understanding your own buyer personas can help chart the map to find and connect with your customers. 

Making Research Personal

Don’t brush off research as too expensive. Make it personal and take your customers out for coffee or create an advisory board to hear what they have to say.

Don’t brush off research as too expensive. Make it personal and take your customers out for coffee or create an advisory board to hear what they have to say.

The chance of making a bad decision increases significantly when decisions are based on speculation.

Some companies and organizations continue to guess what customers, consumers and constituents want without asking their opinions. Managers complain research is too expensive, time consuming or too difficult to conduct. Whatever the excuse, decision-making without information is still pasta marketing: throwing your ideas against the wall and hoping something sticks.

Get personal with your research. Take on the task of talking directly with customers and constituents. Ask them to be part of your decision-making team.

Here are three easy, effective research techniques that any group or organization can use.

1. Get information by walking around: Go out and talk to customers. Introduce yourself. Explain what you are doing. Ask for their help. You will be surprised how interested and helpful people can be when asked.

2. Hold an informal focus group: Invite people to meet with you in a conference room or coffee shop. The keys to success are to keep the groups small (six to eight people is ideal), invite people that have similar characteristics and ask open-ended questions, letting participants talk while you listen. Keep the atmosphere casual and fun. Oh, and don’t forget the food and drinks. Those are essential.

3. Create a customer advisory board: Invite up to 15 people to meet with you quarterly. Share new ideas or problems and ask the group to respond. Don’t include current volunteers or your usual trusted advisors. You want new faces and new ideas. Let the group know what you are doing with the information between sessions to validate participation and keep them interested.

Any of these techniques will provide managers with new insights about what the organization does well, where improvement is needed and how to communicate effectively. Other benefits of getting personal with research include engaging customers, developing new relationships and creating advocates who will generate positive buzz among friends and family.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. In his free time, Tom enjoys cycling, golf, reading and cooking. You can reach him at tome@cfmpdx.com

Insight and Research: Compatible Companions

Both Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were innovators, as well as marketing icons. 

Both Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were innovators, as well as marketing icons. 

Henry Ford said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Ford's glib comment misses the marketing principle that drove his innovation – if he could make a cheap car, more people could afford to buy one.

Insight and market research exist side by side. Both are valuable. And to a greater extent that some realize, they are interdependent.

Steve Jobs is a more contemporary advocate of intuition. Like Ford, Jobs innovated in service of a basic marketing goal – if computers could be made simpler, more people would be willing to buy one.

Ford and Jobs are actually marketing icons, not non-believers. Both saw possibilities beyond what existed. They assembled technologies and talents to achieve a goal – a breakthrough product that demanded attention, fueled  a desire and then fulfilled it.  Marketeers Al Ries and Jack Trout would say Ford and Jobs followed the "immutable laws of marketing," not broke them.

Ford and Jobs were skilled at marketing how their products could change people's lives. A functional, affordable car translated increased personal mobility and freedom. A computer that didn't take a degree in rocket science to operate opened the door to unimagined creative opportunities. Making and buying cars for average Americans became a symbol for emerging middle class status. User-friendly computers enabled grandparents to talk face to face to their grandchildren dozens of zip codes away.

Too often, market research is reduced to gobs of data and sterile analytics. Good market research is much more than that. It reveals what people think, how they describe what they want and why they buy certain products and not others. Good market research is about people, not numbers.

A focus group of children playing with new toys demonstrates how insight and observable behavior can be viewed and assessed. Toy designers must have insight into what will appeal to childish eyes and observers at a focus group with multiple children and multiple toys can see which ones have the most appeal.

Market research can show that some creative ideas just don't work. That's not failure; that's avoiding an expensive mistake on a new product or advertising campaign.

Don't be lulled into the insight versus research debate. It's not a debate; it's a specious argument. Insight can be good. And it can be great if tested and tweaked.

John Nash, Game Theory and Marketing Success

Mathematician John Nash, who died in a crash over the weekend, made a seminal contribution to game theory that is applied virtually everyday in multiple academic fields, sports and marketing.

Mathematician John Nash, who died in a crash over the weekend, made a seminal contribution to game theory that is applied virtually everyday in multiple academic fields, sports and marketing.

Math and mathematicians rarely become central figures in Hollywood films, let alone with an Oscar. John Nash, the Nobel prize winner for his insight on game theory and the victim in a fatal taxicab crash over the weekend, was the exception.

Fivethirtyeight.com carried a eulogistic blog titled "Why John Nash Matters" that suggests the "Nash Equilibrium" informs many academic disciplines, how soccer goalies defend against penalty shots and everyday strategies in business and love.

Nash's key discernment is that people don't pursue strategies in a vacuum; they undertake strategies based on what they perceive as their opponent's strategies. 

Rendered in sports terms, defensive coordinators don't use a set defense against every team and on every play. They adjust during the game based on their opponent's offensive tendencies, an individual player's performance and the game situation. Coaches would call this "mixing it up." Nash would have called it "mixed-strategy equilibrium."

Sophisticated adherents of Nash Equilibrium analyze the range of opponent's moves before picking a strategy. This has a parallel in marketing research – size up competition, gauge the consumer attraction of competitive features, test consumer needs and preferences, then pick a marketing strategy.

Marketing is a comfortable fit in the house that Nash built. But while he described the game, it takes research to know how to play the game well.

Again, back to sports. If a team kicking penalty shots always kicked the ball to one side, the goalie would be wise to lean in that direction. If kicks go to both sides of the net, the goalie has to adopt a more balanced posture – unless he knows that a particular penalty kicker has tendencies that allow the goalie to guess.

The takeaway from Nash is most strategies are nuanced.

What market research contributes to Nash's brilliance is the knowledge to make nuanced strategies work.