The Incompetence Paradox

Have you ever had the experience where someone around you is clearly incompetent but appears totally oblivious to their deficiencies?

Perhaps it’s a work colleague who consistently makes mistakes on tasks but refuses to change their behavior. Or perhaps it’s a restaurant server who makes mistakes on your order but refuses to acknowledge any error. Not only are these people seemingly incompetent, but they’re also incompetent at recognizing their incompetence.

Why people fail to recognize their incompetence

In a 2003 study titled, ‘Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence,’ researchers from Cornell University and the University of Illinois found that “people fail to recognize their own incompetence because that incompetence carries with it a double curse.”

According to the psychologists, “the skills needed to produce correct responses are virtually identical to those needed to evaluate the accuracy of one’s responses… Thus, if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong.”

Could the incompetence curse extend to businesses and brands?

By extension, it would make sense that businesses and brands, like the people who manage them, may also experience the incompetence curse; with the most incompetent businesses and brands lacking the skills necessary to even recognize their incompetence.

Lehman Brothers? George Bush? General Motors? To quote from the study, “everyone knows people who just seem to accept their deficiencies… Perhaps these individuals ‘accept’ their deficiencies because they're unaware they have them.”

Tuning in Poland

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend some time in Poland while conducting qualitative research for a global technology manufacturer. Although I can’t share any of the insights we gained from the study, I would like to share an observation we made while wandering the streets of Krakow.

Krakow is considered to be the ‘cultural capital’ of Poland, with throngs of University students and young adults providing a poignant juxtaposition to the ancient architecture of the city. According to
government statistics, 35.9% of the Polish population is under the age of 24; that sunny weekend in Krakow, it seemed as if all 35.9% had descended on to the city streets.
An observation in A-minor
In many western societies the act of whistling is something you'd often associate with older generations, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard a teenager whistling a Kanye West song on the streets of Krakow. It seemed odd, very odd. Why would a teenager whistle a song instead of just listening to it?

That’s when it hit me; none of the people I saw on the streets were listening to music. Those little white earphones which have become so ubiquitous on the streets of Vancouver, London or New York, were noticeably absent. Instead of being wrapped in a cocoon of sound, people were whistling, talking and engaging with the outside world.
So what does this mean?
To be honest, I have no idea. The absence of iPods could have been a function of anything (from observational bias to economic crises). But what I found fascinating was how the absence seemed to improve the social environment. Where the people of Vancouver often choose to tune each other out, the people of Krakow were tuning each other in.

Merlien Institute: Qualitative Blog List

A few months ago the Merlien Institute, an “an independent organisation dedicated to the advancement of qualitative research in academia, business and policy environments,” set about compiling a list of qualitative research blogs from around the world.

For those of you that are interested in qualitative insights and research methodologies, I recommend checking out a few of the blogs on the list. It’s a pretty extensive collection of qualitative content, of which I’m very pleased to be a part.

Below are a few blogs from the list that I personally subscribe to:
- Anthropology in Practice (
- Humanistic Psychology (
- Tom H.C. Anderson (
- Sociological Images (

The Meanings of Home

“A phenomenological study describes the meaning of the lived experiences for several individuals about a concept… From the individual descriptions, general or universal meanings are derived, in other words, the essences of structures of the experiences.” (Creswell, 1998, pp. 51-54)

As human beings we spend a lot of time and energy measuring our experiences in the world. But sometimes, it’s important for us to step back from measuring and take the time to explore our world more descriptively.

There are practical benefits for doing this. Where numbers can help us measure and divide our world, words can help us describe its meaning. For example, 85% of people may agree that they ‘enjoy the feeling of being at home,’ but that doesn’t mean much if you haven’t taken the time to understand what the ‘feeling of home’ means in the first place.

One of the worst mistakes that we, as marketers, can make is to assume that we understand the meaning of something. By taking the time to not only measure experiences, but properly understand their meaning, we have a much better opportunity to understand people and effectively create brands.

To help illustrate this point, below are a few quotes from a recent qualitative study we conducted, exploring the 'meanings of home.'

Home as defined by possession:
“Home is about ownership. Having your own possessions, your own TV, your own furniture and pictures. I looked the whole place over… Having planned it all and watched the construction, I felt like I owned it.” - Respondent (2010)

Home as defined by physical sensation:
“The smells of cooking, the smell of carpet and furniture. You don’t analyze this you just feel it… I feel at home in my room now but I didn’t originally, it took a while to get that feeling.” - Respondent (2010)

Home as defined by interaction:
“It’s the warmth in the people, in the family. It’s the warm feeling you get when the family is together. The feeling you get when you guys haven’t seen each other in a while. That’s what makes it home.” - Respondent (2010)

It could be tempting to assume that the ‘meaning of home’ would be a homogenous concept, but as the quotes above illustrate that's certainly not the case. Like so many of our everyday experiences, what defines home from person-to-person can vary greatly; hence the need for proper qualitative research and analysis.

So what can you take away from this post?
- Everyday experiences mean different things to different people.
- It’s important for marketers to properly explore the ‘meaning of experiences.’
- Better understanding of meaning leads to more effective marketing.

Motivation in Motion: The psycho-logic of marketing

Back in 2004, I had the opportunity to work on my first morphological research projects under the guidance of Barbara Grohsgart. At the time I felt confident in my understanding of research methodologies and models, but nothing had prepared me for the thinking behind morphology. From its theoretical foundations to its practical outcomes, morphology offers a different, holistic, view of human motivation.

Jump forward a few years and I’m still fascinated with the morphological research approach. While I often employ other qualitative methodologies and motivational theories (like phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory and humanistic psychology), morphology remains an important part of my research and strategy toolkit.

Which begs the question, what exactly is morphological research and strategy? That's a question which is difficult to answer in a sentence, let alone a blog post. So for those of you that are interested, here’s a presentation designed to give you some theoretical background:

The Human Brand-Aid

A few months ago I spent a little time observing shoppers in Hong Kong’s IFC Mall. Whenever I’m working overseas, one of my favorite things to do is observe people in the process of shopping. While shopping centres tend to be homogeneous environments, containing largely homogenous stores, the actual behavior of shoppers can differ greatly by culture and continent.

This time around I noticed a large number of mainland Chinese tourists (they didn’t seem to be Hongkonese) taking photographs in front of their favorite luxury fashion stores. Excitedly flanking logos as if they were standing next to the Mona Lisa; posing with advertising banners as if they’d just bumped into a celebrity.

Despite the global recession, the market for luxury brands in China has been seemingly insatiable –
predicted to increase 12% year-on-year. This lead me to wonder, what’s behind the Chinese obsession with luxury brands, and why would tourists choose to photograph themselves with luxury brands in a shopping mall?

Consumption in Communist Society

There have been a number of morphological studies undertaken on the role of consumption in pre and post communist societies; most notably East Germany and the Soviet Union. A common theme in these studies is the importance of brand and product consumption as a source of ‘individual freedom’ in otherwise highly restricted cultures and social environments. You could say that brands become brand-aids - a way to mediate one’s psychological ills.

To quote from an East German morphological study conducted by
Dr. Christoph Melchers in 1994, “consumption replaced experiencing real risks. By displaying conspicuous consumption it was possible to differentiate oneself from the uniform masses and provoke questions. Especially useful for this purpose were goods from the West which thereby acquire fetishist characteristics.”Consumption in Chinese Society
In China there has been no abrupt shift from communism to democracy. Instead a new form of Chinese capitalism has emerged in the society, with citizens being granted financial and consumption freedom within the boundaries of communist rule.

In morphological research, one of the six main drivers of human motivation is the desire to challenge rules and order; the need to pursue individual intentions and exercise personal freedom. The freedom to wear the clothes you want, the freedom to choose your religion, the freedom to speak your mind and take political risks – all could be seen as examples of this motivation.

So here’s a hypothesis. Within China, one of the only ways an individual can address their need for freedom is by making and spending money. Hence any desire for social, political and religious freedom has been artificially focused on economic freedom. They are free to make and spend as much money as they like; consumption is their main source of freedom.
Human brand-aids in China
So how might this theory explain the Chinese obsession with luxury brands? Because purchasing luxury brands may represent something bigger for the Chinese consumer – it may represent an expression of individual intent. They are attempting to buy freedom. Wearing Chanel is like expressing an opinion. Dressing in Gucci is like praying to God. Luxury brands have become a form of freedom brand-aid.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this topic. Do you agree, disagree, or somewhat agree with my observations and hypothesis?

Corporate Castles: A Chinese Perspective

Last week I posted a few thoughts on corporate castles, and was both impressed and intrigued by a comment it received. I’d like to share this comment with you for three reasons. Firstly, because it was so eloquently written; secondly, because it was written by a friend and fellow morphological researcher Sami Wong; and thirdly, because it provides a different cultural perspective on the idea of corporate castles.

“Ancient Chinese emperors, such as Kang Xi (康熙), Yong Zheng (雍正) and Qian Long (乾隆), would have their regular undercover visits to the public and try to understand what was really happening outside of the ‘forbidden city’. The goal was to ensure that they are not out of touch with their citizens and to explore people’s actual needs. Instead of relating to the public with a view of ‘I-It’ relationship (treating them like an object), these emperors chose a highly personal approach by using ‘I-Thou’ interaction which involves intimacy and understanding of each other. As a result, they are the most respected emperors in Chinese history and their ruling had been longer than any other dynasties.”

“Isn’t that amazing that most of these corporations are taking the I-It relationship in their public dimension? They are relating to their customers like an object; keeping it as impersonal as possible, just like a daily transaction with grocery clerks and bank tellers. And yet, they request customers to remain loyal towards their brand and with minimal complaints. What they can’t see is that as human beings, we all long for the I-Thou relationship which involves a level of intensity, intimacy and respect. When our needs are not met, we rebel or we leave.”

One of the things I find most interesting about this comment was the idea that Western corporations may be adversely affecting customer relationships because they view them as ‘ownable objects’ instead of more ‘holistic interactions.’ Could it be that our Western drive to objectify people is impeding our ability to really understand and satisfy them? We call them customers instead of human beings. We target them instead of building relationships. We create campaigns instead of interactions.

Over the coming years, it will be fascinating to see if the economic rise of China will also give rise to new concepts of customer interaction (like the idea of an ‘I-Thou’ interaction) - or whether traditional Western approaches to marketing will remain the status-quo.

Corporate Castles and the Customer Renaissance

A few months ago while waiting at the airport, I overheard two businessmen publicly discussing a PR disaster. From what I could ascertain, a woman had eaten at their restaurant chain and had contracted a case of food poisoning. Unfortunately for the restaurant chain this woman was a prominent radio host and blogger, and had begun to lampoon their restaurants in public.

“I’ll get in touch with the station holding company” said the first businessman, “our company buys a lot of advertising from them; if they don’t shut her up I’ll threaten to pull our spend.” To which the second businessman responded, “If that doesn’t work just unleash the lawyers. They’ll hit her with so many lawsuits she’ll be drowning in paperwork.”

It occurred to me while listening to this conversation that many companies operate like corporate castles; hiding behind corporate walls and choosing to attack their customers.

The Corporate Castle

Castles are large fortified structures that were built predominately during the Dark Ages. At the time they served a vital role in providing lords and nobility with protection, control over their territory, and the ability to maintain power over a population.

Today many companies also seem to operate within large fortified structures. These corporate castles have been designed to control markets and protect resources from public view. Their defensive walls are vast, from the firewalls on their company server to the legal barriers that surround their operations.

The Customer Challenge

Corporate castles have gained quite a foothold in our culture. Despite the fact that castles are claustrophobic, expensive to maintain, inflexible, and limit one’s ability to take offensive action – many corporations seem addicted to their defensive walls.

When corporate castles are faced with customer challenges and social media conversations, they act defensively instead of collaboratively. For example, instead of seeing a customer complaint as an opportunity to engage and improve, they see it as an attack.

Pulling up the drawbridge (shutting off dialogue), firing flaming arrows (launching legal attacks) – these may be great techniques when facing an army, but they’re awful techniques when you’re killing your customers.

Abandoning the Corporate Castle

According to the historian
Dr. Michael Thomson, “castles freely expired of their own accord in the 15th century. Comfort is said to have been the main motive for abandoning castles.” Put simply, lords and nobles came to realize that living in a castle kind of sucked.

This is a historical lesson that modern leaders may wish to reflect upon. Instead of living in isolation from their customers, perhaps it’s time for corporations to abandon their castles in favor of comfort, and replace their legal defenses with social dialogue.

So what do you think? Are the corporate Dark Ages coming to an end? Is it time for companies to abandon their corporate castles? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Barbecue: A modern form of meal perfection

Spring is in the air in North America. The sun is beginning to shine, the doors are beginning to open, and the barbecues are back on the deck. It’s a strange object the barbecue. An outdoor oven on wheels, flame in a framework; it manages to hold a special place in our meal-time motivations.

The barbecue it is at once egalitarian and aggressive, ideal and instinctive. In fact, the barbecue seems to represent a modern form of meal perfection for many people.

The barbecue promotes m-eating together

There’s something very primal about the act of sharing meat; it brings people together. Like a pride of lions preparing and sharing their kill, the barbecue is a powerful magnet for social interaction and unites family and friends in the process of meeting and eating:

“We’ll throw all the family meat on the barbecue, and we have baked potatoes, salads and beverages. The kids are all out swimming, so we’re relaxed and just sitting around. Everyone shares their meal; it’s like they bring their meat in from the hunt and share it. It’s wonderful. It gives the cousins a chance to play. That’s a tradition.” – Grandmother (2008)

The barbecue relieves performance pressure

Where other meals can require extensive preparation, and place enormous pressure on the cook, the barbecue helps deconstruct formality and reduce performance pressure. Everything tastes good on the barbecue, and it requires much less effort than a formal meal:

“Family barbecues are my favourite things in the world. It’s usually at one of my Uncles houses. The kids play together while the adults sit together and drink. The guys are at the BBQ cooking. It’s just a great time….There is so much variety in the meal, everybody is involved. You stuff yourself. Everybody is happy.” – Mother (2009)

The barbecue breaks down barriers

Both physically and socially, the barbecue has the power to break down barriers. In a physical sense, it breaks down barriers between indoors and outdoors; food preparation and food consumption:

“Usually when you’re cooking in the kitchen, a lot of them aren’t huge and everybody’s crammed in. When you reel out the barbecue on to the deck, and everybody’s out there, you can all socialize around the cook.” – Mother (2008)

In a social sense, the barbecue helps to break down gender barriers; re-engaging males with food and the meal preparation process:

“I have a very clear memory of my dad preparing a western meal [barbecue]. It stands out for two reasons. Firstly, my father was cooking instead of my mother. Secondly, it was the first time I’d seen red meat cooking. It was like I was watching something magical happen.” – Father (2008)

So what are your experiences with the barbecue? Does it hold a special place in your mind, or is it just an oven on wheels? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on the barbecue.

Three interesting things on the interweb

In between depth interviews and brand strategy sessions, I managed to waste some time last week feeding my internet addiction (a diagnosis of the problem can be found here: all consuming internet search). In the interest of sharing this addiction with others, here are three interesting things on the interweb.

Interesting interweb one:

In a beautifully written post for the Harvard Business Review titled, ‘The Secret to Meaningful Customer Relationships’, Prof. Roger Martin discusses the importance of using qualitative research to better understand customers. To quote from his post:

“If our understanding of customers is based entirely on quantitative analysis, we will have a shallow rather than deep relationship with them… [Quantitative research] is rigorous from a numerical statistical perspective. But note what we have to give up in order to acquire this 'rigor'. It means that our words have to be used, not the respondents' words.”

Interesting interweb two:

In a two-minute video titled,
‘Sexual Performance’, Dr. Ginger Grant shares an excerpt from one of her recent presentations; providing tips and techniques on how managers can improve employee workplace performance. As always, her take on the topic is both interesting and original.

Interesting interweb three:

In a post titled, ‘RVSP - A Cultural Construct?’, the New York based anthropologist Krystal D’Costa considers how cultural conventions can influence whether or not people RSVP for functions and events. She ends her post with the following reflection:

“By sending an evite or mailing a paper invitation, perhaps the event loses some of its importance. We're saying, I'm too busy to formally invite you. So perhaps it's fair for the invited in this case to say, ‘I'm too busy to respond.’ ”

Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights

Last week I wrote a post for the BC American Marketing Association titled, 'Soap, Sex and other Edgy Insights'. The post explored the the value of insights that may, at first, seem a little strange.

A few years ago I worked on a research and strategy project for one of the world’s largest soap manufacturers. One particular interview from that study has stuck in my mind. It started simply enough - a young woman describing the drama of her life and how showering seemed to fit in. She described the way it felt when you rub soap over your skin in the morning, and the sense of satisfaction a late night shower delivers; washing away a drunken night on the town.

And then, unexpectedly, she leaned a little closer and let out a secret.
“You know” she said, “I like to put bars of soap in the drawer with my panties. They smell nicer that way.”

Now what do you do with an insight like that?

Sticking with sanity

As marketers and market researchers, we tend to like rational results; answers that can be easily explained. People want lower prices. Product quality is important. Customer service is essential. When we’re faced with insights that seem strange, or don’t fit with our existing ideas, the natural reaction may be to dismiss them or label them as fringe.

According to
Prof. Zaltman
from Harvard University, “over 80% of all market research serves mainly to reinforce existing conclusions, not to test or develop new possibilities.” The implication from this finding is simple. In an attempt to play it safe and deliver what is expected, marketers may be missing out on some of their biggest opportunities.

Exploring edgy insights

When archaeologists are interested in understanding a culture, they often move beyond the palaces and places of worship, and turn their
attention to the trash. It can be messy work, but hidden amongst the shards of bone and broken pots exist some deep insights into everyday life.

The same is true for market researchers. To get to the heart of what motivates people, we often need to go beyond obvious answers and start digging amongst the
‘mental mess’. For example, in morphological research,
we’re encouraged to assume the presence of ‘meaningful Gestalten’ even when things initially appear to make no sense. Simply put, we don’t dismiss anything. Instead, we assume all insights may be part of a 'meaningful pattern of motivation' and we keep digging.

Why marketing success involves edgy insights

All of this brings me back to the start of this post, and one woman’s soapy secret. As market researchers, we were faced with an insight that didn’t initially make sense. But we dug deeper, and came to understand that soap motivations extend far beyond quality and price.

How we wash is heavily influenced by social norms, sexuality and our state of mind. We found that opportunities for soap go beyond moisturizing methods, touching topics like body image (think
Dove), sexual angst and exploration (think Axe) and how washing can help create a mental transformation (think Original Source

So how did we deal with that particular soapy secret? We kept digging. And in doing so, we began to uncover much deeper and more exciting market opportunities.

Brand Trust, Contracts and the Catholic Church

Watching television this morning, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct tension between stories of spiritual salvation and scandals of sexual abuse. Today is Good Friday in North America, but for the Catholic Church there was very little good news to be seen on the television screen.

From a personal perspective, I have no opinion on this topic. However, from a professional perspective, I can’t help but consider how this may be affecting the level of brand trust and loyalty amongst Catholics. At the core of this consideration is the concept of a psychological contract.

What are psychological contracts?

In law, most of us are free to enter into contracts. If there is an offer of goods or services, an acceptance of that offer, and an exchange of consideration (money or otherwise) - then a legal contract has been created. Should either party choose to break that contract, they can face serious consequences.

In life, there exists a similar concept called a
psychological contract. Although psychological contracts are not part of the law, they are an essential part of our lives. Organizations, friends and brands can all be party to a psychological contract; and just like legal contracts, when people feel that a psychological contract has been broken, serious consequence can occur. Trust can decrease. Loyalty can be lost.

A contract with the church

Without wanting to over-simplify the topic, I believe that deep psychological contracts may exist between religious institutions and those who follow them. In the case of the Catholic Church, there may be an implied offer of spiritual safety, guidance and even salvation. For those who accept that offer, consideration is exchanged in the form of prayer, penitence or perhaps charitable payment.

So what affect could these latest sexual abuse scandals have on a psychological contract between Catholics and their Church? If Catholics were offered safety and salvation, and then experience sexual scandals, are they likely to feel that their psychological contract has been violated? These are pretty deep questions with very real ramifications.

Trade the lawyers for trust

Watching the news coverage on Good Friday, it would seem that the Catholic Church has yet to fully appreciate the seriousness of their situation. As I said at the beginning of this post, I have no personal opinion on this topic. However, from a professional perspective, I can’t help but consider how this may be affecting the level of brand trust and loyalty amongst Catholics.

The humanity and biology of brands

This week I wrote a post for the Canadian Marketing Association titled, 'The Humanity and Biology of Brands'. The post was an attempt to articulate my sense of dissatisfaction with many of the methods and models we use to understand brands. If you'd like to read the original post you can view it here; or alternatively you can find a copy below. Please feel free to share any opinions, experiences or alternative views you have on the topic...

First a confession: When I was at University, I struggled with the concept of branding. An odd thing for someone in the business of building brands to admit, but it’s true; as a concept branding never made much sense. Every book had a different theory, every agency offered a different approach and every expert had some unique model or metric. Depending on who you talked to, or what you read, a brand could be a pyramid or a personality, an experience or an equation.

It seemed that branding was either the most compelling and complicated topic in marketing, or it was a load of crap.

Now an insight: Brands are like human beings. They exist as a mirror of our motivations, reflecting our ideals and dreams, fears and frailties. Nothing can exist in branding that doesn’t already exist in our everyday lives. In fact, if we want to better understand brands, we don’t need more complicated metrics, we need to better understand ourselves.

So how can we gain a better understanding? We need to go back to basics and re-consider the psychological and biological parallels between human beings and human brands.

Just like people, brands are born. Where a brand is born and to whom, are important factors in determining its development. A brand may have great nature (visual appeal or personality) but without the right nurture (parental support and security) it may never survive. As marketers, what type of parent are you and how will that affect the development of your brand?

Just like people, brands go through adolescence. Very few brands can become an overnight success; indeed it takes time to establish an identity and become independent. Attempting to circumvent this process can be as detrimental for a brand as it is for a person; the childhood stars of today are the forgotten failures of tomorrow (think Macaulay Culkin or Extreme Football League). What was your brand’s adolescence like; did it experiment and gain experience?

Just like people, brands need the right environment. As Prof. Richard Florida found in his study of cities, “the place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose.” The same can be said for a brand. A brand must pick a place that will help it build relationships and earn the income it needs to survive. Is your brand in the right environment, an environment that matches its motivations?

Just like people, brands can get sick. We like to believe that we, and the things we create, are invincible - but nothing could be further from the truth. Human beings and brands are fragile and prone to illness. Even the strongest leaders can get sick (Bill Clinton or Toyota) and without proper treatment they may die (Michael Jackson or Pontiac). When was your last brand check-up, do you have insurance, or are you working your golden goose to death?

Just like people, brands must reproduce. Reproduction isn’t just fun, it’s fundamental to our survival. By reproducing we allow our species to adapt to the environment and evolve. A brand must also reproduce; it must adapt and evolve itself in order to maintain relevance and to respond to changes in the environment. Is your brand ready to reproduce?

As a brand strategist, having worked across three continents with many multinational clients, I believe there is something missing in our understanding of branding. As a
morphological researcher, I believe what’s missing is an understanding of their humanity. Because brands are more than a metric or a model, they are a mirror of our psychological and biological motivations; and to properly understand them, we must better understand ourselves.

Three interesting things on the interweb

What better way to pass the time at Hong Kong airport, than by sharing three interesting things on the interweb. Here’s an eclectic mix of topics for an eclectic city.

Interesting interweb one:

In this post on why things that can be measured probably aren’t worth knowing, Charles Frith voices a common perception amongst planners - namely that business is overly dependent on numbers. I have sympathy for his arguments, but suggest that the real problem isn’t with market research; it’s with some of the methodologies we use. Beyond the numbers, we need to spend more time properly understanding emotion:

Interesting interweb two:

In this presentation from the latest TED conference, Jamie Oliver continues his campaign for a revolution in our approach to food consumption - taking particular aim at the food manufacturing and retailing industries. From our research on family meals, I believe a large part of the problem lies in the separation of ‘food’ and ‘meals’ in people’s minds. Meals provide an emotional context for food and eating, and are correlated to improved nutritional patterns in families. Indeed you could say that food consumption really is better together:

Interesting interweb three:

In this audience fact sheet from LinkedIn, the social network provides some interesting insight into its user base. Average household incomes of $107,278. An average age of 43. But did you know that 22.4% of LinkedIn users have 4 or more computers at home? More facts to follow:

Market in Motion: Mitch Joel, Transparency & Morphology

Back in November, I had the opportunity to hear Mitch Joel speak at the MRIA Qualitative Conference. For those of you who aren’t aware, Joel is the author of Six Pixels of Separation and a fairly prominent speaker in the area of digital marketing. It was kind of neat to hear his keynote on the evolution of digital dialogue, particularly since we’d presented earlier in the day on technology purchasing motivations (the tools that fuel digital reality).
A negative can be positive

The first point that Joel made in his presentation, was the importance of transparency (accepting both positive and negative) in digital dialogue. Contrary to popular opinion, Joel’s data showed that
“negative reviews are more positively correlated to sales than positive reviews. In fact they can make people trust you more.”
By way of explanation, Joel told a story about a camera he recently purchased. Like many of us he was researching online and narrowing down the selection, when he stumbled across a site with a negative review. This review was posted by a photographer, who called one particular model ‘an amateur camera that lacked the technical features needed by a professional’.

Once he read this review, he knew he’d found the right camera; since all he wanted was an amateur camera without too many technical features. What was negative for one person was positive for another.
The market in motion
The second, more interesting point that Joel made in his presentation, was about the need to embrace constant change in online behavior. According to some data he shared, “20% of Google searches done every day, have never been done before.” The implication being that we, as marketers, need to accept that “no market is ever stable; it evolves every day."
This idea of constant change is a challenging one for marketers; who often exist in a business ecosystem that is resistant, if not highly adverse, to change. And yet change is a fundamental part of the human condition, and requires tools and strategic techniques that are not only capable of dealing it, but actually embrace it.

Morphology; the study of formation and changes of formation (metamorphosis), is a powerful marketing tool because it embraces change. In fact, morphological research creates models that explain how human needs are dynamic and in a constant state of change.

A good example is the morphological tension between continuity and safety
(acquisition), and the opposing need for change and movement (transformation). As human beings, our lives are a function of both these needs working together in tension. Think of the small child who starts their first day of school (change) with their teddy-bear in hand (safety), or the young adult who mixes vodka (change) with some familiar lemonade (safety).

To build upon what Joel was saying, the digital world is not only a catalyst for change; it’s also making change visible (like stop motion animation). The challenge that this creates for marketing is huge; we need to stop seeing and measuring our markets like
static objects, and start appreciating them as dynamic organisms that evolve and change every day. Put simply, the market is always in motion.

Convestment: Tension in American Consumption

I recently watched an interesting talk given by Prof. Dalton Conley, Dean of Social Sciences at New York University. In the talk Prof. Conley provided an overview of his latest book, Elsewhere USA, chronicling changes and movements in modern American society.

Evolution of the American ethic

According to Prof. Conley, modern Americans often find themselves caught in a tension between the traditional protestant ethic that helped shape their nation, and a newer social ethic that emerged mid 20th century.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the traditional protestant ethic influenced individuals to live their lives so as to appear ‘blessed on earth’. The virtues of meaningful work and thrift were extolled, and individuals were encouraged to save and invest their resources.

In contrast, the mid 20th century saw the emergence of large multi-national corporations that shaped a new social ethic emphasizing loyalty, meritocracy and bureaucracy. This created a situation of consumption conformity, where individuals attempted to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ by conforming, spending and consuming.

The tension between investment and consumption

The tension between saving and spending is one example that Prof. Conley provides to illustrate the melding together of the protestant and social ethic in America. On one hand, Americans wish to maintain the older virtues of thrift and saving, whilst at the same time they are driven to conform to social expectations by consuming and spending.

This tension has given rise to a new form of behaviour that Prof. Conley termed convestment, or the blurring of the lines between investment and consumption. For example, when Americans renovate their bathroom with high-end faucets, tiles and fixtures, they rationalize this consumption as an investment in the resale value of their homes.

I really like the concept of convestment, and the tension that it describes between protestant traditions and individual desires for consumption. It's certainly a tension we've seen reflected in our research across North America. For example, in the electronics category, this tension can lead to the purchase of products with higher-end metal casing; rationalized as an investment in longevity but really providing social prestige.

For those of you who are interested in hearing more about Prof. Conley's research and ideas, below is the full video of his talk:

Facebook & MySpace: The Social Divide

This morning I stumbled across a fascinating post written by Danah Boyd from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The post drew on a body of work that she has undertaken, exploring race and class in social media. There are so many ideas and insights contained in her draft-paper that I can’t do it justice in one post; but here are a couple of key points that caught my attention.

Idea one: Social media preferences reflect pre-existing social divisions

Danah Boyd: While neither MySpace nor Facebook are explicitly defined in terms of race, they are organized by race. Most participants self-segregate when connecting with their pre-existing networks without being fully aware of the social divisions that unfold… In choosing to go where their friends were, teens began to self-segregate along the same lines that shape their social relations more broadly.

“My school is divided into the honors kids, the good not-so-honors kids, wangstas, the latinos/hispanics, and the emo kids. We were all in MySpace with our own little social networks but when Facebook opened its doors to high schoolers, guess who moved and guess who stayed behind… The first two groups were the first to go and then the 'wangstas' split with half of them on Facebook and the rest on MySpace.” – Anastasia

“The higher castes of high school moved to Facebook. It was more cultured, and less cheesy. The lower class usually were content to stick to MySpace. Any high school student who has a Facebook will tell you that MySpace users are more likely to be barely educated and obnoxious.”
– Craig

Idea two: Facebook from the context of White Flight

Danah Boyd: One provocative way of reflecting on the networked movement from MySpace to Facebook is through the lens of “white flight.” The term “white flight” refers to the exodus of white people from urban American centers to the suburbs during the 20th century… Facebook’s origin as a gated community and parents’ belief that the site is private and highly monitored reflect the same values signalled by the suburbs.

“It’s not really racist, but I guess you could say that. I’m not really into racism, but I think that MySpace now is more like ghetto or whatever.”

– Kat

“[Facebook] kind of seemed safer, but I don't know like what would make it safer, like what main thing. But like, I don't know, it just seems like everything that people say, it seems safer.”
– Tara

This is a beutifually written peice of work, that certainly takes a deeper approach to market research. If you have some spare time, I highly reccommend you check out the full draft-paper here: