Thursday, October 11, 2018

Advertising and the Natural Capacity for Attentiveness

Physiology tells us that the human brain is largely identical from one person to the next, buy psychology clearly demonstrates that this organ is used in different ways by different people.   There is some argument over whether slight differences in the biological organ cause some to behave differently from others, or whether this is merely a matter of their upbringing and training – but it is moot, as the brand does not have the ability to raise its customers from childhood, it must confront prospects such as they are.

Some individuals seem to have a natural proclivity to focus their mind on a very specific goal and disregard all the rest of the world.   Some of the greatest inventors and artists have demonstrated this single-mindedness to great ends.   Others seem to be scatter-brained, unable to attend to one thing and constantly hop from one thing to the next, unable to see an idea to completion before something else “pops up” in their minds.

Some individuals can read a book with perfect satisfaction, whereas others consider reading to be intolerable.   Some can focus their minds on reading in a noisy environment, others cannot.  By the same token, some individuals can work in an environment of distraction, giving their attention to a certain subset of stimuli of their choosing, others cannot.

Some individuals can maintain attentiveness to their tasks, and to do what might be considered excellent work even when they are deprived of sleep or even intoxicated.  Others produce horrible work when they are slightly tired or barely intoxicated.

The most sought-after individuals are those with high levels of concentration, who seem to be able to focus their minds when others cannot.  Such men are precious, but such men are rare.  One cannot expect a market to operate as if every prospect can keep pace with the fastest and best, any more than one can yoke horses together and expect the slowest and weakness to keep up with those with unnaturally high strength and stamina – it tends to be the other way around.

In addressing the mass market, a brand may attempt several campaigns that function at different levels of attentiveness – and in general will find that the speed of the least attentive prospect sets the pace of sales.  If they gave as much care to their audiences as they do to their campaigns, realizing that each must be reached within the limit of its natural capacity for attentiveness, they would find that the performance of their campaigns to be as efficient and effective as their targeting.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reasonable Expectations

Not every customer expects the best – they know they can’t afford it, and sometimes they just want a basic solution at a cheap price for something that is not that important.  They have reasonable expectations – some might go so far as to say they have low expectations – and delivering something beyond those expectations is not going to impress them.

Moreover, delivering capabilities beyond basic functionally may frustrate and annoy a certain segment of the market.   Those customers who pursue a basic product understand that they are not getting the bells and whistles of  a more expensive model, and this is often the result of careful consideration: the customer knows that the additional functionality comes at additional cost, and has determined that the incremental value of the upgraded version is not worth the incremental price.

For example, consider the customers who choose to shop at a discount merchandiser.   They are well aware that they are not going to get the same level of attention and service as they will in an upscale boutique, but they are also well aware that the exact same product will cost less than half as much because a discount merchandiser spends less on rent, staff, and d├ęcor.  

It is also not necessarily a trade-off of price versus quality: a customer may choose a discount merchandiser for the sake of avoiding the level of “service” that boutiques provide because he finds being constantly “served” by sales associates to be an unpleasant experience.   That which the retailer considers to be a premium is actually undesirable to certain segments of the  market.

As a result, not every firm has to be “the best” at everything – because what is “best” is determined by the customers, and not everyone wants the same things, either from the product experience or the retail experience.   In fact, many of the largest and most successful retail brands are downscale mass-marketers – whereas those that serve the upscale market tend to be smaller, trendier, and more short-lived.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Employees as Stakeholders

It is a common failing of employers to be entirely self-centered: to seek to accomplish what they want with indifference to the welfare of their employees.    Performance appraisal systems are similarly aligned: employees are given goals based on the needs of the organization and expected to meet them, with no consideration of the employee’s personal motivation.

Particularly in the present day, employment in a specific firm is a choice, and if an employee’s personal needs are not being met, they will leave.  Or they may feel compelled by other factors (a poor job market) to remain with a given organization, but tend to do the very minimum to keep their job until environmental factors change.   And companies that manage their workers in a self-centered and inconsiderate manner find that they are uncompetitive: they are not as efficient or as innovative as firms who manage their people well.

For people, motivation occurs when they perceive the benefit of undertaking an activity is worth the cost and risk associated to it.   Few management systems consider this: the employee’s only motivation is to keep their job, gaining nothing more than they have now, in exchange for an increasing level of exertion.  In time, the balance shifts to the point the individual loses his motivation.

Historically, the motivation for employment was extrinsic – people work to earn a wage – but in the present day, compensation factors less and less into what people consider to be the factors that create job satisfaction.   They are motivated to do something meaningful, to develop skills, to experience growth.  These too can be considered part of their compensation, the benefit they receive from working, and increasingly this compensation is being withheld or even taken away.  

Obviously, something has gone seriously wrong with management in general.   Job dissatisfaction and even hostility toward employers is not something to occurs in rare instances, but has become so pervasive that it is part of the culture.   Everyone hates Monday (the return to work), stories of frustration with superiors and organizations are a staple of casual conversation, and few people have anything positive to say about their working lives.   

The reason is a systemic issue with the priorities of organizations.  The objectives of an organization are generally geared toward the investors, with little consideration of the customer, and even less of the employees.   And when this becomes exaggerated, companies lose the stakeholders whose needs are not served.  This is not, by any means, effective management.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Design and Experience

If you seek information about design from professional educators, or read the blogs of the unemployed, you will quickly get the sense that design is about art and experience.  A designer crafts objects that give pleasure to those who use them, either through the aesthetic experience of through ease of use and ideally a combination of both.   

None of this is wrong – but neither does it consider why it is important to deliver a pleasurable experience, or more aptly, the importance of the usage experience in the greater context.   It would seem axiomatic that users would prefer a pleasant experience to an unpleasant one (though there are in fact instances where people actually desire an arduous experience, this situation is atypical), the point of using something is rarely to enjoy the user experience, but to achieve an outcome by means of that experience.   

Where the quality of outcome is diminished to facilitate the pleasure of the user experience, then it undermines the purpose of undertaking the task at all.   In this sense, focusing on experience to the detriment of efficiency and effectiveness leads to ultimate failure: we enjoy the process of performing the task, but fail to achieve the outcome for which the task is undertaken – or at best, we achieve an inferior outcome.   In smaller words, design for experience alone results in an easy way to do a poor job.

There are few instances in which experience is the sole reason for undertaking a task – and these are all leisure activities that are done for the pleasure of doing them, not for the sake of achieving a desired outcome.   That is, they are entertainment activities, that have no value after their performance has ended.  Because there is no outcome, or the outcome is entirely unimportant, the experience is all that matters.  But this encompasses very few activities, and those activities are of very little importance.

Here, consider that value is subjective and that each person may seek a different value from the experience he is performing.  One person may play recreational softball because he enjoys the experience of playing, whereas another may play because he wishes to socialize with his teammates and not care about the game at all, and still a third may be seeking for psychological reasons to win the local league championship.   Whether they are ultimately pleased with a game, or the entire season, depends on whether the value they sought was delivered.

And this is where experience must focus on the user rather than the object: to design a solution that provides value, one must research the users to know what value they seek. For some, it is the value of the experience, but for most it will likely be the value of the outcome.   To claim to “design” without knowing what end is to be achieved is contrary to the basic principles of design itself.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Consumption Value of Esteem

A generic product is usually consumed for its functional value – it is a means to an end, and the consumption experience is evaluated according to the effectiveness of the product in achieving the desired end.   A branded product, however, is usually consumed for a non-functional reason: the consumer seeks the product for its functional value, but any brand of that product would be equally effective in achieving that functional value – so the choice of brand is for reasons other than functionality.

Once such reason, arguably the most significant, is the esteem of the brand.   To consume a brand is a statement, “I am the kind of person who uses this brand,” and in that sense the brand aligns to the perceived personality of the perceived user (perception being significant in both instances, as few consumers conduct much research to determine the actual personality of the actual users of a given brand).

The most common and easily understood aspect of esteem is in social recognition of conspicuous consumption.  A person consumes a given brand because of the expectations that others will witness this consumption and, in so doing, recognize or at least consider the consumer to be in line with the kind of person that consumes that particular brand.   It is part of their declaration of social identity, whether the identity that they are declaring is actual or desired (as people commonly seek to associate themselves with what they wish to be rather than what they actually are).

A less recognized aspect of esteem is self-esteem, the declaration of one’s own standing to oneself – regardless if the act of consumption is witnessed by others.   The individual consumes the brand not so that others will recognize them, but so that they will recognize themselves – to feel that they are the kind of person that consumes a particular brand, even if no-one is there to witness it.   Brands that are privately consumed, in the home for example, still rely upon this form of esteem.

And while it is generally considered that the desire for esteem is always upward bound, this is not always so: a person of integrity may wish to be identified precisely as they are, and at certain times in history (the present included), there is a certain fashion to nostalgie de la boue, which would cause an individual to adopt a brand of a lower stratum of society.   The three are by no means mutually exclusive, and in fact they can often be witnessed in combination.