If you don’t think the experience and the context are the most important thing when it comes to your product or business, you’re a fool.  Increasingly, it’s less about screaming about your low, low prices and more about how you are in relation to a person’s life. Make them love you, make them relish every moment they’re with you, make them remember you and pass along the story of their love affair with your brand.  What this segment NPR did with chef and entrepreneur Bryon Brown:



5 Steps in Brand Development

To develop custom brand and marketing solutions for clients, you need a process.  Often times, we jump in without thinking through the necessary stages:

Explore: Through a combination of primary and secondary research, the you need to survey the client’s current situation, including strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the marketplace as perceived by customers, employees and partners. This stage will also include a review of the client’s core values, brand positioning and competitive advantages.

Envision: Building on the findings from the Explore stage, you will need to make clear strategic recommendations that support the client’s vision and goals, while incorporating the experience and perceptions of the people interacting with the brand. The recommendations will align with each stage in the client’s experience cycle—from customer acquisition to retention. During this phase, you will develop rough concepts to establish a direction for messaging and creative.

Execute: This is where the rubber meets the road. Working with client, you produce the final tactics and creative direction. Depending on client needs, these tactics may include a mix of online, print, broadcast, direct, environmental, experiential and guerrilla initiatives.

Enlist: Involving the folks inside the organization is a necessary, but often overlooked part of a successful brand development process. To engage employees in the new brand and empower them to make good brand decisions, you need to develop and implement a communication and training program for your most valuable brand assets, your people.

Evaluate: Now that you’ve build the platform, you need to test it. For the final stage of our process, you have to watch, measure and evaluate the results of the branding campaign. Based on the results, you can then make recommendations for the next steps to improve program performance or maximize new opportunities.

Data Just Ain’t Enough, Folks

As me emerge slowly from the last recession, retailers are fixating on the “data.” They ask, “How can retailers leverage their in-store customer data for online purchase and preference sharing?” They want t know how in-store data can translate into a greater share of wallet and a greater share of preference? Completely understandable.  The problem is that it oversimplifies the shopping process, reducing how, where and why people shop to a series or series of numbers and gross assumptions about what those numbers mean. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY DON’T CONECT THE DOTS.  Or more accurately, they don’t connect the dots correctly.

If a retailer wants to get past reifying numbers and making assumptions that lead to wasted money, space and time they need to rethink the figures they have and start to contextualize the shopping process. They can recognize that a single purchase in store is part of a complex system of behavior that can translate into unique partnerships, product offerings and promotions that can be adapted to contexts that they may have never considered. Perhaps it makes sense to provide QR codes at a concert.  Perhaps it makes sense for location-based specials and promotions. The point is that the data gleaned from the in-store purchase and the online purchase signal things about each other.

Again, the line between the in-store and out-of-store experience is blurred for consumers and shoppers.  The statistics we gather are useful, to be sure, but they reflect only a single element of why people shop. And if you understand the “what” but not the “why” then you have lost THE opportunity. If you understand the motivations for being in the store and in the greater shopping milieu, that information can be used to tailor digital messages, retail design promotional offerings, etc. that fit the context of the people you want to engage.

Cognitive Biases and Shopping

Watching shoppers navigate a retail environment is often analogous to watching mice scurry about a maze. Each individual shopper¹s needs, response to environmental stimuli, procurement methods and decision-making abilities play out as a continuous large-scale experiment in cognitive function. Instead of wafting the smell of cheese down corridors or administering shocks, however, retailers instead often prey upon the consumer in a (usually) more subtle way: exploiting cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases are patterns of deviation in judgment occurring in specific contexts or situations. They’re near universal quirks of the human rational thought-process triggered by memory, perception and emotion. Now, a retailer might find emotionally salient influence difficult to consistently achieve. Similarly, hitting the right notes of nostalgia without becoming kitsch is very hit-or-miss in such a context sensitive environment. Luckily (for them), however, the retailer can usually hang their hat on the consistent failure of consumers to process numbers or have a cogent dialogue between their hunter-gatherer instincts and their wallet.

An arrow both manufacturers and retailers frequently pull from their quiver is the focusing effect, or Anchoring. This is the human tendency to rely too heavily, or “focus,” on one trait, symbol/word or piece of information when making purchasing decisions.

What this means for Best Buy is that they can slap HD on anything and the consumer will assume it’s a superior product, making the Blue Shirts quest to upsell that much easier. This bias is also the reason that your friend dropped $100 on Monster Cables HDMI cables instead of the $10 regular brand HDMI cables, even though they are the exact same product. Sure, logic would dictate that, because it is a digital cable acting as a conduit for 1’s and 0’s, conductivity and bandwidth don’t really mean anything, either it works or it doesn’t – but because your friend’s brain registers the “HD” designation on the packaging and the plus is shinier, it must be better.

You can also see this at work in the grocery store. Sales of organic food have skyrocketed. Never mind that the USDA and FDA’s classification for “natural” and “organic” are tenuous at best, the word “organic” symbolizes pure, healthy and better. A simple sticker can immediately trigger this response in the consumer’s mind: “No wormy, pesticide-ridden peasant produce for my family, by God, as a loving parent I’m committed to providing the healthiest safest food I can.” One word will illicit all of that, whether it’s grounded and rational or not.

[At this point I will just type the word “3D.” You know what I’m talking about and you know exactly what just popped into your head when you read that particularly nasty little word. I’m not going to go into it. The millions of dollars we as a nation have pumped into the studio and electronic company coffers for a gimmick and a shitty visual product is just astounding. We just keep chasing that first Avatar high, don’t we? Moving on…]

Another brain-glitch that retailers frequently profit from is Irrational Escalation, essentially the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on a prior investment or cumulative prior investment, even if that decision was a mistake. This is the logical fallacy that leads shoppers to spend an extra $80+ in warrantees on that treadmill they might use, because, hey, they spent that $300 for this nice hamster wheel why not insure it against damage for six months. This fallacy is also responsible for service plans, my father spending $300 to fix the A/C on a car worth $750, it’s why Mila Kunis stayed with Macauly Culkin so long, and explains my purchase of a ticket to Star Wars: Episode III (damn it). This also leads to post-purchase rationalization, where we convince ourselves that we made the financially smart decision, even though we know deep-down that we’re an idiot.

Finally, the third most-exploited (and most-evil) cognitive bias by retailers has to be Hyperbolic Discounting, the tendency for people to prefer more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, where the tendency increases the closer to the present both payoffs are. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; that dead deer probably wouldn’t be very tasty in 100 days and “compound interest” is mutually exclusive to a society whose technological hallmark is flint knapping.

Where do we find this in the retail environment? I’ll tell you after you finish signing up for that J.Crew credit card with the first-time use 20% discount. Moral hazards and Lemons be damned, you would literally just die without that pashmina pink scarf for your chihuaha, Snickers. We want what we want, and we want it right now. It’s like our wallets are quietly chanting suffrage slogans from our back pockets whenever that new version of the iPhone catches our eye. Bugs? What bugs? Luckily the Apple Store also sells Apple service plans and warrantees, right?

There are at least 30 decision-making cognitive biases that play right into retailers’ hands. It’s just that easy to manipulate consumers, or to set consumers up to manipulate themselves.

By Matt Cloud

Conducting a Better Participant Interview

For better or worse, the interview is where we receive a large percentage of your information on subjects or groups. The ability to conduct a successful and insightful interview will determine the depth of information you will be able to collect and the and the validity of that information. KEEP IN MIND:

  • Reading off a line of questions will create a barrier between the researcher and the subject as well as produce a stale wooden rapport.
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than simple yes/no queries. Don’t lead the subject.
  • Questions should be clear and phrased in contextually intelligible and appropriate language.
  • It’s an interview, not an interrogation. Relax, forget about getting “the” answer an establish rapport.
  • Get to know the subject(s). Ask them questions about the house, family, life, etc. It’s important for them to trust the relationship and to be open.
  • Add depth with follow-up questions.
  • Have the subject actively demonstrate their points if possible.  “My truck makes a sound.” = Get in the truck and check it out .


What you do and how you interact with your subject(s) is just as  important as what you say. Body-language and signage by your  subject(s) is also important. Make sure to pay attention to the details even if you’re making notes. Remember:

  • Remove coat (coats and objects are interpreted as barriers).
  • Mind that your notes or camera are not directly between you and the subject.
  • Maneuver subject(s) into a seated position not facing an immediate point of egress.
  • The subject should feel secure, but not enclosed.
  • Be aware of your body language and inflection.
  • Be observant of the body language, gesture-calls, posture, eye  movement etc. of the subject(s).
  • Silence is your friend.
  • Nodding but not saying anything will produce silence, which the subject will often try to fill by continuing deeper into a line of  explanation or discovery.  However, don’t spend your whole time nodding – let’s face it, it gets creapy.


Ritual and Drinking

A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. We tend to think of this in terms of formalized contexts such as religious rites, rites of passage, legislative sessions, etc.  But they hold true for things like drinking, as well. A ritual may be performed on specific occasions, or at the discretion of individuals or communities. It may be performed by a single individual, by a group, or by the entire community.  Rituals signal the change from one state of being to another, giving license, defining the state of things to come in a given context and shaping our worldview for a time.  The codify who we are.

Ritual and tradition are important to drinking because traditions established by social groups provide a unique experience. A cocktail may be grandfather’s drink. Anchor Steam is the beer of San Francisco. A dinner party isn’t a “real” dinner party until the first glass of wine is raised and a toast given.  Marketing tends to focus on surface-level understandings of how and why people drink.  POP, sports, etc. all factor into the equation, but it’s uncommon to look for deeper meanings because it frankly means more work.  But this is where the real advantage lies.  Finding a way into a ritual makes your brand significantly more relevant.  It makes it part of a long-term commitment. It establishes specific memories around a brand. And that translates into a long-term strategy rather than a series of short-term tactics.