Clocky & Tocky - Alarm clocks that literally get you off your bed

Have trouble waking up in the morning? Do you hit snooze on the alarm repeated like me, only to go back to bed and wake up later to realize that you are, as usual, late?

Here are two interesting products of Behavioural Design that could be of help. Clocky and Tocky are products created by Gauri Nanda, an MIT grad. Clocky is an alarm clock with wheels. When it’s time to wake up, these alarm clocks leap off your nightstand and run away beeping to ensure you’re awake. Tocky even lets you load your own wake up message or your favourite song.

See them in action by clicking here.

What's the best chance of breaking a brand's loyalty?

All along marketers have believed that satisfied customers are loyal customers. All along marketers have believed that loyal customers mean profits for companies. But data by behavioural scientists are making us revisit established theories of consumer behavior and marketing.

For example, research by Reichheld and Teal has revealed that between 65% – 85% of people who switch brands are either satisfied or very satisfied. If satisfaction was the key to keeping customers loyal, why are satisfied people switching brands?

Another research by Szymanski and Henard reveals that on its own, satisfaction predicts very little of people’s behavior, perhaps as little as one-quarter.

This actually makes sense. As we have seen by recent previous posts ‘Think you can predict your own behavior?’ and its Part II, strong habits rule over intentions. In the face of a strong habit, we sometimes don’t buy the things we intend to. Instead, we buy what we bought before.

Says Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog when the initial choice is made to buy a product and subsequently made again and again, in the same context, then it’s likely to become a habit. Meaning we make the same choice without considering the options, because deliberation hurts the brain.

Habits can be so strong that according to research by Lal and Bell, habitual shoppers often don’t respond very strongly to incentives like special offers. Which makes creating shopping habits an even more profitable activity especially for brands.

So what is the best chance a brands got at breaking another brand’s loyalty?

The answer is – major life events. Consumer behavior expert Alan Andreasen was one of the first to point out that there are particular moments in people’s lives when their consuming habits are most ready to change. He figured the more major life events people experienced, like changing employer, getting married, moving house or the biggest of them all, having a kid, the more they had changed brands. Major life changes mean change in situations, change in environment, which means old habits get disrupted and the opportunity to break in increases.

Sources: F.F. Reichheld and T. Teal – The loyalty effect: The hidden force behind growth, profits, and lasting value – Cambirdge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2001

D.M. Szymanski and D.H. Henard – Customer Satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the empirical evidence– Journal of the academy of marketing science 29, no.1 (2001): 16-35

R. Lal and D.E. Bell – The impact of frequent shopper programs in grocery retailing – Quantitative marketing and economics 1, no. 2 (2003): 179-202

Psyblog – www.psyblog.co.uk 

Does it really take 21 days to form a habit?

In the preface to his 1960 book ‘Psycho-cybernetics’, Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon turned psychologist wrote:

It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.’

Self-help authors of 21 days to this, that and everything, may have reasoned that, if self-image takes 21 days to change, and self-image changes lead to changes in habits, then habit formation must take 21 days. Although ‘21 days’ may perhaps apply to adjustment to plastic surgery, it is unfounded as a basis for habit formation. Here’s the proof:

In an 84-day study by researchers at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an every day behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day like eating a piece of fruit (behavior) with lunch (cue) or doing 50 sit-ups (behavior) after morning coffee (cue).

So how long did it take to form a habit? On average it took 66 days until a habit was formed. And contrary to what’s commonly believed, missing a day or two didn’t much affect habit formation.

But here is the relevant part. There was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit after lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proves trickiest with 50 sit-ups after morning coffee, still not a habit after 84 days.

Interestingly, there were quite large differences between individuals in how quickly automaticity reached its peak, although everyone repeated their chosen behavior daily: for one person it took just 18 days, and another did not get there in the 84 days, but was forecast to do so after as long as 254 days!

So it’s unwise to attempt to assign a number to habit formation. The duration is likely to differ depending on who you are and what you are trying to do. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behavior consistently in a given situation, a habit will form. But you will probably have to persevere beyond January 21st if you are attempting a New Year’s resolution.

Source: Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle – How habits are formed: modeling habit formation in the real world – European Journal of Social Psychology 40, no. 6 (2010): 998-1009.

If you want something to happen, write it down

Hopefully by now you are beginning to appreciate how a seemingly small design intervention can make a huge difference in behaviour change. Here’s one more story that illustrates this point.

British psychologistsPaschal Sheeran and Sheina Orbell conducted an experiment in two of Scotland’s busiest orthopaedic hospitals. The participants were elderly patients from low and middle class households, who had undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries.

Recovering from a hip or knee surgery is incredibly arduous. While recovering the smallest movements can be excruciating. But it is essential that patients begin exercising almost as soon as they wake from surgery, even before the muscles and skin have healed, or the tissues will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. But exercising is so painful that many patients skip out on rehab sessions, especially the elderly ones.

So the patients were each given a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were thirteen additional pages – one for each week – with instructions: My goals for this week are _________________? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.

Three months passed. The patients who had written exact plans in their booklets had started walking twice as fast as the ones who had not, as well as, getting in and out of their chairs, putting on their shoes, doing laundry, all of it much faster, than the ones who had not written anything in the booklet. Why did that happen?

The psychologists examined the booklets of those who had filled it and found it filled with specific detailed plans about the most mundane aspects of recovery. Like one patient wrote that he would walk to the bus stop on a particular day to meet his wife coming back from work at 3:30pm and the time he would leave, the route he would walk, what he would wear and which pills he would take if the pain became too much. Someone else who would exercise each time she would go to the bathroom, wrote that she would automatically take the first step right away after standing up from the couch, so that she wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again.

All focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. They built plans around inflection points when they knew their pain – and their temptation to quit – would be strongest.

Patients who didn’t write out any plans were at a significant disadvantage, because they never thought ahead about how to deal with pain. They didn’t deliberately design their habits. So their resolve abandoned them when they confronted the first few steps.

So if you want something to happen, write all the steps down.

Source: Paschal Sheeran and Sheina Orbell – Implementation intentions and repeated behaviour: augmenting the predictive validity of the theory of planned behaviour – European Journal of Social Psychology Volume 29, Issue 2-3, pages 349–369, March – May 1999

How the world's best marketer got it wrong, but eventually got it right

The world’s best marketer – P&G launched a brand called Febreze in the US in 1996 as a spray that could remove bad smells from almost any fabric. The spray had been created when one of the P&G scientists was working with a substance called hydroxypropyl beta cyclodextrin (HPBCD). Apparently he was a smoker and one day when he got back from work his wife asked, “Did you quit smoking?” “No”, he said looking suspiciously. “You don’t smell like smoke”, she said.

P&G sensing a big opportunity spent millions perfecting the formula, producing colorless, odorless liquid that could make any stinky couch or jacket scentless. The marketing team decided that they should position Febreze as something that would allow people to rid themselves of embarrassing smells. They created two television commercials. The first showed a woman talking about how her jacket smell of cigarettes when she eats in the smoking section of a restaurant and the other, had a woman speak about her furniture smelling like her dog. In both cases Febreze eliminated the bad smells.

Febreze bombed.

P&G hired behavioural experts to help them figure out the problem and the new solution. When they visited a woman’s home, they observed that though her house was clean and organized, it stinked of her nine cats. The smell was overpowering but the woman couldn’t notice any smell. They figured that even the strongest scent fades with constant exposure. People who needed Febreze the most simply couldn’t detect bad smells in the first place!

They met hundreds of consumers looking for clues how to make Febreze a regular part of their lives. One day they met a woman, who used Febreze everyday. She used to spray Febreze whenever she would finish cleaning a room. Like in the bedroom, she vacuumed, made the bed, plumped the pillows, tightened the bed sheet’s corners, smiled with a sense of accomplishment and then took a Febreze bottle and sprayed it as a final touch. They saw the same pattern across thousands of hours of videotapes of people cleaning their homes.

That was it. The team decided to make Febreze a fun part of cleaning, at the end of the cleaning routine. They added more perfume, so that instead of merely neutralizing odors, Febreze had its own distinct smell. Febreze was repositioned as the nice smell that occurs at the end of the cleaning routine. Instead of eliminating scents, it became an air freshener, used as the finishing touch.  Febreze was relaunched in 1998. Housewives started craving the Febreze scent and the desire to make everything smell as nice as it looked. Within two months sales doubled. Now Febreze sales are more than $1 billion per year and products include candles, laundry detergents, kitchen spays, etc. P&G learned the lesson – no one craves scentlessness.

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Hear the full story from Charles Duhigg here.

We learn better from failure than success

I’m sure you’ve been through many training programs or ‘workshops’ as they are commonly called if you’ve been part of corporate culture, no matter which part of the world you are from. Besides these workshops being much-wanted breaks from regular work, we have doubts about how many translate to improving real productivity. Most of the training programs focus exclusively on the positive – on learning how to make good decisions via successful cases, but behavioural science shows that there is a better way of training.

Behavioural scientists Wendy Joung, Beryl Hesketh and Andrew Neal chose a group of firefighters as participants because their decisions carried important consequences. Training and development sessions were conducted amongst two groups of participants that included several case studies. One group learned from case studies that described real-life situations in which firefighters made poor decisions that led to negative consequences (error-based training). The other group learned from case studies in which firefighters avoided negative consequences through good decision-making (success-based training). Researchers found that firefighters who underwent error-based training showed improved judgment and were able to think more adaptively than those who underwent success-based training.

The reason for the efficacy of error-based training is that it increases attention of participants during training and makes the training a more memorable experience. The discussions after each case study in the error-based group were much more animated, with participants eager to find better ways to have resolved a problem and avoid mistakes, while the success-based groups were more subdued in their conversations and otherwise indicated that they were less engaged overall. Engaged trainees are going to learn more and retain more than their less-engaged colleagues.

So the next time you think of conducting a workshop you could benefit by having case studies, videos and anonymous testimonials of mistakes followed by a discussion of what actions would have been appropriate to take in those similar situations.

Source: Wendy Joung, B. Hesketh, A. Neal – Using war stories to train for adaptive performance: Is it better to learn from error or success? Applied Psychology: An International Review: 55, 282-302 (2006)

Numbers don't move us

Millions of Indians don’t have access to clean water, sanitation, electricity, education, healthcare, banking. The list can go on. The ones with access to all of it, including myself, are aware of the fact that millions go without it everyday. Yet it hardly moves us to do anything about it.

That’s the problem with statistics. It just doesn’t activate our emotions. Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, has exposed this blind spot in our sympathetic brain. He asked people how much they were willing to donate to various charitable causes. Slovic found that when people were shown a picture of Rokia, a starving Malawian child, with emaciated body and haunting brown eyes, they donated generously to the Save the Children. However, when other people were provided with a list of statistics about starvation throughout Africa – more than 3 million children in Malawi are malnourished, more than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance, and so forth – the donation was 50% lower. At first glance it makes no sense right. When people are informed about the real scope of the problem, they should give more money, not less.

But what happens is that the depressing numbers leave us cold. Our minds can’t comprehend suffering on such a massive scale. That’s why we are riveted when a kid falls in a bore well but turn a blind eye to millions who die every year due to lack of clean drinking water. As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Source: Paul Slovic – “If I look at the mass I will never act”: Psychic numbing and genocide – Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 2, no. 2, April 2007, pp. 79-95.

Behavioural Design on comedy show Cyrus Says

Human behaviour is funny. That’s why popular comedian Cyrus Broacha invited us to understand what Behavioural Design is all about.

We spoke about why Indian men stare at cleavages, touch inappropriately, spit in public, why we honk indiscriminately, don’t allow pedestrians to cross in India, why we behave irrationally in general and what can be done about it. We spoke about how men look at women’s bodies and how women look at men’s bodies, how to reduce smoking, how to avoid over-eating, why its time for the Indian Government to begin applying behavioural science like the US and UK governments are applying. We spoke about behavioural science principles like social proof and overconfidence and our projects Bleep and People Power. Download Saavn to hear the non-sense – http://www.saavn.com/s/show/Cyrus-Says/2/2mYLF,EZgkk_

We hate losing more than we love gaining

The tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses than to possible gains is one of the best-supported findings in behavioural science. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky were the first to test and document the notion of ‘loss aversion’ – the idea that we are more motivated to avoid losses than we are to acquire gains.

Loss aversion affects a lot of our decisions, in finance, negotiation, persuasion, etc. One consequence of loss aversion is that it makes inexperienced investors to prematurely sell stocks that have gained in value because they simply don’t want to lose what they’ve already gained. (We had also written about it in ‘Why we sell the wrong stocks’) Similarly, the desire to avoid any potential for a loss also makes investors to hold on to stocks that have lost value since the date of purchase. Because selling the stock would mean taking a loss on the investment, which most investors are reluctant to do, a decision that often precedes further stock price decline.

Another popular example of loss aversion is the debacle of New Coke. From 1981 to 1984, Coca-Cola company tested its new and old formulas in taste tests amongst two hundred thousand people across twenty-five cities. 55% of people preferred New Coke versus 45% who preferred the Old Coke. Though most of the tests were blind, in some of the tests people were told which was the New and Old Coke. Under those conditions, preference for New Coke increased by an additional 6%. Why did New Coke fail inspite of such extensive research?

Says Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and advisor to Obama “During taste tests, it was New Coke that was unavailable to people for purchase, when they knew which sample was which. So they showed an especially strong preference for what they couldn’t purchase otherwise. People at the Coca-Cola company might have said, “Oh this means that when people know that they’re getting something new, their desire for it will shoot up.” But, in fact, what the 6% really meant was that when people know what it is they can’t buy, their desire for it will shoot up. Later when the company replaced Old Coke for New Coke, it was Old Coke that people couldn’t have, and it became the favorite.”

For people losing Old Coke was more valuable than gaining New Coke. What this means is that to make messages more persuasive they should be framed to avoid losses more than acquire gains. So a message like ‘Shop till you drop at 30% discount’ could be more persuasive if framed as, ‘Don’t miss the chance to shop at 30% discount’. The latter implies that the deal is scarce in some way (e.g. limited time) and that people could be losing the opportunity to get a good deal.

Sources: Daniel Kahneman and Nathan Novemsky – The Boundaries of Loss Aversion – Journal of Marketing Research 42:119-128 (2005)

Ziv Carmon and Dan Ariely – Focusing on the Forgone: How value can appear so different to buyers and sellers – Journal of Consumer Research (2000)

G.R. Shell – Bargaining for advantage (1999)

Need a favor? Ask your opponent

Most of us feel shy asking for favors. And if it comes to asking for a favor from an opponent or someone who doesn’t view us in a particularly favorable light, we see it as totally objectionable, lest we get rejected or disliked. But behavioural science tells us that such hesitation is unwarranted.

In a study by behavioural researchers Jon Jecker and David Landy, participants won some money from the experimenter in a contest. Afterward, one group of participants was approached by the experimenter, who asked them if they’d be willing to give back the money because the experimenter was using his own money and had little left. Almost all agreed. The other group of participants was not approached with any request. All the participants were then anonymously surveyed about how much they liked the experimenter. Jecker and Landy found that those who were asked to do the favor rated the experimenter more favorably than did those who were not asked to give the money back.

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University says, “People are strongly motivated to change their attitudes in ways that are consistent with their behavior.”

The participants who returned the money back must have said to themselves, “Why did I go out of my way to help this experimenter I don’t even know that well? He seems like a good person”, when asked how much they liked the experimenter.

Often we are in need of some kind of help from a colleague or neighbor who for whatever reason doesn’t view us in particularly favorable light. We might hesitate to ask for the favor because we’re afraid of rejection or dislike. So we put off asking for a favor, whereas doing it would be a brave thing to do and more importantly, as the research indicates, is likely to work. Try it. You don’t have much to lose anyways. At most, the person won’t do you the favor. But if the person does it, he/she will counter-intuitively start liking you.

Source: Jon Jecker and David Landy – Liking a person as a function of doing him a favour – Human relations Volume 22, no. 4, pp 371-78

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