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Archive for November 1st, 2009

Warning – Marketing Ahead

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I was sitting in the middle seat with 3 across on a long red-eye flight recently. My legs were cramped, my back was killing me, my seat only went back about 5 degrees and I could not even extend my elbows beyond the armrests since the seats on both sides of me were occupied. What are all those ads about all the comfort you are supposed to experience when you fly? I haven’t seen any comfort in quite some time. I was wondering how I was ever going to get any sleep on the flight and then I got my answer – I didn’t get any. Of course with the seats being so cramped you can’t open up a computer to do any work. So not being able to sleep and not being able to work I started looking at the magazines in the seat back pocket and I thought I would look for other dubious advertising. Since I could not bend at all I simply tore the interesting pages out of the magazines and stuffed them into my briefcase.

Here are some tidbits from the airlines in-flight magazine.  

  • An ad for Babel Yak™, “Learning a language is not only good for your career but it makes you look sexy too!”  Nowhere in the ad is there any explanation on how learning a language will make you look sexy or is the word even used again, only in the attention grabbing headline, so I guess we will have to let our imaginations run wild.
  • “Suntheanine®, the award-winning, patented dietary ingredient for stress.” “…clinically proven to reduce stress, improve the quality of sleep, diminish normal symptoms of PMS, heighten mental acuity, and reduce negative side effects of caffeine.”  Then in very small letters on the bottom of the ad, “these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” My immediate thought was who gave them the unnamed award? Since it was not mentioned anywhere I assume they gave it to themselves. As for “clinically proven”, well let’s just say that I would believe the rigorous study with control group design when I see it. For an ingredient that is supposed to do all those things mentioned, to then state that is actually doesn’t treat, cure or prevent anything is a bit of a letdown. Well at least they are honest in the fine print.
  • The screaming headline for Dr. Charles Karrass’s negotiating seminar, “It’s like steroids for your career.” Given all the negative publicity surrounding the steroids scandals in baseball I think I would recommend to Dr. Karrass that he hire a new marketing firm, one not willing to connect his company, however tenuously, with illegal drug use. I have been flying regularly now for about 26 years and I swear it is the same photo of Dr. Karrass in the ads today as it was 26 years ago. I can’t believe that he hasn’t aged in all that time. For a while his son’s picture was also in the ads, but then it disappeared, I guess that did not work out. Maybe dad was so tough in how he wanted to run things that his son left the business. Too bad they couldn’t negotiate on the matter.  
  • “Cenegenics – GQ suggests it is the path to reversing the signs and symptoms of aging.” Well if a respected scientific journal like GQ says it…. In the ad they show a picture of Jeffrey Life, MD at age 67 and describe him as having a body of a 30 year old, except for his head which looks like a 70+ year old head. If this program works to reverse the signs and symptoms of aging how come it doesn’t work above the neck? Maybe Dr. Karrass is using the program and that is why he hasn’t aged in the last 26 years.
  • YogaToes, yes you may not have known it but your toes can do yoga. And if your toes do yoga it will “stretch, strengthen and straighten your toes”. I don’t know about you but my toes are long enough already.
  • You too can buy a $14,615 machine that allows you to exercise in 4 minutes per day. They actually have a statement in the ad that says, “The more we tell people about the ROM the less they believe it.” Ok, I don’t need to hear any more then. If you went and purchased this machine and used it exactly the proscribed 4 minutes a day for a year, 365 workouts, each of your workouts would only cost you $40.04 or $10.01 per minute for that year. What a bargain.

I looked and looked hoping to find the magic bullet that would solve the personal problems I encounter. You see, as I have aged I have found that the hairs in my ears as well as my eyebrows have been growing longer, at the same time that the hair on my head has been thinning out. Yes it sounds quite attractive, I know. What did you say? You don’t have any hair in your ears? You don’t know what you are missing. I searched and searched and searched but could not find any product in the magazine that would get rid of the hair growing out of my ears. No even one that would make a somewhat spurious claim.  Oh well, maybe on the next sleepless flight I will find my magic bullet.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 1, 2009 at 8:39 am

Rings of Confidence – Aggregation of Attitudes

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What are your fears? What is keeping you awake at night? Within the context of the current economic environment, these are questions that I have asked various groups that I have been interacting with or speaking to. It gives a way to set the stage for a discussion on how each individual aggregates up into larger and larger groupings, representing organizations of increasing size and complexity and how the psychology and behavior of those organizations are shaped by the individual group members. If everyone or a critical mass of those in a group or organization is sharing the same fears, or being kept awake at night by the same concerns, the behavior of the group or organization will be reflective of those fears or concerns. When that group is consumers, in aggregate responsible for about 70% of the economic spend or GDP of the nation, and that fear is loss of income, the results may indeed be dire.  

Think of an individual, let’s say a pharmacist. This individual works diligently at her profession day-in and day-out, dispensing needed medicines to their customers. This pharmacist has a direct impact on the lives of the people she interacts with, dispensing the drugs that help them heal and they are thankful (usually) for that. This pharmacist belongs or is a member of a number of differing organizations or loosely categorized groupings of people. For our purposes here  lets define organization as a group of people that share a common purpose or certain characteristics, a purpose or characteristic that can be either formally recognized, such as being a member of a company or governmental agency, or an organization that may not be as formally configured, such as all licensed, actively working pharmacists. Whether they belong to the same company or not they are members of a group, a group of pharmacists that in this case have something in common – being pharmacists.

As pharmacists, part of their worldview will be shaped by the education, experiences and training that pharmacists tend to have not to mention the day-to-day work that they perform. And the pharmacist’s worldview will shape the way pharmacists behave.  If for whatever reason the pharmaceutical industry collapsed because people suddenly no longer became ill and hence no longer needed to go to the pharmacy to purchase medicines, then pharmacists as a group might become worried about their continued employment and would then behave accordingly, cutting back on spending and perhaps hunkering down until they knew for certain what was happening within their industry. We are not saying that all pharmacists share the same exact worldview, for you certainly can find a glorious diversity of pharmacists including republican pharmacists, democratic pharmacists, male pharmacist, female pharmacists, single or married ones, heterosexual, gay and lesbian pharmacists, tall pharmacists, short pharmacists etc. each with their own worldview, but as pharmacists they will share, in spite of their diversity, some similarities in certain aspects of their worldview. For instance maybe how much they pay attention to healthcare issues, or the importance of healthcare issue to them, compared to non-healthcare workers, and that will take shape from the very nature of them being pharmacists.

What I will argue though is that an individual pharmacist working in a drug store has a pretty good idea about what is happening with respect to the prescription business in that store and as an aggregation these drug store pharmacists have a pretty good idea about what is happening in the pharmaceutical dispensing industry across drug stores. While any one pharmacist might not have a complete picture, if you draw a representative sample from the universe of pharmacists appropriately and ask the right questions you will be able to unlock insights into what is happening within that industry. And you are likely to unlock those insights prior to that information becoming widely known through more traditional reporting mechanisms for pharmaceutical dispensing organizations such as drug stores. For you see pharmacists working in the trenches know if there is a flu epidemic going on by what they see happening day-to-day, and they will know it before the traditional inventory systems that the stores use to aggregate their sales results and report that higher than expected amounts of various prescriptions for flu symptom treatments were filled in the preceding month.  

If we think of this one drug store pharmacist as being in the exact center of concentric rings, each larger ring representing a larger entity to which this person belongs, we would have a progression: the individual, an employee working in a specific drug store location, an employee of a drug store chain, a member of the health care industry, a resident of a specific state or certain area of a country, a citizen of the USA or another country and a human being living on planet Earth. Membership in some of those groupings or organizations is by choice while others, such as being a citizen of the USA may happen simply due to randomness of birth. Each individual in our sample is at the exact center of their own set of concentric rings, representing the various groups of which they are members. And just to complicate things each individual can be the exact center of multiple sets of concentric rings. So in this case we are starting with the individual as a pharmacist, but other characteristics of the individual could be our starting point so we could also start with that same individual as a mother, or father, or member of a religious organization, political party, volunteer firefighter, etc.

If you were to randomly select a grouping of people that are representative of the concentric ring level in which there is an interest (pharmacists, members of the health care industry, or citizens of the USA etc.), meaning that the selected sample is a decent representation of the total universe of people who reside in that ring, you would gain insight into the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of all the members of that ring. Whether that insight means anything significant will be dependent on the questions you choose to ask and how you go about analyzing and interpreting the results. The impact that can occur with the findings will depend on what one is able to do with them.

With this concept in mind, the notion of selecting a cross section of working individuals to gain insight into their concerns and by extension into the larger concentric rings to which they belong was born. This is the methodological concept behind how aggregating Employee Confidence information starting at the individual level can shed light not only on that one person’s fears, or causes of sleeplessness, but among the other levels of interest such as company level performance, i.e. the company of which they are a member, industry performance, i.e. the industry to which their company belongs, country-level macro-economic factors, i.e. the aggregation of a cross-section of organizations from within a country, and global economic conditions, i.e. an aggregation across the largest economies of the world.

Traditionally, when conducting employee research there is an effort to link the findings of the employee survey to organizational performance results, the one organization to which the employee belongs (also typically the entity that commissioned the work). It can be determined for instance that employees, who perhaps have higher levels of pride in their organizations, are producing higher levels of customer satisfaction among the customers with whom they interact. If that finding is strong, any organization would be somewhat foolish not to consider what activities they could undertake to increase the levels of pride that the employees have towards the organization for it is well known that higher levels of customer satisfaction produce more sales.

What has been shown in recent Employee Confidence work is that the linkage between an employee’s attitudes not only affect their behaviors at the individual level (e.g. how they interact with customers), and rollup not only to organizational performance (increased or decreased sales for instance), but these attitude in aggregate can also be shown to link to cross-company industry level results, a meta-linkage, as well as country level macro-economic performance measures, and if we take a leap of faith global economic performance.

Our approach to measuring Employee Confidence suggests how Employee Confidence and more generally Confidence can be used to improve organizational performance, of any type of organization, at any level of the concentric rings, and how by methodically working to restore Confidence we can affect each of the concentric rings, thereby restoring Confidence in our organizations, our economy and global economic performance.

Confidence Too

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How do you think you would be received if you embarrassed people in power either political or religious power, not by claiming more or perhaps better knowledge, but simply by asking logical questions that pointed out inconsistencies and inadequacies in their decision-making, showing that the rationale for the various beliefs that they held dear was full of holes? What if you were so confident that your questioning approach was a method that could be utilized to uncover the truth and create a path toward greater understanding, and perhaps better decision-making, that you incessantly applied it every day until you had a both a following and a significant group of detractors?  If you were Socrates, causing that embarrassment would lead to the death penalty on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and disbelieving in the ancestral gods. He was so confident in his approach, now called the Socratic Method that he was willing to die for his beliefs.

Where did that level of confidence come from? How could he be so sure he was right? In essence he did not believe he was right about the content of anything, about his knowledge, what he stated he had was “an open awareness of his own ignorance”, a belief that he felt that those in power did not possess. What he believed in was his method, his approach that if followed would lead to greater insights, and that ordinary people could be taught to question traditional notions and by doing so would be leading a more fulfilling life. Heresy! His belief in his questioning approach was so strong that during his trial he is reported by Plato to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, as he rejected offering up exile or silencing as alternatives to the death penalty to be imposed by drinking Hemlock.  How many scientists do you know today who would be willing to die for the right to conduct experiments, or follow a line of inquiry in order to do hypothesis testing?  

It is speculated by some scholars that the charges were brought against Socrates because of a sense of pessimism that had engulfed democratic Athens after their devastating loss in the Peloponnesian War to the oligarchic Spartans, a loss of confidence in their political system, and the hunt for a potential scapegoat. You can almost hear the maneuvering, the rationales being offered as to why Athens lost to its rival. “It is that trouble maker Socrates, always questioning, tearing us down, trying to destroy our way of life, never following our lead. He has corrupted our youth by sowing doubt and has brought down the wrath of our gods by questioning their legitimacy. Death to Socrates!” It is easier of course to look back at the ancient past and to state that their behavior appears silly, for we would never act that way today, tearing down those that question our beliefs, would we? 

What is confidence? How is confidence acquired? Why are we confident?  What are the consequences of a loss of confidence? From a scientific standpoint, confidence can be described as being certain that a hypothesis is correct, and through research numbers can be ascribed to your findings which are interpreted or hedged using a confidence interval (99% or 95% confidence intervals being generally accepted standards), but it is also a psychological construct that is generated by and in what the individual believes to be true, personal hypotheses, if you will. An accountant might say, “I have absolute confidence in my facts and figures and I will stand behind them 100%.” I can also have confidence in my political leadership, my religious beliefs, my doctor, family members, my mailman, my lawyer (well, maybe not). But confidence regarding individuals or institutions and in what you believe to be true about them is often limited to certain very specific circumstances. I have confidence that my mailman will deliver my mail, he has a very good track record over the years, and I know he has the US Post Office standing behind him to support him in his efforts. And while I have that confidence in my mailman, I will not have confidence in him to interpret my EKG results. That piece of confidence I will reserve to my doctor, who I have confidence in because of her track record as my doctor (she once saved my life when I had pneumonia), experience, training, and because of the hospital she works at, which gives her legitimacy because I am going to assume would not let her practice there unless she was competent. In both of these cases I have confidence in these people, in specific circumstances because of their own personal characteristics and because of the organizations with which are somehow affiliated, either through training, experience, or employment.       

Confidence is very commonly used and fairly widespread. There are formal on-going efforts to measure Investor Confidence, Consumer Confidence, Purchasing Managers Confidence, and CEO Confidence. There are numerous self-help courses aimed at improving your self-confidence in a wide variety of situations, there is the statistical use of confidence intervals and confidence limits, politically some governments face no confidence votes, and on the dark side of the law there are criminals called Confidence Men. Our current economic situation has been called by some a Crisis of Confidence and some founding fathers somewhere thought it was a good idea for the future of their towns to name them Confidence including, Confidence, Iowa, Confidence, California, and Confidence, West Virginia.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 1, 2009 at 8:20 am

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