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IPA Excellence Diploma, Module 4Jean Francois Hector, @jfhector                I believe the future of brand measurement l...
Preference reversals can be explained by changes in psychological distanceLiberman & Trope 4 observed that preferences cha...
Distance and hypotheticality distort the relative weight that different productfeatures are given in the assessmentWhich a...
Desirablity aspects vs feasibility aspects                                  Renting a fancy, pricy villa in Spain: worth i...
Application: making better inferences from brand measurementThese findings help us understand what brand attitudes tracking...
Application: better methods for eliciting brand attitudes and preferences!     a) Reducing psychological distance by recru...
ConclusionPsychological distance theory and the body of findings supporting it suggest that making achoice for here and now...
1Levels of consideration for a brand a more a reflection of past behaviour than a predictor of future sales.Marketing and t...
11 In another study, participants read about a series of promotional campaigns constructed so that they wereeither high in...
19 To use an example that Rory Sutherland gave at the Google Think Mobile event in July: if you could booka London Bike in...
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The future of brand measurement (IPA Excellence Diploma essay)

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I suggested ways to improve how we measure brands, using recent findings in cognitive psychology which detail how psychological distance distorts the way in which we assess things.

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The future of brand measurement (IPA Excellence Diploma essay)

  1. 1. IPA Excellence Diploma, Module 4Jean Francois Hector, @jfhector I believe the future of brand measurement lies in taking into account the distorting effect of psychological distanceTo track a brand’s health we must generally make the assumption that consumer attitudeselicited in quantitative surveys are decent proxies for how they’ll think about the product atthe moment of purchase.We know that preferences elicited this way are pretty poor predictors of a brand’s futuresales 1 , but we generally blame that on hard-to-measure contextual factors coming intoplay at the moment of purchase and ‘distorting’ people’s choices away from their ‘natural’preferences 2 .I’d like to suggest that something else is also at play: a growing body of findings incognitive psychology suggest that preferences change in systematic, predictable ways asa function of ‘psychological distance’ 3.I believe that this has major implications for brand measurement, and I’d like to suggesthow brand attitudes and preferences can be measured in more reliable and useful ways. Word count: 1,198! ! Page 1 of 10
  2. 2. Preference reversals can be explained by changes in psychological distanceLiberman & Trope 4 observed that preferences change, not only depending on the context,but also in a systematic way over time.They proposed an explanation that hinges on the concept of ‘psychological distance’:the same proposition is evaluated in completely different ways depending onwhether it’s considered for the distant or near future, and on whether the choice ishypothetical or real (e.g. a marketing survey vs a real purchase situation) 5 .What happens is that different aspects of a choice (eg. desirability, price) are given moreor less weight depending on whether the decision is considered from a psychologicallydistant or near perspective.In particular, considering a choice for the distant future or hypothetically makes high-level, abstract aspects more salient and low-level, concrete aspects less salient 6.This cognitive illusion happens unconsciously and is due to the fact that the more distantor hypothetical something feels, the more abstractly we construe it and processinformation related to it 7 . A psychologically distant perspective makes high-level, abstract aspects more salient and low-level, concrete aspects less salient Psychologically near perspective Psychologically distant perspective! ! Page 2 of 10
  3. 3. Distance and hypotheticality distort the relative weight that different productfeatures are given in the assessmentWhich are a product/brand’s high-level and low-level features?‘Low-level’ doesn’t mean less important, but less abstract and of lower order from acognitive point of view8. Indeed, the low-level features that become less salient from apsychologically distant perspective (eg. the price) are often quite crucial for making gooddecisions.Specifically, a more psychologically distant perspective gives more weight to corefeatures compared to peripheral features 9 , emphasises desirability concerns overfeasibility concerns, makes pros more salient than cons and prioritises high-mindedprinciples and values over pragmatic concerns.Concerns relating to a product’s ‘feasibility’ (e.g. its price, how readily usable it is) aregenerally subordinate to its desirability, and are less salient when the choice is consideredfrom a psychologically distant perspective 10 11 12.For example when considering whether or not to book a fancy villa in Spain, the fancinessof the villa will have a greater weight relative to its price if the holiday is to take place nextyear vs next week 13 . This distortion happens in spite of the fact that the price is wellknown in advance 14 .Similarly cons are subordinate to pros 15 . Getting a bigger house out of town may seemworth the longer commute at the time of signing the papers, but this preference is typicallyreversed once you have to suffer the commute every day 16 17 . Also, it’s harder to think ofarguments against a given proposal if it is only to be implemented in the distant future (vsif it takes effect immediately) 18 .Accordingly, it’s been repeatedly observed that high-minded principles and values aremore readily applied to psychologically distant situations than to psychologically nearsituations 19 20 21 22 .! ! Page 3 of 10
  4. 4. Desirablity aspects vs feasibility aspects Renting a fancy, pricy villa in Spain: worth it or not? Considered from a psychologically distant perspective Considered from a psychologically near perspective (ie. if the holiday is to take place next year) (ie. if the holiday is to take place next week) Desirability Feasibility Desirability Feasibility aspect aspect aspects aspects fanciness price fanciness price + + - ✔ - ✘ A psychologically distant perspective de-emphasises feasibility Looking at the same decision from a psychologically aspects while maintaining desirability aspects: that’s why it’s near perspective makes feasibility aspects more not a good idea to book fancy villas too much in advance. salient: clearly it’s not worth it. High-level features - low-level features core features - peripheral features Eg. for a stereo: sound quality - design of the time display Eg. when buying a car: model of the car - type of paint desirability - feasibility Eg. for a holiday villa: fanciness - price Eg. for a lecture: it’s topic - how convenient the timing is Eg. for a CD give-away: more CDs - more convenient location pros - cons Eg. deciding whether to move out of town: extra space - longer commute Eg. getting plastic surgery: bigger everything - risks of rupture high-minded principles and values - pragmatic concerns Eg. getting on a London Bike: getting fit - avoiding being late Eg. deciding which DVD player to get: more eco-friendly - better value! ! Page 4 of 10
  5. 5. Application: making better inferences from brand measurementThese findings help us understand what brand attitudes tracking studies capture, and whatthey don’t capture.The problem is that when answering brand tracking surveys, respondents assessproducts/brands from a psychologically distant perspective, whilst in real purchasesituations the same products/brands are assessed from a psychologically nearperspective.This means that brand attitudes and preferences captured in surveys are distorted ina systematic way: they are driven by core features much more than peripheral features,desirability concerns much more than feasibility concerns, pros much more than cons andhigh-minded principles/values much more than pragmatic concerns.Bearing this in mind avoids drawing the wrong conclusions from brand metrics: • Consumer attitudes surveys are likely to under-estimate brands whose strengths lie in their ‘feasibility’ or pragmatic aspects23, compared to brands whose strengths lie in their desirability and high-minded or symbolic aspects. • It’s likely that brand valuations are biased in the same way, as they rely partly on elicited brand attitudes 24 . • The full effect of ads highlighting feasibility or pragmatic concerns is likely to be missed by quantitative surveys. • It also suggests that what consumers tell us about the relative importance of different product attributes is even less reliable than we thought.! ! Page 5 of 10
  6. 6. Application: better methods for eliciting brand attitudes and preferences! a) Reducing psychological distance by recruiting differentlyQuantitative survey methodologies could be improved by recruiting respondents as closeas possible before the moment of purchase – rather than people who are just open to theidea of purchasing sometime in the future but aren’t thinking about it in concrete terms yet.It’d also make it possible to compare their answers to their purchase decisions shortlyafterwards, providing helpful feedback as to the reliability of the findings.! b) Reducing psychological distance by making choices feel less hypotheticalA solution more suited to small-ticket items would be to tell respondents that, whicheverproduct they rate the most highly, they have a 10% 25 chance of receiving soon after.That product’s price could also be deducted from their cash incentive, forcing them to thinkabout the product as concretely and pragmatically as in real purchase situations 26.Alternatively, at the end of surveys respondents could be invited to choose one of theproducts to be sent to them, to see how their decision matches the elicited preferences.! c) Priming respondents to approach the survey with a more concrete mindsetIt’s well documented that repeatedly thinking in terms of “how” (vs. “why”) activatesconcrete thinking (vs. abstract thinking) 27 .At the beginning of surveys respondents could be asked to generate answers to thequestion “why would someone exercise” or to the question “how would someoneexercise”28, depending on whether we want them to get into an abstract or concretethinking mindset.! d) Controlling for how abstractly/concretely respondents approached the choices! presented to them in the surveyThe most established methods of checking whether someone is approaching a task withan abstract thinking mindset or a concrete mindset are the Gestalt Completion Test 29(people in an abstract thinking mindset tend to perform better), and the Snowy PicturesTest 30 (people in a concrete thinking mindset tend to perform better).! ! Page 6 of 10
  7. 7. ConclusionPsychological distance theory and the body of findings supporting it suggest that making achoice for here and now and making a choice for the distant or hypothetical future are twocompletely different decisions.This has major implications for how we measure brand attitudes and preferences, as thequestions we ask consumers are generally hypothetical and situated in an undefinedfuture.Although the existence of this bias has been clearly established, its effects on brandmeasurement are yet to be researched at all.This is surprising as psychological distance theory was formulated in 2003 and is nowwidely recognised as a leading contemporary theory in psychology 31 . Over a thousandarticles have been written about it in academic journals 32 , but there seem to be none sofar in any advertising-related publications! 33! ! Page 7 of 10
  8. 8. 1Levels of consideration for a brand a more a reflection of past behaviour than a predictor of future sales.Marketing and the Bottom Line – T Ambler, Pearson 20032Contextual explanations include: the particular way the choice is framed at the point of purchase(Kahneman, Thaler), what comes to mind at the moment of purchase (Ehrenberg, Sharp), different states ofarousal (Thaler), or the specific decision shortcut that was use at the moment of purchase (Thaler)3 Trope Y, Liberman N. Temporal construal. Psychological Review. 20034 Ibid.5Their framework, called Construal Level Theory (CLT), has since gathered a lot of evidence support and isnow widely recognised as a leading contemporary theory in cognitive psychology. But surprisingly it hasnever been applied to brand measurement.6Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman, Cheryl Wakslak – Construal Levels and Psychological Distance: Effects onRepresentation, Prediction, Evaluation, and Behavior (J Consum Psychol 2007)7 One experiment asked people to complete various tasks that required the abstraction of coherent imagesfrom fragmented or noisy visual input (eg. Gestalt completion test). Their performances increased when theyimagined working on the task in the distant future as opposed to the near future, suggesting that temporaldistance facilitates abstract processing.J Förster, RS Friedman, N Liberman – Temporal construal effects on abstract and concrete thinking:Consequences for insight and creative cognition (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2004).8 Shimon Edelman – Computing the Mind (Oxford, 2010)9A growing body of experiments suggest that core and peripheral features are weighed differently in nearand distant evaluations. One experiment participants had to choose between two radio sets: one with goodsound quality (primary feature) but a clock display (secondary feature) that was quite useless, or one modelwith poor sound quality but a clock that was actually quite useful.Results: participants who were asked to imagine buying a set in one year thought about the choice in moreabstract terms and overwhelmingly preferred the model with good sound quality but a poor clock (listening tothe radio is the primary use of a radio set ..), while participants asked to imaging buying a set the next daythought about the choice in more concrete, practical terms and considered its more practical uses – theyshowed on average the same amount of preference for either models.Y Trope, N Liberman – Temporal construal and time-dependent changes in preference (Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology. 2000)10 Participants in one study made decisions about three decision situations (e.g., deciding whether to attenda guest lecture) that they imagined occurring to them in either the near or distant future. For each situation,the desirability of the outcome (e.g., how interesting the lecture was) and its feasibility (e.g., how convenientthe timing of the lecture was) were varied between participants. Results revealed that the effect of desirabilityincreased over time, whereas the effect of feasibility decreased. Thus, the attractiveness of the optionsincreased or decreased as a function of the source of the attractiveness: when outcomes were desirable buthard to obtain, attractiveness increased over time; when outcomes were less desirable but easy to obtain,attractiveness decreased over time.N Liberman, Y Trope – The role of feasibility and desirability considerations in near and distant futuredecisions: A test of temporal construal theory (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1998)! ! Page 8 of 10
  9. 9. 11 In another study, participants read about a series of promotional campaigns constructed so that they wereeither high in desirability and low in feasibility (e.g., receiving 10 free CDs at an inconvenient location) or lowin desirability and high in feasibility (e.g., receiving 1 free CD at a convenient location). Under highprobability, participants were told that if they signed up for the campaign, they were almost certain to receivea voucher for the companys products. Under low probability, they were told that they would have about a 1in 100 chance of receiving a voucher.Results: under low probability participants preferred the high desirability/low feasibility option over the lowdesirability/high feasibility option, whereas under high probability they preferred the low desirability/highfeasibility option over the high desirability/low feasibility option. Thus, desirability was increasingly weighedover feasibility as psychological distance increased (i.e., as probability diminished).A Todorov, A Goren, Y Trope – Probability as a psychological distance: Construal and preference (Journal ofExperimental Social Psychology, 2007)12 In yet another study, participants learned that a store they frequent was adding USB memory sticks to theirofferings. After reading about the product and submitting baseline purchase intentions, participants sawinformation about a promotional offer for the memory stick. This information related either to the productsdesirability (the addition of an additional desirable feature at the same price) or to the products feasibility (anin-store coupon lowering the products final price). Further, participants were either told to imagine deferringthe purchase (buying the product at a distant time point instead of now) or expediting the purchase (buyingthe product at a near future time point instead of sometime later).Results: when the purchase was moved to the near future, information about the price discount (feasibility)increased purchase intentions but information about the additional feature (desirability) did not. In contrast,when the purchase was moved to the distant future, desirability information increased purchase intentionsbut feasibility information did not. These findings suggest that temporal distance augments the effects ofdesirability information but discounts the effects of feasibility information.M Thomas, S Chandran, Y Trope – The effects of temporal distance on purchase construal (CornellUniversity, 2006)13Klaus Fiedler – Construal Level Theory as an Integrative Framework for Behavioral Decision-MakingResearch and Consumer Psychology (Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2007)14As Trope and Liberman put it: "an association forms between psychological distance and abstraction, andthat this association is overgeneralized so that it influences representation even in situations where there isequivalent information about near and distant events".15 This is because the importance of pros does not depend upon the existence of cons, whereas cons areonly important when pros are present. Consider, for example, the decision to undergo a medical procedure.If the procedure has no benefits, one would not inquire about its potential complications (one would simplydecide not to proceed). In contrast, one would inquire about the procedures benefits whether or not therewere potential risks.16Klaus Fiedler – Construal Level Theory as an Integrative Framework for Behavioral Decision-MakingResearch and Consumer Psychology (Journal of consumer psychology, 2007)17Rory Sutherland also used this example to illustrate one of his points at the Google Think Mobile event inJuly: “One of the worst decisions you might make in your life is to move 20 miles out of town in order to getan extra bedroom in your house. When you’re thinking about this new bigger house you can have whathappens is: your new bedroom, and the wonderful things you’ll do with it, are very high in yourconsciousness while the pain-in-the-ass commute you’ll have to endure is very very low. When you actuallymove to the new house. [...] This is how the narrow and peculiar focus of human attention distorts decisionmaking”.18Participants generated arguments in favor and against new near future or distant future actions. Theygenerated relatively more pro arguments and fewer con arguments when the actions were to take place inthe more distant future. The proposed action involved new exam procedures (e.g., switching to open-endedquestions instead of multiple choice questions), social policies (e.g., restricting private cars in the city center),and a variety of personal and interpersonal behaviors (e.g., approaching a fellow student and offering to writean assignment together). In all the studies, participants generated more pros and less cons as temporaldistance from the actions increased.T Eyal, N Liberman, M Sagristano, Y Trope – Time dependent effects of primary vs. secondary values onbehavioral intentions (Tel Aviv University, 2004)! ! Page 9 of 10
  10. 10. 19 To use an example that Rory Sutherland gave at the Google Think Mobile event in July: if you could booka London Bike in advance, that decision would be a very different one than booking it for immediate use. Inone case, what you’re attention is focused on is high-minded considerations like fitness or the enjoyment ofthe fresh air. In the other case, your attention is focused on more pragmatic concerns such as arriving ontime or spending as little time as possible under the rain.20 Another example of Rory is relevant here: “if you tell somebody “if you win the lottery in 3 years time, andask to write a list of how they’d use the money, and pre-commit, it’ll be full of donations to the poor andextraordinary generous treatment to their parents. But when you actually win the lottery, you tend to indulgein a drug-fueled binge of total insanity”.21In one study participants imagined finding a sale for DVD players either that week (near future condition)or in three months (distant future condition). They then viewed a number of arguments endorsing thepurchase of a particular DVD player. For half of the participants, the argument list included a value-relatedargument (the DVD player is made of environmentally-friendly materials), whereas for the other half, all thearguments were value-neutral.Results: product evaluations made by participants considering the purchase in the distant future were morepositive when the message included a value-related argument than when it consisted only of a value-neutralargument. In contrast, when participants considered the purchase in the near future, evaluations did notdiffer on the basis of inclusion of a value-related feature.Thus, persuasive arguments appealing to idealistic values appear to be more persuasive for temporallydistant, as opposed to near, attitude objects.K Fujita; T Eyal; S Chaiken – Influencing attitudes toward near and distant objects (Ohio State U; 2006)22Another study was organised in two sessions. The first session measured participants’ general attitudestoward a variety of activities (e.g., blood donation). In the second session the same participants were offeredan opportunity to engage in each of these activities in either the near future (the next two days) or the distantfuture (several weeks later).Results: participants’ general attitudes were better predictors of behavioral intentions for distant futureopportunities than for near future opportunities.Sagristano, MD.; Trope, Y.; Eyal, T.; Liberman – How temporal distance affects attitude-behaviorcorrespondence (N. Florida Atlantic University; 2006)23 eg. low end or private-label brands24 T Ambler – Marketing and the Bottom Line (Pearson 2003)25 Or maybe 1%26FMCG needs to be low priced compared to the cash incentive, to avoid people dismissing the product asunimportant to maximise their incentive27 Agrawal, Nidhi and Echo Wen Wan – Regulating Risk or Risking Regulation? Construal Levels andDepletion Effects in the Processing of Health Messages (Journal of Consumer Research, 2009)28 (or any similar unrelated question, eg. work, exercise, etc.)29 Respondents are presented with black fragments of a complete picture and told to structure theinformation into a whole and close the visual gestalt. Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Dermen (1976)Participants’ performances have been observed to increase when they imagine working on the task in thedistant future vs. the near future, suggesting that temporal distance not only leads one to adopt abstract-vs.concrete-language-based representations, but also that it facilitates abstract processing generally.Förster J, Friedman RS, Liberman N – Temporal construal effects on abstract and concrete thinking:Consequences for insight and creative cognition (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2004)30 A Snowy Pictures Test asks participants to name a picture hidden beneath visual noise.31Klaus Fiedler – Construal Level Theory as an Integrative Framework for Behavioral Decision-MakingResearch and Consumer Psychology (in Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2007)32 Based on this Google Scholar search: http://bit.ly/x3oafQ33 Based on this WARC search there’s just one article mentioning CLT in passing: http://bit.ly/xSAum0! ! Page 10 of 10

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