Could seeing dogs on the way to workeach morning influence what type of sneakers you buy?
In a new research paper titled Dogs on the Street, Pumas on Your Feet: How Cues in the Environment Influence Product Evaluation and Choice, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger makes the case that what you see in your
everyday world can influence your choices as a consumer. The first part of the paper’s title refers to the results of an experiment in which participants who were shown repeated images of dogs were quicker to recognize the Puma brand and liked its sneakers more than those who had not seen the images. Confused? It turns out that dogs are associated with cats, and cats are associated with Puma.
Malay Karmakar / Mint
Berger and co-author Grainne Fitzsimons, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, reported their findings on environmental cues in the February issue of the Journal of Marketing Research. “Researchers have argued that consumer behaviour is strongly influenced by subtle environmental cues,” they write, “but few studies have empirically investigated this argument.”
To test their own hypothesis that exposure to environmental cues can prime the memory to favour certain products, they devised a series of experiments. In one, they looked at what effect the abundance of the colour orange around Halloween had on consumer thinking about certain products. They asked 144 shoppers to quickly list what came to mind in the categories of candy/chocolate and soda. Half were asked the day before Halloween, and the other half were asked a week later.
The shoppers on the day before Halloween were almost twice as likely to list orange-coloured products — Reese’s candy and Orange Crush and Sunkist sodas — than those shoppers questioned a week after the holiday.
“Our results demonstrate that the prevalence of environmental cues as simple as colour can affect product accessibility, even in noisy, real world consumer environments,” the researchers write.
In the Puma brand study, the researchers built on previous research showing that “cats and dogs have a strong cognitive association in memory because of their many feature similarities as domestic pets”. Study participants were shown a series of 20 pictures. Some were shown only images unrelated to Puma (such as a picture of a stapler), while others saw either five or 10 images of dogs. When the participants were then shown pictures of different brands of sneakers, those who had seen a lot of dog pictures were 30% faster to recognize the Puma brand.
Additionally, the more dog pictures participants saw, the more apt they were to evaluate Pumas favourably compared with other brands. Participants were shown pictures of Pumas and other brands of sneakers, such as Reebok, and were asked to evaluate them. “People who saw more dogs liked Puma sneakers more,” Berger said.
“Seeing dogs is not going to cause people to leap out of their chairs and go buy 10 pairs of Puma sneakers,” says Berger. But the experiment does suggest that environmental cues, even ones you may not be consciously aware of, can influence what you like and buy.
“Marketers should consider the nature of consumer environments when designing product names, packages and advertising campaigns,” the researchers conclude. One example they cite is the manufacturer of Mars candy bars, which saw an increase in sales after The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) landed the Pathfinder spacecraft on Mars on 4 July 1997. “Depending on what planet Nasa decides to go to next, the Mars candy company might even want to think about introducing a new candy bar.”
Corporate and consumer technology boundaries blur
Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple Inc., says the iPhone’s latest software tweaks due in June will make the device more palatable to corporate users. Oracle on 11 March launched an on-demand customer relationship management application that mimics popular consumer websites, such as Facebook, and integrates with a worker’s personalized Google or Yahoo page. IBM on 8 April touted a portfolio of “mashups” that can combine corporate software with consumer Internet favourites such as Google Maps. The common thread: The boundaries between corporate and consumer technologies are beginning to disappear.
Indeed, consumer technologies — including social networking tools, user generated content and wikis (Internet-based software that allows people to create content collaboratively) — are increasingly being adopted by corporations. These consumer applications are being used to develop software faster, share knowledge within a company, track projects and make corporate information systems more accessible to employees.
Underlying this emerging trend are young and tech-savvy workers entering the workplace, lower technology costs, and the need to innovate quickly using Internet applications. However, the trend presents a conundrum to the traditional corporate technology department. Previously, companies dictated what software and hardware were used for work purposes. Today, choosing technology is becoming increasingly democratic as workers get more of a say.
According to Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Andrea Matwyshyn, security issues are a key reason companies are leery of adopting new consumer technologies. What if a device a consumer brings to work isn’t secure enough to protect intellectual property? Consumers themselves generally don’t pay attention to potential security lapses. “Consumers are part of the equation that is complicating the security issue (with adopting new technologies),” Matwyshyn says. “The average consumer isn’t knowledgeable. Getting consumers up to speed to protect themselves is critical,” she adds.
All network-connected technologies — whether Internet applications or wireless devices — need to be built securely from the ground up. “One of the increasingly important features of products is that they need to be secure by default,” says Matwyshyn, who noted that Apple’s move to beef up security on the iPhone was an important step.
Another challenge for companies is to figure out how to manage consumer technologies in a way that doesn’t limit their usefulness but doesn’t result in lost time and money. According to a November Gartner research survey, 80% of companies said that social networking was important to their business, but 36% of them banned access to Facebook at work.
Most Wharton experts say that good management practices — educating employees about company violations and monitoring productivity — are better than technology bans. “If (employees) want a handheld device with a real Internet browser, it might make them more productive. These new technologies can be tools of empowerment for both work and play,” says Kendall Whitehouse, senior IT director at Wharton.
Wharton marketing professor Peter Fader cites another fringe benefit: Employees who bring in technology can help find innovative ways to operate. “Companies are getting employees to go out and do the detective work (on technologies). There’s a lot to be said for that.”
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