Charles Duhigg

What would you do for a cookie?

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It has been while since my last post so this story may feel a little old but a discussion last week made me reconsider the whys.

The story concerns Risa Puno giving away free (edible) cookies in return for personal and sensitive information at a Brooklyn Arts Festival.  380 New Yorkers were willing to give away their finger prints, partial social security numbers and have their photos taken without any explanation to what would happen with their information.  In fact if and when they did ask she would refer them to her terms of notice which was a page of small legalese giving her the right to share their information with third parties.

Isn’t this completely irrational?  OK the cookies looked pretty cool and probably tasted awesome but still it is completely illogical to give something so private away especially when it can be shared with anyone.  Do people lose all common sense and thought when it comes to a freebie?  The answer is obviously yes AND we all do it all the time and not just for a freebie but for convenience?  I don’t necessarily believe in mass irrational behavior though, having read Irving Goffman’s ‘Asylums’ he outlines how we take on roles to cope within our environment.  He describes these irrational rituals as institutionalization and quickly I began to see the rational within some of the odd habits you can see exhibited by patients within a medical institution.

On this basis I ask myself how we are conditioned or institutionalized to offer up some of our most personal information so easily and exhibit this irrational ritual nearly every day.

Last week at the TMRE conference I listened to Charles Duhigg talk about his book ‘The Power of Habit’.  I have read his book before but listening to him again reminded me of the cookie story.  To summarize, our habits are formed from cue’s and rewards.  Take the lab rat experiment conducted by Ann Graybiel. This is where a rat is placed in a T-shaped maze with the rat behind a barrier and chocolate at the end, when the barrier goes up there is a click and the rat finds the chocolate and then eats the chocolate.  The first time this happened it actually took him a long time to figure out where the chocolate was but as predicted each time he repeated the experiment he got faster and faster.  What became interesting were the measurements recorded of the rats brain activity during the experiments, at the beginning the brain activity showed high peaks right from the click of the barrier through to him eating the chocolate, but with each experiment the brain activity dropped between the click and the eating of the chocolate.  Over time the rat was literally able to follow the routine between the cue and reward without any brain activity – he had stopped thinking and acted on pure habit.

habit-loop

We do this all the time and I am sure you can remember a situation like arriving at work or home thinking ‘how did I get here’?- we literally switch off and go into a trance when something is routine enough, be it the gym, shopping or scarily the drive home.  Is this our institutionalization when it comes to giving our information away?  we are doing it every day, each time we go online, each time we purchase and each time we use our store cards, it has become so routine now that even cues and rewards aren’t necessary. This is such a bad habit that our lives can’t really function without doing it, we have agreed to these rituals to function effectively in our world.

Do you think it is rational or irrational to give your information away so freely?

 

 

 

 

She’s having a baby! Your local retailer probably knows before your friends do

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To all of you who think that you are not impacted or influenced or manipulated even, by corporates, ask the father of a Minneapolis girl who kept receiving pregnancy promotions from Target. It got to the point where he went into the store to complain to the manager explaining how unethical it was to promote pregnancy and baby products to a teenager. The manager apologized profusely and could clearly see that they had in fact been sending these promotions to the girl. What transpired next has become famous within the research world, when the store manager followed up with a courtesy call a couple of weeks later the father confessed that his daughter was actually pregnant. The store was absolutely spot on in their prediction and were hustling to be the go-to store for the soon-to-be family.

This is an oldie but goodie example that has done the rounds several times in the market research world, but for someone outside of the industry it is probably surprising.

Retailers are competing for your loyalty and in the arms race are recruiting data scientists to analyze your behavior and habits to predict and influence your future spend. Influence is the real challenge for retailers because our spending habits are ingrained into our psyche. It is likely that you’re subconsciously drawn to buy the same laundry detergent that your mother used when you were little for example. But there are periods where we are more likely to change our shopping habits and during pregnancy is one of them. Like most new parents, time and alertness is going to be tight as they adapt to wonders of child rearing. Decision making will hinge on convenience and preserving their most valued asset, time. Separate trips to the grocers, shopping malls, electronic stores, will most likely be bundled into one big box Department store, such as Target or Walmart. With birth records being public, aside from all the online scraping and text analytic algorithms new parents are targeted prey, usually bombarded just after the birth of their child,

How do they know when someone is pregnant? Let’s set the background

As a customer of a store you are given an ID linked to your credit card. This ID is used to uniquely identify you, your history and all future purchasing and habits.  Under this ID, linkages can be made to your personal information such as age, marital status and estimated salary

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as they can have access to direct or inferred information on the Credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. “Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.)” Charles Duhigg ‘How Companies Learn your Secrets’ 2012

This information is then analyzed by data scientists (the new sexy in market research) whose job is to translate your behavior into predictive models that inform the marketing depts.

Target is advanced in this particularly around expectant mums and figured out that there were 25 purchases when combined that could predict not only pregnancy but what trimester the mother was in and expected due date. These purchases were things like vitamins and supplements, hand sanitizer, unscented soaps and lotions etc… on their own these data points aren’t enough of an indicator but together they were extraordinarily powerful and telling.

We leave breadcrumbs of information everywhere for others to track us and predict where we are going, whether we want them to or not. This is a byproduct of the remarkable digital age among us. ‘We are not alone’ is less about extra-terrestrials and more about big brands following your every move and in zombie like fashion and in their own way, EAT YOUR BRAIN!!!  Ok, Ok exaggeration, but don’t become a passive zombie yourself, be aware, educate yourself and learn how you can take more control of what you put out there.

This article has referenced and extremely good article published in Forbes Magazine and written by Charles Duhigg.  I urge you to read this if you want to learn more