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APG Thinking Around Corners

In a new approach to strategy events we held the first ‘APG Thinking Around Corners’ in the worst rainstorm of the year. So a tribute to our excellent speakers, our moderator Jem Fawcus, and the plucky audience who rated strategic stimulation above a cosy evening with Netflix and made it so lively and thought provoking.

Where Noisy Thinking is designed to project provocation from the stage, this event series is more intimate and more about discussion and building on ideas.

It’s also designed to ask some hard questions and look at how they generate different responses and approaches. The kind of hard questions that seem unanswerable and don’t go away, but are worthy of the best strategic brain power in trying to crack them.

So we asked three behavioural scientists to our inaugural event and briefed them in advance on the tough questions, giving them 5 minutes to condense their thinking into an answer. This is a précis of what they had to say.

How do you get people to subscribe when they can get it for free?

Richard Shotton – Deputy Head of Evidence at Manning Gottlieb

Richard took an authoritative approach by breaking the question down into one small part and tackling that. Using the Guardian as an example he showed how the alerts to online readers to get them to subscribe tend to dramatise the problem that more are reading the Guardian and ever fewer are paying for it.

Comparing this tactic with Jimmy Wales’ appeals for funding Wikipedia (‘we can crack the problem in 2 hours if we all pay $3’) Richard contended that negative social proof will make a problem worse – the more negative behaviours become common place, the more people feel OK about doing them – and this is particularly prevalent when we are uncertain about the correct course of action.

Richard thinks that much of the problem is built on the fact that media brands, like many organisations, rely on research data built on claims rather than actual behaviour. He thinks that negative social proofing can be an effective crime prevention strategy (at least in the short-term) but doesn’t work for media brands.

So focus on a manageable part of a big problem, concentrate on action rather than claimed behaviour and …’accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative’.

Mark Bell - Chief Experience Officer at Oliver

Mark valiantly decided to crack the whole nut, rather than nibbling away at it. In a nice bit of audience interrogation, he reminded us that it is dead easy to get content for free and illegally so people do it.

For Mark it’s a story of perception, effort and confidence. He told the (hopefully) apocryphal tale of young Fred in the office, who drives everyone mad by listening to the free but ad-heavy version of Spotify which means he’s perceived as cheap. He wants to look good in the office and the effort of having to listen to Harry Styles plus multiple ad breaks is painful, and so he gets out of it by having the confidence to click the premium button spurred on by the approbation of his peers.

Perception, confidence, effort. So if you apply that thinking to the Guardian, say, here are some of the jumping off points they might address to sign up more subscribers:

  • Increasing the perception they are doing good

  • Minimising the effort for them to do it

  • Building confidence that it is the right thing to be spending their money on

We forget in the world of planning, market positioning, data and analytics that psychology often has the answers.

Denise Hampson is Behavioural Economist for LuluLemon in Vancouver and flew over specially for the event.

She contended that ‘free’ is a blunt instrument. Calling on her experience working in the health service she noted that the more a local team worked to make a service free and highly accessible, the less it was used and valued by the local community. If it’s free and there are no barriers, people won’t commit to coming. So Denise thinks that free is a proxy for value and ultimately suggests that it is not worth the time and effort; if you give it away, it must be a bit crap.

Giving something for free eliminates uncertainty and so it makes us look for clues that it might be worthwhile – but at the same time there is no penalty for saying ‘yes’.

So what do you do if you’re stuck in that free space?

  • Add value. Have a unique point of view and if you can. Be different and life changing

  • Help people feel as they are part of an exclusive club and are social influencers as it is builds commitment

  • Enhance certainty by promoting free trials or trialing content

  • Use testimonials that are easy to share

How do you get people to be nice to each other online?

Denise reminded us that we all get emotional highs from social interaction as we have a finely tuned social instinct. The problems caused by overly crafted social media profiles and over-share are well documented. But we should also be attending to the downside of the speed of our interactions.

Denise had a number of excellent ideas for dealing with the problem:

  • Target online arseholes who actually have insight and try and curb their behaviour

  • Develop a system that slows down response times

  • …Or one that delays the sending of all comms by an hour to give people time to reflect

  • Limit how much people can share

  • Have your content read back to you automatically and out loud

  • A daily or weekly summary of your content played back as word cloud

  • (and a summary to your boss or mum…..)

Richard once again went for a specific angle and asked why people behave irresponsibly? He referred to an experiment reported by by Don Ariely about college students in an American university who were paid to answer a maths puzzle. You can read all about it here.

Richard drew a number of useful conclusions from this and other anecdotes:

  • Online abuse is not other people…it’s us

  • Behaviour can be nudged by priming – if you get people to read the Bible before they take part in an activity, you ensure greater levels of moral behaviour

  • But nudges have a finite half-life – you can nudge them to behave responsibly but sadly it doesn’t last long.

Richard also pondered over the amount tech companies invest in monitoring bad online behaviour. Doing a few simple calculations comparing Manchester United’s spend as a percentage of profit on safety at football matches to Facebook’s spend on online safety, he found Facebook invested shockingly little in comparison. Facebook spend just $4m a year. If they spent the equivalent 1.4% of profit that Manchester United spend on safety at football matches each year, they should be paying out $140m to monitor online behaviour.

Mark started with the big picture once again. For him it’s a story of primeval behavior and the fact that we have a new environment in which we are lacking the basic skills required to operate it properly.

We subtly mimic each other in a face-to-face environment but it’s hard to do that online. But like the advent of the telephone we will gradually learn new skills for dealing with life online. A small girl is naturally polite to Amazon’s Alexa when Alexa admits she can’t sing. We are prone to courtesy when dealing with an AI PA. These are totally new technologies with no essence of humanity but we can treat them well. Mark is optimistic that we will learn gradually to be nice to each other online in the same way that we adapted to our use of the telephone. It will take time and there will always be some trolls, in the same way that you still find bullies in the playground.

And then we threw in an unexpected question:

If you could create one fake news campaign, what would it be and why?

Mark was on first and by encouraging the super honest to actually stand up, he got us all to realize that we had probably told a lie that day and to reflect that telling lies is part of story telling and survival. Apparently we all tell 1.65 lies per day.

For Mark storytelling is really important and fake news is not the root of all evil. But he did have an excellent wheeze for creating it.

He drew on Facebook’s recent ad helping people spot fake news. Rather than create his own story, Mark indulged in a little UX, showing how the ads actually served as an excellent brief for HOW TO WRITE A FAKE NEWS STORY (catchy headlines in caps with lots of exclamation marks etc. etc.)

Denise drew on her own experience and more specifically her ingrained arachnophobia. She gave herself the brief of making her love spiders by persuading herself that BRITAIN LOVES SPIDERS, complete with memes of smiling spiders, spiders on their backs having their bellies rubbed and accounts of people whose life has been improved by owning a spider. Fake indeed….

Richard turned the question around and defined Fake News LYING ON PURPOSE and noted that Quentin Crisp had stated that lying altruistically is the basis of all good manners.

This led him on to the question: How can you lie on purpose for social good?

He talked about the power of the placebo effect that has been proved in randomized control trials and how when salt water is injected in place of morphine it has a pain killing effect. He feels that placebo is variable, nuanced and highly valuable and often ignored to worrying degree.

Obviously it’s unethical to lie to patients about medication but there are halfway houses that could be used much more and effectively, such as making sure that painkillers are coloured red thereby this hugely increasing perceived efficacy.

Thinking Around Corners is in association with Firefish

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