Verizon, unlimited data during Hurricane Barry, and increasing brand loyalty

Reading a book at my husband’s hunting camp, my phone dings with a new text message. Not surprising right now, we live in New Orleans and a lot of very caring people are checking on us to make sure we left due to Hurrican Barry.

“Oh, wow. That’s amazing,” I say and show my husband the text.

It’s from Verizon Wireless, our cell phone carrier, letting us know that we have unlimited domestic talk, text, and data for the next few days because of Hurricane Barry.

Text message from Verizon Wireless that says "Verizon Msg: We've got your back, we've got your usage. To help you during this challenging time, active customers in the affected areas will received unlimited domestic talk, text and data from 7/12-7/12. For more details visit

This message is also timely. Just the day before, we were researching libraries and other places nearby that had wifi access and then wondering if we’d be able to get to those places if need be.  It’s a small worry, but small worries can add up.

So, Verizon Wireless, thank you.  As my husband commented, you just earned even more brand loyalty from us.

Frequent your competition to positively impact your business

Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences?

A man examines a tomato at an open air market.
If this man owned a produce market, should he buy his groceries from his competitors? I argue he should. “Shopper” by Carl Mueller, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was supposed to be a relaxing moment on the couch, with a hot cup of coffee and my local grocery store’s magazine, but it quickly turned into frustration.

As I read the owner’s (and marketer’s) write-ups about the freshest produce at their stores, the highest-quality ingredients stocked in their aisles, and their family atmosphere, which translates to amazing customer service, I thought, “Have they been to another grocery store lately?!?”

And then it struck me, they probably hadn’t.

The reality is, their produce is terrible and rots quickly. It’s also highly overpriced compared to the Trader Joe’s just across the street. And interactions with their staff have been memorably bad.

So how did this gap between marketing and reality happen?

Probably a mix of the following:

  1. When they do go their own store, they are treated differently because employees know them.
  2. They don’t frequent their competitors and incentivize/encourage their employees not to frequent their competitors.

And it makes sense, if this grocery store owner went to a competitor’s store, it’d probably turn into a local public relations nightmare for him and probably hurt his store’s brand.

But is that the way we should react? Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences? Shouldn’t we applaud employees like this American Airlines executive who flew United?

We can hire secret shoppers, but I would argue that employee everyday interactions with competitors is  the key to small changes that could greatly impact your product or service.

  • If Hyatt hotel employees stayed in other hotels, they may realize how slow their elevators are compared to other hotel chains and investigate why.
  • If an oil company employee went to another gas station to fill her tires with air, she may realize how much safer she feels if the air pump is in front of the store vs. the side of the store and advocate for the change at her company.
  • If a restaurant employee went to a competitor, they may generate new ideas for the restaurant they work at, such as a new way of managing reservations.
  • And if my local grocery chain employees went to Trader Joe’s, they might realize the customer service difference between them and their competitor and work to try to fix it.

So my challenge for you this week is to deeply consider not only your own shopping patterns, but how you may be incentivizing or encouraging your employees’ shopping patterns when it comes to your product or service. Perhaps the best way you can help your own business is by frequenting a competitor.

What’s with all of the Shen Yun ads?

Photograph of women in traditional Chinese attire performing a dance
Image from lyndenj licensed under CC0 Creative Commons license.

If you live anywhere near a large city, you’ve probably seen the billboards, posters, flyers, etc. showing a woman graciously dancing, inviting you to a traditional Chinese dance performance called Shen Yun.

When I first saw these ads, I thought, “Oh how nice, I love cultural events promoting international art forms.” What set-off my skepticism, however, was the volume of their advertising. I sold billboard and radio advertising in the very early years of my career and have bought a lot of mass media as a marketing director. Using that knowledge, I did some rough math for the Houston area: the potential income from these performances in ticket sales (not factoring for any freebies given out and assuming each show is sold out) minus advertising expenses (that I knew of, which is limited since I don’t have TV and don’t travel the whole city), event rental hall prices, and costs of travel and such for the dance troupe.

I couldn’t make the math work where they would turn a profit.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who noticed their seemingly unlimited promotional budget and got curious; The Guardian has a great investigative piece about Shen Yun that is worth reading as does the Los Angeles Times. Both articles claim the goal of the performances is not to turn a profit from selling tickets, but to promote the agenda of a particular religious group, Falun Gong (Falun Dafa), and gain sympathy of their persecution by the Chinese government.

Which “side” is right? I don’t claim to have an opinion on this. But it’s important to highlight examples like their advertising and events where the goal of the advertising and/or event is different than we would originally assume.

I bought a dress because of your Facebook ad, but you may not know it

A model walks down a fashion show runway in a red and black dress
“Stop Looking! Fashion Runway 2011” by Henry Jose, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

I recently bought a dress online following this flow:

  1. See dress on a Facebook ad, fall in love with it, click on ad
  2. Ad takes me to a company page, I’ve never heard of the company before, this makes me wary of purchasing
  3. Conduct a Google search for reviews of dress
  4. Finding nothing, go to Amazon and look for the dress there. Find positive reviews, including photos of actual people wearing the dress
  5. Opt to purchase on Amazon because:
    1. Amazon has standardized recourse/return methods if the purchase goes bad
    2. I can easily track the shipment
    3. I had a gift card from my birthday I wanted to use up
    4. It was the same price as the initial website

If you’re the business selling the dress, using simple Click-Through Rate (CTR) tracking methods (# of people clicked on ad, % purchased after clicking), you’ll never know that the Facebook ad “worked.”

If you’re using “Last Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the purchase came from Amazon. Amazon played a role, but it wasn’t the whole story and didn’t prompt the purchase.

If you’re using “First Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the Facebook ad did all of the work, ignoring the role of the web search and Amazon.

To really understand the full journey, you have to look at a broader set of data and how various advertisements and marketing promotions play critical roles in your sales.


Further reading: Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI


Interviewing? Be careful where you sit and the camera angle

Does it really matter, when you’re doing an interview either in person or on camera, where you sit? It turns out, it does, and rather drastically.

What’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon

In Robert Cialdini’s newest book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade he discusses the what’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon. Essentially, if a camera or third person is viewing a conversation and they can only see one of the faces in the conversation, they view the person whose face they can see more critically and blame them more.

As Cialdini explains:

As we know from the experiments of [Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)], a camera angle arranged to record the face of one discussant over the shoulder of another biases that critical judgment toward the more visually salient of the two. We also know now— from the more recent experiments of social psychologist Daniel Lassiter— that such a camera angle aimed at a suspect during an interrogation leads observers of the recording to assign the suspect greater responsibility for a confession (and greater guilt). Moreover, as was the case when Taylor and her coworkers tried it, [social psychologist Daniel Lassiter] and his coworkers found this outcome to be stubbornly persistent. In their studies, it surfaced regardless of whether the observers were men or women, college students or jury-eligible adults in their forties and fifties, exposed to the recording once or twice, intellectually deep or shallow, and previously informed or not about the potentially biasing impact of the camera angle. Perhaps most disturbingly, the identical pattern appeared whether the watchers were ordinary citizens, law enforcement personnel, or criminal court judges.

Cialdini, Robert (2016-09-06). Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (p. 63-64). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

How can you fix this?

Ask for the camera to be positioned so that it equally shows your face and the interviewer’s face. In person-to-person situations, make sure you’re positioned so that the third party viewers can see everyone’s face equally.

Cialidini notes:

Nothing could change the camera angle’s prejudicial impact— except changing the camera angle itself. The bias disappeared when the recording showed the interrogation and confession from the side, so that the suspect and questioner were equally focal.

Cialdini, Robert (2016-09-06). Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (p.63- 64). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Of course, if you wanted to heavily turn the tables in your advantage, you would ask to position so that the third party viewers could see only the interviewer’s face, but there are some ethical implications of doing so and, even if that weren’t the case, I doubt you’d be able to convince someone to do it, since you are the subject of the interview.

My suggestion would be to make equal face angles a stipulation of you agreeing to be interviewed. This might be a challenge, especially at the national media level because multiple camera angles keep the interview interesting to the viewers, but it’s still worth working with your PR team to balance the situation.

Go into situations looking for the focal point

Another way of addressing the situation is to predict the focal points ahead of time or notice them right away given the scenario to be able to fix them. This will take some consideration as you approach various situations, and it will be well worth your time to do so. In a non-planned situation, I recommend walking into a situation and immediately assessing the layout, where the cameras are and where everyone is sitting. If you see bad angles, try to fix it from the get-go, before people start sitting down. Once they’ve chosen a seat or a position, they are less likely to move from it.

However, if they have already chosen a position, you could still tactfully try to remedy the situation. For example, if a third party is watching your job interview, you could say something like “Why don’t you join us at the table?” and helpfully put a chair where they can see both faces equally. Or, for a public forum, you could say “How about we arrange these chairs so that it’s more of a conversation?” and set them up so the audience can see both you and your interviewer equally.

Beyond the media interview

As the examples above show, there are also other times when the what’s-focal-is-presumed-causal phenomenon could have an impact on the outcome of your interviews and conversations, including:

  • Public forum discussions
  • Interviews by the police
  • Conflicts being resolved with a mediator
  • Contentious meetings
  • Job interviews

As you move throughout your days, take notice of face and camera angles. This will get you into the habit of looking for this prior to a critical situation.

“To sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising”

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

Five different phones, of various age, to show how they originally looked like a phone and then moved to a full screen.
The evolution of devices, particularly the iPod/iPhone evolution, is a popular example of the MAYA principle. “Mobile Device Evolution” by Adam Selwood, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

This week, I was skimming readings and came across Ivy Ackerman’s presentation at the 2016 PSFK Conference, where she discusses the “High-Low Dining” concept, namely putting high end restaurants in surprising “low” areas and low-end food in “high” settings. For example, she highlights Sadelle’s New York Bakery, where you have to make a reservation to dine on….bagels, in a high end setting.

MAYA Principle

This trend makes perfect sense through the lens of Raymond Lowey’s “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” (MAYA) principle, that the Atlantic Magazine writer Derek Thompson summarized beautifully in his article about what makes things cool, “[Lowey] said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.”

So Sadelle’s made the bagel surprising. And people are loving it.

Think about how logos evolve; as one of my colleagues pointed out, the Starbucks logo has changed very gradually over time, so gradually that most people didn’t really even register that it happened.

I’m personally a sucker for novelty kitchen items (please don’t buy me any though, I have plenty!). Why do I love them so much? Most likely because they’ve taken something familiar and made it surprising, like these matryoshka dry measuring cups, which I love so much I won’t even use them for measuring things. So yes, this trick even works on marketers, or at least, it works on this one.

When I think about our work in open educational resources (OER), this also explains the popularity of expert-written, peer-reviewed, fully developed resources with print copies readily available. OER is so much more than a book, but basically, we’ve made it look like a book. We’ve taken something surprising, and made it familiar.

Contemplation questions

  • Are you working on something that’s surprising or familiar?
  • How could you apply the MAYA principle to your work?
  • Can you think of products or services that you love or hate that the MAYA principle may be influencing?