Why We Care About Others

>> Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Harvard Business School recently released the results from a new study on generosity (HT @ryandrumwright). As they put it in their press release:

“This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness.”

In other words, humans are wired to feel happy when we help others.

It’s a bit of a foreign idea to old-school economic thought, which has at its core the assumption that everything we do is motivated by rational self interest. Since the meltdown of the markets and the emergence of behavioral economics (if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely), we have all begun to clue in to the fact that a good number of the things people do are not the result of logical thought, but instead are the result of a messy collision of different evolutionary impulses that we have amassed over the millions of years.

As Robert Sapolsky puts it in a recent column in the NY Times, “evolution is a tinkerer, not an inventor.” We are not the result of a quantum biological leap that is unique in the animal kingdom. Rather, the faculties that make us human have been built on the foundation of other capabilities. So for instance, the part of your brain that detects that a piece of food is disgusting is also the part that activates when you read about some morally disgusting act (like the banks just rubber-stamping foreclosures).

In one study Dr. Sapolsky talks about in his column, “Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto and Katie Liljenquist of Northwestern University demonstrated how the brain has trouble distinguishing between being a dirty scoundrel and being in need of a bath. Volunteers were asked to recall either a moral or immoral act in their past. Afterward, as a token of appreciation, Zhong and Liljenquist offered the volunteers a choice between the gift of a pencil or of a package of antiseptic wipes. And the folks who had just wallowed in their ethical failures were more likely to go for the wipes.”

The scientist Dan Batson applies this thinking to generosity and empathy. In a recent column he wrote for On The Human, he discusses the evidence for the theory that our empathy for others is just an offshoot of the much older evolutionary quality of caring for our children. The same part of our brain that rewards us for nurturing our kids (even when all we want is for them to be quiet and leave us alone – don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about), is the part that rewards us for being kind, generous and helpful to strangers.

The positive emotions we get from generosity are a human universal, and it is part of what has enabled us to succeed as a species. As companies and marketers, we often become so locked in the transactional nature of our business (I’ll give you this coupon or service, but first you have to buy my product), that this very powerful truth seems completely foreign and unworkable. We should take heed of companies like Toms Shoes and campaigns like the Pepsi Refresh Project.

Generosity at a corporate or brand level requires a leap of faith, but there are big rewards for the teams who are able to make the jump.

Hope this finds you well,

Jacob Braude

VP, Strategic Planner


True Confessions of A Trader Joe’s Shopper

>> Monday, December 6, 2010

I never really saw myself as a loyal grocery store shopper. Aren't all grocery stores the same? Sure, I had my usual store, but that was just because it was close to home and had good product variety. If there was a similar store close by, I wouldn't have any problems switching. It's just groceries after all...

Or is it?

Since I've lived in New York, I've turned into a very loyal Trader Joe's shopper. I go there so often, I can list all of their products and prices. Last weekend, I decided to venture out and try WholeFoods. I spent five minutes cruising the aisles and then turned around and walked to Trader Joe's. I couldn't take it. I needed to feel at home. I needed my TJ fix.

There's something bigger than 59-cent apples keeping me hungry for my next TJ visit. It's the overall Trader Joe's experience.

When you walk though Trader Joe's door, you know what you are going to get. You know where to find your favorite products. The atmosphere is cool, friendly, relaxed and authentic, and employees actually seem happy to help you even though the place is packed like sardines (Trader Joe's sells some great sardines by the way).

So, how can we turn my love for TJ’s into something helpful and beneficial to marketers interested in wellness? It is all about creating experiences.

You don’t have to be a retail grocery chain to create a meaningful experience for consumers. With the popularity of popup stores and consumer experience design, there are infinite opportunities for wellness brands to get into the experiential marketing mix. For instance, Sanofi-Aventis and the Prevent Cancer Foundation placed a 20-foot long inflatable colon in Times Square as part of a cross-country colorectal-cancer awareness tour. The foundation claims they have seen a trend of increases in screenings, and a reduction of mortality rates since the tour’s launch.

There is one key thing that I’ve learned from all of these examples: an effective branded experience needs to be:
• Relevant
• Multi-sensory
• Emotional
• Differentiating

It doesn’t seem to matter if you are selling turkeys for the holidays or encouraging people to take care of their health, the experiences that make the greatest impact includes each of these four elements. So this holiday season as popup stores are popping up everywhere, keep your eyes out for these elements, and see if they include everything on the list.

Until then, let’s just go to Trader Joe’s.

Stay well, be well.

Ryan Drumwright
Junior Planner


Where can you go from here?

>> Sunday, December 5, 2010

I was inspired to find out last Friday, as perhaps you did, that there are at least three times as many stars out there in space than scientists had previously thought.

And who knows? Maybe there are more, many more, as the calculation was based on stars astronomers can’t actually see. (For every visible bright star, the team assumed 100 unseen.) And imagine -- we already thought, as the wonderful Carl Sagan famously told us, that there were
billions and billions of stars out there.

At the same time, another assumption-busting discovery was reported, based on the
behavior of bacteria scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California. Experts have long believed that life could only survive in the presence of 6 basic elements (phosphorus carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur, if you were curious). But defying expectations, the Mono Lake microbes learned how to exist on another element entirely -- arsenic.

I bring these up because if scientists can still make discoveries that challenge our collective notions of the nature of the universe and life as we know it, surely we as marketers have the same opportunities.

Of course, challenging a long-held assumption means being aware that we have deeply-held assumptions –a step that’s easy to overlook. If you believe there are a certain number of stars set in the sky, you’ll never ask whether there might be more beyond our visual reach.

Tom Friedman, talking yesterday on
Meet the Press, made the point that achieving success in a global economy (or as he puts it, a flat world) means revisiting cherished assumptions about how to get what we want.

This year, one of the things Wellness seems to mean is reassessing the truths about how we live our lives, especially moving from "can't imagine" to "can do." Or even, "what if?"

What do you really, really think is true? Could you be wrong?.

Maybe you’ll discover brave new worlds, far beyond, or deep within.

Hope this finds you well.



Doctors of the Future?

>> Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I’ve been following the very active twitter stream of Dr. Victor Montori, who heads up the SPARC innovations and design lab at the Mayo clinic (HT @ryandrumwright). At Mayo he leads a team working to improve patient care through design (my words – not theirs).

Their work is centered on a philosophy that may well change the way medicine has been practiced for the last several hundred years.

Until recently, doctors have focused on making measurable improvements in the illness they are treating. If you have multiple sclerosis, your neurologist measures her success by her ability to control the spread of lesions that can be seen when they scan your brain. If you have diabetes, your endocrinologist does her best to ensure that your A1C levels stay within a certain level.

This focus on measurable outcomes has created a revolution in life expectancy. In the short time between 1900 and 1985, life expectancy went from 30 years to 62 years – an astronomical jump.

But our progress has slowed, and increasingly doctors find themselves frustrated by their inability to make measurable improvements in the diseases they treat. The #1 culprit in this trend is people -- millions of whom ignore their doctors’ orders. We don’t take medication we've been prescribed, eat foods we shouldn't, and generally do anything and everything to frustrate our doctors’ desire for us to get better.

We here at Wellness see this dynamic every day. That’s why Dr. Montori’s work is so important and fascinating.

He is one of a growing number of voices from the medical community who are advocating for a wholehearted reexamination of priorities. By crowning measurable improvement as the central tenet of modern medicine, we have created an antagonistic relationship between doctors who want to make the human body work better and patients whose priorities are often more about living well in the time that they have.

Yes, someone living with diabetes would have better blood sugar control if they adhered to a strict diet and exercise regimen. But for many people, this would be a worse fate than suffering from the symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes.

At the heart of everything is a very personal decision about what makes life worth living.

Dr. Montori, and those like him, suggest that we should put this personal decision at the heart of every medical interaction. -- and that doctors learn to first understand what is important to their patient, and then design a care plan around those priorities.

He calls it Minimally Disruptive Medicine. I call it the wave of the future.

If you’d like to read a moving personal narrative from a physician struggling with this issue in his personal practice, check out this piece in the LA Times by Steve Dudley.

Hope this finds you well,

Jacob Braude

VP, Strategic Planner