Thursday, March 19, 2009

We're behind, just where we want to be!

It was something that was repeatedly said by Sen. John McCain during his presidential campaign. His supporters kept saying that he was known for coming back from behind to win. In October, as his poll numbers kept dropping, he kept telling supporters, "My friends, we've got them just where we want them."

Now, let's talk basketball.

It's halftime, and your team is behind. Should you stay or head for the exit to beat the crowd? Most people would say, "Go now and get a slice of pizza for the drive home." Not so fast, say Wharton professors Jonah Berger and Devin Pope in a research paper titled "When Losing Leads to Winning" that looks at how teams perform when they're behind. The results of that research are summarized in a Knowledge@Wharton article. And, unlike John McCain, your team may still have a chance if they aren't as far behind as he was.

According the research, based on the results of more than 6,500 college basketball games, "(A) college squad that is leading by six points at halftime is the victor about 80% of the time." So, your team is behind by only one point. Do they still lose? Apparently not. According to the data, teams down by only one point at halftime actually win 51.3 percent of the time. Seems counter-intuitive.

As Berger and Pope see it, when a team is behind by such a small margin, the losing team can literally see the game within reach and works that much harder. "Take any situation where someone is so close to a goal that they can almost taste it," Berger noted. "The fact that they're almost there makes them work harder."

There are lessons to be learned here for your team, whether it's a business, community or sports team. According to Pope, "A lot of tools are used in the workforce to motivate people, such as wages, bonuses, etc. While surely these things can have motivating effects, one should not underestimate the potential importance of psychological motivation as well. This paper shows that the psychological impact of being behind by a small amount can cause significant increases in performance."

The lesson is that smaller, more achievable goals are more effective than bigger, loftier goals that may be out of reach. Of course, you need to stop and look around every so often to see where you are and reset your goals on a more frequent basis.

Well, it's half-time, finish reading the Wharton article while the dancers do their routine and the concession stands are still long.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Word of mouth success depends on whose mouth is whispering

Word-of-mouth buzz is said to be golden, worth more than any advertising. We all do some form of it, as consumers and as leaders. We talk about everything and everyone who we like and dislike. If it's good word-of-mouth, it really helps out. But, getting people to talk about you or your product is the hard part. Where do you start? Who do you start with?

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania marketing professors Raghuram Iyengar and Christophe Van den Bulte think they have an answer to those two questions. The pair of researchers worked with University of Southern California preventive medicine professor Thomas W. Valente on a research project for a pharmaceutical firm to determine just who is the best carrier for their message within groups of doctors.

I would assume that the more well-known leaders within the doctors' group would be the best targets. Convince them and they would convince others to use your drugs. Makes sense, right? Maybe not.

According to an article in Knowledge@Wharton, it's actually doctors within a subgroup, and not necessarily self-reported leaders, who are the most influential. What distinguishes these doctors? The researchers identified one doctor, "Physician 184," who was not among the most prominent of doctors. Physician 184 did not think of himself as an opinion leader. However, he was well-known among doctors for working with patients suffering from the disease the pharma company was targeting with its drugs. He was also seen as someone who "worked tirelessly and closely with colleagues to solve problems and get things done."

What is different in this work is that the researchers did not try traditional marketing techniques to identify the most influential. They used a more anthropological approach to determine who was doing the heaving whispering in other doctors' ears.

The self-reported opinion leaders, it turns out, lagged behind the "Physician 184" types at adopting new therapies for treatment. "Physician 184" types were more attuned to the latest methodologies in their area of interest and were seen by others as more knowledgeable than the self-reported leaders.

The article has a a link to the down-loadable research report published in the Marketing Science Institute Working Paper Series.

While you may not have the money for a complete research project like this one, you should start to think about who you are targeting for your word-of-mouth campaigns, regardless of your business or social marketing goals.