In prior posts we looked at a Relational Marketing paper from Liu and Gal, first discussing the conceptualization and set up experiments, then key mediation and boundary experiments. Here’s a quick recap of the paper on Relational Marketing.
Liu and Gal theorize that advice generates closeness and empathy which builds a relationship between client and organization that then produces favorable outcomes for the organization. They establish the basic connection between advice and outcome with profit or charitable organizations and with purchase likelihood or donations. They compare advice with two other possible client inputs, expectations and opinions, and find that advice is always superior and that expectations or opinions are often worse than a no-input control comparison. They also test rival mediators to closeness and empathy, notably a variety of cognitive factors, and find support only for closeness and empathy. Finally, they establish two interesting boundary conditions. First, the advice effect works only with the organization that solicits the advice and does not generalize to other, similar organizations. Second, incentives for providing advice, kill the advice effect.
The Liu and Gal paper illustrates four very large points which I’ll develop under these headings: Relational Marketing, Scientific Excellence, Bad Science, and Applied Research. I want to underscore that these are not issues Liu and Gal raise themselves, but rather observations I’m making from reading their excellent paper.
1. Relational Marketing
A New New Thing in marketing is the combination of social relationships with Web 2.0 to increase the effectiveness of marketing. Cultivating and building social, rather than pure business, relationships with customers is presumed to lead to better outcomes – profit, you fools – and can be developed through web technologies like Facebook and twitter. I cheerfully disdain this line of thinking because: 1) profitizing social relationships or socializing profitable relationships is a Titanic in search of the inevitable iceberg (gee, how about a marriage service that matches lonelyhearts with prostitutes!) and 2) novel uses of Facebook and twitter provide more benefit to Facebook and twitter than you (as the Arab street organizers discovered in 2011). Of course, I’m an idiot who doesn’t have a Facebook or twitter account, fell in love at first sight with Melanie, and doesn’t have an iPad or iPhone. You can’t believe a word I hoot.
Consider, then, the Gal and Liu research. Realize the large practical difference in outcome you get depending upon whether you approach a client for advice, expectation, or opinion. Who would have guessed that something so prosaic as asking for advice compared to asking for an opinion could produce such large differences? Who would have guessed that advice can lead to closeness and empathy, thus building a relationship, compared to expectations? Nowhere in the rah-rah for most Relational Marketing do you see anything this complicated, sophisticated, and, dare I say it, nuanced as this research. Hey, just get a Facebook account, baby, and you’re doing Relational Marketing, right?
Liu and Gal prove that Relational Marketing can be effective, but you’d better do it right because if you do it wrong (expectations or opinions; paying for advice), the thing will backfire on you like a Mainway toy (YouTube). Creating a relationship takes more than 140 characters in a tweet and requires the active participation of the client. Gal and Liu demonstrate that Relational Marketing is less what you do than what you get the Other Guy to do.
Now, consider what happens if you follow their advice and properly employ advice with your clients. While this research does not float downstream to the next encounter, what happens if you don’t follow the advice? What happens when you get conflicting advice? What happens when they see you doing this play with everyone else? You’ve now got a business problem but not because you are doing bad business, but because you are doing bad relationship. You cannot repair the problem with a return, a coupon, a new line of goods or services or any other standard business behavior. You’ve got to handle the relational damage to get back to doing business.
I noted the problem of relationships with persuasion in a post about love. I quoted from two experts, William Shakespeare and Saint Paul, about the nature of love then contrasted love with persuasion. I’ll repeat the key point:
Persuasion disrupts, distracts, and dissolves love. Persuasion surveils your lover to understand how best to make a change. Persuasion puts your preferences in your lover. And, even if the your lover benefits from this change, it is still a change you created in his head, heart, or body that he had ignored, dismissed, or resisted. Persuasion is not love.
Now, simply substitute Relational Marketing for love and you see my concern.
Also realize the limitations of this great research. It made no money for anyone. All dependent variables, the outputs, were self reported through the computer and no participant was a genuine customer or client of an organization making a transaction in real time. There is still that translation from the lab to the field or in this case the floor. These experiments clearly demonstrate how businesses, whether profitable or charitable, can manipulate a sense of relationship, of connection between client and organization through a specific tactic, advice seeking and receiving. It does not provide any evidence about a sales agent at Macy’s on a Tuesday morning. You’ve got to follow my Rule, All Persuasion Is Local, to make that translation.
2. Scientific Excellence
I point to this as one of the best research papers I’ve read. If you’re in the theory and research business, please consider this paper as a model of clarity, organization, and intelligence. The thing is stone cold professional. We’ll start at the abstract then move to the hypotheses.
This research examines a novel process by which soliciting consumer input can impact subsequent purchase and engagement, namely, by changing consumers‘ subjective perception of their relationship with the organization. We contrast different types of consumer input and propose that, relative to no input, soliciting advice tends to have an intimacy effect whereby the individual feels closer to the organization, resulting in increases in subsequent propensity to transact and engage with the organization. On the other hand, soliciting expectations tends to have the opposite effect, distancing the individual from the organization.
And their hypotheses:
H1: Soliciting advice from a customer tends to result in greater propensity to transact with the organization, compared to when advice is not solicited.
H2: Soliciting expectations from a customer tends to result in less propensity to transact with the organization, compared to when expectations are not solicited.
H3: The change in propensity to transact due to giving advice (stating expectations) is driven at least in part by an increased (decreased) relationship closeness the customer perceives with the organization as a result of providing advice (stating expectations).
H4: The change in perceived relationship distance is due to the inherent thought process of advice-giving (stating expectations), which involves taking an empathic (self-focused) perspective towards the advice-recipient.
See how the opening of the abstract and the structure of these hypotheses reveal and explain the whole damn paper; everything works out from these statements such that the middle of the writeup is actually the beginning of the idea. This is a great example of both excellent thinking and writing. Gal and Liu figure it out, then express the theory in simple, direct, and clear lines.
Consider how they develop and test these hypotheses. They employ the same basic data capture technique, that computer survey of online participant panels. They always randomize people to controlled conditions. They employ several different conditions to test the hypotheses. They check that advice function in charitable and then for profit organizations. They check advice against a no-input control (essentially the Status Quo or Standard Operating Procedure or How We Roll Around Here) and against other reasonable inputs like expectation and opinions. They test the idea of relationship and relationship formation with a variety of mediators – their theorized mechanism of closeness and empathy against cognitive factors, for example. Finally, they seek boundary conditions, the negative impact of incentives and the matching limitation. Realize that any one study is useful, interesting, and confirming (and sometimes correctly disconfirming), but no single one is decisive. Now, when you add them all together is when you see the power of this research. It is a marvel of theory development and testing in one paper.
Of course, even this one excellent paper hardly proves decisively the Gal and Liu theorizing. We need replications, both exact and conceptual. We need extensions. If this research is true, what else should be true, too? This needs to move out farther into actual real world and real time interactions between clients and organizations. Will advice in the field produce increased sales or donations? What new variables will arise to surprise an entrepreneur translating this idea into practice? But realize that all of these extensions are worth pursuing because of the quality of evidence and reasoning Liu and Gal provide.
3. Bad Science.
Contrast the abstract and hypotheses and their structure with the kind of research I often jollystomp in this blog. Read the rationale and conceptualization and you see the impoverished, simplistic, and assumed ideas about toxic environments, wicked advertising campaigns, greedy capitalist corporations, helpless consumers, parents, and children who are tricked into getting fat from seeing a 60 second commercial or getting a toy in their Happy Meal. The ideas are not clearly conceptualized or well operationalized and certainly not presented in that Mediated Relationship model evident in the Liu and Gal work. All we get is that clichéd Airing Of Grievances and Tale Of Woe as authors write up the butcher’s bill of mortality and morbidity; where’s the theory, the science, the skeptism?
And, of course, the testing is sophomoric, biased, and executed in that Ta-Da!, Look Ma No Hands style that only confirms a juvenile trick. Just read the sources from these PB posts on failed laws regulating texting and driving, and more recently, on regulating calorie counts on menus to see the difference between good science and bad science and why All Bad Science Is Persuasive.
Liu and Gal convince me with science and need no rhetorical research or sophistical statistics in the attempt. They know what they are doing, know how to test it, and how to describe it. They provide a strong example for comparison with all other research or “research” you might encounter. Look in those new papers for their deviations from the excellent model here. There is no good reason for any researcher in any field to operate much differently from the Liu and Gal paper, yet you will clearly see that they do. To the extent that the next paper you read misses this mark, you will probably find instead that All Bad Science Is Persuasive.
4. Applied Research.
While you see textbook theory development and testing in the Liu and Gal paper realize that it is all in the service of applied research. They want to do business better. They do not invent or discover new psychological constructs in this research, but rather use the theory-research approach characteristic of scientific persuasion all to make more money. If ever you could call research, Applied, without fear of contradiction, this paper is at the top of the list.
Thus, you can do science with practical, commonplace, prosaic, everyday, ordinary, and on and on with the thesaurus entries for applied. So, why can’t the health, safety, and medicine guys do this, too?
It is common to read bad science in journals with content modifiers in their titles as with Health Psychology or Health Communication. Somehow the idea that we are applying psychology or communication to a specific area of daily life seems to let researchers and reviewers off the hook for thinking, acting, and writing scientifically. There’s that terrible Tale of Woe and all those dead or wasted bodies, shattered psyches, and on and on as if sympathy was a key element in Theory Development, Reliable and Valid Measurement, and Proper Statistical Analysis.
Of course, I see the same thing in what are supposed to be “basic” research journals. Whenever the research is done in an applied area, science standards often disappear. Why? I’ve started any number of recent posts on awful studies from Psych Science that “research” political conservatism or global warming, but have to stop because it’s clear that no one is thinking like a scientist when they are working from their feelings. What’s the point of discussing naked emperors?
Let’s get out of here . . .
This has been a long series from what appears to be just one little publication from Liu and Gal. I hope I’ve demonstrated that there’s a lot of there, there, with the paper whether you are interested in theory or money. This paper works that fun seam between science and practice to the benefit of each side. It’s also a great example of great science. Just read a few sentences in the abstract and those beautifully designed and expressed hypotheses. Compare what you read and what you write to that standard and make your judgment.
You learn about practice, science, writing, and excellence from this paper.