When We Were BRITE And Young…

More recap of the BRITE conference from earlier this week.

Thursday morning started off with a thunderclap.

How else can I describe that moment when you feel so completely alive and rapt by a presentation at a conference?  The usual “lean back, listen, observe, observe yourself observing” experience was replaced by the highly charged engagement of discovery — the  leaning in, hearing, trying to make sense of what is so sensible but so insightful and smart. For me it was a lightbulb moment, a Eureka moment.  That is the only way I describe what it felt like to hear Columbia’s own Professor Sheena Iyengar discuss her work on “The Art of Choosing” and her famous/infamous Jam Study.

Professor Iyengar discussed how people say they want more choices but what they really want are better choosing experiences.

More choice leads to “Choice Overload” which decreases: 1. commitment to buy  2. decision quality (make worse choices, abandon in-going criteria) and 3. satisfaction (did I buy the best thing? did I make the right choice?)

Then she tackled the problem that had been bothering me for years.  There’s a seminal study from the 1950s by George Miller which is titled “The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two”.  In marketing this has often translated into theories about unaided brand awareness as the main predictor of brand selection and a very high level of importance placed on brand awareness.

Trout and Ries used Miller’s study as one of the fundamental pillars to support their positioning model in their book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind”.  Share of mind, or Mind Share, became the driving focus of marketing from the 1970s up through today.  It is what MBA students have been taught for decades.

There had always been something about this “magic number seven” that was contradicted by actual experience and empirical evidence.  After all, the average person can name many brands verbally.  And when you show them the actual packaging or logo their recognition jumps even higher.  Just off the top of my head I can name more than a dozen brands of beer (Saranac, Samuel Adams, Coors, Miller, Budweiser, Michelob, Sierra Nevada, St. Pauli Girl, Pabst, Rolling Rock, Anchor Steam, Brooklyn, Blue Moon, Molsons, Hite, Kirin, Heineken, Red Stripe, Guiness, Modelo, Polar, Busch, Kronenburg, Lowenbrau, Harpoon) and within that I can identify many variations (Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Lite, Miller).  If you showed me the packaging I would recognized at least twice as many.

Professor Iyengar cleared up this mystery for me.  In fact “experts” in any category can handle more choices and they want more choices.  They see options, organize the choices, categorize them.  They see patterns and put the different brands into those categories and sub-categories.

The example that she gave was the chess master.  The options for moves that a chess master has is exponentially higher than the total number of brands in the world.  The master sees patterns, zeros in on the most relevant choices and then thinks ahead many moves to see the consequences of his choices.

That made sense to me.  I do not consider myself an expert on beer but I did spend more than 4 years working on beer advertising accounts.  That sensitized me to beer.  I seem to notice beer brands unconsciously whenever I travel to a new place. Professor Iyengar helped me understand what was going on in my process of remembering the brands. I went through a number of filters.  The first was big brands vs. small brands (although Saranac isn’t a traditional big brand, I had spent time upstate in NY where it has a lot of visibility). The next was geography (states, countries, cities).  Then by visual memory of what I’d seen on bar taps and six packs.  Finally there are a number of brands that I can visualize in my mind but cannot immediately remember the name of…for example I can visualize Corona Light, with lime wedges, I know it is from Mexico, I can picture the advertising in my mind, I reach for the word cerveza is and until this moment I couldn’t say Corona Light.

She then provided the keys to helping consumers make better choices.

1.  Cut: get rid of similar looking options

2. Organize: by categories consumers intuitively understand, not by industry standards

3. Condition: help people handle complexity by going from the largest filters (e.g. 2 or 3 categories) to the smallest (multiple sub-sub categories)

Here’s what the NY Times had to say about her book.

Unlike “provocative” books designed to stir controversy, “The Art of Choosing” is refreshingly thought-provoking. [NY Times Book Review, 04/18/2010]

The Art of Choosing

One other presentation that I want to bring to your attention.

Renée Horne of Fedex discussed “the evolving role of marketing” and the growing importance of employees to influencing customer purchasing choices.  At the same time, customers are expanding the criteria they use for choosing brands — with social responsibility, sustainability, workplace conditions and other corporate reputation factors coming into play more than ever before.  And, finally, social media is the way employees naturally want to communicate these days.  If they are using Facebook at home, their inclination is to want to use Facebook at work.

For Fedex this meant tapping into employees and making them ambassadors.  It led them to “a fresh approach to brand storytelling.”  And to “I am Fedex”.

They recognized it as “potentially game changing…to drive higher level of engagement with our own employees.”  The more engaged the employees, the higher the level of customer satisfaction.

The roll of storytelling is very important to us

Using social media, Fedex seeded the program with professionally made videos and then allowed employees to make their own.  Hundreds of videos have been made by employees around the world, sharing their “I am Fedex” stories with each other on Facebook and other social media channels.

To keep the stories real, “authentic” there are no scripts but there are some clear and simple guidelines and criteria for employees to follow.

I am Fedex storytelling

Of course in today’s world what is internal is external in a matter of moments.  There is no longer the possibility of an employee branding program not being seen by the world at large.  So the Fedex program has external elements and visibility.  It isn’t pushed on anyone,

“if customers see it, it is through sales association…We put it online.  We are not pushing it in paid media…You can see it on our YouTube channel, “Behind the scenes at FedEx”

A central element of “I am Fedex” is the purple promise.  That is in many of the videos.  It is also shared through more traditional communications such as booklets, merchandise, posters, employee awards — many of which anyone can download from Fedex.

The Purple Promise

The Purple Promise booklet

The reality is that selling in the program was not a slam dunk.  The SVP who initiated it was persuasive in selling it in to senior management.  And then they had to “overcome the fears of “what if….” with middle management”.

So, some editorializing: What I find to be particularly compelling about the Fedex program is the use of the first person singular — “I”.  It personalizes the pledge.  It internalizes the stories.  Just by having an employee say “I am Fedex” aloud  commits them.  Nobody wants to have to take back their words.  Another good example of this internalization is the longer running “I’m an IBMer” program.


There was more and more to BRITE.  I’ve just skimmed some of the highlights that I found to be compelling, interesting or personally relevant.

4 Responses to “When We Were BRITE And Young…”

  1. 1 CB Whittemore March 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Randall, thank you for these marvelously detailed and insightful accounts from last week’s BRITE conference. I’m just completing my wrap up and really enjoyed comparing notes with your posts.


  2. 2 Randall Ringer March 8, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Glad that you found my notes useful. Would love to see how you summarize the two days.

  3. 3 denise lee yohn March 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    randy — these and your other recaps and follow-ups from brite are great! i appreciate the reminders of what the speakers covered and your unique take on some of the content. it was great to see you at the conference! — denise lee yohn

  4. 4 Randall Ringer March 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    So glad to see you at BRITE. Post-conference I’ve been catching up on my reading of the books by Luke Williams and Sheena Iyengar. Now that I’ve heard them speak, I can hear them as I read the books.

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