I think I’ve found the most evil journal in the university library. The Journal of Consumer Research is marketing’s DARPA, the place where new weapons in are developed for sales and marketing. There are plenty of self help airplane books for salesmen, like Sales Closing for Dummies, or Sig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale. What you get over in the Journal of Consumer Research is guys in white coats throwing around psychology jargon like mad scientists. For example: “Disruption should impede closure and motivate consumers high in NFCC to seek clarifying information that facilitates the ablity to reach closure quickly.”
The article that drew me in was on a little trick of the trade known as DTR, or Disrupt and Reframe. This gimmick works by first confusing the buyer and then re framing it to be less confusing. For example:
“The price of these note cards is 300 pennies.” This disruption was followed by the reframing: “That’s $3. It’s a bargain.” .. compliance rates ranged from 65% to 90% … compared to only 25% to 50% …”
While I love the use of the word “compliance” the take away is that 2-3 times more junk get’s sold if you bewilder your customers.
That mnemonic above NFCC refers to a trait known as need for cognitive closure. People with very high or very low NFCC are a bit rash. Folks with very high NFCC will rush to pin an explanation to a mystery; and then cling tightly to it going forward. Folks with very low NFCC leave everything open to further assessment.
It is but one of a slew of traits that psychologists have tests to measure, IQ probably being the most famous. The traits give rise to metrics, and the metrics can then be used to forecast patterns of behavior. It’s usually less accurate than predicting the weather with a barometer, but certainly more accurate than throwing dice. Puzzling out new metrics like this is one of the ways the field of psychology moves forward. It’s good if the metrics are independent much the way wind and temperature are better than wind and wind-chill. So it is standard practice to see if metric A is correlated with metric B. For example NFCC is not highly correlated with intelligence.
The psychologist, not a marketing guy, that invented NFCC has two other metrics that I found thought provoking. He points out that when solving a problem you can assess your options or you can get down to work. Presumably for a high stakes problem you’d be well advised do lots of both, but he suspects that people don’t. So he sought out a metric that would score people’s tendency to assess; and a second metric that would score their tendency to act.
One of the reasons that DTR works is that it exhausts the buyer’s willingness to assess the purchases, and that helps to move him into the acting phase.
To me the interesting thing about all this is that is suggests that many other persuasion techniques might be better framed into these terms. For example the usual explanation for why vendors like prices like $1.97 is that innumerate buyers think ‘Ah, a dollar” rather than “Ah, two dollars,” discussed here (pdf). I, now, think that’s wrong. The functional purpose of that pricing technique is to inflict a DTR attack on the buyer.