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What do consumers want from marketers? Companies should minimize the number of information sources consumers must touch as they move confidently toward a purchase. They should provide trustworthy sources of product information and recommendations. And they should offer tools that will help consumers weigh their options by identifying the product features that are most relevant to them. Brand loyalty, the thinking goes, is vanishing.

In response, companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. Learn how simple—or complex—the decision journey is for your customers with an audit found at.

What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity. Over a three-month period, Corporate Executive Board conducted pre- and postpurchase surveys of more than 7, consumers in the U. Respondents were asked dozens of questions about their attitudes and purchase experiences across a variety of price points and channels in categories including apparel, cars, luxury goods, onetime items such as airline tickets , and ongoing services such as cell phone service.

In addition, we interviewed CMOs, brand managers, and other marketing executives representing consumer brands in 12 industries globally, asking about their strategies and beliefs concerning drivers of stickiness. Consider the marketing activities of two digital camera brands.

There they find extensive technical and feature information and degree rotatable product photos, all organized and sortable by model. Why does she want a camera? Is she just starting to look, or is she ready to buy? The company guides those in the early stages of investigation to third-party review sites where its cameras get good marks and directs consumers who are actively shopping to its own website. User reviews and ratings are front and center there, and a navigation tool lets consumers quickly find reviews that are relevant to their intended use of the camera family and vacation photography, nature photography, sports photography, and so on.

In stores, Brand B frames technical features in nontechnical terms. Instead of emphasizing megapixels and memory, for example, it says how many high-resolution photos fit on its memory card. The easier a brand makes the purchase-decision journey, the higher its decision-simplicity score. Shifting the orientation toward decision simplicity and helping consumers confidently complete the purchase journey is a profound change, one that typically requires marketers to flex new muscles and rethink how they craft their communications. Some practical lessons can be drawn from brands that are leading the way.

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Businesses broadly misjudge what consumers want from them online. In particular, marketers often believe that consumers interact with them on social media to join a community and feel connected to the brand. But consumers have little interest in having a relationship beyond the merely transactional. In demanding ever more attention from overloaded consumers, brands ultimately lead them down unnecessarily confusing purchase paths.

Creating a more efficient path means minimizing the number of information sources consumers must touch while moving confidently toward a purchase. The savviest brands achieve this by personalizing the route. Marketers face two practical challenges here. First, how can they detect where a given consumer is on the purchase path and what information she most needs? Second, how can they ensure that consumers they direct to third-party information sources will come back?

One electronics company has gathered data from four major sources—social media monitoring, ad-effectiveness and campaign-tracking information, clickstream analysis, and individual consumer surveys—to identify common purchase paths.

It studies the resulting maps to determine the volume of traffic on various paths, which paths inspire the most confidence, which touchpoints are best suited to conveying which types of messages, and at what points consumers lose confidence or defect. Over the past two decades, a wide range of experiments have shed light on how an excess of information and choice impairs decision making.

One of the most common consumer responses to the excess is to forgo a purchase altogether. In a classic experiment, Sheena Iyengar, then a doctoral student and now a professor at Columbia Business School, set out pots of jam on supermarket tables in groups of either six or As the psychologist Barry Schwartz demonstrates in The Paradox of Choice, an excess of input leads to angst, indecision, regret, and ultimately lowered satisfaction with both the purchase process and the products themselves.

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Dozens of related lines of research confirm what now seems like common sense: Too much choice or too much information can be paralyzing. But the hundreds of marketing executives we interviewed told us that their engagement strategies were designed expressly to achieve more-frequent interaction and deepened relationships. Compounding the overload problem is the human penchant for overthinking trivial decisions and second-guessing.

Think about consumers trying to choose among an array of poorly differentiated products, such as digital cameras: The difficulty of wading through the choices increases the perceived importance of the decision. This in turn causes people to spend even more time and effort on the decision, which further increases its apparent importance. A trivial purchase decision can thus spiral into a disproportionately complicated and time-consuming one—and the process creates consumers who are less happy, not more.

Brands pursuing decision-simplicity strategies make full use of such information to assess where consumers are on the path and to direct them to the best touchpoints. Certain auto manufacturers, retailers, and travel brands have been sifting through consumer search data to learn how search terms and the type of search platform say, mobile versus desktop indicate consumer intent and position on the path. Moreover, by analyzing search terms, companies can discern what information the consumer most needs next.

If the late-phase consumer was using a mobile device indicating that he was probably out and about , the search engine would serve up a paid link to a dealer locator with a click-to-call feature that enabled him to easily set up a test drive. Marketers often miss this point and put their efforts into activating brand recommenders who simply focus on product features and benefits.

What does trusted advice look like? Algorithms with the persistence and ubiquity of insects will automate processes that used to require human manipulation and thinking. These can now manage basic processes of monitoring, measuring, counting or even seeing. Our car can tell us to slow down. Our televisions can suggest movies to watch. A grocery can suggest a healthy combination of meats and vegetables for dinner.

The rub is this: Whose intelligence is it, anyway? So prediction possibilities follow us around like a pet. The result: As information tools and predictive dynamics are more widely adopted, our lives will be increasingly affected by their inherent conclusions and the narratives they spawn. All of our extended thinking systems algorithms fuel the software and connectivity that create extended thinking systems demand more thinking — not less — and a more global perspective than we have previously managed. The expanding collection and analysis of data and the resulting application of this information can cure diseases, decrease poverty, bring timely solutions to people and places where need is greatest, and dispel millennia of prejudice, ill-founded conclusions, inhumane practice and ignorance of all kinds.

Our algorithms are now redefining what we think, how we think and what we know. We need to ask them to think about their thinking — to look out for pitfalls and inherent biases before those are baked in and harder to remove. That, by itself, is a tall order that requires impartial experts backtracking through the technology development process to find the models and formulae that originated the algorithms.

Then, keeping all that learning at hand, the experts need to soberly assess the benefits and deficits or risks the algorithms create. Who is prepared to do this? Who has the time, the budget and resources to investigate and recommend useful courses of action?

What Is Smart Business?

This is a 21st-century job description — and market niche — in search of real people and companies. In order to make algorithms more transparent, products and product information circulars might include an outline of algorithmic assumptions, akin to the nutritional sidebar now found on many packaged food products, that would inform users of how algorithms drive intelligence in a given product and a reasonable outline of the implications inherent in those assumptions. A number of respondents noted the many ways in which algorithms will help make sense of massive amounts of data, noting that this will spark breakthroughs in science, new conveniences and human capacities in everyday life, and an ever-better capacity to link people to the information that will help them.

They perform seemingly miraculous tasks humans cannot and they will continue to greatly augment human intelligence and assist in accomplishing great things.

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A representative proponent of this view is Stephen Downes , a researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, who listed the following as positive changes:. Today banks provide loans based on very incomplete data. It is true that many people who today qualify for loans would not get them in the future. However, many people — and arguably many more people — will be able to obtain loans in the future, as banks turn away from using such factors as race, socio-economic background, postal code and the like to assess fit.

Health care is a significant and growing expense not because people are becoming less healthy in fact, society-wide, the opposite is true but because of the significant overhead required to support increasingly complex systems, including prescriptions, insurance, facilities and more. New technologies will enable health providers to shift a significant percentage of that load to the individual, who will with the aid of personal support systems manage their health better, coordinate and manage their own care, and create less of a burden on the system. As the overall cost of health care declines, it becomes increasingly feasible to provide single-payer health insurance for the entire population, which has known beneficial health outcomes and efficiencies.

A significant proportion of government is based on regulation and monitoring, which will no longer be required with the deployment of automated production and transportation systems, along with sensor networks. This includes many of the daily and often unpleasant interactions we have with government today, from traffic offenses, manifestation of civil discontent, unfair treatment in commercial and legal processes, and the like. A simple example: One of the most persistent political problems in the United States is the gerrymandering of political boundaries to benefit incumbents.

Electoral divisions created by an algorithm to a large degree eliminate gerrymandering and when open and debatable, can be modified to improve on that result. Participants in this study were in substantial agreement that the abundant positives of accelerating code-dependency will continue to drive the spread of algorithms; however, as with all great technological revolutions, this trend has a dark side.

Most respondents pointed out concerns, chief among them the final five overarching themes of this report; all have subthemes. Advances in algorithms are allowing technology corporations and governments to gather, store, sort and analyze massive data sets. Experts in this canvassing noted that these algorithms are primarily written to optimize efficiency and profitability without much thought about the possible societal impacts of the data modeling and analysis.

The goal of algorithms is to fit some of our preferences, but not necessarily all of them: They essentially present a caricature of our tastes and preferences.


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My biggest fear is that, unless we tune our algorithms for self-actualization , it will be simply too convenient for people to follow the advice of an algorithm or, too difficult to go beyond such advice , turning these algorithms into self-fulfilling prophecies, and users into zombies who exclusively consume easy-to-consume items.

Every time you design a human system optimized for efficiency or profitability you dehumanize the workforce. That dehumanization has now spread to our health care and social services. When you remove the humanity from a system where people are included, they become victims. Who is collecting what data points? Do the human beings the data points reflect even know or did they just agree to the terms of service because they had no real choice? Who is making money from the data? There is no transparency, and oversight is a farce.

A sampling of excerpts tied to this theme from other respondents for details, read the fuller versions in the full report :. Two strands of thinking tie together here. One is that the algorithm creators code writers , even if they strive for inclusiveness, objectivity and neutrality, build into their creations their own perspectives and values. The other is that the datasets to which algorithms are applied have their own limits and deficiencies.