Human Behavior

21 04 2008

It’s been a while, almost two weeks since I’ve actually blogged. Life has been next to hectic, and still is. However, today is my birthday, so I am actually taking the time to do things I enjoy. Before my study marathon tonight….because finals are this week. So, there was an article in the NYT last week that sparked my interest. Human behavior has always been fascinating to me, and it was because of that that I chose to study marketing as an undergraduate. Why not psychology? Well, because I am interested in the parts of human behavior that drive consumer choices. So, who buys what and for what reasons. Marketers study these behaviors in order to know who to market products to and how best to approach them. The idea is called targeting. Well, with all the advances that have been made in research methods, we can take it a step farther and start microtargeting. Microtargeting takes it to a whole new level, beyond demographic, geographic, and psyhographic information. This article was all about microtargeting used by pollsters for political campaigns. *as a side note, political science and business are very separate in college, which I think only harms the spread of new and inventive marketing tactics* Like minded people are targeted not based on age and gender, but instead based on what television shows they watch, the magazines or newspapers they subscribe to, and even the purchases they make at the grocery store. The article points to several specific food stuffs and can pinpoint which candidate you are likely to vote for based on your purchase of any of these items. “For example, Dr Pepper is a Republican soda. Pepsi-Cola and Sprite are Democratic. So are most clear liquors, like gin and vodka, along with white wine and Evian water. Republicans skew toward brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine and Fiji water.” This is a tiny excerpt from the article by Kim Severson. Can you categorize your friends (politically) based on their likes and dislikes?
How does any of this help in a political campaign? Well, there is some debate about how much help this level of microtargeting does help. It won’t help you convince someone that your healthcare plan is better than the other guy’s, but it can definitely help you know where to advertise. Microtargeting is business tool that has just recently been noticed in the world of political marketing, something I choose to think of as social marketing. It’s on the rise, and we are going to see more and more in the coming election. Read the full article here.


Tricks of the Trade

24 03 2008

An article published in the NYT yesterday revealed that one of the earliest shopping techniques is making a comeback. Not that haggling ever really left, but it is definitely not thought of as common practice in any of the places that I shop. This article says that the notion of bargaining down the price is becoming increasingly popular in major retail outlets. According to the article, retail historian from the Harvard Business School Nancy Koehn says that haggling in department stores used to be commonplace, before stores adopted fixed pricing in the 1850s. But with technology-enabled price comparison and online negotiating, the retail salesforce is quietly being allowed more freedoms to negotiate prices with customers. The downward spiraling economy has also put more power in the consumers’ hands when it comes to price negotiating. There are examples of in the article of people who’ve successfully “haggled” down the prices of large and small ticket items, from big screen televisions at well-known retailers such as Best Buy, to things such as rugs and clothing. Koehn blames the “ebay phenomenon.” She says that ten years ago people didn’t like to haggle, and they thought they weren’t any good at it. But using ebay has boosted confidence. I am not sure I agree with her. Bidding for something on ebay is quite different than negotiating face to face with someone. First of all, price negotiations go on all the time. Didn’t today JP Morgan increase they offer to buy Bear Stearns to $10 a share in order to appease shareholders? That’s price negotiating. Paying below sticker when you buy a car. Making an offer on a house. These are all instances in which people are haggling. I was in New York a few months ago, and my roommate and I made a few purchases from street vendors. We never paid what they asked initially. It’s all part of haggling. My confidence in haggling is pretty limited when I am negotiating with someone face to face about a purchase. Whereas on ebay, I have no problem making a bid on something. That being said…is haggling really making a comeback? How far is it going to to? And how is this going to affect the lines at registers? I know I intentionally go grocery shopping late at night because there are few people there. I don’t like waiting in line to buy my groceries. If we have to wait for people to haggle on the price of everything in their basket….would we get home before the milk went bad?
I need to stop and buy some toothpaste on my way home. I wonder if I can get it for $2.50, instead of $3.14. I guess it’s worth a try…wonder how many people I will irritate in the process by trying to haggle with the cashier.
Happy shopping!

The Gap Year

10 03 2008

Ever heard of this new phenomenon called “the gap year?” I read about it this morning in the New York Times style section. The article, found here, is about graduating high school students who decide to take a year off before they go to college. Hence, the gap year. According to the NYT article, taking a year off is becoming increasingly popular, so popular in fact that some high schools are hosting “gap year” fairs. These gap year fairs give students the opportunity to evaluate their options for the gap year, the different things that they can do. I have mixed opinions about this. I did not take any time off between high school and college. I didn’t take any time off between college and grad school. Literally, I graduated in December and started graduate school in January. I understand all about burn out. But taking time off of school wasn’t ever really an option. Not in my eyes, and it wasn’t anything that was really talked about at my school, either. I went to a large, academically-competitive, public school. And I cannot ever envision my high school offering a “gap year” fair. It’s just not something I see them doing.
These gap year fairs offer different options, such as going overseas to teach, spending time outside the world of academics, or going off on their own to learn independence. I think it confuses me a little. College is about learning independence and about searching out your interests and career options. Very few people go to college knowing exactly what they want to do. That is why college is at least four years. You have time to weigh your options and check everything out. For some reason, taking time off just seems like it would prolong the process. Also, when people take time off from college, isn’t it generally to save money? Live at home, raise some money so that they can enjoy the college experience? I am not sure that feeling burned out is a good reason to prolong education. If you are going to go, just go. Get started. Who is to say that after a few months at your job you aren’t going to feel burned out? Are you just going to take a year off? That would make for a pretty spotty resume, if you ask me. I understand the feeling, that burned out feeling, and I also understand the need to defer college for a year, stay home and raise some money. Or to take a year off because someone isn’t quite ready for the campus college experience. But I can’t find a reason, in racking my brain that makes sense for a high-achieving student, a student who can be accepted to schools like Princeton, Stanford, or Duke to take a year off simply because they are burned out. It doesn’t make sense in my head. High school basically is preparation for college, and it takes a lot of work in high school to get into schools like the ones I listed. And I find it hard to believe that students who are working that hard, with that specific goal, would decide to just-not go for a while.
And it is not that school is any harder than it was when I was in high school. In fact, I was the epitome of an over-achiever in high school. All the AP classes, dance team, choir, theatre, NHS, foreign language club, a part time job, I did it all. And I still managed to make the grades I wanted, go to a four year college the fall after I graduated, and after that, finish my degree in 3.5 years. I would never have imagained taking a break between high school and college. And believe you me, I had senioritis with the best of them. Once I was accepted to college, I had no desire to continue going to my high school classes. I had been in school for 13 years, and felt if anyone deserved a break, I did.
It seems like I am railing on people who make the decision to defer college, and I don’t mean to. I’m sure everyone has their reasons, part of me feels a little jilted though. Should everyone take time off from college? Would performance increase if everyone started college at age 19 or 20 instead of 18? And if performance does increase, what does that say about those of us who go straight from high school to college? How does it change the competitiveness of the job market? Most college students, or college graduates nowadays feel that if they don’t have an advanced degree, or a degree in a technical field, that their job hunt upon graduation is going to be very hard. Throw a rock and you hit a college graduate now. It isn’t that rare. So, college is becoming more and more expensive, plus, to set apart from the tens of thousands of college graduates who are looking for a job come spring, students are feeling as though they have to have that graduate degree. I never wanted anyone to think that graduate school was just something that I needed so that I could get a better job. Actually, I like my job. I am pursuing a graduate degree because I wanted to learn more about this field. I wanted to know more. This whole, gap year idea just seems to be something else to throw into the mix. It makes everything infinitely more complicated.
Again, I don’t intend to insult. But, college is fun! Yes, there is work, there is studying, but trust me, you won’t ever be as busy in college as I was in high school. And you will get to choose your own classes. Yes, you have gen ed classes that are required, but those are just high school review anyway. Go to college.