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Humanizing Tech

"The Most Important Human Behavior Technique I Learned At Chicago’s Booth School of Business" in Humanizing Tech

Once you see it, you won’t stop noticing people fail at it

Courtesy of 300, produced by Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures.

I. Rumor Control

It’s all about public relations. Or PR, if you’re nasty. I’ll describe what the problem is, what the theory states, and give an example of how Apple’s Attenagate and Tesla’s Autopilot Crash have both failed at this.

Here’s the theory based on a broad empirical scientific study.

When dealing with negative backlash or rumors about your company, organization, or even you personally, you should never respond. You should not address the issue head on. You should not talk about the issue. You should not try to frame the issue in a different way. You should not try to tell your side of the story. In fact, you should not talk about it at all. Period.

Why is this?

The reason is remarkably simple to understand, and tells you a lot about human behavior. It’s because no matter what you or your organization says, it reminds people of the bad thing that happened and thereby makes them feel like you are worse than you actually are. They don’t internalize any of the mumbo jumbo facts, they don’t read all the scientific research. All they register is Your Brand = Poop.

In order to stop people from thinking about the bad stuff, you have to stop reminding them of it.

Intuitively, I think you understand that this makes sense. But I know exactly what you’re about to do. You’re going to argue and tell me that in the real world, this doesn’t make any sense. That you have to address the problem otherwise it will grow out of control. You’re not going to like this one bit. But you’ve been proven wrong.

II. The Science

It’s why I went digging through my old Chicago Booth materials from a class called, what else, Consumer Behavior, taught by Suresh Ramanathan. In week 3, we talked about human learning and memory, to understand how to strengthen links to positive associations and weaken links to negative associations. Then, highlight the contradictions between different types of associations.

One example given in class, that I remember from the slides, was an old rumor that McDonald’s burgers has worms. Just by you reading that phrase gives you a negative association to the brand and definitely doesn’t make McDonald’s appear appetizing for your next meal.

What McDonald’s actually wants you to associate with their brand is something more like the following:

But you don’t see worms anywhere in there, right? So when a rumor comes up about worms, should the corporation or social teams address it, or leave it alone? As we’ve said above, the organization should not talk about it. At all. It just lends more credibility to the issue.

Below is the study that was done. But I’ll need to walk you through it because as with most scientific studies, they encase it in a shroud of incoherent terms and numbers.

The bar chart below is using “rumor” as the short hand for a negative association with a brand. This could be McDonalds with worms, or the iPhone 4 with antenna cell connectivity problems, or Tesla with autopilot crash problems. Either way when you see the word “rumor”, think bad.

The numbers above each bar represent how positively a human thought about the brand using each PR strategy (the higher numbers are better):

  1. Agreeing that the bad stuff was true and doing the ole mea culpa (left most bar)
  2. Addressing the bad stuff, but saying it isn’t true (2nd from the left)
  3. Trying to give a human something more positive about the brand to think about like McNuggets are yummy (2nd from the right)
  4. Not saying anything about the bad stuff (right most bar)

What this shows is that the worst strategy of all is saying it was your fault or saying it wasn’t your fault (about a score of 6).

The best strategy, from a public perception perspective, is to either change the conversation or not to address it at all (about a 10 score). I prefer the latter, but if you must because of the world we live in, or your boss won’t let you just ignore it, then at least associate it with something good (everyone loves ice cream and french fries).

I feel bad saying this but humans, at the end of the day, are still animals. And so even trying to explain the logic of how they’re wrong, or what happened, or the situation, doesn’t help. Because it just reminds people of the bad feeling. That’s all a brand is anyways. You, your company, your organization. A brand gives people a certain feeling.

You don’t want to keep reminding people of bad stuff. So, while the rest of the world is in chaos, just go eat an apple and let them calm themselves. We’ll all be happier and better off because of it.

II. The Tech Examples

I’ll describe two examples as I mentioned above: one from Apple a few years ago as it relates to cell connection quality, and one from Tesla today as it relates to autonomous car crashes.

Apple’s Annenagate

Back in 2010, the legendary Steve Jobs, who pretty much everyone in tech believes is a showman and a genius entrepreneur, failed at this very simple aspect of human behavior. Here’s the Wall Street Journal article about the iPhone 4’s problem with the antenna:

A Defiant Steve Jobs Confronts ‘Antennagate’

Look at the title. Defiant. Confronts.

Now look back at our science-ey chart. Steve’s strategy registers on the crap side of the strategy. He attacked the rumor head on and said it was true, but also defended the phone. His, and Apple’s, strategy at large was completely incorrect based on human psychological and behavioral research.

They were silent for awhile about the rumor, but people finally forced Apple to respond. They actually had the strategy working correctly for some time until Apple finally caved. But what they also didn’t do is change the conversation. They showed you testing facilities and specific ways of holding the phone. But they didn’t talk about how the iPhone was still the most revolutionary phone in the world with buttery-smooth scrolling, a new retina display, and the best industrial design for a phone on the planet.

Nope, they failed. Straight up and down. All the way across the board.

Do not forget this lesson. Even Apple and Steve Jobs failed at this.

Learning this one single insight could make a 2.5 year, quarter million dollar investment in your education worth it when your multinational company comes up against something like this.

One wrong move could destroy billions in market value. Or it could increase it. Market value, shareholder value, and stock price are all measures of perception, at least in the short term. This. Stuff. Is. Real. Folks.

So that was 6 years ago. What about modern day? Has the latest Greatest Entrepreneur Of Our Time learned from the Greatest of the Past?


Tesla’s Autopilot Death

Obviously this was a tragedy that should not be taken lightly. And I don’t. So we’re not going to address that side, only the side as it relates to negative perception about the brand and the product. This also represents an example we’re likely to see more often in the future, especially as we begin to trust AI and machines a little more to handle our daily drudgery.

Here’s the official response of the company, likely written by Elon himself though officially penned as “The Tesla Team”:

A Tragic Loss

Their strategy was to 1) show how autopilot crashes are less frequent than normal car crashes 2) describe the situation of the crash 3) describe how the autopilot system should be used so a crash doesn’t happen and 4) show sympathy for the deceased.

So how did they score based on our bar chart above? Not good considering the entire piece was dedicated to reminding you of the crash. Crash. Crash. Crash.

Tell me if you feel safer right now.

Granted, most folks will tell you that you have to address this issue as you’re getting beat up in the press and you have a duty to disclose situations like this to the authorities. But is it necessary to talk about the crash? Or should they have changed the conversation and talked about the 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA or the fact that it has a biodefense mode or the fact that you reduce your carbon footprint, or the fact that the car looks sexy.

How often do you think GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota/Lexus, VW, or Ferrari talk about the crashes that occur in their cars?


The best strategy to addressing bad news is to not address it at all. And keep playing your own game.

— Sean


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The Most Important Human Behavior Technique I Learned At Chicago’s Booth School of Business was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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from Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/29W13wJ