The Power of a Name

Some years back

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, research showed there is unique brain activation when a person hears their own name. Hearing one’s own name causes one’s brain to react as if one was engaging in the behaviors and thought patterns that serve as some of our core identity and personality markers.*

After reading that, I have made a habit (as best I can) to address people by name. This includes times in a retail environment when the salesperson, cashier or others have nametags on (making it easy to address them by name).

Recently, I was in a department store and when it was my turn the cashier said, “Hello.” I said, “Hello Carolyn. How are you doing today?” Her reaction was amazing – she looked up, her posture changed, her face lit up, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Well you just made my day!” I was a bit embarrassed but asked, “Oh, how is that?” And she said, “I work at this register a good part of the day and barely get any recognition from customers, much less someone taking the time to see my name and address me by it. So much of the time I feel invisible.”

I empathized and said how happy I was to meet her. She asked me if I am a mom (as Mother’s Day was the following weekend) and I said no. I asked her if she had children and she said yes

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, 3 adult children, but that they rarely talk to her because she is an alcoholic and has only been sober for the last 3 years. It was easy to empathize having grown up in a difficult family environment. I told her that sometimes it takes quite a while for kids to make peace with a parent’s struggles and that I would be thinking of her this Mother’s Day.

The next morning I was teaching and made sure to say each person’s name as they walked in. Again


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, it was wonderful to see how they each brightened up when addressed by name.

In marketing research, we are moving more and more away from personal interactions to relying on computers to do all the collection of data and to understand attitudes and behaviors. Yet I have to wonder what we are losing when we don’t take the time to actually interact with people and recognize them by name.

*Brain Res. 2006 Oct 20; 1116(1): 153–158. Published online 2006 Sep 7. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.07.121

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The Ability to Listen

Our ability to really “listen” is key to living well (and playing well with others ?).

Neuroscience shows that those with functioning hearing “hear” what’s being said, but rarely “listen” to the whole message. The ability to hearis typically innate, but the ability to listenis a skill that must be developed and practiced. This is becoming more and more an issue with the tendency toward shorter attention spans.

To highlight that point

, back in 2015 a study by Microsoft Corp. found that since the year 2000 (about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. We are currently likely to absorb the beginning of a sentence but be distracted by the end of the paragraph.

Yet research also has shown that when we consciously connect with another person – giving them our full attention, transcending any duality of right/wrong, leader/follower, etc., – a dopamine reaction causes both persons to feel happy. On the other hand, long-term loneliness has been shown to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The UK has recognized this to the degree that they now have a Minister of Loneliness. (NYTimes article on loneliness).

Plus we must take into account limitations on the other side: When we are expressing ourselves, we often believe we are have been clear in our communication but then find out later we haven’t! In our digital age, I doubt that anyone has not experienced this – in person as well as across the cloud.

Most of us take communication for granted. Yet it is much trickier than we imagine – particularly when the person giving the information understands the material much better than the one receiving it.

Research has shown there is a “curse of knowledge”. A simple experiment at Stanford back in the 1990’s helped prove this point: They divided people into two groups: tappers and listeners. The tappers had to communicate a well-known song – one the listeners would be certain to know

, like “Happy Birthday” – by tapping out the rhythm alone (no tune or words) on a table. Most of the tappers guessed beforehand that at least half the time the listeners would be able to guess the song. But according to Heath and Heath (authors of the books Made to Stickand The Power of Moments), out of the 120 songs that were tapped out

, the listeners guessed only 3 correctly. In other words, the tappers succeeded only 2.5 percent of the time – 1.5 orders of magnitude less effective communication than they had expected.

Empathizing deeply with a specific target audience is key to creative development and marketing success. We are all well aware of the unreliability of polling

, leading questions and social media manipulation. Applying these contemporary truths to the field of marketing research exposes the limitations of AI and text analytics. Real empathy can only be gained by consciously and skillfully listening to the consumer.

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Improving Life through Empty Steps

Learn these 3 tools: Recognize



, Reset and Reframe

Picture by Patrice Wooldridge

Neuropsychology has well established that we react to stimuli before our conscious mind can catch up. This means that it is easy to step – whether that be a physical

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, emotional or mental step – into places that aren’t in our best interest. Becoming more conscious of one habits makes positive change possible so one can improve their life experience.

In the practice of T’ai Chi, one of the basic principles is to learn to set the foot down without putting weight into it and then shifting the weight – essentially testing out the placement before committing. With repeated training the idea of stepping empty becomes habitual and in fact

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, it can feel surprising when one finds oneself falling into a step. This is particularly important for those who believe that the act of walking is basically falling forward with each step.

The training of learning to step empty before committing is also important in everyday life. Let’s take the example of a meeting that you are running and it isn’t going well. Our brains may react in a fight or flight pattern:

  • With the amygdalae instantly recalling previous situations and interpreting the current situation as a threat
  • This activates the hypothalamus, which sends coordinated response signals to both the nervous system and the pituitary gland.
  • These signals tell your body that you have a real threat and can quickly launch you into feeling angry

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    , frustrated, fearful, sad or even hopeless.

And yet we tend to stay in the meeting, trying to convince ourselves that we can handle what is happening. Yet, in this state of raging hormones we are likely to either remain frozen like a deer in the headlight or, end up releasing the pressure by saying or doing something that is not to our advantage.

In both tai chi and life, learning some basic principles – and actively practicing them – will dramatically help to reduce the subconscious habitual pattern. Here are 3 steps to practice:

  1. RECOGNIZE: If you feel your body tensing up, your breath becoming shallower, your hands grasping, then it is time to immediately recognize and reset. The more you practice being aware in every moment


    , the more likely you will be to break old habits.

  2. RESET: To help reset and take conscious control you will first need to calm your body and mind down. The easiest, and most often suggested method is to take slow deep breaths and consciously be aware of the breathe coming in and out.

Once you are aware of your breathing (so putting consciousness into an autonomic action) then become aware of your whole body and see what tension you can let go of – if you are grasping something, set it down, if you are staring into a screen, look away.

The meeting can still go on, and you can still be listening while resetting, coming back into balance so that your next step is empty and appropriate (rather than falling into a place driven by your hormones).

  1. REFRAME: The next step of learning and practicing taking empty steps is to consider Reframing. This concept starts once you are feeling more in balance and able to take a conscious step.

Start to retrain your interpretation of the threat. For instance, think about your reaction to a roller coaster ride. The same hormones that make one person feel it is thrilling are interpreted by other person as extreme anxiety or even as a fear of falling or death. The idea for the reframe is to find a way to make the situation more playful or like a game rather than perceiving it as a hard and fast


, unchangeable situation.

So, taking the meeting example, there are infinite possibilities to reframing your reactions to a negative situation and making it work to your advantage. Perhaps set up meetings differently where there is likely to be less tension (for instance


, make sure you have an advocate in meetings where you are likely to feel emotionally attacked).

We’d love to hear example of what happens when you try this method!


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3 Steps to Summarizing Qual Research in a Single Page

Ah, the one-page summary! It’s tougher to do than finding an obscure location in a foreign country. More and more clients are requesting this – and in a hurry – even if one has over 35 hours of interviews, 6 targets and several main objectives! Yes, it is challenging to write, even more so when it is expected in a day or two once the fieldwork is complete. As Wikiquote paraphrases Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”


, recognize that a good balance between text and graphics will convey information most concisely and then keep the following in mind:

1. State the primary objective in the title box – keep it short and to the point in 30pt font or greater

2. Center Visual and Theme
• Now skim your notes and transcript looking for the key answer to the primary objective. Consider this your theme and build off of it.
• Then

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, find a visual that highlights the key answer; this can be from the research, or search online for a (legally usable) photo or use your own photo and place it prominently on the page.
• The text box for this visual will need to contain no more characters than a tweet – so think, how would you tweet a rich answer to the primary objective?

3. Sum up Supporting Points
• Now, consider all the areas that have been reviewed during the research. Hopefully, before you started the project, you were able to hone in on no more than 4 or 5 specific areas that needed to be explored.
• Place the answers to key questions in independent text boxes in order of importance to the client. Again, make sure that none of the summary points use more characters than a tweet.
• Consider where a few more pictures would help bring to life these supporting points. Great content and visuals should stir emotions while answering questions.
• Arrange everything on the page in a way that aids comprehension (and looks good).

Last week I was challenged to summarize what makes me stand out from other consultants. I used my 3 steps as you can see from the visual below:
– The primary objective in the title text box
– A key visual and answer to the main objective in the center and
– Supporting points around this with a few more visuals

I recommend you try this exercise of taking your years of experience and putting them into one-page summary! It’s good practice and who knows when it will come in handy.

Patrice Wooldridge Hightlights

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Top 3 Axioms of 2016

or What I learned in 2016

Sunrise in Chicago

Sunrise in Chicago

As we come to the close of 2016

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, it occurred to me that there have been quite a few slogans which have approached meme status during the year. While many didn’t stick, I’ve found three to have been particularly helpful in keeping positive. These included (in descending order):

  1. The answer will always be ‘no’ if you don’t ask.” Thanks to Jim Bryson who just recently shared this with me. I was explaining that with all the changes in qualitative (and marketing research in general)

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    , I’ve been considering new ways to solve business questions. And

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    , as with any time one is exploring a range of new ideas, there needs to be an understanding that “no” will almost certainly be the answer at least part of the time. It was great to be reminded how important it is to take the risk of asking – even if there is a fear that the answer will be no. (When Patrick heard this, he reminded me that this axiom is excellent with regard to sales and marketing, but when dealing with bureaucracies, the corollary is, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.”)


  1. Network as if you are the host of the gathering.” It may seem strange that someone like me who loves to interview people and engage in every manner of qual research might say that they have a hard time with business networking. In fact, I’m GREAT when I know the objective of the conversation and have thought out a variety of ways to probe and explore to gain rich answers. But I don’t think many people like the feeling of their main objective being “sales” – certainly I don’t. (You really don’t want to get me started on the number of vendors who would like me to “partner” with them by me buying their system/product or otherwise giving them business.)

When I heard this slogan

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, it made a lot of sense as it is easy to see that I’m not the only one in the crowd who struggles with interactions – particularly if we don’t know anyone. The idea of working the room as if I was the host helped to reframe my discomfort of walking up to complete strangers. Reminding myself of this slogan as I approach others, considering what the person might enjoy or like to know (i.e., to find out when sessions will start, the Wi-Fi password, where the food/drinks/bathrooms are


, etc.) has helped me to interact with genuine interest and to provide useful information.

  1. And the most important this year: “Your net worth is your network.”How very true this has been! It’s been a tough year for many of us, but knowing that we have connections and colleagues who think positively of us is worth more than anything. When I’m emailing to share a news story or to say hi


    , calling because it’s been it’s been a while since we talked – it always makes me feel good to receive a friendly note or hear a friendly voice.


I hope that all of you have learned or recalled a few slogans this year that were uplifting and helped you to stay positive. Happy New Year!  May 2017 bring happiness and inspiration to all.


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3 Key Take-Aways from the Nonconscious Consumer Forum

Last week (on November 14 and 15) I attended 2 days of excellent presentations about the “Nonconscious” consumer. If you are at all like me, your first thought might be, “What are they talking about

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, sleeping consumers?” Of course my next thought was to recognize that this forum could be a place to better understand how to research the subconscious decisions that influence and sometimes drive consumer behavior. Here are my top 3 Key Take-Aways:

1. Question the 95/5 rule. I have been hearing (from several leaders in the field

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, and previous to this conference) that the widely cited “statistic” that “95% of a consumer’s decisions are nonconscious” is misleading. First off


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, a good half of the brain’s functions are serving the autonomic nervous system and I would guess we are all happy that those functions are nonconscious – who would want to need to constantly make decisions regarding one’s heartbeat and breathing?

OK, so that leaves only 50%, and (yes, I’m simplifying here) while it has been shown that a good percentage of our everyday decisions are made before being conscious of them

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, it depends on what is being decided. If one is, for instance, thinking of a major purchase or a new category, typically many factors go into this decision and there is at least an element of conscious decision-making (e.g.

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, what color, price, style, etc.). If, on the other hand, one is clicking around on the internet, then very likely the quick decision to click or not to click is 95% subconscious.

I’ll reflect more on this point in a future blog but for right now, let’s just agree that continuing to reinforce the narrative of “the 95/5 rule” in many ways undermines our believability and over-simplifies when it comes to the field of understanding decision-making. Several of the presenters strongly called on us to consider mixed methodologies in order to more fully accomplish our research objectives.

2. IAT (Implicit Association Testing) is rich and fascinating! My previous work with IAT primarily revolved around using pictures, personifications, collages, etc. as analogies of brands or products. Now Meta4 Insight has taken that technique and amped it up with a validated library of over 600 images that give, as they say, “qualitative richness backed by quantitative rigor”.

Then there was another supplier – Sentient Decision Science – who allowed us to personally experience their IAT method. At the forum they had a demo where one first sorted words into sets associated with the qualities of either honest/trustworthy or dishonest/untrustworthy – with truthful words being swiped down on the screen and dishonest words up. After getting used to sorting words, I was then told a brand image will appear before the words and I should try to ignore it.

The task was the same: to sort the words just as I had the first time. The brands were all financial and I watched myself have a momentary disconnect when I saw the brand name “Wells Fargo” and then the word truthful. As I noticed that I was having a hard time swiping the word truthful downward

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, it became clear that my implicit, unconscious associations were raising cognitive dissonance between the words “truthful” and “Wells Fargo”. I’m so happy to have been able to observe in myself what is being measured!

3. There is now a way to get biometrics in a natural setting! Anyone who has used facial coding and eye-tracking knows that it is tricky – while you can ask participants do this via a web browser in their home, you’ll typically lose half the measurements because people don’t sit still in front of their computers. It was great to hear that the MediaScience folks can capture a variety of biometric information (skin conductivity, heart rate, facial coding, response latency testing and eye tracking) in a fairly unobtrusive way in their MediaScience labs.

After the forum I visited their brand new Chicago facility and saw first hand how participants come in, sit in a very comfortable chair (which helps keep their gaze stable so that it is more likely their eye tracking and facial coding data will be readable) and then they might watch a 30-minute sitcom which has advertising inserted into the program. One can even allow the respondent to interact with their smartphone (which can be set up to also be measured) so that it is clear when and where they go on their phones while the program/ad is being shown.

In this way

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, the measurements are taken in a fairly real-world situation. AND, since 6 people can go through this testing at the same time (each in their own personal viewing room), when the client wants to discuss other ideas or probe more deeply with these consumers, one can easily run a focus group immediately after respondents have completed biometric testing.

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