January 2016 round-up

JIMG_0613anuary was busy / interesting / crazy. 2016 has certainly started with a bang, and a very big mix of positives and negatives (I am looking at you, parking attendant!). I am starting the new month – and the new semester – quite tired, already, which is less than ideal. But, hey, onwards and upwards from here.


Here are my highlights from the first month of 2016.



I have been intrigued by attitudes towards wearable technology. For instance, did you know that about 10% of people who buy a fitness tracker stop using it within the first two months, with a further 20% abandoning it within the first six months?



This behaviour raises some questions about the potential of fitness wearables to promote active and healthy lifestyles, and to help fight rising levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.



January may have been a mad month, but it was super productive on the writing front. I wrote (and submitted) a paper on algorithms, looking at how conscious and unconscious decisions made at various stages of profile development and use produce biases.


I also made some revisions on two other papers, one on co-creation and another one on simulations. And started work on another paper.


In addition to work on these journal articles, I wrote three conference papers, and contributed to another one.



I did not teach in January, but teaching has been very much on my mind. On the one hand, I had some marking to do for the modules that I taught last semester. On the other hand, I was busy preparing two modules for this semester, one of which is being developed from scratch. I also welcomed a new cohort of MSc Marketing students.




Start PhDOn the learning front, I had a go at making an infographic. It took me ages and the result is nothing to brag about. But I will keep giving infographics a try, as I think that infographics are a really helpful communication tool. If you want to give it a go, you may find this resource helpful (though, I actually produced mine in power point).


Another interesting learning experience has been to do a Myers-Briggs personality test, and then discuss the results with a coach. I don’t pay much attention to the ‘result’ of such tests, and actually think that having these ‘labels’ can be a bit a reductionist. It can discourage you from trying A, or working on personal characteristic B, because you focus on the label ‘introvert’, or ‘perceiver’, or whatever. However, I really enjoy the ‘process’ of doing these tests, and to think about how I approach work, or decisions, or information… and to what extent certain behaviours are innate vs. conditioned. I also really enjoyed the chat with the coach.


What were January’s highlights for you?

Why do women pay extra for products?

In the UK, as in the US, women routinely pay more for the same, or identical, products marketed at men. The difference, which is sometimes referred to as the pink tax, can range from a few percentage points, to twice as much. Sometimes, the only difference is that the product is pink; other times, not even that. The list includes products as varied as razors, deodorant, vests, moisturisers, jeans, trainers, bicycles, haircuts, perfume and toys.


Here are some examples taken from the report “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer” commissioned by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, and available here.

[Images Source]


And here are some examples taken from the article “The sexist surcharge – how women ​get ripped off on the high street”, authored by Paula Cocozza, and published in the Guardian (available here).


[Images Source]


What is it about women’s buying behaviour that explains why companies get away with charging this pink tax?


  1. Preferences (R)

One possibility is that women value pink / glitter / small and, so, they are prepared to pay more for that. Let’s call this preference R. That’s the argument presented here, for instance.


That is possible. Society does condition children, for instance, to behave in certain ways, and play specific roles. Just look at the toys’ section in many department stores; or think about how we say things like ‘cute girl’ vs. ‘clever boy’. If women think that they need pink (or whatever) in order to be good / successful / accepted in society, then they may be prepared to pay more for that.


However, social conditioning does not explain all the differences, because the ‘pink tax’ also applies to products that have not been ‘pinkified’. So, what else could explain the pink tax?


2. Information (q)

Another possibility is that women do not realise that the products are different. For instance, Nurofen has been put on the spot for charging nearly twice as much for its ‘Nurofen Period Pain’ than it charges for its standard Nurofen pills, even though both products contain the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine 342mg (you can read about it here). While the two different products may be identical in every single aspect but the packaging, most of us do not know that. So, if the packaging suggests that the two products have different attributes, most of us will believe that.

pink tax 8


A similar scandal occurred ten years ago with contact lenses. As described here, for instance, daily contact lenses are virtually the same as monthly ones, but sold at very different price points.


Let’s call this inability to access the true quality of product, due to information asymmetries, q.


3. Costs

A third possibility is that women pay more for products marketed at them vs. identical products marketed at men because they incur additional costs to buy the male version of the product. Let’s call this C. For instance, women may be busy and, thus, unable to afford the extra time to browse the men’s aisles. This is possible because, on average, women spend more time than men on paid and unpaid (e.g., housework) work.


In addition to search costs, women may also incur experience costs. That is, they would like to buy the men’s version of the product, but they have a negative experience when they do so. For instance, some sales people are less than pleasant when selling cars or electronics to women. And I would tell you about the time I had my haircut at the barber’s, but I will save that story for another time.


In summary, there are many reasons why women might end up paying more for products that are virtually identical to products marketed at men, be it because social conditioning makes them prefer those products {R}, because information asymmetries mean that they are unable to distinguish those products {q}, or because they incur search or experience costs {C}. It’s economics.


But there is more to pricing than economics. There is also fairness. When customers realise, or feel, that firms are taking advantage of them, they do not like it. At all. I think that any marketer worth his/her salt will make fairness central to the pricing strategy. After all, who in their right mind would want to upset 50% of the market?


6 questions to ask yourself before starting a PhD

CYG9_0iWMAEI0bq.jpg-largeOne of the most popular posts on this blog is a piece that I wrote, back in July 2010, with some advice for people considering a PhD. I decided to revisit it, and write an updated post with my top tips of questions to ask yourself before you start your PhD (because, as someone said, a good beginning makes a good end!).



  1. Why do I want to do PhD?

In essence, the PhD is an apprenticeship for a research career. For instance, you are expected to learn about different research methods, not just the one that is relevant for your study. Sure, you will investigate in depth, a topic that interests you. But if the only reason why you are pursuing a PhD is because you are interested in the topic, and it is not because you want to learn about the process of research, then you might be better advised to do something else.


  1. Which type of PhD programme is best for me?

There are different types of PhD programmes. For instance, many UK institutions follow the manuscript approach, where you need to write one single, big piece of work. In contrast, universities in the US tend to follow a PhD by publications approach, where you write a number of journal articles related to one topic. Likewise, there are programmes take in a large co-hort of PhD students, while others admit only a small intake. And there are programmes that follow a very structured approach with coursework and exams at certain times, while others are more flexible.


  1. Who will be supervising me?

Choose your supervisor carefully. This is the person you will be working with for several years, and who will be showing you the tricks of the trade. Don’t leave it to chance. Research the public profiles of academics in your area, and identify someone who shares your research interests. This way, you will not only work with someone who knows your field, but you will also ensure that s/he is motivated to work with you. After all, supervisors are very busy people who, more often than not, get very little formal reward for supervising your doctoral study. So, the more research interests you have in common, the more willing and engaged s/he will be.


  1. What is my topic?

Sure, you want to investigate something interesting, substantial and relevant. However, you also need to get it down in three or so years, and reported in around 100,00 words. So, make sure that you chose a topic that is neither too narrow, nor too ambitious. And while we are at it, make sure that you can identify and articulate how your work will contribute to the overall field, not just to the particular empirical case that you are studying.


  1. When am I going to finish?

Yes, it is right: before you start your PhD, you need to have an end date in mind. When you did your undergraduate or masters’ studies, you knew that there would be a final exam, or what the submission deadline was for your final project. Yet, many PhD candidates embark on their programmes with nothing but a vague intention to finish in 3 years’ time. Get hold of a calendar, and mark the date (not just ‘Spring’ or ‘Christmas’) of when you should be finishing. Then, work backwards, and soon you will realise that a PhD is not a time for lazy reading. You need to keep moving. Making progress. Of course some things may go wrong and set you off track. But if you do not have a plan and milestones in place, then you will never have a true perception of your progress (or lack of it).


  1. How am I going to ensure that I finish on time?

You wouldn’t run a marathon without having the right equipment, without planning your nutrition and hydration, or even without ensuring that someone will be there to cheer you on from the side line. Do the same for your PhD. And keep your eye on the medal – i.e., give yourself a strong reason to finish your PhD! In my case, I had a job offer that was conditional on finishing the PhD. But, perhaps, you could book the holiday of your life?! A friend of mine set a visual reminder of how much money the PhD was costing him, daily – knowing how much money he was ‘paying himself’, spurred him on to get the job done.


And, I also created an infographic. Well, kind of (it’s my first attempt at this!).

Start PhD

So, there are my tips. What else would you add, or would you like to know about doing a PhD?

December 2015 round-up

December was a busy month, though not as productive as November (specially on the writing and research front). I think that AcWriMo really helped to motivate me to write every day, and that in turn helped me move on with various writing projects.


December was also the last month of my #5pmproject, and these are the pictures that I took this month (I missed one day). There is a healthy mixture of work, family moments, and Christmas-related pictures, I think.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 17.06.42


I kick-started the #5pmproject in January 2015, to improve my daily awareness. I am really happy with this initiative, as not only it forced me to stop every day for a few seconds, to note what I was doing, where I was, with whom, etc… but also led to some interesting conversation. After all, when your alarm goes off, you grab your phone, and take a picture, people ask questions J I recommend this project – even if it is for a month, only, rather than the whole year. To celebrate the end of this project, and further improve my awareness about the year that has just finished, I prepared this short video.


In 2016, I am building on this increased awareness by focusing on connections. Connecting with ideas, connecting with places, and above all connecting with people, which will be a bit of a challenge as I am quite shy by nature. Maybe I will pick up the kids’ flags ’n’ faces project, which lost steam when the children went back to school. Would you like to be interviewed for that website?


Anyway, without further ado, here are my highlights from the last month of 2015.



I haven’t really done any progress on existing projects, apart from a bit of reading about algorithmic decision making, and about digital footprints. December was a clear fail on this front.



I worked on a paper I am co-authoring with various colleagues. We were planning to submit it before Christmas, but it slipped and will, now, be submitted in early January. I also made some revisions to a paper, which is now with one of the co-authors. And I made a start on the paper about algorithmic decision making though I made very little progress on this – certainly less than I needed.


I also had a paper published. It looked at the impact of credit screening practices during the last economic recession on consumer vulnerability. Work on this paper started in 2008. So, it was really rewarding to have it published, finally. The paper is available here, and I will write a blog post about it, soon.


More than wanting to produce specific outputs, however, what I really wanted for December was to continue writing every day, as I had done in November. And, that, I really did not do. So, another fail.



12 15I finished teaching on the CRM module, and I am now deep in marking. At the same time, I am organising the live consultancy projects for my MSc students to work on in semester 2, and preparing a new module for my undergraduate students.


On another front, there were meetings with my PhD students, and I read and commented on a dissertation.



Spending time with the kids, at home, without homework pressures, meant that I could pay more attention to their hobbies and interests. I am now fully informed about the world of YouTubers like Zoella, Joe Suggs, Alfie, Olly White, Stampy, and the like ;-)


And, I learned how to add music to my videos, as in this one.


What were December’s highlights for you? Do you have a resolution, theme or project for 2016?

Looking back to move forward

Sometimes, I write inspirational notes to myself, or reminders, and add them to my calendar, or leave them in places that I know I will not access for some time. Weird, maybe. But it is, usually, really nice to come across those notes.


Like this one.



I have no idea when I wrote it, but I am really happy that I did. Amid all the stress of this time of the year, it is easy to forget how much I have done, and accomplished. So, this morning, when this alert popped on my phone’s screen, I raised a nice, warm cup of coffee to myself, and said ‘well done you’.


What can I congratulate YOU on?

No digital marketing, please; just marketing, says @markritson

I still remember my marketing classes with Professor Mark Ritson, during my MBA programme at London Business School. They were very entertaining, but also very challenging. Mark Ritson was not afraid to question well accepted beliefs, or dispel marketing myths, in very direct (and, often, colourful) terms. So, when I found Mark Ritson on Twitter (@markritson), I started following him… and I haven’t been disappointed.


Recently, Mark Ritson posted a link to a talk he did at the 2015 Media Forum, which took place in Canada. True to form, in this talk, Mark Ritson argues for the end of digital marketing and of digital marketers.


His message is two fold.


First, consumers think in terms of content and experience, not media. The term digital marketing focuses on media, which is detrimental to effective marketing communications. To support this, Mark quotes senior vice president of strategy and innovation at Havas media, Tom Goodwin:

There is not a more meaningless divide and obsession than the notion of digital media. Media channels were once clearly distinguished and named from the physical devices that we used to consume them. Radio ads played on radios and were audio, TV ads played on TV’s and were moving images, newspaper ads were images in the paper while outdoor ads were images around us.

In 2014 the naming legacy is both misleading and of no value. I listen to the radio on my phone, read the newspapers on a laptop, watch YouTube on my TV, and read magazines on my iPad. Our old media channels mean nothing. Yet their names survive and mislead us into artificially limited thinking. We focus endlessly on battles of no meaning like on whether digital us eating TV, rather than unleashing our minds on the new possibilities and how best to buy media and supply messages in the digital age.


Second, consumers alternate between media, often using more than one medium simultaneously. Marketing communications need to work within this integrated reality, not a silo approach. Here, Mark quotes CEO of Diageo, Ivan Menezes, saying:

It is not about doing ‘digital marketing’. It is about marketing effectively in a digital world.


Because of these facts, Mark argues, it does not make sense to think of digital marketing in isolation of other marketing initiatives. Further, he argues that it does not make sense to have separate budgets, or separate marketing teams, for digital marketing vs. ‘traditional’ marketing. He says: ‘There is no marketing that isn’t digital (…) We need marketers that know digital. Just take the prefix out of your title and look at your world in a media neutral way.’


You can watch the whole talk below (and the part relating to this blog post from around minute 40 onwards). It has some colourful language (watching this talk was like travelling 16 years back in time!) – so, if you are in a public space you may want to put your headphones on ;-)



This was a very relevant message for me, personally, as I am preparing to teach a module called ‘Digital Marketing Communications’.


Does Mark’s message of not considering digital as a separate activity resonate with you?


Why Vana’s dating app might actually work

In the final episode of The Apprentice*, we learned that Vana Koutsomitis wanted to launch a dating app where users have to play a series of games before getting to meet their match.


Vana explained that the games are based on scientific principles aimed at making better matches. I have no idea what those principles are, or even whether it is possible to encapsulate what makes two persons a good (romantic) match for each other. Based on the experiences of Dating Ring, the dating company featured in the Start Up podcast series, it is quite a complex task, where technology often looses to very basic human traits, such as the impact of first impressions. For example, one of the episodes discussed how users would sometimes pull out of dates organised by Dating Ring, based on the (ethnically sounding) name of the person Dating Rating had matched them with.


But if Vana and her business partner who develops the games and the matching algorithm (the mysteriously named Dr. Desire) crack that bit (and, yes, I appreciate that is a big ‘if’), then, I think that the idea of getting users to do a bit of work before they can meet their matches is a good one. In fact, all else equal, I think that it can improve the chances of a successful match.




Because of the Ikea effect.


The Ikea effect is a term coined by Dan Ariely and colleagues, and refers to the observation that investing time and effort to achieve something, makes us value that action or outcome more than otherwise. Dan Ariely’s research focused on furniture, but other examples include queuing for hours to buy a new product (think Apple’s product launches) or be admitted to a restaurant. Or going through a series of difficult tests to join a fraternity.


I think that the same principle could be observed in Vana’s app. I.e., that by investing time and effort in getting to meet their match, users would be cognitively predisposed to judge the outcome of their effort more favourably.


The crucial aspect of this mechanism is that the person has to want to go through the experience. Which, again, I think is the case in Vana’s app, where the value proposition is, exactly, that you need to ‘play’ in order to be able to ‘date’.


Now, tell me: Would you give Vana’s app a go?



* For my non-UK readers, I am referring to the UK version of the reality show, The Apprentice, where candidates vie for an investment from Lord Sugar. In the 11th series one of the two finalists was Vana Koutsomitis, whose business idea was a dating app where users play a series of games in order to find out who their match / date is.