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Chris Neal

Recent Posts

[New Webinar] Winning the Virtual Assistant War

Posted by Chris Neal

Tue, Jul 10, 2018

Have you ever asked Siri for the weather? Or maybe you've had Alexa look up a dinner recipe. Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and others have become household names as more people adopt virtual assistant technology. But most people are still only using their virtual assistants for basic search functions.

In this latest 20-minute webinar, I explore:

  • The barriers keeping people from using this tech
  • How emotional and identity benefits can drive mainstream consumer adoption and deeper engagement
  • What brands should do to drive adoption and win the VA war

Watch Now

While this webinar looks at the virtual assistant category, there are valuable learnings for anyone  experiencing disruption within their industry.

If you have any questions about the research, please reach out to to me directly at cneal@cmbinfo.com.

Chris Neal is CMB's VP of Tech and Telecom and has over 20 years of experience in the high tech, telecom, and media space.

Topics: webinar, Artificial Intelligence, technology research

How to Win Virtual Assistant Rejecters Over

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, Jun 20, 2018

It seems like every week, tech giants are adding new features to their virtual assistant (VA) tech arsenal. See Google’s new Duplex technology—an AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks by phone. 

While companies are pouring millions into making their virtual assistants smarter and more integrated, most users don’t stray beyond its basic functions like asking for the weather.

Learn about the emotional and social identity dimensions keeping people from adopting and using this tech to its full potential, and what brands need to do to win the VA war.

CMB01_VA_Infographic_07_AW

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Consumer Pulse, AffinID, emotional measurement, technology research

Emotions Run High with Virtual Assistants

Posted by Chris Neal

Wed, May 09, 2018

woman with VA

The pace of innovation and disruption is accelerating. Just 10 years ago Uber and Airbnb didn’t exist and the iPhone was still a novelty shown off at parties by overenthusiastic tech lovers. Now, we have a hair salon receptionist convinced she's speaking to a real person when in fact it was Google Assistant that was scheduling an appointment. While it might be hard for many of us to remember the last time we took a cab or used a flip phone, change is hardly straightforward and tech adoption raises critically important questions for brands.

Why do some people resist change while others embrace it? What emotions trigger true acceptance of a new technology and a new way of doing things?  What is that “a-ha” moment that gets someone hooked on a new habit that will be enduring? 

To help understand consumers’ journey with evolving technology, we applied our BrandFx framework to the broad virtual assistant category—measuring the functional, social identity, and emotional benefits that people seek from Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc. I shared our findings from the identity aspect here.

And while each of these three benefit types play a role in adoption and use—the role of emotion is profound.

We asked a lot of people about how they use virtual assistants—from information seeking to listening to music to planning and booking a trip. Then we ran analytics on the overall emotional activation, valence, and specific emotions that were activated during these different use cases. 

Our findings have broad implications for anyone in the virtual assistant category creating marketing campaigns to drive adoption, or product UX teams looking to design customer experiences that will deepen engagement.

Currently, virtual assistants are primarily used as information-seeking tools, basically like hands-free web queries. (See Exhibit 1):TOP VA USES CASES

Even though virtual assistants are evolving to do some pretty amazing things as voice-based developer communities mature, most people are only scratching the surface with the basic Q&A function. Asking Siri or Alexa for the weather forecast is a fine experience when they’re cooperating, but it can be extremely frustrating when you don’t get the right answer—like getting the current temperature in Cupertino when you live in Boston.

Meanwhile, watching TV or shopping through your virtual assistant turns out to be a much more emotionally rewarding experience, based on the analytics we ran. The problem for the industry as a whole is that these more emotionally rewarding use cases are among the least used VA functionalities today. Teams that market these experiences must motivate more consumers to try the more emotionally rewarding VA use cases that will deepen engagement and help form a lasting habit (see Exhibit 2):

Use, emotional activation, and emotions activated by use case v2

Listening to music and watching TV/movies yields high emotional activation in general—specifically “delight.” Our driver modeling shows that feeling “delighted” is one of the top predictors of future usage intent for a virtual assistant product (see Exhibit 3):

emotions that drive VA usage-2

As Exhibit 2 above indicates, using virtual assistants for scheduling and calendaring has overall moderate emotional activation, but is particularly good at activating feelings of efficiency and productivitythe single strongest predictor of use in this category.

emotions that drive VA usage-1

 

Tellingly, however, the scheduling and calendaring function also over-indexes on feelings of frustration because this task can be more complex—currently AI and natural-language processing (NLP) technologies are more apt to get these kinds of requests wrong. 

In general, “frustration” indexes high on more complex use cases (e.g., arranging travel, coordinating schedules, information seeking). This is a warning to the tech industry not to get too caught up in the hype cycle of releasing half-baked code quickly to drum up excitement among consumers. It also helps explain why younger demographics in our analysis actually experienced more frustration with VAs than older cohorts (contrary to my initial hypotheses). 

Younger consumers are attempting to do more complex tasks with virtual assistants, and therefore bumping up against the current limits of NLP and AI more frequently. This is dangerous, because they are the key “early adopter” segments that must embrace the expanding capabilities of virtual assistants in order for the category to become pervasive among mainstream consumers.

Consumers will quickly abandon a new way of doing things if they get frustrated. Understanding and activating the right positive emotions and minimizing the negative ones will be critical as brands continue to vie for the top virtual assistant spot.

Interested in learning more about the emotional dimensions of Virtual Assistant users? Reach out to Chris Neal, CMB's VP of Technology & Telecom.

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, AffinID, growth and innovation, technology research, BrandFx

AI's Image Problem: Who's the "Typical" Virtual Assistant User?

Posted by Chris Neal

Tue, Jan 09, 2018

siri2-1.png

Every nascent technology and every tech start-up faces the same marketing challenge of “crossing the chasm” into mainstream adoption.  Geoffrey Moore framed this very well in his 1991 classic, “Crossing the Chasm”:

adoption curve.pngWord of mouth can play a huge role in motivating certain segments to sip the Kool-Aid and make the leap.

With CES 2018—the world's largest gadget tradeshow—happening in Vegas this week, I can't help but wonder if mainstream consumers don’t relate to the early adopters of a new technology? What if they think it’s used by people who aren’t part of “their tribe”? Will it prevent them even considering the new tech? There are countless technology categories that have faced this challenge, for example:

  • certain gaming categories trying to expand beyond 15-24-year-old males
  • consumer robot products to this day
  • social media when it was first introduced
  • Second Life and other virtual worlds

I hypothesized that the virtual assistant (VA) category—and specific brands within it—faces this challenge. Yes, many people have tried and used Siri, but few mainstream consumers are truly using virtual assistants for anything beyond basic hands-free web-queries. To further complicate things, an increasing number of “smart home” products that connect to intelligent wireless speakers in the home (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple’s forthcoming HomePod) are proving divisive. Some people love the experience or the idea of commanding a smart device while others categorically reject the concept. 

My team and I had the chance to test out a few hypothesis through our Consumer Pulse program and —voila!—we’ve got some tasty (and useful) morsels to share with you about how social identity is influencing consumer adoption in the virtual assistant space using our proprietary AffinIDSM solution.

Here’s what we found:

Social identity matters in the virtual assistant space. We studied US consumers (18+)—covering usage, adoption, and perceptions of the virtual assistant category and a deep-dive on four major brands within it: Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana by Microsoft. We covered rational perceptions of the category, emotional reactions to experiences using virtual assistants, and perceptions of the “typical” user of Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana.

We then ran fancy math™ on our data to create a model to predict the likelihood of a virtual assistant “category rejecter” (i.e., someone who has never tried a VA before) to try any one of those assistants in the future. Our analysis indicates that how much a current VA category rejecter relates to their image of the type of person who uses a virtual assistant is the number one predictor of whether they are likely to try the technology in the future:

Blog_Chris.png

Unfortunately for the industry, category rejecters do not find the typical VA user very relatable. 
AffinID metric by brand.png

As the chart indicates, relatability (biggest predictor of likelihood to try as shown previously) scores the lowest of the three components of AffinID: relatability, clarity, and desirability. You may ask yourself: “are scores of 12 to 14 ‘good’ or ‘bad’?  They’re bad: trust me. We’ve now run AffinID on hundreds of brands across dozens of industries, so we have a formidable normative database against which to compare brands. The VA category does not fare well on “relatability,” and it matters.

Some brands’ VA ads, while amusing, are not very relatable to “normal” mainstream consumers. For example as my colleague Erica Carranza points out in her recent blog, Siri’s ad featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing impossibly awesome things in one day (including taking a selfie from outer-space) with the help of Siri isn’t exactly a “normal” person’s day. A-grade for amusement on this one, but it is playing into an existing perception problem.

Stereotypes about users’ age and income are currently keeping “rejecters” away from the virtual assistant category.

The age gap between rejecters and “typical” virtual assistant users is a social identity construct keeping rejecters out of the category. Current rejecters, not surprisingly, skew older while current heavy VA users, also not surprisingly, skew young.

We uncovered this disconnect with a big predictive model using “match analysis” on a variety of demographic, personality, and interest attributes. For every attribute, we examined whether there was a “match” or a “disconnect” between how a rejecter described themselves vs. how they perceived the typical user of a virtual assistant brand.

The two specific perceptions that had the greatest ability to predict a rejecter’s likelihood to consider using a brand in the future was an age-range match and an income-range match. For example, if I’m over 35 years old (hypothetically!), and I perceive the “typical” user to be under 35 years old and higher-income than me…so what? Well, it does matter. For new technologies to achieve mainstream adoption, they must debunk the widespread perceptions that the early adopter is “young” and highly affluent, and that their product can be used by everyone (think: Facebook). SNL pokes fun at this generational discrepancy.

But in all seriousness, if a virtual assistant brand wants to achieve more mainstream adoption among older demographics, the brand gurus and creative teams working on campaigns need to tackle this head on.

And they must try to do this—ideally—without alienating the original early adopter group that made them their first million (think: Facebook, again…how many Gen Zers do you know who actually use it actively?). I—prototypical 45-year-old suburban dad—can’t imagine using Snapchat, for instance. If Snapchat wanted to get me and my tribe to buy in as avid users*, it needs to convince me that Snapchat isn’t just for teens and early twenty-somethings. Or it needs to launch a different brand/product targeted specifically at my tribe, and market it appropriately.

It’s worth noting there are other social identity constructs that help predict whether a non-user of a virtual assistant is likely to try a product in the future. For instance, the few VA category rejecters who perceive the typical (young, affluent) user as being as “responsible/reliable” as themselves are more open to trying a VA in future than those who do not perceive VA users this way. So, we’re seeing this stereotype that virtual assistant products are for young, affluent professionals living in a major coastal city with no kids to contend with yet, and this is turning some consumer segments off from trying out the category in earnest.  

Stay tuned to this channel for more on our study of the virtual assistant category. I’ll be covering some key insights we got by applying our emotional impact analysis—EMPACT℠to the same issue of what virtual assistant brands should be doing to achieve further adoption and more mainstream usage of their products. 

*I am more than 95% confident that the Snapchat brand gurus do not want me as an avid user…and my ‘tween daughter would definitely die of embarrassment if I ever joined that particular platform and tried to communicate with her that way.

 

Topics: technology research, AffinID, EMPACT, Consumer Pulse, Artificial Intelligence

Flying the Friendly Skies?

Posted by Chris Neal

Thu, May 18, 2017

pexels-photo (1).jpgI don’t envy the United Airlines (UAL) management team these days. Last month’s removal of passenger Dr. David Dao from an overcrowded plane in Chicago sparked a major PR nightmare for the airline carrier.  This debacle comes to a brand that was already struggling from image problems in an industry that has long been comedic fodder for bad customer experiences.

Overbooking, heightened security procedures, skyrocketing baggage fees, and shrinking legroom have made domestic air travel a very stressful experience. With emotions running high on the tarmac, in the air, and on Twitter, what’s an airline to do?

Emotions matter... and we've proved it.

Emotional analytics are a critical tool to help create a truly consumer-centric brand. Emotions are a key driver in consumer brand adoption/loyalty and will undoubtedly play a major role in how United performs going forward. In our self-funded study of the impact of emotions across 90 brands in 5 industries, CMB found that a brand’s overall emotional impact score can heavily influence future likelihood to purchase along with other key KPIs (advocacy, engagement, etc.).

We identified which specific emotions drive business outcomes in the airline industry, the top being “secure”, “efficient”, and “happy”. Of the negative emotions we tested, “anxious” proved to be the most damaging to a company:

drivers of airline use.jpg

We also found that of the five major airline brands tested, including United, UAL had the lowest Net Positive Emotion Score (NPES). NPES is the balance of positive emotions activated through experience with a company subtracted by the extent of negative emotions activated. It also accounts for overall emotional “activation” (high vs. low), and the general sentiment of that activation (positive or negative).

airline NPE net.png

Both United and American both share a special place at the bottom of the “Negative Emotion” spectrum (17 and 18, respectively), out-activating negativity by ~30% over the airline industry average of 13.

airline NPE neg.png

A Path Forward

Now let’s have a look-see at what specific emotions have the biggest impact on likelihood to consider flying United, specifically, and how that compares to the overall industry average of emotional drivers:

top emo drivers-airlines.png

The “Anxious” vs. “Relaxed” emotional spectrum is the biggest emotional driver of future United purchase intent. Lowering feelings of “Anxiety,” in particular, is much more important for United’s brand than it is for the industry average.

Unfortunately for United, their brand already generated 33% more “anxiety” than the industry average:

UAL anxiety.png

I can only imagine the anxiety Dr. Dao felt when he was removed from the seat he paid for to make room for a UAL employee. And I can also imagine the emotional connection felt by the millions of others who watched the video of him being dragged off the plane by airport security because they could relate to it in some way from their own travel experiences or common worries people have about flying:

  • “Will they arbitrarily change my flight times in a way that messes up the rest of my travel plans?”
  • “Will they cancel my flight altogether and put me on another (later) flight if it is under-booked?” (something that happens a lot on connector flights to smaller airports).
  • “Will I be forced to vacate my seat if they are over-booked?”
  • “Will there be delays that cause me to miss my connection, an important meeting, etc.?”
  • “Will I be sitting next to a 6’5” linebacker in a cramped coach class seat?”

No doubt this incident would have been a PR disaster for any airline, but the blowback was likely even more intense because it happened on a UAL flight—a brand that already activates more negative sentiments than most competing brands.

The bad news:

United Airlines was already in the hole before this incident, and now that hole is vastly deeper. Bad press and bad experiences linger longer in peoples’ memories than positive press or positive experiences, so it’s likely the image of Dao’s forced removal is here to stay (at least for a while).

Similarly, angry customers are much more likely to tell others about their bad experiences (typically with a bigger megaphone) than those with positive ones. Righteous indignation goes viral more readily than positivity. Furthermore, bad word-of-mouth has larger negative impact on a brand than good word-of-mouth has positive impact (by an order of magnitude). And some of the most prolific public haters will likely never be swayed otherwise, no matter what UAL does from this point forward.

The good news: 

In our analysis, we found that—across all industries tested—emotional reactions to the most recent experience have a much bigger impact on likelihood to buy in the future than the worst experience a customer has ever had with a brand (or the best). In other words, even brands that mess up big time can recover if they begin to deliver customer experiences and marketing communications strategies that foster the right emotions. With our “EMPACT” approach, we can identify very specific customer experiences, creative executions, and messaging that will deactivate the most damaging emotions like “anxiety” and activate key positive emotions like “relaxed.”

May the skies be friendlier.

If United wants to be a truly consumer-centric brand, they need to consider emotion measurements like NPES as a valid metric for tracking and analytics. United will need to profoundly understand which emotions matter, and how to proactively influence these emotions through specific customer experiences, promotional campaigns, and influencing what is (and isn’t) said about the brand on social media.

Emotional metrics deserve the same level of visibility and focus that traditional industry metrics like Revenue Per Available Seat Mile (RASM) and classic NPS receive. Until this happens, UAL may struggle to focus their customer experience strategies and creative campaigns in a way that helps them recover from this low point.

Chris Neal leads CMB’s Technology & Telecommunications practice. He gets emotional very easily. He is also a frequent flyer on United Airlines. While extremely angered and disgusted by the viral video of the UAL incident, he is curious to experience how UAL actually changes in future and will fly this airline again to find out.

Want to learn more about how we're revolutionizing  emotional measurement with our EMPACT solution? Watch our webinar:

 Learn More About EMPACT℠

Topics: EMPACT, emotional measurement, customer experience and loyalty