Kitchen shears worked fairly well to snip the nails off. I felt pretty ghoulish about the whole thing, and kept mentally apologizing to each foot, although I realized the chickens had already been through the worst of it long before I ever got to them.

The result, though– I mean, it’s good, but I’m not sure it’s worth dealing with the chicken feet for. I’ll have to make another batch from more familiar components and see how it compares.


Chicken feet!

January 31, 2009

Taking a break from the marketing stuff for a day or two to a) actually get some jewelry made and b) make/can chicken stock. I came across this blog describing adventures in making stock from chicken feet, and had to give it a try. I’m on stage 1 now (well– stage 2– I skipped the bit about chasing people around the house with the feet, mainly because Jonathan is still asleep).

Observations so far:

1.  I got my feet at the Butcher’s Block here in Bloomington, where they are not especially cheaper than any other cut of chicken. Oh, well. I’m hoping for increased value with the promised tastiness.

2. The texture is freaky.

3. They’re huge! These must’ve been some big chickens!

That’s all I’ve got for now. Will report back with the results when it’s all over with.


January 27, 2009

An earlier article I had read suggested that the value of coupons and premiums should stay below 20% of the product value, or you run the risk of negative brand perceptions.  Now I’ve had to revise that conclusion due to some new research* suggesting that promotions that include free stuff may actually be better than previously thought, because the value of free is way, way more than just zero.

The researchers did a series of experiments where they offered chocolates for sale– in one experiment, they offered Hershey’s kisses at a negligible price and Fererro Rocher at slightly higher price (2¢ and 27¢ in one condition, and in the second condition, 1¢ and 26¢).  They then reduced the price of each product in by 1¢, to 1¢ and 26¢ and to 0¢ and 25¢, respectively.  Here’s the cool part: even though the monetary value of the discount was the same across the board at 1¢, the demand for the chocolate offered for free went waaaayyy up (yes, that’s the technical term– ‘waaaayyyy up’).  Much, much more than the demand increase for the chocolate with the price reduced to 1¢. 

Why on earth would this be? It turns out that zero has a special status in a number of ways, especially when the zero in question is a monetary value.  For example, there are some interesting social norms that come into play when something comes for free– if you let people buy candy for 1¢ apiece, they’ll take an average of four pieces. If you offer it for free, more people will take it, but they tend to take only one each. And instituting a penalty for bad behavior (tardiness in picking up children at day care) can actually increase tardiness.  People doing things for free often put out more effort than those giving their services for some small amount. Free is different.

The researchers did another series of experiments trying to get at what drives the increase in demand they had found.  It doesn’t seem to be the social norms, but rather affect– this may not come as a surprise to you, but apparently free stuff makes people feel good. A lot better than its monetary value might indicate, in fact.  It’s a purely an emotional response– once you make people think a little about which product they actually like better (like they did in Experiment 6), it can make the zero-price effect nearly disappear.

The researchers suggest that if you’re willing to offer an item on discount, maybe it would be better to offer it (or a different, less costly item) completely free.  So maybe the value of a Buy One Get One Free offer is much more than 50% off, after all.  And free shipping! We already knew that was good because it doesn’t add cost onto a transaction, which can discourage new buyers– but apparently it may get you a lot of extra good feelings, too.   And, if you can manage it without sounding preposterous, perhaps it would be better to describe some items as coming ‘free with purchase’ rather than ‘included in price’.  I’m thinking about chains or cords for pendants, here.

Now, we should note that they didn’t do experiments to find out whether people make any assumptions about the quality of free goods (and about the brand in general).  They did ask the study participants some questions afterward, and none of them happened to mention anything about brand quality, but that’s suggestive at best.  Nor has there been any work done (that I’ve found yet, anyway) to see how well free items attract new customers and repeat business. Maybe you can get people to try your product, but will they come back?   Do the good feelings created by offering free stuff carry over as a positive attitude to the brand as a whole?   


*K. Shampanier, Mazar N., Ariely D. 2007. Zero as a special price: the true value of free products.  Marketing Science 26:6, 742-757.

In that last posting on assortment variety and quality inferences, we saw that product variety within one product category counted for a lot more in terms of perceptions of quality and expertise than product variety that spanned several types of items. That led me to wonder about what the relevant category distinctions in the arts really are–medium, style, function?

This article*, while not dealing with the arts specifically, shed some additional light on the subject for me.  They were looking at how different kinds of product organizations on a shelf or in an online store affected perceptions of variety.  Two main patterns fell out of this: there was a difference between shoppers who used the item on a frequent basis and those who seldom to never used the product. When the product layout matched the shopper’s internal organization– the existing schema that frequent product users already had in their minds– they judged there to be a better product variety than layouts with a bad mismatch between internal schema and product layout. There was no real effect for shoppers with no experience with the product, though.

Another type of organization is by shopping goal — people who aren’t very familiar with the product category tend to rely on this when searching for an item.  Now, the researchers found that when the product layout matched shopping goals, people were able to find what they wanted to buy more quickly, but also perceived less variety.  And, interestingly enough, if the shop filtered out (by a search function, for example) items not matching the shopping goal, the customers were much less satisfied with the product variety– even though they managed to find exactly what they wanted!

Ok, back to the issue of categories of art. The most useful information I got out of this was that there really is more than one way of categorizing  things– there may be an existing schema for some experienced shoppers like art show regulars, gallery buyers, collectors, other artists.  But for many, many casual browsers, the categorization may be directed by shopping goal.  They’re looking for a gift for their niece, a housewarming gift for a friend, whatever. They don’t necessarily have any concept of Fiberart, Paper arts, or whatever.   Mixing items of various functions even within one medium may seem to these folks more like a hodgepodge than a display of artistic prowess.

 I’m really just thinking as I type, here– even the most inexperienced arts buyer probably has some sort of internal schema for art, even if it’s just based on useful vs. for display only, or what is it made of?  I’m really no closer to understanding how the average person thinks about these things or whether artists have any more leeway than other types of businesses.  I guess I’m just trying to talk myself out of the conclusion that I should separate my 2D work from my jewelry!  What do you think– same body of work, or oddly incongruent?


 * Morales, Kahn, McAlister, and Broniarczyk. 2005. Perceptions of assortment variety: The effects of congruency between consumers’ internal and retailers’ external organization. Journal of Retailing 81: 2, 159-169.

More on product variety

January 23, 2009

Recently I wrote about a study suggesting that product specialization gives rise to quality inferences– the more narrow a set of products you offer, the higher quality the products are assumed to be.  Today I came across an experimental study* related to this idea that supported it pretty well and added some other interesting tidbits.

The researchers looked at it from the point of view of variety– variety is generally acknowledged to be a good thing, because people tend to more satisfied with their purchase when they feel like they’ve had a large variety to choose from. And having a large variety just increases the likelihood that they’ll see something they like in the first place. On the other hand, too much variety can stress people out and cause them to abandon the whole purchase.  Both of these effects are pretty well documented, and appear to contradict each other.  Hmmm.

Berger et al suggest (with the help of some nicely designed experiments) that if you have two brands, one of which has a large variety of their product and one a smaller variety, people will prefer to buy from the brand with the more variety, even when there’s an overlap in some of the product offerings.   For example, you’re ice cream shopping, and you’re choosing between one brand with 12 kinds of ice cream and another brand with 5– even if you just decide to go with vanilla (offered by both brands), you’re more likely to buy it from the brand offering the greater range of flavors.  They trace this back to a quality inference– people assume that the brand with more variety is of higher quality.   This in turn is connected to the association of depth of variety with category expertise– how many widgets of that kind you make is taken to indicate mastery of that category. This only works if the items you offer are compatible– if you do several different kinds of things (large product breadth), it looks like your skill in any particular domain is lacking.  So in their experiment, participants ranked for quality and expertise 3 hypothetical companes offering , respectively, 2 kinds of road bikes, the same 2 kinds of road bikes plus 5 other road bikes, and the same 2 road bikes plus 5 other bikes for other uses (mountain, beach cruiser, etc).  Both perrceptions of expertise and quality were greater only for the company with the high variety of items in the same category– the company offering 7 different types of road bikes.


Ok, obviously this supports the argument that specialization is good– don’t mix up your categories, even if you are a multi-skilled creative genius.  Keep making to your heart’s content, but don’t put it all under one brand umbrella– open that second shop with a different name to focus on another medium if you feel you really want to sell more than one type of item.

But (suggest the researchers) if you have an item from your main category that is a little odd or costly, it may be worth it to you to go ahead and offer it anyway– even if no one ever actually buys it.  It can still do the work of increasing your variety and helping people understand that you are an expert at what you do.

I also see this as yet another reason for artists who wholesale to set minimum purchase requirements.  Or if you consign, to insist that they take a certain number to make a good selection available.  If a store takes only a small selection, what they’re doing may not necessarily hurt them, since it’s adding to the overall variety of their store, but your work is much less likely to move. If they only take 5 pairs of earrings to ‘try them out’, the artist the next display over with 20 pairs out is going to outsell you, even if yours are similar (or just plain better :).  People will  assume them to be the more skilled artisan.

All of this depends on what people take to be the relevant categories. And it’s not entirely clear for artists, I think– after all, if I saw a potter who made nothing but vases, would I think, wow, this person clearly is the Vasemeister? Best potter ever? Not necessarily.  There’s something about being able to do many (or at least a few) things in your medium to demonstrate skill.  This is just a guess, but I think function is the key, rather than medium. I find this surprisingly difficult to accept as an artist– there are so many things I can do in my medium! Isn’t that what counts? I’m guessing not so much to regular people–how do people search? In stores, it’s by function, rather than material or shape. You have kitchen stores, not Metal Things stores or stores where they sell Square Things.

 Still, I have a hunch that the arts are different somehow. After all, witness the career of Brother Mel, who does a new thing every year. I mean a totally new thing. One year it’s landscapes, the next year it’s Deco-style lawn furniture, then next time round, things made of recycled silverware.  And so on. His brand is category variation. No category overlap whatsoever, and collectors love it. Somehow the myth of The Artist gives us some latitude that regular businesses don’t have. But how much?


*Berger, Draganska, Simonson. 2007. The influence of product variety on brand perception and choice. Marketing Science 26:4, 460-472.

Shipping fees

January 21, 2009

Let’s talk about shipping fees. I admit they’re not as exciting as talking about Need For Uniqueness or price-quality inferences, but they can be an important overlooked factor for folks running online shops.

There are a few different ways you can do it:

  • The more stuff they buy, the more shipping fees they have to pay.
  • One shipping fee, no matter how much they buy.
  • Free shipping when they buy over a certain amount.

Personally, I’ve always taken the first approach– a low initial fee that increases a little for each item they buy. Makes sense, since I try to keep it close to my actual shipping costs, which of course increase with weight.  And in the Etsy store setup, it’s pretty easy to make it work (though the flat fee option is equally easy to set up).  The third option would involve having to send people a revised invoice or refund after the fact. A little bit of a pain for us moderately lazy types.

Notice that these provide different types of incentives– a gradually increasing fee structure penalizes people for making larger orders. Um, yeah, that’s probably not good!  And the free shipping over a certain amount encourages people to increase their order size in order to qualify, resulting in bigger orders!  With the intermediate option, a flat fee, the incentive increases as the order size increases, as the percentage of the total price spent on shipping becomes smaller and smaller.

Enter the research article*. This one looked at the relationship between shipping fee schedule, the occurance of orders, size of order, and the acquisition of new customers.  The fee schedules used in the study were the graduated shipping fees, promotional free shipping, and free shipping for large orders only. 

New customers, it turns out, pay more attention to the incentives or penalties built into the system– how steep the fee schdule is, for example.  In contrast, returning customers are more sensitive to the overall price level. 

They found that the graduated shipping fees structure generated the most orders, but attracted fewer new customers; free shipping attracted new customers but results in smaller orders (since online buyers are often reluctant to place large orders for items they’re unfamiliar with), while  free shipping on large orders brought the highest order sizes.

Oh, and high shipping fees resulted in fewer orders. Surprise!

I think I’m going to change to the flat fee schedule in my Etsy shop.  One low flat fee will bring in new customers and encourage them to make larger purchases (or at least not punish them for doing so), while a low base fee will keep the returning customers happy. If you want some fat, juicy orders, incentivize larger orders with free shipping (I do this on my wholesale site).  If you’re trying to get new customers though a free shipping promo, go for it, but if you have other, cheaper ways of attracting new customers, stick with those instead– free shipping isn’t the most cost effective approach, since it results in smaller orders.


* Lewis, M. 2006. The effect of shipping fees on customer acquisition, customer retention, and purchase quantites. Journal of Retailing 82: 1, 13-23.

I don’t tend to run promotions, specials, or give out coupons, but a lot of artists put a lot of time and effort into their promotional activities, so I’ve become curious about how well this really works– not just in the short term, but over the long term.  Do the new customers you get through promotions become repeat customers? Do constant sales undermine your ‘normal’ prices? What does it do to price-quality inferences?

I managed to scare up a meta-analysis* relevant to these questions. They looked at 51 past studies and did some formal comparisons and stats to get an idea of the bigger research picture of how promotions affect people’s brand preferences over the long term.  A caveat: much of the research reviewed concerned consumable goods (grocery store items); some info was relevant to durable goods, but who knows how applicable the findings would be to luxury goods (like art).  Anyway, given that, here are some highlights:

Promotions aren’t unambiguously good or bad. It depends on your product, and the kind of promotion you use. Dropping your prices without warning or explanation is about the worst thing you can do– people will wonder what happened, assume your quality has gone in the toilet, and will not come back unless they are related to you by blood (actually, I made that last bit up– there’s actually no research to indicate that you even your mother will buy your work again after an unannounced price cut.)(<– joke).

So, temporary sales are best.  Coupons or premiums (like a Buy One Get One) are the most effective types of promotions.  Coupons are especially good, since it seems that the very act of printing/clipping the coupon can make the consumer like the product more (at work here is a kind of after-the-fact rationalization that if they put some effort into obtaining the product, they must like it more than other products). But for coupons and premiums, keep the value of the discount under 20% of the product’s price– more than that, and it will start to affect your brand in a negative way. That means your BOGOs should be more in the range of Buy Two, Get One Half Price (16% off) rather than Buy One, Get One Half Off (25% discount) or Buy One Get One Free (50% off).

Moreover, the negative effect of promotions was worse when a) the brand was unfamiliar or new to the buyers, or b) the promotion was for a durable good or service. If I’m reading the stats right, the combined negative effects of promotions for unfamiliar, durable products are greater than the positive effects of using a coupon promotion.  That’s a red flag for most artists trying to attract new customers through promotion. Maybe save your 10% off coupons for folks already on your mailing list, who have already purchased your product and are familiar with its high quality. 

That’s not to say all sort of promotions can’t bring sales in the short term. But it looks like you need to consider your promotional choices very carefully if you care about the long-term health of your brand.

Questions for later: What about giveaways? How about sales donating a prtion of the price to charity? Good or bad in the long term? Stay tuned.


*DelVecchio, Henard, and Freling. 2006. The effect of sales promotion on post-promotion brand preference: A meta-analysis. Journal of Retailing 82: 3, 203-213.

Marshmallow spice pie

January 16, 2009

I had all these homemade marshmallows left over– I love making marshmallows, but I didn’t give enough away during the holidays, and there’s only so much cocoa two people can drink– so I still had a vast quantity of marshmallows left.  As far as I know, marshmallows have three main applications: 1) in cocoa; 2) s’mores; 3) Rice Krispie Treats. But I dug around and found a recipe for grasshopper pie that involved marshmallows, and thought, “Aha!”. I adapted it for my purposes, and will now record it here for posterity.

graham cracker pie crust

about 30 marshmallows*

1/2 c. milk

1/4 c. rum (Capt. Morgans or other dark rum)

1 c. whipping cream

Put the marshmallows and milk into a  pan and melt, stirring. Let cool to room temperature (don’t refrigerate).  Stir in rum.  Whip whipping cream until stiff. Fold in marshmallow mixture. Pour into pie crust. Refridgerate till set.

*I used my homemade pumpkin spice marshmallows. If you use regular marshmallows, you should add the following spices to the marshmallow mixture: 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp cloves. I like strong flavors; reduce the proportions a bit if you’re a flavor wuss.

Now that I’ve mostly cleared out my backlog of marshmallows (I still have another 6 cups of cocoa’s worth), that means I can make another batch in a different flavor, right? Yay.

Some more background on this, because I think it’s interesting.

Apparently there are three dimesions to NFU, flavors of ‘counterconformity’ (love that term!): creative choice (creative but socially acceptable, that is), unpopular choice (not necessarily socially acceptable), and avoidance of similarity.

NFU is a useful construct cross-culturally– different cultures may emphasize different dimensions to greater or lesser extents (for example, in more traditional societies, the unpopular choice route may be the road less taken).

With respect to the pricing business, it seems like the link is between the similarity avoidance dimension and willingness to pay higher prices.  I haven’t been able to find anything yet on individual differences among the three dimensions, but surely there must be.  So yeah, if your items remain affordably priced, you’ll still be able to attract some high n-f-u folks.  Just maybe not those who emphasize avoidance of similarity.

And it’s all relative, anyway. Who do people implicitly compare themselves with? What’s the reference group? After all, a daring fashion choice in the small town midwest may look very different from a daring fashion choice in L.A.  Something that reads as a creative choice in one place may be an unpopular choice in another crowd. Same thing goes for pricing– expensive for who?  The $40 necklace may be quite luxurious for your group of friends, but considered very inexpensive by another group.

So knowing that our buyers have a high need for uniqueness still doesn’t get us out of having to understand our market. Darn it.


Reference: A. Ruvio, Shoham, A., Brencic, M. 2008. Consumers’ Need For Uniqueness: short-form scale development and cross-cultural validation. International Marketing Review 25:1, 33-53.

Need for Uniqueness

January 14, 2009

One of the more interesting concepts I’ve stumbled across in my marketing lit explorations has been Need for Uniqueness (or it’s complement, Need for Conformity). It’s an individual-level personality trait.  People with a high need for uniqueness value unique behavior for its own sake– this includes their purchasing habits, so the fewer people who buy a certain product, the more likely people with need-for-uniqueness are to buy it. The inverse is true for the Need for Conformity types– the more people who buy something, the more they’ll want it, too.

It seems self-evident to me that folks who buy art jewelry have some degree of Need for Uniqueness goin on.  Jewelry is there for the sole purpose of self-expression, after all, and if you consider yourself to be a unique person, you’re gonna wanna show it.

Okay, this is all pretty intuitive so far. Where do the marketing insights come in? Well, apparently it hooks up to the pricing issue again.  While need for uniqueness is not the same thing as prestige (people signalling their wealth through conspicuous consumption, which as we know can involve some pretty boring-looking but expensive objects), a higher price means that fewer people will be able to buy it, which means that the need-for-uniqueness folks (I’ll just call them n-f-u’s) will prefer it to lower-priced alternatives.  Thus the mechanism behind the oft-repeated, counterintuitive advice to artists that raising your price may increase sales. *light bulb blinks on*

Oddly enough, this preference for relatively rare, high-priced goods appears to be independant of the quality of the item– to the extent that more people of all sorts prefer high-quality items, if a high-quality item is being bought more often, then it reduces its uniqueness, and so the really high n-f-u types may actually buy a lower-quality item, since it’ll still be the more unique choice. I wouldn’t have guessed that.  That’s not to say that high n-f-u people don’t value quality– they do, everyone does– it’s just that sometimes it becomes irrelevant.  That actually explains a lot, I think.  Like why there’s such a lot of expensive yet poorly made jewelry out there.

Another interesting tidbit is that getting high n-f-u people to pay attention to the functional characteristics of items actually reduces the need-for-uniqueness effects to some extent.  It reduces their willingness to pay more for uniqueness. This makes intuitive sense– for example, I bought this fancy designer tea infuser one time that looked really cool but doesn’t actually work very well. If I had been thinking more carefully about the functionality, I probably would have opted for a different, probably less expensive infuser.

So if you’re going the route of pricing your items higher to attract the high n-f-u buyers, emphasizing functional product characteristics at that point can be shooting yourself in the proverbial foot.  So when I’m about to sell a $100 necklace, I should probably shut up about the fact that it’s very light weight. I should probably rewrite my story cards in light of this, actually.

Ok, I’ll stop there. Much food for thought. All of the above ruminations were based on:

W. Amaldoss, S. Jain. 2005. Pricing of Conspicuous Goods: A Competitive Analysis of Social Effects. Journal of Marketing Researcj 42:1, 30-42.