May 26, 2009

I’ve been busy with the art festival season starting up again, but the garden is enjoying its spring growing spurt, I’ve been cooking yummy things, and just received a new shipment of tea from Upton. All of this means I haven’t been reading marketing research articles– I’ll save that for the cold months, unless something truly fascinating comes up (I just did a pass through the journals yesterday, and this month, nothing fascinating has).

So for the time being, a report on the tea in my latest order, which contained my current favorite breakfast tea, Assam Koilamari (which I had just run out of this morning, with the result that I had only had one cup and was just able to summon the energy to drag myself to the mailbox to retrieve the life-restoring shipment).  Also Moroccan Mint tea, a long-time favorite of mine for iced tea, and a sample of Tung-Ting Milky Oolong, which I’m drinking as I type– a very nice cup, but I have to say I don’t taste the creaminess alluded to in its name.  Just the same sort of sweet green flavor I associate with jade oolongs. Perhaps a side-by-side taste test is called for.

Also in the shipment was Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder (purchased to blend with my own homegrown mints), Earl Grey Creme Vanilla, Orange Spice Imperial, and a complimentary sample of Kandy Ceylon BOP, recommended for iced tea.  Haven’t sampled these yet, and will try not to do so all in one day (would be a lot of tea-drinking even for me).


…and more dandelions

April 21, 2009

Tried dandelion pesto yesterday. With walnuts. You know the drill– a couple cloves garlic, a dash of olive oil, some toasted walnuts, and a handful of greens. Not bad, considering that I thought the greens would be too bitter at this point. 

I made a pasta dish with garlic, wine, sundried tomatoes, white beans (cannellini I canned last week), and the pesto. I think it would be better as a plain old bean dish rather than over pasta, but that’s not the point– the point is, the dandelion pesto worked pretty well in it.  Not at all like eating your lawn. That said, neither was it quite as exciting as I had hoped, so I added a couple of tablespoonsful of basil pesto to help it out. The dominant flavor was still dandelion, though.

Pretty sure I won’t be mixing up big batches of it and freezing it the way I do basil and oregano pestos.  It was good, but not must-have-it-all-year-round good.  Something to look forward to having once or twice every spring? Definitely.

Dandelion cuisine

April 20, 2009

I keep thinking I’ll come back here and talk about marketing some more, but I’ve found I’m just not into that at the moment. Spring has hit, I’m into cooking.  And also getting ready for art shows, but mostly spring and gardening and cooking.

Since we never put chemicals on our lawn (yes, it shows), and since (relatedly) we always have a bumper crop of dandelions, this year I remembered to try cooking with them before they got too big. A couple of weeks ago I had a go at the greens. Observations: a) not bad! And eating them makes me feel virtuous and redeems my weedy lawn somewhat; b) they’re a bit much as the only green in a salad, but an excellent component when mixed with others; c)  I just can’t bring myself to eat plain sauteed greens, meh; d) soup! I’ve been really into bean soups lately– made one with black eyed peas, onions, curry, smoked sausage or ham, and some dandelion greens thrown in and I think that’s the winner.  They add a nice layer of subtle flavor to the broth, and a lot of nutrition. 

If you search the internet for dandelion recipes, it seems like you get the same handful of recipes that everyone’s copied from each other. No one seems to be doing much innovating in this department.  What I want to inspire me is Iron Chef: Battle Dandelion.  Now the greens in the yard are getting a bit big and going to flower, which if I believe what they say means that they will be more bitter and less tasty. I’m going to have to check this out for myself, I think. 

Experiment 2 was dandelion flowers. There are three recipes out there (maybe four, depending on how you count) for these: wine, jelly/syrup, fritters.  I gave the syrup a try, figuring that that would be the easiest thing to do to give me the best idea about the flavor and whether I would like it enough to bother with anything else. Result? Not worth the work. It’s a pretty golden color, but not very interesting.  Flowers in a salad or as garnish would be fine, but that’s about it in my book. 

The other often-cited use for dandelion is the roasting and grinding of the root for some sort of hot beverage. I’m not even gonna bother, though I’ll keep it in mind if any post-apolcalyptic scenarios preventing tea importation develop.

Choices, choices.

March 21, 2009

I’m continuing to work my way through the Marketing and Psychology issue on assortment variety and choice. Today I’m reading Reutskaja and Hogarth*, who discuss the various costs and benefits that come into play in making a choice, and how the size of a choice set can affect how these costs and benefits are calculated.  Their experiment actually concerns something directly relevant to me (a rarity in this literature, I’m finding): shape and color.

They do an excellent job of presenting the fundamental issues. I’ve been going around in circles with “a big product assortment is good because….but on the other hand it’s bad because….AAGH!”. Lather, rinse, repeat.  Well, yes. In fact, it’s all true: these are the benefits and the costs. The benefits include economic benefits (finding the best value for the price), increased satisfaction, feeling positively about the situation/product/brand, feelings of control and autonomy.  Costs include cognitive effort, time spent, anxiety, and regret after purchase as you worry that you didn’t select the best choice.  The authors point out that, alas, the advantages and disadvantages of added assortment do not accrue evenly: at some point, the benefits plateu and the costs increase at a greater rate.  In the graphs, it’s an inverted U-shaped curve– as the product selection increases, the benefits go up, up, up…then suddenly down, down, down.

In the experiment, they had people choose a gift box they would use to give a gift to a friend. Participants were presented with a set of gift boxes of either 5, 10, 15, or 20 different boxes. (This is nice– usually experimenters just go with either a small or large assortment). These boxes varied either in color, shape, or both (e.g., a set of red boxes in 10 different shapes; a set of square boxes in 10 different colors, a set of 10 boxes of different colors and different shapes).  They then rated their levels of satisfaction with the process of making the choice, and with the outcome– how satisfied they were with the box they ended up choosing. Turns out, when it comes to shape vs color, there’s a big difference in how people respond to variety.  The responses to shape clearly showed that inverted-U curve– a rapid increase in satisfaction peaking at 10 options, followed by a  decrease once they hit 15 options.  For color, the satisfaction levels increased markedly between the 5 and 10 option levels, but didn’t decrease with15 or 20 options.  It just plateaued.  In other words, if you’re thinking about adding options to a product line, adding too many new shapes can really count against you, while adding more color options will help to a certain point and then above and beyond that, won’t do any good (or harm) with respect to satisfaction.

Of course, this doesn’t give us much insight into the too-much-choice problem, since in this study participants had to choose, and the measurement was of satisfaction; in the too-much-choice scenario, what’s measured is whether a choice is made at all.  And although the satisfaction levels drop off or plateu with added choice, what we don’t know is, for example, how brand perception is affected. Perhaps added color variety doesn’t continue to enhance satisfaction beyond a certain point, but it may continue to enhance brand perception (especially if the brand in question is an artist, as opposed to a toaster, but that’s another empirical question). 


*Reutskaja and Hogarth. 2009. “Satisfaction in choice as a function of the number of alternatives: when ‘goods satiate'”. Psychology and Marketing 26(3): 197-203.

Too much choice? Nah.

March 17, 2009

The March issue of Psychology & Marketing was a theme issue on assortment variety and choice. Lots of good stuff therein– I hope to slog through it in short order.

First up is an article trying to identify boundary conditions on the too-much-choice effect– the much-ballyhooed (well, somewhat-ballyhooed) finding that too much variety will lead people to freeze up, say to hell with it, and leave without purchasing anything– a refusal to make a choice.  Researchers are still picking at this problem– when, why, how, for whom does an increase in the available choices cause decision overload?  Just how much choice is too much, anyway?  5 choices, 20 choices, 50 choices…? Where’s the line?

Gearing up for the art show season as I am, these questions have been on my mind as I try to figure how much to make in preparation, and how much to display when the time comes.

Good news (sort of) from the first article from the volume that I read*:  There are just no clear answers. They did three experiments in two countries, looked a a whole bunch of variables, and found that none of them correlated very reliably with a too-much-choice effect as lower reported satisfaction with the assortment.  Much of the time, the effect was not even in evidence, even when the choice set was rather large (79 items). Even if people reported that they found the decision difficult, it didn’t mean that they necessarily experienced choice overload.  Now, this is annoying if you really want to make sure you aren’t causing it in your own product display– but it’s also kinda nice to know that this effect isn’t all that robust, and in any case no one knows yet what causes it, much less how to prevent it.  One less thing to worry about for now.  In general, the benefits of offering a large variety (increased satisfaction with the variety; increased consumption of items from a large assortment) are more clear than any negative effects.


* Scheibehenne, Greifeneder, Todd. “What moderates too much choice?” Psychology & Marketing 26:3: 229-253.

orange jelly

March 15, 2009

Orange jelly was my jamming project this week. I love all things citrus (comes from growing up in Florida), and while marmalade has its rewards, I wanted to make something a little easier and different.  The result is like a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in jam form.  

I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin in order to be able to reduce the sugar and get the tart flavor I was seeking. It’s a 2-part pectin consisting of a powder and a calcium water mixture that activates the gelling properties of the pectin– that’s what the pectin pwder and calcium water are doing in the recipe below, so no substitutions, please.  You will get nowhere if you try to substitute another pectin for the powder in this recipe. Pomona allows a couple of things that I find very handy: the ability to reduce or substitute sugar by as much as you like, and the ability to make very small test batches of new recipes so you don’t get stuck with a dozen jars of something you’re not even sure will turn out right.  I don’t think this recipe would be quite as wonderful with regular pectin since you’d have to use a lot more sugar to get it to gel.

Orange Sunshine Jelly

2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice

juice of 1 lemon

finely grated zest of 3 oranges

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 c. honey

2 sprigs rosemary (3-4 inches long)

2 tsp calcium water

1 tsp pectin powder

In a pan, combine the juices, calcium powder, zest, and rosemary. Bring to a boil. In a small bowl, mix together well the sugar, honey, and pectin powder.  Stir into the juice mixture, bring back to boil, and stir well for 1-2 minutes to dissolve the pectin. Remove the rosemary sprigs, and pour into hot sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes, or keep in the refrigerator. Makes 3 half pint jars.

Ahhh, gelato

March 12, 2009

This week I discovered the technique of making gelato with a milk and cornstarch base– a lot less work and a smidge healthier than an egg-based ice cream custard.

Was going to try avocado gelato today, but discovered once I had already gotten most of the ingredients mixed in the pan that my avocado was, alas, no longer fit for human consumption.  What to do?

Orange, Honey, and Rosemary Gelato

2 c. milk

pinch salt

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 c. honey

2 Tbs cornstarch

zest of 1 orange (long strips are easiest)

1 sprig rosemary

In pan, combine 1 1/2 c. milk, salt, sugar, honey, orange zest, and rosemary. Bring to a gentle boil. In a cup, stir together the remaining milk and the cornstarch.  Stir into the pan. Bring to boil. Let boil 1 min. Pull out the citrus zest and rosemary; completely cool milk mixture in bowl over ice water before freezing in ice cream maker.

I’m going to have to try these flavors in a jam, too, I think…

March 5, 2009

I know, I know, I haven’t been here in a while. I haven’t given up! I keep thinking I should do another marketing post, but I just haven’t. Ok? That’s all. I just haven’t. Soon, I promise.

In other news, I am putting together a tea order from Upton. It’s spring, the new teas are arriving, and this means I’m tempted by all sorts of things I can’t afford. Like the Competition Tie-Guan-Yin.  Someday, maybe…but not now, for sure. What I mainly need right now is my morning Assam.  Last time I got some Koilamari and some Madoorie; no complaints, and I may go with them again this time. If you’re looking for a good Assam, you could do worse than one of those.

Selling for a cause

February 12, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s called cause-related marketing– businesses teaming up with charitable causes, as when a company donates a portion of an item’s price to a charity. I’ve been wanting to do this myself, because there are several causes that I care about and would like to find a way to support.  And if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right– in a way that really helps the charity and doesn’t hurt my business. There are a number of issues at play, and if done without careful reflection, the whole thing can backfire, which won’t do the business or the cause any good.

The factors are too numerous to address all in one blog post– so for starters, we’ll go with this study*, where the researcher has looked at the issue of how much to give per item, what type of items work best, and whether to frame the donation in terms of cents or percentage.

Now, in a way, a sale and an ’embedded premium’ like donation to a charity with purchase are very similar– the business is giving away a cut of the price to someone, either by letting the buyer keep it themselves (as in a sale) or by giving it to a charity. But psychologically, it seems to be very different. 

The researcher found that unlike in sale discount situations, it was more effective to frame a donation in terms of a flat dollar (or cents) amount rather than a percentage.  Presumably for the same reason– while in a sale you want to mask somewhat the actual price of the item to protect future expectations about price, in a donation context you want it to be crystal clear exactly how much will be given.  Having to calculate the amount will make the exact amount more ambiguous (especially with the remarkably inspecific “percentage of profit” framing– as if we the buyers have any way of knowing what the profit is).  If you’re donating, it’s good to be as clear as possible about the amount.

They also found that charity-donation promotions were more effective when the product was a ‘frivolous’ rather than practical item. If people are looking for an excuse to buy something they want but don’t really need, donating a portion of the price to charity will offset their guilt a bit and give them a little more incentive to buy. With practical items, that doesn’t come into play so much.  Plus, there’s an emotional element to giving that doesn’t get activated as much when people are buying practical items.

Now here’s the part that most surprised me– The donation campaign was more effective a) when the items in question were low-priced and b) when the amount of the donation was low. Donating a larger portion of higher-priced items (in the study, a printer or electronic dictionary) makes people more skeptical about the motivations of the company in offering the donation, and makes them wonder a bit about the quality of the item– is the price being inflated so they can give so much to charity? (If you really want to donate a percentage of a more expensive item, here’s where framing the donation as a percentage may be useful).  I guess that makes sense, but I would have thought that if giving a little was good, then giving more would be even more of a draw. Apparently not!

By far the most effective form of donation amount was when it was a small amount of an inexpensive (and frivolous) item.  That means more sales for the business and, more importantly, more money for the charity as a result of the campaign.


* Chang, C. 2008. To donate or not to donate? Product characteristics and framing effects of cause-related marketing on consumer purchase behavior. Psychology and Marketing 25:12, 1089-1110.

Ok, so you want to give a discount. After deciding how much you can afford to mark off, the next question may be whether to frame it in terms of a dollar amount off or a percentage off.  But which is better?  Is there any reason to think one is more effective than the other?

As it happens, yes, there are some differences. Some of the issues at play here include first of all, which is more effective at getting people to buy during the promotion; secondly, how does it affect whether people will buy after the promotion is over? Does the depth of the discount make any difference in all this? And how might the discount effect people’s expectations about the price once the promotion is over with? 

DelVecchio, Krishnan, and Smith (2007) ran a few studies to look at these questions, and found that, in a deep-discount situation, a percentage-off, being ever-so-slightly more demanding to calculate, leads people to expect higher prices when the discounted item isn’t on sale. This is good, because you don’t want people to find your regular prices too high, and you want to minimize any negative price-quality inferences they might make based on sale price.  And it seems that during the sale itself, people respond equally well to (meaning they’ll buy) both percentages off and cents-off.  So there are a couple reasons why percentages off are better, and no strikes against.

The same basically holds true for the period after the sale ends. There’s a bit of a difference between deep discounts (about 40% off in this study)and lower-depth discounts (15% off), in that the percentage-off deep discounts enjoyed greater sales than the cents-off deep discounts.  Not much difference was found between the two frames for lower-depth discounts.

Take-home message: if you’re going to offer deep discounts (and recall that that’s not necessarily a good long-term strategy), express them in terms of a percentage off, preferably not a super-easy-to-calculate percentage off. The reason behind the advantages of percentage-off sales seems to be the increased difficulty of making the calculation, so if you hand customers an easy problem like “50% off”, it kind of ruins the effect.


DelVecchio, D., H. Krishnan, and D. Smith. 2007.  Cents or Percent? The effects of promotion framing on price expectations and choice. Journal of Marketing 71: 158-170.