Netflix & the ‘Tinderization’ of Feeling

Tom Vanderbilt: “Netflix, as you may have heard, is … shedding its former one-to-five-star rating system in favor of binary digits: namely, thumbs up or thumbs down … For one, Netflix was transitioning from a DVD rental business to a streaming company. It was less reliant on you telling it what you liked (via ratings), because it could already tell what you liked — simply by analyzing what you had watched.”

“And there tended to be a gulf between the two behaviors. People rated aspirationally, but they watched situationally. Yes, you did give That Important Documentary five stars when you got around to watching it, but at the end of a trying day at the office, you more often settled on viewing some pleasing pap like The Ridiculous 6 … Another reason for Netflix’s shift from stars to thumbs is that … even when people are given star-rating options, the responses, as research has shown, tend to cluster in the one-star and five-star endpoints — serving as a de facto thumbs up or down.”

“The Netflix move seems another example of what Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser, in an essay in The New Inquiry, call ‘the tinderization of feeling.’ The dating app Tinder, they argue, ‘is a metaphor for speeding up and mechanizing decision making, turning us into binary creatures who can bypass underlying questions and emotions and instead go with whatever feels really good in the moment.’ In a world of vastly proliferating consumer choice, it is small wonder we should turn to the quickest, most primitive gestures to express judgments.”

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How Music Changes Dining Behavior

Quartz: “Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed music-streaming startup, today released a massive study on the impact of background music in a restaurant setting … Researchers found that music they deemed thoughtful and ‘on-brand’ can drive up sales—especially dessert sales, as customers linger longer—but music that’s too mainstream can actively hurt sales. Restaurants would actually be better off not playing music than playing a random scroll of top hits, it turns out.”

“Soundtrack Your Brand co-founder Ola Sars, who previously helped found Beats Music, which is now owned by Apple. Sars adds that music branding seems to come down to finding the perfect level of subtle emotional engagement: customers balk at hearing overly popular songs because they likely find them too noticeable or distracting, for example.”

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Luxury of Silence: Cheapo Cars Mask Muffles

Wired: “In your cheapo car … blowing wind, humming tires, high-revving engines, and a hundred random vibrations conspire to make conversation a chore, exhaust the driver, and strain audio systems cranked up to mask the racket. That’s because the standard silencers—sound-absorbing insulation, pricey engineering, aerodynamic tricks, and sheer weight (heavier cars tend to be quieter)—are hard to move down market.”

“But in recent years, automakers catering to the road-going hoi polloi have found new ways to lower the volume, particularly for hybrid and electric vehicles that don’t have the benefit of an engine to mask other vehicle noises. The result: Economy cars now carry things like side mirrors that maneuver airflow away from your windows, suspensions that dial out road noise, expanding tape that plugs gaps, and frames to maneuver sound away from the car’s occupants—all developed with the help of mannequins with mics in their ears and giant spherical cameras that can ‘see’ sound.”

“It’s a perk you can neither see nor hear, but one you’ll appreciate, no matter how much you paid for your car.”

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Match & Miles: Fidelity vs. Loyalty

The Wall Street Journal: “Travelers fell in love with an offer of 150 points from British Airways for every dollar spent by U.S. customers on new subscriptions to Match.com. U.S. members of the BA loyalty program could also get 130 Avios points, as they’re called, per dollar with eHarmony. A $215 annual Match subscription earned 32,250 points, enough to make hearts flutter among mileage fanatics.”

“But the attraction was so strong that the dating services quickly called it off after a couple of days in early March, canceling new subscriptions, refunding fees paid and pulling back points awarded. Match.com says it ordered up the quickie divorce because an affiliated promoter launched the come-on without authorization. eHarmony says the relationship soured when some married travelers signed up and others created multiple profiles, violating terms and conditions.”

“Frequent flier Dylan Schiemann didn’t sign up because he figured there was a line he shouldn’t cross with his wife.” He explains: “It seemed like a good offer, but I decided pretty quickly not to go with it. No matter how open you are, you just don’t go on a dating site if you’re married.”

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REI: A Community of Customers

The Atlantic: “REI is a retail cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members. The company has created somewhat of a community by offering memberships, offering its over 6 million active members a dividend for future purchases at REI and one vote in an annual board of directors election for $20. That might seem innovative, but perhaps what’s more surprising is that, in many ways, REI is just practicing old-school retail wisdom.”

CEO Jerry Stritzke comments: I would say it’s a compelling competitive advantage, and as we look to the future, I think that idea of having a community organized around a shared passion—in this case a love of a life lived outside—is really important. That aspect of the co-op is a big thing. We gave away over $9 million dollars to a number of nonprofits partners. That’s playing a central role in advocating for what we’re passionate about, and being in that community.”

And: “The last thing is it’s a long-term perspective … To really be able to look out and ask, what does it mean to be vibrant, to be compelling over a three-, five-, 10-year horizon? That’s phenomenally important.”

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Escape Rooms ‘Pop Up’ As Brand Experiences

The Verge: “The SXSW conference has a history of being home to some of the most elaborate marketing events imaginable. Whether it’s a chance to stay over at the Bates Motel, visit the restaurant from Breaking Bad, or see Kanye and Jay Z perform (courtesy of Samsung), it’s as much a part of the show as technology talks and movies. But this year, a new style of tie-in swept the festival: the escape room.”

“Disney launched a pop-up escape experience tied to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Fox took over the ‘Prison Break’ room at The Escape Game Austin to promote the new season of, yes, Prison Break. And HBO had a multi-room installation in place to promote Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley … It’s marketing sleight of hand, circumventing audience exhaustion over endless advertising by offering up free experiences that many would pay for if given the option.”

“And with audiences happy to share their own participation, these real-world marketing experiences form a self-sustaining cycle of hype: fans take part and take photos, which they then share on social media, which inspires more people to come, and the entire thing starts all over again.”

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Cava Mezze & The ROI of ‘Experience’

Fast Company: Cava Mezze, a chain of 24 Mediterranean restaurants, is using “a system of sensors … to monitor everything from customer wait times to food-safety practices … to boost Cava’s ROI of experience.” Chief data scientist Josh Patchus “trains motion sensors (stationed in select restaurants) on customers as they’re waiting to order. What he found: Lines tend to bunch up near the menu board and while people are selecting ingredients at the serving station … Rather than limit customers’ options, he redesigned the menu boards so that customers know what to expect when they reach the serving station. The change has helped lines move 10% faster and hold 12% more people.”

“Sensors in the restaurants’ seating areas show that customers in urban locations often stay only long enough to eat, but in the suburbs they prefer to linger … Patchus suggested increasing seating at the suburban outposts by 30%, allowing them to accommodate large groups. Those parties boosted revenue in the redesigned stores by 20% per square foot … Patchus uses the sensors to monitor back-of-house operations. Walk-in refrigerators can now tell managers how long they’ve been left open, and if there have been any temperature or humidity spikes … food-quality complaints from customers have dropped 28%.”

“If the cash register is too close to the serving station, customers have to shout their choices, and it can be hard for them to hear the server’s response. Sensors track decibel levels in the ordering area; if they’re high, Patchus suggests a remodel.” Patchus comments: “To understand our customers, we have to be around our customers.”

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4 Ways Ulta Changed Its Retail Experience

Fast Company: “Ulta’s engaging in-store experience helped boost company revenue by more than 20% last year. Here are four ways the company changed its retail formula.”

1) “Recognizing that salon guests spend almost three times as much as other customers, Dillon moved the Benefit Brow Bar, a station for eyebrow shaping, to the front of some stores so that shoppers see services when they enter. Salon sales were up 15% in the first nine months of 2016.” 2) “In a bid to lure shoppers into stores, Ulta offers samples for a wide range of products, inviting people to try on not just prestige makeup lines such as Estée Lauder and Nars, but also drugstore brands including Maybelline and CoverGirl.”

3) “Many of the electronics the store sells, such as the new Dyson Supersonic hair dryer, are plugged in to encourage play.” 4) “As they browse the store’s seemingly unlimited supply of eye shadows, lotions, and nail polishes, shoppers can use the Ulta app to scan any product’s bar code. From there, they can read customer reviews, see similar merchandise, and save items as favorites.”

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The Smart Commuter Jacket

The Washington Post: “Google and Levi’s showed off this week a new joint project: a $350 smart jean jacket. While this jacket literally puts tech on your sleeve, it does it in a subtle way that doesn’t require putting another screen on your body. In doing so, it offers a glimpse of what smart fabrics can do and of the evolution of the wearables market — one in which consumers won’t have to wear a clunky accessory that screams high tech.

“The smart Commuter jacket, which was introduced over the weekend at SXSW in Austin, is aimed at those who bike to work. It has technology woven into its fibers, and allows users to take phone calls, get directions and check the time, by tapping and swiping their sleeves. That delivers information to them through their headphones so that they can keep their eyes on the road without having to fiddle with a screen. The jacket the should hit stores this fall. Its smart fibers are washable; they’re powered by a sort of smart cufflink that you’ll have to remove when you wash the jacket. The cufflink has a two-day battery life.”

“While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not appeal to everyone (especially on a hot summer day), the existence of such a jacket is telling about where the market may be going … what makes the Commuter jacket different from other wearables — and even other smart clothing — is that it’s not necessarily marketing the tech as its main feature, but rather using it to solve problems that everyday people have. Many smartwatches and even other smart clothing can feel like solutions in search of a problem to solve. The Commuter jacket … stands out as a type of wearable for a more everyday consumer who may not be that interested in the tech, but likes the practical features that come with a stylish jacket.”

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