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Consumers often use price information as a cue to infer the quality of products — it is a familiar phenomenon based on the belief that price and quality are positively correlated. Consider for instance  laptop computers: consumers may rely on price to predict the quality of a laptop model for which there is lack of information about attributes that determine its quality, or rather because they have a difficulty to understand the technical features and try to infer the laptop’s expected quality based on its (list) price. Wine is another excellent example for a product whose quality consumers try to assess based on its price. The perceived price-quality relation is not always well-substantiated, which may lead to some costly mistakes. Reliance on price to judge quality is contingent on individual, contextual (e.g., product type) and situational factors.

Consumers may rely on price as an informational cue for different purposes: (a) to reduce the risk of buying a product of an unacceptable low quality; (b) avoid or mitigate effort of evaluating complex product information; (c) anticipate differences in quality between product brands and models (but sometimes also their symbolic meanings associated with prestige and luxury). Price-quality judgements involve two essential steps: estimating the strength of a relationship between price and quality in a focal product category, and applying this judgement to predict the quality of a particular product item (e.g., a new product model). Consumers may differ in their proficiency both to assess the relationship and applying it in various every-day situations.

The magnitude of price-quality correlations varies between product categories, and most consumers are aware of it. However, their calibration of the price-quality relationship for particular product types is often flawed and consumers over-estimate the correlations. Consumers tend to follow a general belief about price-quality relation without properly testing it as a hypothesis in the product category under consideration for purchase; alternately they bias their judgement by considering only evidence consistent with the prior belief (e.g., as the load of information to process is larger and harder to grapple with, and when information is organised in a format that highlights price-quality correlation [1]). Consumers also differ in the first place in their propensity to hold a price-quality belief (i.e., how strongly are consumers price-quality schematic). Capturing the actual reliance on price as a quality cue may also turn to be elusive because applying such a rule depends on the amount and nature of product information available.

In a research recently published (2013) Lalwani and Shavitt study how consumer propensity to perceive a price-quality relationship is governed or moderated by thinking styles and modes of self-construal exerted from consumers’ relations with others in their groups of membership. They distinguish between (1) independents (individualists) who prefer to form their opinions and set personal goals on their own, in hope those will be accepted by their in-group peers but not to be censored by the latter, and (2) interdependents (collectivists) who are inclined to form opinions and set goals that are subordinated to those of the in-group to which they belong. They refer to cultural self-construal by acknowledging that independence has been associated more closely with Western nations or Caucasian societies and interdependence with South and East Asian nations or societies. The distinction is primarily relevant to the construction of price-quality judgements by its correspondence with analytic vs. holistic styles of thinking, respectively. The authors additionally examine specific conditions that may enhance or inhibit the use of price to infer quality.

Analytic thinking orientates to process and evaluate a single piece of information at a time — for example, examine a value for a product item on a specific attribute. The ‘analytic’ consumer may compare between a few models on a specific attribute but ignore any other attributes. In a pictorial image, analytic thinking implies that the individual would look at each object in the image separately rather than inspecting a collection of elements in a scene. Holistic thinking, on the other hand, orientates to observe and evaluate relations between attributes and objects. It is much less focused on single items of information in favour of considering collections of them and how they relate to each other. In a pictorial image, holistic thinking means that an individual more easily identifies combinations of elements and conceives inter-relations between them in the whole scene. The argument put forward, and tested, by Lalwani and Shavitt posits that interdependents (collectivists) who are reliant on their social connections, and who are more considerate of the needs and goals of others in their in-groups before their own, are more predisposed to apply holistic thinking; independents (individualists) who tend to focus on their single-self’s needs and goals before others are more inclined to adopt an analytic style of thinking. Holistic thinking that endorses relational processing is clearly essential for making judgements about a price-quality relationship. The authors are particularly concerned with the boundary conditions under which the advantage of holistic thinking in making price-quality judgements has an impact.

Lalwani and Shavitt take notice that independent and interdependent modes of self-construal are not exclusive of each other, that is, they may be exhibited simultaneously in the same person or within a particular society. Therefore, following previous research, the authors apply two scales, one to measure independence and the other for interdependence as opposed to treating these modes as polar ends of the same continuum. They find that a stronger tendency to perceive a price-quality relationship (a global belief) is predicted by greater inclination for interdependent self-construal. No similar relation is found with independent self-construal. This confirms that only interdependent self-construal may support consumer tendency to rely on a price-quality relationship. [2]

Asians and Hispanic (in the US), representing interdependent self-construals, have been found to utilise price to infer the quality of a “new” target product item (alarm clock) whereas Caucasians (independents) showed no significant sensitivity to differences in price for the target product. It is emphasised that the Asians/Hispanics participants not just considered price-quality information available on “base” items but also practically used price in its evaluation of quality for the target item.

The difference in type of self-construal does not clarify sufficiently how this should lead to differences in approach to the perceived price-quality relationship. That is where the difference between holistic and analytic thinking takes its role. If we look only at the distinction between American nationals and Indian nationals, it would be relatively difficult to understand why the Indians have been found to exhibit a stronger tendency to rely on price as a quality cue. This difference is partially explained (mediated) once the researchers account for a difference in tendency to think holistically — the Indians also have a stronger tendency for that type of thinking that better supports processing of relations between price and quality.

Even more convincing are the results from a study in which an exercise with a pictorial image was conducted to encourage (prime) analytic versus holistic thinking by participants (American Asians/Hispanic vs. Caucasians). As expected, holistic thinking facilitated reliance on price when evaluating the quality of a “new” target product item (calculator) for both Asians/Hispanic and Caucasians. That is, they evaluated the higher priced target brand to be of higher quality than a lower priced brand. Nonetheless, the Asian/Hispanic who are more likely to be ‘interdependent’ differentiated even more strongly the quality between higher- and lower-priced target brands — revealing their advantage for relational processing. In contrast, when both Asians/Hispanic and Caucasians are primed to think analytically, none of them seems to use price as a quality cue. This highlights the power of holistic thinking for making price-quality judgements; vice versa, “imposing” analytic thinking on those who have a stronger tendency for holistic thinking seems to over-ride their advantage in predicting quality based on price.

Lalwani and Shavitt point-out that an advantage for relational processing in using price as a quality cue takes effect in kind of intermediate conditions: when there is a logical basis and supportive evidence (e.g., market conditions, product information available) for relying on price to infer quality, yet neither when conditions are poor/prohibitive nor when evidence of a price-quality relationship is just obvious and applying it is fairly easy. This is demonstrated in two cases: (a) an advantage for relational processing with regard to non-symbolic, functional or practical products (e.g., paper towels) vs. symbolic products that are better able to express one’s identity (e.g., watches, bicycle) — the latter product type induces a price-quality tendency in both ‘independents’ and ‘interdependents’; (b) an advantage for relational processing when information is provided on (non-price) attributes of moderate bandwidth (e.g., quality, durability, reliability), not for broad, generalised evaluations/attitudes (everybody uses price) and not narrow, specific features (nobody uses price). When conditions are sufficient but not too permissive, only those who have the advantage will discriminate products on perceived quality according to price.

The distinction between independent and interdependent self-contrual is somewhat circumstantial with respect to the utilisation of price as a quality cue. It does not immediately make sense why the two behavioural phenomena should be related. References to national and ethnic origins may also be too liberal generalisations that do not contribute enough to our understanding except for exposing the relationship. At the bottom of a distinction between modes of self-construal regarding price-quality judgement underlies the important distinction between holistic and analytic thinking. Lalwani and Shavitt effectively suggest that the extent to which people think in terms of relations between objects or their attributes corresponds with their attitude towards relations with other people, and hence the latter’s connection with the relationship between price and perceived quality. The distinction between thinking styles therefore seems to shed more light on conditions that induce or limit reliance on price as a quality cue.

Yet, establishing a connection between self-construal. particularly represented by national or ethnic (sociocultural) origins, and reliance on price as a quality cue, can be most productive and helpful for segmentation — it facilitates the identification of and access to relevant segments for marketing initiatives associated with the price-perceived quality relationship. The implications may be in devising advertising messages or premium product offering that target consumers with expected greater tendency to make price-quality inferences.  Consequently those consumers would likely be more favourable towards and receptive of higher-priced products/brands. This research further contributes to previous knowledge in the field by suggesting conditions under which most consumers or only selective segments would be evoked to make price-quality judgements. Marketers may consider the breadth of attributes described (broader dimensions vs. features) in addition to the structure of information presented to consumers [e.g., rank-order products by quality vs. random order, [3]).

Source:

You Get What You Pay For? Self-Construal Influences Price-Quality Judgements; Ashok K. Lalwani and Sharon Shavitt, 2013; Journal of Consumer Research, 40 (August), pp. 255-267, DOI:
10.1086/670034

Notes:

[1] A Selective Hypothesis Testing Perspective on Price-Quality Inference and Inference-Based Choice; Maria L. Cronley, Steven S. Posavac, Tracy Meyer, Frank R. Kardes, & James J. Kellaris, 2005; Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15 (2), pp. 159-169

[2]  Statistical Note: The validity of the results of multiple regression analysis performed is contingent on the two scales of individualism-independence and collectivism-interdependence not being negatively correlated. Such evidence is not reported. Turning to the source (Oyserman, 1993) reveals, as logically expected, that some of the statements are in contradiction between the pair of scales. In this case, the version of scales adopted by the authors suggests less conflict and the correlation between them is near zero. On the one hand, it is a little surprising that not even a low negative correlation was found to indicate the contrast between these constructs. On the other hand, a strong negative correlation between the scales could mean that only the stronger predictor, ‘interdependence’, won over the other confounded predictor and thus came out as the single significant predictor.

[3] Ibid. 1.

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The New-York Times Company may wish to convince readers of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper that renaming it as the International New-York Times (INYT) is nothing more than a change of name, not of content or substance. However, this act of re-branding the newspaper to co-align it with the US-based brand could mean overseas much more because the IHT has grown into an iconic brand and an institute of culture, primarily in Europe but also in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Latin America. Truly, since its inception as the New-York Herald 126 years ago and through its past forms as the New-York Herald Tribune (1920s’-1967) and the International Herald Tribune (1967-2013), the newspaper has been directed towards American expatriates living abroad as their connection with home. Nevertheless, the newspaper has become popular among a much wider audience of English readers native in many countries, giving them a foreign or global perspective on news in their region and beyond. How necessary was it to rebrand the IHT as INYT at this time?

Statements made by senior executives at the New-York Times Company suggest that they are aspiring to integrate the global edition of the New-York Times closely with its US-based operation and editorial board. From a marketing perspective, the company aims at establishing a stronger consolidated brand of New-York Times globally (i.e., in the US and outwards)  with an eye focused on the digital (online) news media, worldwide. That means a tighter identification of the international newspaper/news-site with the United States.

It is important to reckon that hitherto the IHT offered an appealling, interesting and comfortable blend of local atmosphere, culture and attitudes with the “American Way”. The New-York Herald Tribune, which existed before NYT became an owner, has developed this approach originally and specifically in Paris, then extended all over Europe. Its key force of attraction was the respect it has paid for many years to the culture and values of Europe. So much that for an extended period during the 20th century there existed only the European edition of the New-York Herald Tribune, based in Paris, without its New-York edition that went bankrupt. Following the re-branding of IHT under the title of New-York Times, its management intends to take steps to increase managerial and editorial control from New-York, which risk the global edition of losing that special touch with the local habitats of its various market destinations overseas.

In 1967 the publishers of The Washington Post and The New-York Times salvaged together the defunct Herald Tribune from its previous owner and re-created the brand and format of The International Herald Tribune. The newspaper got its best reputation and expanded outside Europe during that period spanning the last 46 years. Its appeal could emanate from (a) bringing a combination of opinions and perspectives on current affairs from journalists and columnists with different political orientations and background expertise; (b) reliance on the resources of the Washington Post and the New-York Times as well as journalists originated in foreign countries (e.g., at their bases in Paris, London, and Hong-Kong); and (c) their interesting and novel coverage of topics such as science and technology, art, and not least, fashion.

However, the IHT changed its course in 2003 when the New-York Times Company forced the Washington Post into selling its share in IHT to the former. Thus NYT took full control of the newspaper. It is therefore, actually, during the past ten years that the New-York Times has gradually turned IHT singly into the Global Edition of NYT. Particularly in the last three years it could be noticed that the IHT was adopting the liberal line associated with the NYT in the US and a stronger presence of its home journalists. Furthermore, the company marginalised the original website of IHT in 2009 and merged its content with that of NYT.

When explaining their move of rebranding, the editor of IHT in Europe Richard Stevenson argued during an interview in October 2013: ” A couple of words in the name of the paper are changing (but) this paper’s name has changed multiple times throughout its history. The name change on the print newspaper does nothing to change the DNA of the operation here. It is simply bringing more of the resources of the New-York Times to the mix” (1). Stevenson is clearly trying to play down the significance of that ‘couple of words’ known as the “Herald Tribune” but he may err in uncomprehending its meaning and value to news readers in Europe and other regions. The name of the newspaper has indeed changed before, yet the expression “Herald Tribune” was the leading part of the paper’s name for nearly a hundred years. Moreover, it has become a symbol in the news media of a genuine international, open-minded news-source. Even more seriously there is reason to doubt if NYT can maintain the DNA of the “global edition” as Stevenson promises. The power of IHT has arisen in part from being only implicitly American — that is, the American voice in the newspaper was more subtle. A stronger reliance on resources of NYT in the US could lead to diminishing their sensitivity to events outside the US . Effective already, wherever an online reader touches a hyperlink on the front page of INYT (e.g., an article’s title, a topic on the right-hand banner), one is passed to content on a page of NYT — the INYT website appears to be no more than a facade. How does that maintain the DNA of the International Herald Tribune?

At the core of this new strategy is concern of NYT how to expand its exposure and strengthen its position in the digital media because that is where the future lies.  Circulation of print newspapers has been declining and revenue from advertising dropping almost continuously over the past decade as more news readers turn to the Web and mobile devices (e.g., using designated apps). It has led to predictions of the demise of print newsmedia any time soon — which has not happened yet but could still be imminent. Even Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of NYT Company from the dominant owner-family, announced at a conference in September 2010 that the NYT is expected to “stop printing the New-York Times sometime in the future, date TBD” (2), a rather ambiguous intention that yet attracted great attention. Last year the founder of Netscape and digital venture capitalist Marc Andreessen urged Sulzberger and NYT in response to act as soon as possible and not wait for another five or ten years. An important development that nonetheless has already taken place is the establishment by NYT and other news publishers of various paywall models on the Internet in order to put a value-tag on news information online and thereby starting to generate revenue from viewership vis-a-vis print circulation.

  • Revenue (US$) from circulation, which accounts for more than half of the total revenue of the company’s NYT Media Group (NYT+IHT), grew by 8.2% in the second quarter of 2013, though it could not offset the decline of 11.4% in revenue from advertising (3). Note however that the report is vague in referring to “circulation”: It is impossible to tell whether the increase reflects return of readers to print issues due to the paywall charges online or is it derived from subscribers of NYT online and in mobile apps.

The New-York Times wants to resemble other prominent newsmedia broadcasters like CNN and BBC and publications such as Wall Street Journal (WSJ), The Times of London, The Telegraph, and Financial Times that are recognized in the same name at home and in countries abroad. The ability to develop into a global brand depends on appearing with the same (root) name everywhere. Especially on the Internet, it is argued, the New-York Times has to appear with that name to be on the same playing level with its close competitors. The NYT, it should be noted, is already accessible online for several years and it is a familiar brand whose news stories are often cited around the world — all that regardless of IHT! The problem is that the NYT is not progressing as the management has expected:

  • The NYT brand is lagging in number of unique monthly visitors to its website (~40m in June 2013) behind CNN (~100m) and BBC (~70m); NYT has about the same number of visitors as the Guardian’s (affiliate of IHT in the UK) and leading on WSJ (~30m). NYT has also shown no increase compared to June last year vis-a-vis improvements for CNN, BBC and The Guardian (figures from comScore published by FT.com, 3).
  • Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, publisher of IHT, revealed while announcing their move in July that about a third of the 41m unique visitors of NYT come from outside the US; however, just 10% of NYT digital subscribers (70,000 out of 708,000) are located outside the US (3) — a gap marking the international weakness of their brand.

The expectation is that by bringing the IHT global edition explicitly under the umbrella name of NYT it will enhance the global image of NYT and attract more subscribers from outside the US. Mark Thompson, chief executive of NYT and former director-general of the BBC, suggested that the IHT’s heritage could be used together with existing international audience of NYT “to build a truly global force in news across digital and print under one brand” (3). There is undoubtedly good logic in joining forces to develop a stronger target brand on the world’s stage. But which brand was in better position to fulfil that role ? NYT was actually trying to compete in recent years with its own global edition name-titled International Herald Tribune, a confusing situation. Moreover, NYT in fact closed down its older international edition in 1967 to make space for developing the IHT. Now, the new move implies that the heritage of IHT so well built-up should be sacrificed to help the NYT succeed as a global brand after it failed to do so alone but really in the shadow of its own global edition, that is IHT.

The strategic thinking that appears to be behind the rebranding act is not only strange but sad. The NYT company does not disclose financial details on its two newspapers but it suggests that IHT was really doing better than NYT. All that Mr. Dunbar-Johnson was ready to tell the Financial Times was that “while the New-York Times does not break out the performance of the IHT, it is profitable” with no further details given (3). This raises a strong suspicion that NYT could not match the performance of IHT and consequently was laid as a burden on the shoulders of IHT re-named INYT.

A stronger global presence of an NYT brand in the digital arena is presented by top management as the main motivation for its move. However, re-inventing NYT as an international brand was not that much necessary. The NYT and IHT newspapers have been different products in attributes and target markets-audiences — one as its American arm and the other as its global arm. The company could have continued to develop the relationship between them, exchange news stories, and emphasise the linkage between their brands: The global arm of IHT benefits from the professional quality and credibility of its US-arm (and parent) NYT while the latter enjoys the popularity and prestige of a global arm IHT that “talks” to many people around the world, Americans and non-Americans alike. Many global companies hold a corporate website next to designated websites for prime products and brands. One just has to make sure consumers know how the websites are related while distinct.

Since the rebranding has already occurred, the INYT needs to keep and add to its bases as “legs” in key target regions in order to maintain the international DNA of IHT. There are already hints that the company may close its base in Paris because of high cost of keeping its staff in France.  While France may not have the same diplomatic and cultural clout it used to have 60 years ago it is still a pivotal player in Europe in many ways. If inevitable, NYT must consider other locations (e.g., Berlin-Germany, Amsterdam-Netherlands) on the European continent since removing that “leg” might ruin the INYT international stature that IHT enjoyed. Relying on its London base could signal to other European countries that America truly does not understand them.

The New-York Times wishes to become a familiar and appraised brand name worldwide like names of other newspapers/news-sites and that is understandable. Yet its situation is different from most others — it already had a strong global arm and unlike others that actually publish the same news-product everywhere NYT-IHT had the advantage of a news-product better adjusted to serve readers round the globe. They could have kept a portfolio of two strong products and associated brands without being suspected of nourishing the ego of NYT. Now INYT must work hard to protect and enhance its connection to places and people outside the United States.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

References:

1.  “DNA Unchanged in Renamed International Herald Tribune”, The Australian (Online, by AFP), 16 October 2013 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/dna-unchanged-in-renamed-international-herald-tribune/story-e6frg996-1226740843145

2.  “New-York Times Will End Print Edition (Eventually), Publisher Says”, The Atlantic (Online, a news agency item), 9 October 2010

3. “Newly Rebranded International NYT Focuses on Digital”, Financial Times (FT.com Online), 25 July 2013  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/3d0edc40-f4a5-11e2-8459-00144feabdc0.html

Additional Sources:

NYT Company Website www.nytco.com — See their History Timeline

“In Digital Era, New-York Times Eyes Growth Abroad with Global Edition Replacing Herald Tribune”, Washington Post (Online, by AP), 15 October 2013 http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/in-digital-era-new-york-times-eyes-growth-abroad-with-global-edition-replacing-herald-tribune/2013/10/15/efa1a576-3579-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html

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Not many people would resist a nice meal of a 200g burger sandwich, whole and rich with supplements, ketchup on top, and a side dish of French fries or fried onion flakes. But the venue of dining also counts in shaping the diner’s experience — it is likely for a diner to expect a more tasty and enjoyable burger meal at a full-service grill restaurant compared with a fast food restaurant. A number of factors affect the attraction of a restaurant to diners in addition to food quality, like atmospherics of the venue, service and attitude towards customers. “Moses”, a small-medium chain (8 branches) of grill bar-diners in Israel, has created a brand theme aimed at making patrons-diners feel more welcome and wanted at their restaurants. At the core of the theme are anthropomorphization of Moses as a cat wearing a wide smile and his style of language that is meant to let customers feel more at ease, like they belong in the restaurant as personal guests of Moses.

  • See epilogue with update at the bottom (June 2018)

The language Moses uses to tell patrons-diners about special offers, activities and events is personal, direct and very informal, often a non “going around the bush” kind of talk. It appears on table covers, postcards, signage, its website and other materials. This style also characterises its advertising. It may sound a little blunt sometimes but careful not to be offensive. The approach Moses takes to bring up any matter is intended in a humourous way. It seems that Moses is just trying to be frank, clever yet witty.

There is not much company-official text in English to give as an example since Moses addresses substantially Hebrew-speaking Israelis as in a casual discourse. And indeed Moses’s rhetoric employs expressions in Hebrew that have significance to Israelis but whose semantics may be partially lost in translation to English or other languages. Still, the tone and intention of the rhetorical style of Moses is preserved and can be sensed in the following examples. Moses typically takes a rather plain information or message and twists its presentation by inserting: (a) some doubt or skepticism, (b) adventurism or suspense, (c) irony.

The limited content in English on the Israel-native website of Moses appears (reasonably) to be translated from content originally composed in Hebrew. Consider the following phrases, extracted from the English version of the About page (note: information here is not updated as in Hebrew), to get a feel of how Moses talks to clients. Thus, when telling readers of the chain’s background Moses says:

“Here’s something you’ll find on every website, and here too. Do you really care if Moses Tel Aviv was established on November 2003, and it is part of a group of restaurants…” (Note: the group referred to includes other restaurants of different types of cuisine and brand names; since then Moses expanded as a distinct chain within the group).

Cutting short on the chain’s evolution, Moses comments:

“What’s really important is that they are open now. If you wanted to learn some history you’d probably log into Wikipedia or somewhere like that.”

Some consumers may not like to be sent-off like that to find more information, but another, and the correct way to read this is “Moses doesn’t want to waste your time; just come and eat”. In an age when people are shorter in time and can easily search and find information on the Web, Moses shows as understanding. (Moses also seems to understand the tendency of Israelis to be not very patient.)

In another example, a print ad from a few years ago for a new burger of Moses, Artburger, posed in large-bulk letters (‘loudly’) at the center of the copy: “How Many Times Do I Have to Explain to You That This Is Not a Hamburger?!”  Artburger is made of a mix of lamb, beef and veal meat. Text in small font at the bottom of the ad explained:

“In a competition conducted by TimeOut magazine, which is like what you are holding now but another, readers chose the Artburger of Moses, which is exactly what you will be holding soon, as the best hamburger. So this is the time to admit failure. If after all we had done, we couldn’t make you understand that Artburger isn’t really a hamburger, then we probably deserve this.”  (Translated, RV)

This is a clear attempt by Moses, if a little sarcastic, at differentiating its 250g Artburger with a superior-quality meticulous blend of meat from standard beef hamburger. Importantly, this is not a gimmick of one-off ad but an integral part of the language Moses consistently uses in its communication to consumers, part of his character. (An image of the original ad in Hebrew can be found in the Gallery; also see photos from restaurants in the chain and the Artburger Olympic Contest).

As a final example, Moses made an intriguing invitation or call for customers to participate in a satisfaction survey distributed on postcards at his restaurants. This is how the invitation went:

“Psss… Psss… Act normally. Continue reading as if this is just any other text on a postcard. Don’t let the waiters feel that something suspicious is going on here. Smile like what is written here is something funny. Now, in your most nonchalant way, throw a look at the bottom left corner of the postcard…did you get the (QR) code? It can turn you from regular Moses customers to … “mystery customers”, Hush… Yes, exactly as you’ve heard. Scan the code now and not at home, answer our discreet satisfaction questionnaire, show when finished to the waiter and get a scratching card, and maybe you will win a bonus to spoil yourself. Nice work, Agent. See you on the next mission.” (Translated, RV)

It is an attention-grabbing and engaging way of asking customers to participate in such a survey. In a ‘gamified’ kind of invitation, the task is put into a story of a secret mission — properly applied and difficult to ignore. The invitation has additional important elements like encouragement to reply immediately and a reward, both aimed at increasing the response rate (a link is further provided in addition to the code), yet embedded in a whole story that signals suspense and thrill (and also humour). Then finally comes this footnote:

” (!) This postcard will destroy itself instantly when finished reading if you spill a little ketchup on it, a bit of mayonnaise, wrinkle it into a little ball, and then throw to the garbage can…” — A nice touch of irony in mockery of espionage work…

Moses the cat is a cartoon character — he is known to consumers only by face, with his wide smile, his tongue hanging out as a signal of his mischievous nature, round eyes, red nose, and sharpened ears on top. The icon that identifies Moses visually fits well with his verbal language, and together they help build the brand personality: Moses is sociable, extrovert or approaching to others, light, direct but sometimes more subtle and sophisticated, looking for adventures, and he likes to make jokes but with the sting of irony. Over time some versions of the looks of Moses have appeared (e.g., in different colour, ears pointed to the sides or raised upwards) but they all have the same distinctive elements that are indicative of his character. Other visual elements like the design of the website (e.g., colours and shapes of “windows”) or the menu (recently re-designed in a graphic style similar to infographs) are consistent with the less-orderly conduct of Moses .

  • The face icon of Moses is reminiscent of Felix the Cat, a hero comic and cartoon character from the 1920s-1940s. The personality characteristics (e.g., adventurous, playing tricks on others) also match quite well. The chain has reportedly acquired the creative rights to use the icon-logo of the cat Moses from an American company that owns rights since the 1960s for an original animated figure (1), although the article does not mention the name of the original figure.

However, language can more than tell of the brand personality of Moses; it also speaks of the culture of Moses chain of restaurants as an organisation. When the language used in written and electronic communications is considered together with oral communication, conduct and other actions of the chain’s staff members in the restaurants, they indicate a culture that approaches customers, wants to get close to them and cares for them. Staff members on-site do not really talk as described above but they are courteous and waiters would usually ask diners how they were doing before taking order and return to ask how is the meal after serving. They also tend to fix problems and give away bonuses as compensation to conciliate with customers and keep them happy. Members of the customer club are called Moses Friends; the language used by Moses the cat seems to be directed especially to them and to encourage new ones to join as his friends. Moses Friends regularly get a bonus starter or dessert and accumulate stars for price discount. They also get priority seating.

Yuval Sela, founding partner (with the Yarsin Group) and CEO, defines Moses as “a restaurant that talks to everyone, at noon to business people, in the evening to families, and at night to the young ones after entertainment” (2). In fact, Moses restaurants have turned out most popular among families on weekends. The chain that considers itself a place for “Modern American Kitchen” runs a well-controlled number of restaurants, self-managed without franchising. Sela sees children as the anchors that bring families to their restaurants and therefore most important to satisfy — they give them game and drawing booklets with coloured pencils, and at least one restaurant added in the past year a play room for little children (“Gymboree”). For the young ones who come late at night they offer a night burger meal for a special price treat (42 NIS=€8.75). Beyond that they offer as expected a business lunch deal of a salad, 200g burger, side dish and soft drink/juice at a very fair price (competitive even against McDonald’s meals — 58 NIS to 50 NIS) and other attractions like “international burgers” in culinary styles of different countries. All together, it is evident of a culture of a business that cares for its varied customers.

The language of Moses in the chain’s communications will not appeal to everyone. Some may consider it impolite and intruding (e.g., senior citizens). Others may find this genre of language simply strange to them. It is essential to study and confirm to what segments that kind of language is appealling or at least can feel comfortable with it. Notably, five of the restaurants are located in the Tel-Aviv area in or near business districts that host professionals and managers in banking and finance, Hi-Tech and other business services and socio-economically privileged neighbourhoods. The recently added branch in the vacation resort city of Eilat is rather the exception and probably targets primarily consumers as families.

More frequently, the restaurants are in vicinity to patrons-diners that are likely to appreciate and welcome the spiked humorous and sometimes more sophisticated approach of Moses’s language. It is furthermore likely that consumers from those same circles are those that come outside working hours with friends and family to dine at Moses. It can be hoped that diners who come along with “devotees”, even if they do not truly welcome that style of language, will at least find it amusing.

Epilogue (June 2018):  In early 2017 Moses restaurant chain was acquired by BBB Group which already owned at that time two hamburger restaurant chains. Following this acquisition, BBB Group operates three chains with different positions of quality and value proposition: Burgerim — basic, fast-food; BBB (Burgus Burger Bar) — medium, good value; and Moses as its premium brand. However, within a year BBB dropped or abolished much of the symbols and elements of the brand personality of Moses, including the culture and language attached to it. Five of its current 11 branches are already operated by franchisers. The previous founding owners lamented that differentiation of the brand has eroded and revenues did not justify keeping up the chain. Yet the personality and culture of Moses did make the restaurant chain stand out from its competitors, including BBB itself. Moses is not the same as before; even its menu and how burger sandwiches are served have changed. The BBB Group has not made so far an attempt to revitalise the brand theme of Moses or replace it with something new and different. Without it, the task could become more difficult to maintain differentiation of Moses from other chains at least similar in position of quality and value, and it is losing its brand distinction and uniqueness.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

(1) “How Did We Turn Into an Overeat People: 20 Hamburgers a Day and a Line to Restaurant at 3AM”, TheMarker Online (Hebrew), 23 Sept. 2010 http://www.themarker.com/misc/1.581423

(2) Ibid. 1 (Citation translated from Hebrew, RV)

 

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The past thirty years in Great Britain have been marked by some major economic and social changes, most notably de-industrilisation, decline in job security, a transition to service economy, and the rise to dominance of the financial sector. These developments have occurred to differing degrees in other Western countries as well but perhaps not in as a dramatic way as in the UK. Only in the past month we have witnessed the awakening of a heated public debate on these socio-economic developments in reaction to the death of late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK between 1979 and 1990, due to her reforms in the 1980s. Most people would describe themselves nowadays as “middle class” and yet people are at difficulty to define and agree on what that status means. The gross division of the British society into upper class, middle class and working class does not seem to hold any longer.

The BBC’s research branch Lab UK launched in 2011 a major research project, the Great British Class Survey (GBCS), in co-operation with an academic team led by Professors of Sociology Mike Savage of London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and  Fiona Devine of the University of Manchester. They embarked on developing a new model of social class whilst taking, however, a different approach to defining the determinants of social status that is not based solely on occupation and other economic variables.  At the core of the project the BBC underlines the large Web survey it has carried out, in which 161,400 respondents in Great Britain participated; this survey was accompanied nevertheless by another national survey in a representative sample of about 1,000 respondents interviewed face-to-face (the use of two data sources is discussed later in the post-article).

The model developed by the research team working with the BBC includes seven classes. The model still identifies layers of social class but their organisation is different from previous models that relied primarily on indicators of education, occupation and economic wealth; the model thus reveals new types of class segments. Most remarkably, the “middle class” is more diffused, splintering horizontally across more unique and distinct class segments, also replacing the reduced traditional working class.

The unusual structure of this social class model can be attributed primarily to the acknowledgement by the researchers that the social standing of people depends not only on the stature of their occupation and their economic wealth but also on additional personal resources that people develop over time. They rely on a schema developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu that recognizes in culture a crucial pillar contributing to a person’s competences and stature. Bourdieu identified three forms of capital: economic capital (wealth and income), cultural capital (based upon educational upbringing, it defines a person’s tastes and ability to appreciate and engage with cultural goods such as arts and food), and social capital (the breadth and nature of contacts and connections in a person’s social networks that can benefit him or her). The expansion of the concept of “social class” hereby suggested by the researchers deviates from the concept’s “classical” economic foundations but it nonetheless enriches the model by bringing it closer to the concept of “lifestyle” — a connection that should be well appreciated in a marketing context. It allows one, for instance, to account for whether a person has more fine tastes or a stronger tendency to open-mindedness that may enhance his or her standing in society. Savage and Devine and their colleagues argue in favour of their approach that:

“This recognition that social class is a multi-dimensional construct indicates that classes are not merely economic phenomena but also are profoundly concerned with forms of social reproduction and cultural distinction” (2, p. 5).

A quick review of the new seven class segments (1):

  • Elite — The most privileged group with highest levels on all types of capital, but particularly distinguished by the greatest economic capital.  The largest (over-) representation of CEOs and other senior managers is found in this class.
  • Established Middle Class — Not as wealthy as the elite but still very high on all three capitals. The most gregarious group that also scores the second highest on cultural capital.
  • Technical Middle Class — A small but distinctive new class that is prosperous but more secluded, concentrating on its links to other profession experts. They are distinguished by their social isolation and cultural apathy.
  • New Affluent Workers — A rising group of young people who are successful in their jobs, with middling levels of economic capital though without acquiring higher education; yet, they are socially and culturally active that appears to give them a leverage.
  •  Traditional Working Class — Relatively older people, they constitute the remaining working class of the past (their offsprings are believed to belong in the new segments of New Affluent Workers and the Emergent Service Workers.) They are low on all forms of capital though not completely deprived, reliant especially on current high values of their houses.
  • Emergent Service Workers — They are young and urban though less well-off economically than the new affluents, positioned in relatively basic and low paying jobs in services (e.g., at call-centers, bars and restaurants); they are also characterised as highly active socially and culturally.
  • Precariat — The most poor and deprived group of precarious proletariat with low scores also on social and cultural capital.

The young segments that represent the newer generation of the “working class” seem to be a more savvy generation, less indifferent to or accepting of their social status, better connected, and working to improve their well-being, not only at their jobs. Are they types of “middle class” or “working class”? This is unclear — those familiar classes seem more confounded. The place of the lowest social class is taken now by the Precariats. Division in the British class system may have changed in form and structure but it remains powerful: Savage argues that the society is increasingly polarised between the elite at the top and the ‘precariat’ class at the bottom and with divisions growing deeper (3).

Hereafter a question is raised: What does this model imply for consumer behaviour?  The model provides a new foundation upon which marketing researchers and managers may develop better understanding of consumers’ motives and drivers, and the background to their behaviour. It can help answer not just what consumers can afford but what they may aspire for. It may further reveal how consumers aim to achieve their goals or implement their interests, suggesting specifically what kinds of products and services are utilised in the course of doing so. But the social class model is not sufficient to that end — it has to be joined by another model that elaborates on consumer lifestyles. The new opportunity for improvement that unveils with the new model is in creating a more meaningful and congruent bridge between a social class model and a lifestyle model. This bridge would be primarily cultural but there may also exist a social common denominator.

  • Economic capital is measured by household income, household savings and house value (the latter two are joined in a ‘wealth’ index).
  • Cultural capital takes in consideration leisure interests, taste in food, taste in music, use of media, and travel destinations for holiday. The researchers have borrowed the conceptual distinction of Bourdieu between elevated “highbrow” genres of culture and “popular” culture, but they apply it in a more flexible manner. First, following recent research, the model assumes that respondents from any class may simultaneously practice genres of both “highbrow” and “popular” culture (i.e., each type receives a separate score). Second, they furthermore refrain from making judgement about forms of culture that may appear degrading and use the term “emerging” instead of “popular” for describing culture forms like sports, playing video games, browsing the internet and participating in social media networks. Forms of “highbrow” culture include among others engaging with classical music or jazz, visiting museums, art galleries, theatres, and French restaurants. On these facets “social class” and “lifestyle” meet.
  • Social capital is evaluated through two metrics: the number of occupation groups (out of 34 possible groups) of the people with whom a respondent has social connections and a mean status score of those occupations. Models of lifestyle should now also relate to socialising activities and the kinds of information consumers share, given the significant place in time and content that social media networks fill in their lives. A lifestyle model may contribute some additional information on connections in the “real world” and/or in the “virtual world” that the social class model does not seem to distinguish (though it accounts for use of social media under “cultural capital”.)

It is not proposed to build a single integrative model that stands the risk of diluting either construct of “social class” or “lifestyle”. Rather, the new social class model and a lifestyle segmentation model should be married by crossing one with the other, the former focusing on the resources consumers hold and the latter elaborating on how those resources are expressed and employed in reference to consumer behaviour.

We would want to know more about the psychographics of members of the new social classes to understand how they can be expected to behave as consumers. Here are two issues to consider for probing:

What kind of shoppers the New Affluent and Emergent Service workers are likely to be? — more critical, cautious and price-conscious or more easy-spending on any products and services and their brands? They may choose products and brands they believe can improve their well-being or their image in the eyes of others. How do these two segments differ? (hint: the emergent service workers are said to be more eager to “live the day”, more seeking experiences rather than products (1)).

Consumers in the Established and the Technical middle class segments both have plenty of economic resources but the former has a much more varied range of social connections and is more culturally active, mixing highbrow and emerging forms of culture — how does that distinguish them as consumers with respect to time and money they spend with family and friends at home or outdoors, on their personal interests and hobbies, on the Internet, etc.?

It should be noted that this model outcome could not be obtained if based only on the web survey of the BBC’s GBCS. The researchers found a strong selection bias in the large web sample, lifting it socially upwards, that is, the web sample exhibited over-representation of Britons from well-educated social groups. It means that this sample could not be adequate for modelling social classes of the whole British society. The GBCS received high publicity in media channels of the BBC which may have served well for recruiting a sample of its audience but not beyond that. However, the bias may also be due to low rates of Internet literacy and usage in older and less privileged social groups.

Compared with the second national sample in a parallel survey conducted by GfK, it clearly shows how the web survey is biased upwards with respect to occupations, household income and ‘wealth’. The model was built by a method of latent class analysis on an integrated sample dataset where respondents in the national sample received their original weights to reflect the correct composition of the population, while respondents in the web sample were “fragmented” by giving each a weight of 1/161,400. All cases are classified simultaneously, yet the class system structure is based more heavily on the national sample and the GBCS sample serves primarily to provide greater detail on the profiles of those classes.

  • The differences between the two samples remain clear: the Established Middle Class is the largest segment, 25% of GfK national sample but it “grows” to 43% of GBCS web sample; the Elite is just 6% of GfK sample but 22% of GBCS sample; conversely, the New Affluent Worker is 15% of GfK sample but just 6% in the GBCS sample; and the Precariat segment that takes 15% of the GfK sample is almost non-existent in the GBCS sample. (2)

The new British social class model recently published reveals additional important facets to social standing, based not just on economic resources but influenced also by social relationships and cultural capital. The enriched model also offers a bridge to associate with a lifestyle model that would shed more light on implications of the classes for consumer behaviour and marketing. It may also give encouragement to consumers that they can invest in their social and cultural capital to improve their well-being and social standing before they are able to increase their economic capital.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Sources:

1. The Great British Class Survey (GBCS) Special Section on BBC News Online:

(a) “Huge Survey Reveals Seven Social Classes in UK”, BBC News: UK, 3 April 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22007058

(b) “Class Calculator: Can I have No Job or Money and Still Be Middle Class?”, BBC News Magazine, 4 April 2013    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21953364

2. “A New Model of Social Class: Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment”, Mike Savage, Fiona Devine et al., Sociology (Online), April 2013 (link is available on BBC website, 1b)

3.  “The British Class System is becoming more polarised between a prosperous elite and a poor ‘precariat'”, Prof. Mike Savage discusses the results of the research, London School of Economics: British Politics and Policy at LSE (Blog), 4 April 2013,   http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/archives/32264

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