Friday, July 13, 2012

Understanding the Superstitious is Smart Business

Friday the 13th is associated with many elements of superstition; black cats, spilled salt, broken mirrors...but business performance? Many would say no - but in fact, a reported 9 percent of Americans are superstitious about the ominous calendar day and studies show that $800 million to $900 million in business revenue is lost on days like today.

We know that baseball players are superstitious about their favorite bat or pair of socks but business men and women have their own 'lucky' traditions. Whether it's that favorite suit for an interview or reading their horoscope before selling stock - it may seem irrational but according to Stuart Vyse, professor of psychology at Connecticut College, these actions are understandable, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

"In the business world, there is a tremendous amount of randomness in the market and people seek ways to gain control over these events, even though they can't," he says. "What you wear that day, the coffee that you drink--these things can't affect the outcome of the day's business, but people engage in this [behavior] to feel like they've done every possible thing to manage the outcome."

Although Vyse isn't a proponent of irrational behavior, he acknowledges that there are certain psychological benefits, such as more confidence and a sense of comfort, linked to superstitious rituals. "Crazy or not, you feel better having done [them]."

How can Lucky Numbers Work for Business?
You might not believe or buy into supersition but as a business - you need to takes steps to  mitigate losses on days like Friday the 13th. Plus, you can capitalize on positive superstitions.In the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Block and Kramer point out that some successful marketing campaigns based on the number seven, considered lucky in Western cultures, can draw positive attention from customers.

Icelandair, for example, ran a promotion allowing customers to add on excursions for $7 each, provided they booked by 7/7/07. Another was Wal-Mart's "Lucky in Love Wedding Search," which granted seven couples a free wedding ceremony and reception for 77 guests on the lucky date. "That campaign was very successful," Kramer says.

Acording to, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost on Friday the 13th because humans are naturally risk-averse. Although it's not always done consciously, there's a tendency toward less decision-making, Block says. "People don't do as much shopping and don't leave the house--and there's less flying." But by simply making people aware of superstitious behavior, it can bring out their more rational side, reminding them it's just an ordinary day.

Home store Crate & Barrel, Kramer recalls, ran a "Lucky You" campaign on Friday the 13th. "They played off the superstition and got people to come out anyway." Because consumers are not always aware of the extent to which they rely on superstitions, this is perhaps one model that businesses can follow.

Kramer concludes that it's important for business owners to be aware of any superstitions held by their target market. "Then they can both capitalize on [this knowledge] as well as avoid mistakes."

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