A recent post generated quite an interesting discussion about restaurant queueing problem (or not). One lesson I get from it is that reframing the question is quite crucial in getting reception from general public. In particular, I discussed to extent about how the idea of dynamic pricing may fail to normalise in the present society largely due to how it will be perceived.

A friend alerted me to The Anlantic article which summed this idea better than I can. What jumped out of the article is that we are currently experiencing a form of dynamic pricing in the restaurant industry. It has various names like Tightarse Tuesday or Friday Special. These promotional tools are essentially dynamic pricing in disguise. However, the crucial difference between dynamic pricing and specials is that they are framed differently. In one example, the default price is the minimum which can be raised depending on the demand, whereas in the other example, the default price is the maximum which can be lowered when there is less demand.

Potential effects of reframing could be quite astonishing, and sometimes outright hilarious as seen this TED talk given by Rory Sutherland (emphasis mine):

Here is one example. This is a train which goes from London to Paris. The question was given to a bunch of engineers, about 15 years ago, “How do we make the journey to Paris better?” And they came up with a very good engineering solution, which was to spend six billion pounds building completely new tracks from London to the coast, and knocking about 40 minutes off a three-and-half-hour journey time. Now, call me Mister Picky. I’m just an ad man … … but it strikes me as a slightly unimaginative way of improving a train journey merely to make it shorter. Now what is the hedonic opportunity cost on spending six billion pounds on those railway tracks?

Here is my naive advertising man’s suggestion. What you should in fact do is employ all of the world’s top male and female supermodels, pay them to walk the length of the train, handing out free Chateau Petrus for the entire duration of the journey. (Laughter) (Applause) Now, you’ll still have about three billion pounds left in change, and people will ask for the trains to be slowed down. (Laughter)

Changing behaviours

In the nutshell, it is about changing behaviours. Reframing has the power to change perception and thus making doing the difficult thing easier. It can reengage people to the cause as seen in the following examples:

The original silly walks

Real life silly walks

Amusement aside, what the example above shows is that all value is perceived value. For a driver, waiting at a pedestrian crossing doesn’t have to be a necessarily annoying thing, you have to do for walkers. The second point here is that this acts as an emotion trigger, which cognitive scientists have shown to be more effective in persuading people to comply.

A natural question to ask is what reframing could mean for consumer products?

We often hear people criticising Apple for their latest gadgets. But the question is why it is so popular? Because it isn’t selling iPhones or Macs or iPads or iWatches. It is selling lifestyle. Notice that the Apple logos on their products always face outward? That is a strategic design. When people buy Apple’s products they are making an individual statement about themselves and the “tribe” they choose to belong. Like supporting a football team, it is equivalent to saying that “I am belong in a particular group of people”. So, if you are buying Apple, you are saying to the world, that you are stylish and classy.

I think that majority of companies are trying to reframe their products away from utility and towards lifestyle statements. The diversity of companies mean that we, as a society, are moving towards consuming goods as a way to individualise ourselves. Is that good thing? I don’t know.