The Art of Choosing


Our batchmate Niranjana (featured on the blogroll on the right) has taken it upon herself to keep up the book reading averages for the entire MBA batch. On her fantastic site you can see her reviews of gazillion books. One that I’d like to point special attention to an interview she did with the author or The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar.

Sheena was also featured in a recent NYTimes interview around the same book, and she has a few snazzy YouTube videos about her book as well. Niranjana’s interview can be found here, and is excerpted below:

If Sheena Iyengar’s name seems familiar, it’s probably because you read about her research on consumer choice work in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, now has her own book out. The Art of Choosing deals with choice in all its aspects, across fields as varied as music, art, and medicine, and draws on everything from pop culture to brain imaging technology. Iyengar also mines her personal life for this book, and her choices — to study psychology at Stanford, to marry a man from outside her religion, to use sighted language although she is blind — are at least as fascinating as her research findings.

Can we really be choosy choosers when it comes to branding? You mention in your book, for instance, that Lancome’s Mousse Makeup and Maybelline’s Mousse Foundation are made in the same factory, are nearly identical in their composition, and that experts have detected no difference in their performance, but L’Oreal, which owns both brands, sells the first at $37 and the other at $8.99. You cite several such examples of nearly identical products being branded and priced very differently. All this almost suggests to me that we consumers are often the dupes of these large corporations.

Are companies trying to manipulate us? Yes. Companies use branding to create differentiation when there’s very little actual difference because the market is so crowded.

Should we worry about being manipulated? Only if it’s in a domain that’s important to us. You need to decide what’s important to you, and that list can’t be long. For those things, you really pull out everything, use your gut, reasoned analysis, gather information from other people. For other things, find the acceptable one. If that means you’re being manipulated, so be it.

But companies need to give a lot more thought to how they should be branding in a more honest way. It’s good for the customer and for them — they really don’t need to add irrelevant options. One of the things they can sell to the customer is that every choice we offer really counts, that it is meaningfully different from other choices.

Check out Niranjana’s other reviews at her blog.

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About Gaurav Rastogi
Gaurav Rastogi is a writer and a business-exec living in the San Francisco bay area. His other blog is a personal philosophy blog at http://rustus.blogspot.com

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