03 Sep 2015
Imagine yourself at a business networking event or at a dinner with a prospective boss or client. The waiter offers you a tantalizing assortment of drinks but instead of sparkling water or soft drink, you select a glass of red wine.
In your mind, it seems innocent enough and you presume that holding that glass of wine will make you appear more intelligent, successful, interesting or debonair to your potential boss or customer, right?
Unfortunately, you’re only 2 minutes into the night, and you may have already made your first rookie mistake – which could cost you your chance of landing your dream job, picking up a great new client or doing business with someone in the room.
So what went wrong?
We see images of alcohol being consumed in a business context all the time – sexy, successful men like Don Draper and Jordan Belfort, living the high life and partaking in alcohol to spark creativity, boost confidence, bond with colleagues or build rapport with clients.The association with fun, virility, worldliness and success has been deeply ingrained in our culture through print media, TV and Hollywood film.
Unfortunately, the association of alcohol with drunkenness (or at least impairment) is even more deeply embedded in the subconscious of your mind.In fact, even if you just see someone holding a glass of wine at a business networking event or on a social media site, it will likely reduce your assessment of their intelligence. Research proves that even a stone-cold sober person holding a glass of wine suffers an apparent 10-20 point IQ drop, not in real terms, but in the eyes of the observer.
Why Do We Unconsciously Judge People Who Consume Alcohol?
The “imbibing idiot bias” is documented in a 2012 study by Scott Rick (University of Michigan) and Maurice Schweitzer (Wharton – The University of Pennsylvania). Their work demonstrates, among other things, that subjects viewed holding a glass of wine at a business networking event were judged to be less intelligent and less appropriate for hiring. Conversely, participants who were pictured with a soft drink were viewed as more intelligent and more hireable.
These conclusions were further explored in a March 2013 Australian survey of 100 business owners who attended an after-business networking event. 71% reported having at least one alcoholic beverage, while 36% reported having at least two. Not surprisingly, the 36 respondents reported the least number of business cards exchanged and qualified leads gained. The 29% who did not consume an alcoholic beverage exchanged twice as many business cards and gained 41% more leads.
The “imbibing idiot bias” is an example of a phenomenon called “the priming effect.” Priming occurs whenever decisions and actions are predisposed, hastened or influenced in a particular direction by the context, visuals, emotions, or symbols presented.
Why is Priming So Damn Effective?
Priming works to influence and persuade because most of the drivers behind the choices and decisions you make every day happen primarily below the level of thought and consciousness. This means that all of us – executives, job candidates and business owners – are strongly influenced by intangible factors that largely go undetected by the rational parts of our minds.
Evidence of the priming effect is all around us – at work, at home and in the media.
It is the reason why presidents pose for photos while sitting behind a large wooden desk, surrounded by a flag, a photo of their family, and bookshelves full of leather bound books. Without saying a word, the context has already predisposed or influenced your opinion of their values, work ethic, and intelligence. And it also explains why voters tend to cast more politically conservative ballots if asked to attend polls in or near a church location, as opposed to those who vote near government or secular buildings.
Despite what you might think, alcohol and business don’t mix!We are conditioned to associate alcohol with cognitive impairment, and even when no such impairment is present, the association still sticks and we will automatically judge the person partaking as less intelligent and less suitable for doing business with.
In challenging economic times, where perception and first impressions can make the difference between thriving and barely surviving, it makes good sense to avoid alcoholic beverages when you are networking, interviewing, selling or posting in social media environments. In light of many people’s liberal views toward what they say/post online (all of which are very easy to access by an employer, recruiter, customer or supplier), this research could help you make the best impression possible in business.
Understanding how strongly the human brain is influenced and primed by subtle cues (such as a glass of wine or beer) can prevent you (or one of your team members) from unwittingly committing an act of reputation suicide at a business networking event.
Does The Imbibing Idiot Bias Also Apply To Social Drinks With Colleagues?
In sharp contrast to this, however, there have been several recent studies (*see research excerpt below) that seem to indicate moderate alcohol consumption may increase social bonding between team members and stimulate longer conversations.While alcohol and business networking, prospecting and interviewing don’t mix, there is some evidence that in the confined setting of drinks among existing team members in an after work social context, moderate consumption allows for increased social bonding, engaging conversation, camaraderie and positive displays of emotions.
There are also specific industries and certain cultures where alcohol consumption is more acceptable and in some instances encouraged. In fact many executives who specialize in doing business in Asia will insist imbibing is a must if you want to build relationships and do business in Asian countries.
Summary – Do Alcohol and Business Mix?
Under limited circumstances (i.e. team bonding, certain industries, specific cultures), alcohol and business may in fact mix.However, for those of you who are looking for jobs, clients, joint venture partners, suppliers etc,. it may still be very prudent to err on the side of caution and not indulge in front of someone that you are trying to make a good impression with. While a glass of wine or beer might taste refreshing for a moment, it may to curb your ability to attract leads, clients, positions, investors or partners. It should be noted that most of the research on this topic to date appears to be localized – it would be valuable to see more studies done in other countries and cultures where different associations may have been built up over time. These cultural nuances would of course impact the judgments that business people (in those industries or countries) would make when alcohol is served and it would be exciting to see if these initial studies have global applicability or not.
[*A team at the University of Pittsburgh recently conducted a study with 720 participants divided into small groups. Each participant received three drinks (either alcoholic, non-alcoholic or a placebo) over a 36-minute period. The subjects were videotaped by a hidden camera as they consumed their beverages and conversed. Then, experts in facial expressions and speech patterns evaluated their interactions with each other and found that moderate amounts of alcohol:
• Increased the frequency of “true smiles” and reciprocity of smiling;
• Increased social bonding;
• Kept all parties engaged in the discussion longer; and
• Enhanced positive emotions while decreasing negative emotions.]
**This blog is an excerpt taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is the best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which – Sales Seduction – is in the Top 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com,
For those of you who are in the retail industry, you may have noticed a recent trend to clean up in-store environments – reduce shelf heights, remove dense ends and dump bins, widen aisles etc. – in order to increase comfort and make the shopping experience less stressful for customers.
The big question then becomes “does clean make customers keen”? According to Walmart, arguably the largest and most successful retailer in the world, clean stores mean fewer beans (on the bottom line).
As reported in the New York Times, Walmart conducted a massive in-store experiment to improve sight-lines, rationalize the overall number of items offered, remove warehouse-like merchandising in centre aisles, and increase the width of core aisles. According to Walmart’s CEO William S. Simon, “(Customers) loved the experience. They just bought less.”
As a result, Walmart reverted back to its original strategy of offering more products, with tighter aisles, more clutter and lots of bargain bins in the hopes that customers would spend more because of a perception “there were bargains to be had”.
If you do a quick search on the internet, there are dozens of experts who subscribe to the view that a larger selection, more bargain bins, and sales signage equates to “better value”. In essence, the more you look like a market stall, the better it is to generate buzz and sales. They argue that if your merchandise is neatly presented on the walls and in well organized aisles, with no point of sale impulse offers and dense ends full of 2-for-1 specials, customers will tend to think your store is expensive (i.e. overpriced) and they will not buy from you.
And if you think about it, you can probably name a whole list of retailers who subscribe to this “clutter is good for business” philosophy and they seem to be successful. But how can we be sure that clutter makes customers keen? Have we been too quick and prematurely jumped to a conclusion that clean is a traffic and transaction turn-off?
Recent empirical evidence from neuroscience and neuromarketing sheds new light on how we think, and more importantly, how we make decisions. In fact, the decision making part of your brain responds strongly to certain stimuli only.
Did you know that your brain consumes 25% of your body’s energy? As a result, you brain wants to conserve energy so you tend to pay attention and be attracted to things that have sharp contrast, high visual appeal, strong emotional cues and a clear beginning vs. end message.
Now what does this mean for you in the context of your shopping environment?
A chaotic, cluttered store is cumbersome for your brain to navigate – you have to work hard mentally to hunt down and search for bargains. It may create some emotional appeal but it is likely perceived as having low contrast, low visual appeal and no clear beginning vs. end. According to neuromarketing studies, shopping in this environment takes time and energy and it also forces your brain to go into “thinking” mode. This is a critical point because thinking is counter-productive to deciding. Thinking takes place in one part of your brain (the neo-cortex), while deciding happens much more quickly (and automatically) in your old or “reptilian” brain.
So what does this neuromarketing research mean for the strategy and conclusions reached by Walmart?
Based on neuroscience, the strongest buying cue that you can give your customers is this – if your store (or business) has incredible bargains, people will buy (and even sift through a maze of clutter) because something is in it for them. The “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) principle is one of the strongest influences on the part of your brain that decides.
However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that clutter makes your customers keen.
Walmart and many others have come to a conclusion based on what they THINK people are doing to reach a buying decision in-store. However, neuromarketing has produced empirical evidence to support the opposite conclusion is more probable. Clutter and chaos create an environment where your customers have to think too hard, which is exhausting for the brain. They will do it if they have to, as long as the perceived bargains and value are very high.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to find another way to communicate good value and service without exhausting your customers and causing them to waste their time?
Wouldn’t you be more likely to get more sales and word of mouth referrals from your delighted customers?
In the end, Walmart may be correct about the fact people buy more in certain circumstances but they are wrong about WHY that is. The best way to create more excitement and sales is to make it easier for your customers to decide. You need to show them what’s in it for them, increase the contrast between your solution and your competitors and communicate a strong, clean visual message that compels them to say “YES”.