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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

UnitedInsight's David Champion On Online Consumer Behavior

Imagine being so fascinated by consumer behavior and psychology that you start a company focused on bridging between online consumer behavior academic research and practical business application. That's what David Champion did when he founded UnitedInsight.

David connected with me via LinkedIn. Given my interest in the consumer retail experience and simplifying the choosing experience, I was intrigued.

I was also delighted when David agreed to participate in this blog interview and provide insights [!] on UnitedInsight, online consumer behavior and his next half-day conference event on June 30th in NYC titled "Contagious Marketing: The Science of Word-of-Mouth in the Age of Social Media”.

C.B.: David, tell me about your background.

I was lucky enough to live all around the world when I was growing up, which offers an interesting perspective on how people act. I started in the jungle in Papua New Guinea and ended up in a very different kind of jungle in New York, working as an architect with Daniel Libeskind on the Ground Zero project.

Along the way, for example, I would spend half the year running my educational charity in Kenya, and the other half at university in Cambridge - two cultures that couldn’t be farther apart... and yet exactly the same social interactions were taking place around me. That really peaked my interest in social psychology and the question: can you boil down complex human behaviors into a system that can be predicted, and used to make better decisions in business.

C.B.: How did you come up with the idea of United Insight?

The architectural work in New York was fascinating, but I was always more interested by the way people inside a building are behaving, than the way the building looks. I noticed a parallel between the psychology research behind this, and what marketers want to know about how their consumers think and act (and buy). There is so much noise in the marketing world - from guru schemes to quick-fix tactics - that it’s difficult for marketers to access this really useful research, let alone to use it. I left architecture, drew every penny from my savings account and started UnitedInsight...

C.B.: What exactly is UnitedInsight?

UnitedInsight is the central resource for insights into Online Consumer Behavior.

We started hosting UnitedInsight Conferences to give marketers access to the latest scientific research into consumer decision making, in a way that’s easy to digest and implement. Social media and digital marketing are just a means to reach consumers, but marketers still need to know what drives their decisions.

What engages people online? What makes them buy? What aspects of a brand are they most likely to spread to their networks... and why?

These are the types of questions only scientists take the time to step back and answer in a way that is permanently useful. So we host conferences to present this research alongside industry expertise, and make sure our audiences walk away with new ideas they can implement immediately.

C.B.: What kinds of programs and resources do you offer?

Our conferences have a pretty cool format. We admire TED very much, but wanted to incorporate a reason for debate - you know... to stir up the mix a little! So our speakers are each leaders in their field, but often have quite different view-points, which means we really are giving the audience access to a 360° perspective of the industry, as well as the tools to make their own decisions with this information. The best part is that we take pretty complex concepts, and make them simple enough that you or I could start using them with tangible results very quickly.

Our website aggregates the best online news in Consumer Insight [e.g., see UnitedInsight articles]. We’ve been described as a mixture of TED, HBR and WOMMA, which is a nice compliment given those are three of our role-models!

C.B.: What do you find most intriguing about the [online] decision making process?

That’s a great question, and there are a thousand different aspects of that to consider... cool facts like: if you have a baby’s face on your web page people will look at that more than anything else, but if you have a picture of a baby staring at the button next to it, people will look to the button and click it!

On the other side of the spectrum I think one of my favorite examples is the algorithm developed by Johan Bollen’s team at Indiana University, which monitors Tweets across America and categorizes them into the ‘mood states’: “Calm, Alert, Sure, Vital, Kind, and Happy”. Amazingly, this algorithm could predict daily up and down changes in the closing values of the Dow Jones Industrial Average with up to 87.6% accuracy! You can only imagine how useful this type of software could be to marketers.

C.B.: What has been your biggest surprise since launching United Insight?

Inertia. People just don’t want to change what they’re doing - even when it clearly isn’t working.

C.B.: When is your next event and what should participants expect?

June 30th is our next half-day conference in NYC. The topic is “Contagious Marketing: The Science of Word-of-Mouth in the Age of Social Media”.

The purpose for this topic is very simple: Some online brands and content go ‘viral’, reach lots of people and lead to a lot of sales... and others don’t. Experts have evidence for what makes the distinction between these two and, as a marketer, you would probably want to get your hands on that information before your competitor does! This conference is designed around that piece of insight.

We have a great line-up for this one, including John Andrews (Former head of Emerging Media at Walmart), Dave Kerpen (Co-founder and CEO of Likeable Media, and 3-time WOMMY award winner), Ruben Quinones (Top Marketing Professor as voted by Social Media Magazine), Ted Rubin (Top Ranked CMO on Twitter), and Jonah Berger (Social Epidemic Professor at UPenn Wharton)

I would recommend this particular event to digital marketers who have discovered the limits of most SMM techniques, and who have power to implement new strategies for their companies or clients.

C.B.:  David, Any parting advice?

You have two options:

1) Drink the Kool-Aid

2) Buy the ingredients and make your own drink!

C.B.: I definitely prefer making my own drink!  Thanks, David, and all the best for a very successful event.

Comments? Reactions? How might you make use of UnitedInsight's consumer behavior resources?

Note: If you are interested in attending the June 30th half-day conference in NYC on "Contagious Marketing: The Science of Word-of-Mouth in the Age of Social Media”, you can register by clicking on this link which takes you to the EventBrite page. Be sure to use code UI-SIMPLE-10 which offers you 10% off registration.

Note: early bird price is valid until June 9th, midnight.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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