You Are What You Choose

Book Review: You Are What You Choose – The Habits of Mind that REALLY Determine How We Make Decisions, by Scott de Marchi and James T. Hamilton

Based on the title and cover art, which shows a head stuffed with objects, I anticipated that You Are What You Choose would be chock full of decision-making insights based on neuroscience and behavioral research. Instead, de Marchi and Hamilton mostly talk about their TRAITS system for categorizing individuals and then predicting subsequent behavior.

Their six TRAITS are:

Time – How much you “discount” time. Some people are focused on the short term, while others will gladly forgo pleasure now for a payout farther in the future.

Risk – How you evaluate dangers and payoffs in situations involving risk.

Altruism – The degree to which the welfare of others concerns you.

Information – How much information you consume.

MeToo – The degree to which you consider the opinions of others to be important.

Stickiness – How willing, or unwilling, you are to change your mind about past decisions. In a word, “loyalty.”

The authors include a simple 30-question tool to evaluate where the reader stands on each scale. The questions include things like “Do you floss your teeth daily?” and, “Do you like to read reviews before going to a movie or buying a product?”

While the authors suggest that TRAITS are an amazing predictor of behavior, their best predictions come when they combine other data. For example, they attempted to predict which individuals would get flu shots. TRAITS prediction alone was less than 50% accurate. Adding demographic data boosted the accuracy by nearly 30 percent. A subject’s political party increased accuracy by a mere point or two, but whether the subject had a prior bout of flu added about six point, bringing the total accuracy of the model to 78%.

Predicting behavior with nearly 80% accuracy is certainly a worthwhile effort, but it presumes you have all of that data for your target audience. Simply asking people if they intended to get a flu shot might have been equally accurate and a lot faster.

The promise of TRAITS analysis, in my opinion, lies in the teasing out of non-obvious relationships. For example, if you are bringing a new organic wine to market and discover that the TRAITS of your target customers match those of Toyota owners, you could buy lists of Toyota owners without knowing their individual characteristics. Of course, additional research might show demographic or other traits that would let you target only the most likely Toyota owners for your campaign, but then you are in the midst of a fairly major market research project.

The authors did use online advertising to demonstrate a correlation between a TRAITS factor and other behavior. They bought Google Adwords for searches about “lead tests” (presumably a risk-averse group of searchers) with ads asking, “Is Obama too risky?” They did indeed find a higher click rate on those ads than the same ads targeting searches for “movie reviews.”

At the end of the day, I didn’t come away from You Are What You Choose with much in the way of actionable information. If you are actively engaged in statistical prediction of behavior and microsegmenting your markets, this book might be a little more relevant.

At Amazon: You Are What You Choose: The Habits of Mind That Really Determine How We Make Decisions

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