Research: Consumers Aren't As Busy As They Think

While every marketer thinks they understand how stressed consumers are today, the reality is that people may feel more time-pressured than they actually are. New research explains what might help these overscheduled consumers feel better.

The study, written by marketing professors Jordan Etkin (Duke University), Ioannis Evangelidis (Erasmus University), and Jennifer Aaker (Stanford University), explores the conflicts people feel when their goals are in competition with one another, even when it doesn’t affect time management.

“All of us have multiple identities, and multiple goals that come with them,” Etkin tells Marketing Daily. “We might be professionals, colleagues, parents, siblings, children, and spouses.” Stress comes from the feeling that the goal of these varied roles somehow conflict with each other, even when they don’t.



The researchers asked participants to list tasks that took a specific amount of time, and to then picture themselves completing them. Next, the team asked them to imagine that tasks were in conflict with one another. In some instances, the researchers used situations that actually competed with others for time. But in others, that wasn’t the case.

“Let's say you’ve got an aging parent who needs some help. You’ve also got a job, and you’re at work now. But you know your kids need something from you too, and are expecting you to be home at a certain time. The more you ruminate and see those goals as opposing each other, the more conflict you’re going to feel,” she says.

That emotional logjam then creates guilt about where time is being spent, or even fear over lost income due to time constraints. “Both generate stress, and that makes people feel more pressed for time than they actually are."

While the study found that two tricks — pausing to take a few deep breaths and reframing anxiety (a negative feeling) as excitement (a positive one) — helped consumers feel more in control of their time, another takeaway is that marketers are missing out on key opportunities.

“There are many situations where marketers ask people to wait, whether it’s for a service rep on the phone or for delivery. Recognizing that customers in high conflict are likely to be more impatient, it’s particularly important to manage wait-time experience,” she says.

One example of how to address those needs: More companies are offering to call customers back instead of keeping them on hold, without losing their place in the customer-service line.

“People don’t like to be idle, especially when they’re feeling pressured for time,” she says. “It leads us to make poorer choices, such as overpaying for shipping. From the consumer’s standpoint, anything that makes us feel like we have more control over our time is empowering, and puts us in a better frame of mind.”

2 comments about "Research: Consumers Aren't As Busy As They Think".
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  1. William Mount from The Crafton Group, March 5, 2015 at 1:56 p.m.

    In some cases, time pressure is a status symbol. I'm busier than you, and that proves I'm more important than you. We all brag to one another about how full our metaphorical plates are (admit it, we all do).

    In others, it's proof that a person's' presence in the world matters. I'm rushed off my feet because all these people - family, kids, co-workers, friends, elderly neighbors, starving children in a foreign land - all really, really need me. In still others, it's a great excuse for doing a suboptimum job at something. You wouldn't gripe about the unmowed lawn if you understood how terribly busy I am.

    This study shows that, in most cases, excessive time pressure is a characteristic of peoples' projected selves, not their real selves. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if most people don't reject the deep-breath-reframing exercises because, deep in their hearts, they don't want to be calm. To be calm is to acknowledge that we're not indispensable.

    Marketers will be smart to play in to peoples' projected busy-ness, not by finding ways to make them calm, but by finding ways to let them wear their ostensible time constraints like a crown.

  2. Stephen Rappaport from SDR Consulting LLC, March 5, 2015 at 6:29 p.m.

    Great point Bill. It's less about being calm than it is about reducing stress so we can handle all the busy-ness that makes us so important. There are industries for that.

    As you point out, It would be better if people realized that they're not that important and don't need to be seen by others as important. Even better is that people should be confident in themselves, live the lives they want, love others, and give them what they need to thrive.

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