Podcast: Striking the Right Chord — Finding Harmony Between BeSci and Business Objectives

Special guest, Melina Palmer (Host of The Brainy Business Podcast, Author, Inc.com Columnist, and Instructor at Texas A&M) discusses how she found her love of BeSci, her new book (“What your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You”), and the ways applying Behavioral Economics will take your insights and your business to new heights.


Podcast hosted by Matt Salem (Vice President, Client Development)

You can find all the episodes of Our Best Behavior on our podcast pageApple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, and SoundCloud.

Matt Salem 

Hi, everyone. I’m your host Matt Salem, and you have tuned in to another episode of Our Best Behavior. A podcast brought to you by Behaviorally, winner of the 2020 market research podcast award.

Behaviorally, formerly PRS In Vivo USA, helps brands improve shopper and consumer experiences by defining and diagnosing the behaviors that drive shopper growth. Each month we produce a podcast to share industry insights on trending topics designed to help you make better shopper marketing decisions.

Today, I’m very lucky to have a special guest, applied behavioral economist, and host of The Brainy Business Podcast, Melina Palmer. Hey, Melina.


Melina Palmer 

Hi. Thanks for having me.


Matt Salem 

Thanks for being here today. How’s it going?


Melina Palmer 

Very well, thank you.


Matt Salem 

Good. Glad to hear. So, I was hoping that we could start off a bit about just you personally let the audience get to know you for those that listen to the Behaviorally podcast. I’m sure many know you from your own The Brainy Business Podcast but hoping you could just share a bit about yourself on the personal side.


Melina Palmer 

Yeah, so I guess that would be I live in Washington State and have been here for a long time. Most of my life, I guess.

And as a little tidbit, that it’s funny, I get people that asked about this, sometimes I’ve been there’s always a joke that I have one of the best voices in behavioral science of different like, notes. Say it’s like the smooth jazz podcast sort of I deal with that.

But I actually used to compete singing opera.

And for the longest time, you know, always the plan was that I was going to go to school for musical theater and a longtime performer. And so that is, I guess, lends itself to enjoying doing podcasts and public speaking and things like that, where it comes very naturally, to me little tidbit into who I am, I guess.


Matt Salem 

I love that tidbit. And I must say I concur. Because I’ve been listening to some podcasts on the drive to work, just downloading them on the phone and checking them out. And literally one of the first things that struck me is, wow, I could learn, and this is going to create a more relaxing environment for me to feel like I kind of dialed it down a bit before I stepped into the office instead of amping myself up thinking about everything I have to do for the day.

So that is fantastic. I’m glad you said that because it was on my mind. And I love the opera angle too. I come from a musical family with a father that’s a music teacher who retired now for quite a long time. There was always music in my household. So, I sincerely appreciate that aspect of it as well. The tidbit. Yeah. So, thanks for sharing that.

So you’re certainly a busy individual hobbies and personal life inside, you’ve made many contributions to the research and behavioral economics, facets of the industry, the Association for consumer research, writing for ink mag, which is constantly popping up in my Google feed, by the way, because I do read a lot of articles from the literature, they’re teaching at Texas A&M. Melina, when do you sleep and eat?


Melina Palmer 

Oh, you know, I eat while reading things, I guess, and sleep while listening to other research in books to be interviewed on the show? No, I try to keep a pretty decent work-life balance.

And I would say I have a very supportive husband, who knows that sometimes there are late nights and weekends, especially, you know, we got new classes coming up or other writing and things to do.

But yeah, it’s when it’s the thing that you just really love doing. And you found the thing that is your passion, so much more than can even be explained where I’m constantly, even if I’m watching TV, or if I was reading a book or whatever, I will see an advertisement and think, Oh, that’s so interesting. I wonder why they did it this way. I could do a post about that. And I could write about that I can include this in a class. I’m just it’s constantly all happening in my brain anyway. So might as well, you know, write it down and share with the world, I guess.


Matt Salem 

Absolutely. Well, speaking of writing things down and sharing with the world, the book, the book is out yet what your customer wants and can’t tell you highly recommend everyone listening goes to Amazon clicks it puts it in their cart buys it immediately.


Melina Palmer 

Thank you.


Matt Salem 

Writing a book is a labor of love often, as I’ve heard, and they certainly don’t write themselves. How did this come to fruition? I mean, how did the whole idea come to fruition for you? You obviously have The Brainy Business Podcast. Sure, that kind of one thing led to another, so to speak. I’d love to hear a bit more.


Melina Palmer 

Yeah, it definitely hindered and building upon one another when I started my Master’s in behavioral economics. I have a background in marketing and brand strategy. And, you know, I found behavioral economics and was so excited, and I found very quickly that all the things That came really just were so obvious to me about how behavioral economics applies to brand strategy and marketing and communication and all these goals for businesses. There just wasn’t anything out there yet. In that applied space, there wasn’t anybody really talking about it publicly.

And so, I ended up launching the podcast to be that and, as far as I know, was the first behavioral economics podcast in the world that was really, like, dedicated, definitely the first one for applied behavioral economics. And then, you know, had this huge initial like a spurt of people just finding it and reaching out from all around the world have downloaded it from 170 plus countries. And just, you know, I love this, I get it, you talk about it, it makes sense.

I’m able to translate, you know, the really academic stuff in a way that it’s not boring, and you get what you want to do. But then there’s this next, you know, where do I start? And how do I jump in and make this happen?

And so some of that with starting to teach at Texas A&M, and then with the book, though, is just a more mainstream applicable way, it’s written to be kind of like a reference guide of sorts to where it’s, you know, 16 top concepts that I’ve worked on with my own clients for business, and helping you get a little bit about them, and they start feeling comfortable getting to be applying them on their own and together in a way that you can really feel good. And all those chapters end with little like quiet sections and tidbits.

We also have a full PDF companion workbook that is free for anybody to go and download that goes with the book, and it’s 111 pages because I’m ridiculous and can’t control myself when creating worksheets and stuff, but I just really want everybody to be able to be successful in applying behavioral economics in business. And so that’s what the book is really about.


Matt Salem 

I love that aspect of having the accompanying workbook to really help people think it through. I think it over-activates the book if you will. It’s, it’s great.

In the book, you talk about pretty much off the bat and even kind of in some of the press that I’ve seen tapping into the subconscious system one. However, we would like to call it. And just as at a high level, that’s a subject matter, I think is interesting to a lot of folks, when they first hear about it, for sure. It’s obviously more prevalent now in industry and kind of more common knowledge. But it can be both, you know, great to understand, but also intimidating in a way.

When you think about well, how do I bring to the top of mind my conscious all of the things that I normally am not thinking about? And in some ways, it’s easy to understand and that hey, well, when I’m driving a car on the same route every single day, I’m not literally working my mind to remember that I have to make a right at this light, it’s just kind of back of the hand. And that’s an example that comes easy.

But as I think about it more, and I think about applying some of these concepts to research, you know, in research, how can we ensure that we’re tapping into the subconscious, both with shoppers for us or for anyone conducting research, just respondents that are in the research? How do we get them to access areas of the subconscious? And how do we create research that can better activate those areas, so that we are really observing great true behavior?


Melina Palmer 

The first initial tip, just as you know, we’re getting started jumping in looking at that subconscious piece. One of the things that I talk with clients about a lot is when you think about the part of your brain that you’re using when you and your team sit down to create the research, study, or design the product, or whatever it is, you’re using your conscious brain and you think you’re talking to other logical conscious brains and what people should do, and you have the jargon and all that stuff. And, oh, we’re gonna ask about this. And it’s gonna do that.

And if you don’t understand the rules that the subconscious is using, which is 99% of decision making, and that is where the people that are making a choice are going to be coming from, if you don’t factor that into your consideration set, you’re, you’re just not going to get the information that you want, can’t really work out in that way.

So that research design, knowing what problem you’re solving, really being thoughtful at the front end is the most important thing. And the thing that basically where I see, pretty much every business goes wrong is not dedicating enough time upfront, to properly understanding what’s really happening and what’s the behavior you’re trying to actually get at instead of what your logical brain thinks the problem is.

So, I would say that is the biggest piece from the beginning. And then when you’re looking at designing any sort of testing, you know, there’s just a good mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques you’re able to do. And you know, Texas A&M, through the human behavior lab, we use eye emotions technology. So, you’re able to be getting at the brain scanning and the eye-tracking software and facial recognition and looking at these things all at once that people can’t tell you, which you know, what your customer wants, and can’t tell you, there’s a reason there.

But even just something as simple as knowing that, you know, your eyes are scanning the room around you two to three times per second, you’re just constantly looking around. And so that eye tracking is able where someone says, No, I was just looking straight at this. But the software will say, you know, you returned to this item 10 times in a second or whatever, and go, what? like, No, I was looking at it.

But you look at all these other things. And so, understanding what’s happening in the brain, when your eyes look here, you can get a lot of intuition from those pieces. So, when you do work with a research partner on something where you’re able to get all that additional information. And just because the pupils dilate, that does that could either be good or bad, you know, my pupils dilated. And I got closer to the screen because I leaned forward because I was interested, versus my pupils dilated. And I went backward really quickly, because the snake jumped out at me, you know, that says something different, where if you just look at pupil dilation, it’s not going to be telling the whole story.

So, knowing what you’re trying to find out. And then knowing that there are all these other associations that can tie in is important when you’re really digging in on that research aspect. That’s maybe a bit too in-depth for what we’re talking about.


Matt Salem 

No, I think that’s great. I mean, it’s certainly pertinent for a conversation with Behaviorally, we use eye-tracking all the time in our research in order to understand inevitably shopper decision making and to your point, you can’t rely on what garners attention to tell you if it’s good or not, right?

You look and look at a car accident, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, right? So, it’s things that grab your attention aren’t necessarily good or bad. You’re going to need more information there to triangulate that if you will.


Melina Palmer 

Absolutely. And that’s I mean, for me, the biggest thing that I’ve always been a pretty good questioner and so helping others to know that, you know, if something doesn’t turn out the way that you thought it would, overcoming your confirmation bias and to be able to say, Well, I wonder why that is, what else might be happening, what’s underlying that we may have missed. And looking at that more as an opportunity to say, oh, man, like that went way different than we thought, there must be some other behavior that we’re not quite tapping into yet. Let’s get to that next layer. And seeing that as an exciting opportunity, instead of feeling like it’s a setback.

I think that reframe is really helpful when you’re looking at being an applied behavioral economist, applied behavioral scientist, that it’s an ongoing process. And we will continue to learn it’s not just a one-and-done sort of situation.


Matt Salem 

You brought up confirmation bias. And if I may just go a bit longer on some of what we’ve been talking about with, you know, bringing some ideas into the research world. I often think that sometimes something that you spoke to extensively on one of your podcast episodes, that familiarity bias is playing a role here at Behaviorally and everywhere else, frankly, in terms of, you know, it’s easy to stick with some of the things that you’ve always done that are tried and true.

Now, frankly, I think here we’ve done a lot in the past couple of years in terms of innovation and thinking outside of the box. And the leadership here has been great in pushing new to new realms. When I think about your podcast episode, around familiarity bias, I love the example you gave about watching movies as a kid, and how you never want to watch that new movie.

I mean, for me, I live that at home, my three-year-old daughter, she wants to watch Frozen all the time. And it’s like, jeez, there’s other movies besides Frozen, Nyla. But you know, it’s always frozen on repeat. And that that example really resonated with me. And I thought of myself for a bit, and I was like, Huh, well, you know, I hate it when like an app update on my phone.

It’s like, I don’t want to learn this new user interface. It was working perfectly fine. And they completely revamped it. But then you use it for a week or two. And you start to realize, you know what, this isn’t so bad. You know what, there’s some new features here that are pretty useful. So, you know, with that backdrop, I think about research and how when you have tools that have been tried and true over the years, it’s hard to walk away from them and or innovate with them. And that familiar bias is probably part of what’s coming into play.

So, it’s easy to stick with what works, but how can we pull away from that bias? How can we consciously or tap into the subconscious and ensure that we’re not letting that dictate the years to come, so to speak, that we’re changing with the times for the better, and not necessarily sticking with something because we’ve always done it?


Melina Palmer 

Yeah. Definitely. Example with the movies being you know, when I was a kid, my mom had this rule that you had to watch for 10 minutes when it was a movie, you know, and if, if you still don’t like it or want to watch it, we can turn it off. And as I say, I very specifically remember that my sister and I were not at all interested in watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and thought it seemed like the dumbest movie ever. And while it is dumb, it’s dumb in a wonderful way, and I’m so glad that I made it through those was forced into those first 10 minutes, because it’s such a great, great movie.

So, one of the lessons really, that I talked about in that particular episode of the podcast is everything that is familiar now is something that you learned and was new at one time. And so having the example of, you know, if we were to say, you know, you’re going to go away on vacation, and you’re going to come back, and someone has completely redone your entire everything in your kitchen, so the silverware is somewhere new, and your cups and plates and the pantry, like none of the drawers or shelves, moved, but all the contents have now been optimized for you. Based on someone else’s perception of what’s optimal, maybe they watched you to within the kitchen for a while and see where you hesitate or whatever. And now the cups are near the refrigerator, so you can get water easier.

Whatever the process, when you come back, it will be very frustrating at first, oh, no, this isn’t where the spoons go, they go over there. But it’s not like you moved in and all your silverware just like started growing out of that drawer, you put it there at one point because you thought it was where you were going to want it to be. And then you got used to it, even though it’s not very effective or efficient. And so, when you think about it, and in that business context as well, everything that you do now was new at one point, and it took some getting used to becoming the familiar.

So, something that is new, trying to shake things up a little bit, do your meetings in a different order, whatever it is, can be helpful to help your brain be a little bit more creative, get used to having some shift. And knowing that, you know, if you force yourself and encourage employees to be on board with trying something for a couple of weeks before, you know we can reserve judgment before we decide if this is better or worse, can really help where it doesn’t take too long for our brains to make this the new familiar if you just give it a little bit of grace before you judge and say it’s the worst thing ever.


Matt Salem 

I like a lot of what you said there and what I’m taking away is it’s important to almost prepare yourself for the unfamiliar, you know, kind of consciously driving awareness amongst those that are taking on something new that, hey, it’s going to be unfamiliar, it’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s okay to have those feelings. Let’s ride that wave out for a little bit. And see if over the course of a week or a month, whatever it may be to come to fruition that we feel like we’re not in a better place or Hey, we are in a better place. Good thing, we wrote it out for a while in order to combat that potential bias that may naturally occur.


Melina Palmer 

Yes, and I would advise watching for unintentionally priming people to think it’s bad as you go in. So, there’s the flip of that, which if we have so there’s this trifecta where we have our loss aversion status quo bias, endowment effect, that kind of work to make us like what we’re close to, which is very tied in with familiarity bias. And so, I like to give the example of getting people to change their desks.

And so, if you say, Hey, we have to move to the other side of the office, I know it’s gonna be a pain, but you’re not gonna like it. I know you really like this desk but try to make it work. That person has been primed to really lock in about everything they love about their old desk, even if they’ve complained about it for six years while they’ve been sitting there. Whereas instead, you can use that trifecta to your advantage in the way that your kind of prime and set up that message.

So don’t even talk about the like, this might be hard or whatever. But if instead, you say, Hey, you know, we have this opportunity to move I know you’ve been talking about how you really wish you had a window or you wish you were closer to the coffee station or whatever it is. We have this new space available. And one of these spaces is there. What would make you really love this new space, and so then they’re able to shift Don’t even think about the old thing? We don’t talk about it because it’s not an option for you anymore anyway. So, I don’t need you to dwell on that, like, what would make you love this new thing, then they get some perceived ownership over it, the loss aversion is about the new space, they’re going to be going to, and your kind of just help get them over that hurdle. And then you can check back in and say, I’ll check in with you in a couple of weeks, once we’ve moved to see if there’s anything else we can do to make it even better for you moving forward.

So, there is that balance of helping them to test out and give it the grace it needs, without setting them up to think it is going to be bad or that they shouldn’t want to move.


Matt Salem 

Yeah, that makes all the sense in the world to me, essentially, let’s not go in like negative Nellies with it, let’s look for the positive in the change, acknowledge that there will be changed, but look for the positive in it and move on. So, in thinking about change and all things new. And kind of shifting gears a bit.

One of the things that we’ve been highly focused on here at Behaviorally is the utilization of AI and research. And we recently introduced a product called Flash.AI, which essentially is using image recognition, combined with our database of shopper behavior, to understand what the likelihood is, of images and this case, images of packages, to perform well in the shopping environment, both at shelf and out of shelf context, by making comparisons across the database, facilitated by the AI in order to understand linkages of certain types of package element executions, to relative success in the database, top tier performance, etc.

And I’m thinking about recording this podcast with you today and thinking about Flash.AI and AI and AI being a hot topic. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how an AI and machine learning may help us dig into our human side more our biases?


Melina Palmer 

Yeah, it is definitely one of those pieces that has been Top of Mind and conversation for a while. And from what I had seen, I know that there were a lot of conferences and speakers and things that were set up through 2020 that this was the thing that everyone was going to be talking about. And then you know, pause got hit on that for a bit. So, I know that work has been being done in a less, you know, public discussion forum, sort of a setup, then maybe was originally expected for this topic in 2020, and now into 2021.

But really, there’s definitely research and a lot that is happening within this space, it is one of the big next frontiers that a lot of people are really looking at and to talk about, you know how they work really well together.

You can’t just have a business and look at your data and say, Well, looks like everybody clicks this button. So that’s the thing to draw. But like, why did they click the button? Was it color was it the verbiage was at the location, understanding the priming that maybe happened before they saw the button and being able to use the data to have some, you know, intuition and looking at what might have been happening in the brain and how you can then use that as an insight moving forward? And then if you know what you’re looking for in the data based on some behavioral science concepts you’re looking to test, you can make sure it’s either validating that or if you find something else like we were talking about.

There’s a lot of building upon each other in this just in the same way where, you know, for years and years, talked about where you know, you have this combination of qualitative and quantitative data. And that’s very much I think, the behavioral science and the AI piece is kind of the new space for the qualitative and quantitative work kind of coming together.


Matt Salem 

I like that lens. And it’s akin to the way we speak here about define and diagnose which put a bit more simply quantum qualitative, although I think it goes a bit beyond that and how we talk about it. But essentially, that is what it is.

It’s taking quantitative and qualitative research aspects and putting them together to have truly robust research and something that will really inform for any given initiative. And I love how you broke that down to that idea of quantum qual working together in thinking about behavioral science and AI coming together.

So, the future is bright, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us all. Well, I usually like to end the show with something about the person on the other end of the microphone here that, you know, maybe folks don’t know. And you mentioned opera. So maybe we’ll stick with the opera piece. But ask you about your favorite, I won’t ask you to sing because I  wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me. Because I can’t sing you can. And I certainly am not asking for that at all. But with that said, I’m curious, what are your favorite operas that you’ve been to?

What’s maybe a favorite venue of yours? And the kicker is, is there any other music genre that you are really into?


Melina Palmer 

So, what I can share with you would be, well, I won’t just start singing while we’re here. But I do have, there’s a video where I sang a national anthem for the Seattle Mariners a few years back, so I would be happy to share that. And if you have shown notes somewhere, you know, you can have that available so people can hear it.

When I first started taking private voice lessons, I know I had told this, you know, being, you know, Junior High School person saying like, well, I don’t, and I don’t sing opera. Like that is not what I do. And then it was proven wrong. So, I’m a fan, I’ve got a pretty big range, but I ended up doing a lot of the mezzo. Like, what would you call the pants rolls to where you play the boy, even though it’s like super high notes?

So, one of the ones I went to state when you’re singing “Che farò senza Euridice.” So that was Orfeo ed Euridice was the opera that that is from. And so, I really like that, and also where all my friends got to sing in French and very beautiful languages and, and whatnot. And then I know my teacher always would say, you know, well, like I think you could do and so it’s German, nothing against the German language. It is a different flow for French, but it was fun to sing in in those as well. 

I did also used to sing jazz, and I used to sing with a country band in Seattle, before we moved a couple of hours away. So just even a few years ago, I so I have a pretty natural twang, and you know, country and opera definitely have the same tone to them. Not at all. But I really enjoy it. I would say more than anything. I really like to kind of play it up with the country. And musical theater is more my jam than the opera stuff. I love musical theater.


Matt Salem 

Cool, cool. Certainly, many talents exist in Melina Palmer’s personal world, indeed. So, Melina as we wrap up today, why don’t you tell everyone Where can they get the book? You know, any other places that they should check out besides Amazon? Anyways to maybe get a free chapter to read?


Melina Palmer 

Indeed, yeah. So, you can always go to my website, the brainy business Comm. There’s information about the podcast and about the book, we do have a special link set up for all your listeners where they can go get a free chapter of what your customer wants, and can’t tell you, which is thebrainybusiness.com/free-chapters/. So that is available for that as well. And I love connecting with people. You can find me, Melina Palmer, on LinkedIn, and pretty much everywhere else.


Matt Salem 

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Thanks for that.

And thank you to our audience for listening today to our best behavior, brought to you by Behaviorally. I really want to thank you, Melina, for joining us today. It’s been a great time. I loved every moment of it. And I hope that we get to do this again. At some point in time, you completely rocked it. And we’ll see you again hopefully soon and catch the audience—next time.

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