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Hmmm ... Z's Respond Faster than A's: Study

2/22/11

By Ken Magill

And from the “That's-interesting-now-what-do-we-do-with-it?” file comes a study proclaiming that people with last names beginning with letters later in the alphabet respond to offers faster than people with last names beginning with letters earlier in the alphabet.

“The tendency to act quickly to acquire items … is related to the first letter of one’s childhood surname,” wrote authors Kurt A. Carlson of Georgetown University and Jacqueline M. Conard of Belmont University.

The authors reportedly studied how quickly adults responded to opportunities to acquire items of value to them. They claim they found that the later in the alphabet people’s childhood surnames were, the faster those consumers responded to purchase opportunities.

In one of four experiments, participants were reportedly randomly chosen from networking sites. These people were emailed the chance to win free tickets to a basketball game.

According to the researchers, people with last names beginning with one of the last nine letters of the alphabet responded at an average of 19.38 minutes, while those having surnames beginning with first nine letters of alphabet responded in 25.08 minutes.

The effect occurred only with childhood surnames, not names that had changed due to marriage, according to the study.

They also theorized that the behavior is rooted in people’s childhood experiences in school.

Children with last names that fall late in the alphabet are often at the end of lines or at the back of the class, they said.

“The idea holds that children develop time-dependent responses based on the treatment they receive,” the authors wrote. “In an effort to account for these inequities, children late in the alphabet will move quickly when last name isn’t a factor; they will ‘buy early.’ Likewise, those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that that individual opportunities to make a purchase won’t matter very much; they will ‘buy late.’”

They added: “The last-name effect is especially important to retailers and salespeople because customer names are easy for marketers to obtain and because there are many decisions in which the decision is not whether to buy, but when to buy.”

Reporter’s note: Count me among those who are highly skeptical of this piece of research. For one thing, the vagaries of email delivery lead me to question the accuracy of the timing claims. The authors can’t possibly know when individual messages were received.

Also, people get sorted in many different ways throughout their lives, alphabetical order being just one. Kids get sorted by athletic abilities, test scores, and let’s not forget the obnoxious cliques.

Readers?

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: someone posting under the name J.D.
Date: 2011-02-23 17:12:15
Subject: previous research

Richard Clayton did some similar research a few years ago, and found that for "real" accounts (those which received at least one non-spam email message during the study), accounts starting with "A" got about 35% spam and those starting with "Z" got about 20% after system-level filters were applied. http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org/2008/08/25/zebras-and-aardvarks/
Posted by: Kelly Lorenz
Date: 2011-02-22 13:55:32
Subject: Is this an article for the Onion?

It could be! Who does research on this stuff? Interesting, but wow.
Posted by: Tim McCreight
Date: 2011-02-22 13:22:42
Subject: Curious, yes,but possible

Interesting post. I'd be tempted to dismiss the study except for personal experience. Some years ago my agency was in competition with an entrenched incumbent for a direct mail program conducted in one state only. We spent inordinate amounts of time negotiating whether it was fairer to divide the prospect universe based on surname or zip code. The analyst I worked with was particularly adamant that the incumbent must be sitting on a piece of information we did not have and could not derive from the information the client stipulated must be shared. Came the test and the universe was split in a rather complicated fashion by first letter of the surname. It turned out that not only did the letters that came later in the alphabet respond and convert at a higher rate, the effect was more pronounced among certain letters. As I recall ‘S’ was the standout and it was assigned to the incumbent. We didn’t get the business. I haven’t forgotten the lesson.

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