Monthly Archives: December 2008

Brain Overload

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Just listened to the the Radiolab Podcast – Choice and was intrigued by one experiment they were talking about: Participants had to either memorize two or seven numbers. Once they memorized them, they had to go to a different room to recite the numbers. On the way to the second room, they were offered two choices: Either a beautiful piece of chocolate cake or a fruit salad. Surprisingly, the participants that had to remember 7 numbers chose the chocolate cake by a wide margin. The people with two numbers to memorize chose by a wide margin the fruit salad.

Why?

Apparently, our rational brain can only handle a small amount of information until it’s so clogged that the emotional side wins: The people that had to memorize seven numbers weren’t able to make a rational decision. Instead, the emotional side took over and the chocolate cake with all it’s issues attached to it (Calories, Health, etc.) won handily. When people only had to memorize two numbers, the brain had enough bandwidth to compare two choices and go for the fruit salad. This study has fascinating implications for any kind of marketing: When you’re on a automotive site such as Edmunds or KBB, researching, filling your head with facts, it makes no sense for advertisers to fill up your brain with more info since your rational side is already on overload. Emotional messages would deliver much better results. Or you’re watching a news program, the last thing your brain needs is another fact-filled message. Since most Internet interaction is based on a lean-forward, rational premise, should all online messaging be focused on the emotional side?

This study makes a case for the advent of Social Marketing since it combines the benefits of rational thinking with forming emotional connections. It’s the best of both worlds.

Loyalty Marketing is overrated

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Image courtesy of Thomas Voorn

I belong to a few loyalty programs: SkyMiles, Starwood, Priority Club, Virgin Flying Club, Virgin Elevate. But almost every brand tries to sign me up for more programs: Supermarkets, Coffee shops, Gas Stations – you name it. My basic stance towards loyalty programs: You continue to make a great product/deliver a great service AND your competition doesn’t trump your efforts, I will keep coming back. Offering me loyalty points and bribes perks won’t keep me around. There are a few exceptions to that rule: airlines come to mind. I love Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic, can’t stand flying with Delta. But my Medallion Status (second group to board, a few upgrades once in a while) and the possibility to afford a business class ticket through my SkyMiles keeps me around. And the fact that Delta flies almost anywhere while my favorite carriers don’t fly to little towns such as Seattle or Atlanta. Brand often mistake loyalty for retention. Retention is just a behavior. I do fly Delta because nobody of my preferred airlines flies to that destination nonstop and I do accumulate points. Loyalty is an attitude: I wouldn’t recommend anyone flying Delta. The whole Medallion thing is rather ridiculous, the product and service stinks. 

Real loyalty is becoming more and more important for brands. But loyalty shouldn’t be confused with points, cards and status. Besides the obvious product/service benefits, people are looking for intangible benefits from their brands: Samsung with their airport chargers, Zappos with their commitment to service, Prius as a symbol for being on the green revolution party. 

Sure, keep on offering retention tools: Coupons, supermarket cards and special retention offers will people keep coming back to your store. Especially when times are tough and you offer the best deals. But, ultimately, you put your business at risk just focusing on retention tools. Times will get better and people will get antsy, looking for the new, new thing. Unless you converted them to loyalists through your extraordinary product/service, to people that want to spread the message for you, you will lose them. And no promise of points will make them return.

Brands need to deliver value

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Coming from a cold country, I’ve experienced extended waiting periods in bus stops during harsh winters. Not something I would recommend to anyone. But many people will endure this situation throughout the upcoming winter and Kraft found an innovative way to combine a marketing campaign with a service that communicates the key benefits of their Stove Top brand stuffing

“In the latest example of a trend that is becoming increasingly popular on Madison Avenue, heated air will descend from the roofs of 10 bus shelters in Chicago, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of stuffing sold byKraft Foods.

From Tuesday through the end of this month, Kraft is arranging for the company that builds and maintains the bus shelters, JCDecaux North America, to heat them, trying to bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing, according to Kraft.”

That’s a great step in the right direction. But Kraft could go further: Why not extending this program to many more cities, not limiting it to a month, extending the program till the spring? As Drew pointed out in his post, Samsung didn’t offer the airport charge stations for a limited time or to only one terminal, they showed a real commitment. And, that’s the difference between an advertising stunt and a real social marketing strategy in order to deliver value: You have to be in it for the long run. The current, very limited campaign is more of a stunt, something that will be forgotten quickly. But, a real commitment to bringing warmth to people will put that warm spot for the brand in people’s heart. Kraft, it’s not too late.

Value doesn’t equal money

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Image: Courtesy of Found Magazine

Remember MySpace as a community platform before it became a marketing platform and ad network? Remember Second Life as a new way to interact with people before it became the marketing vehicle du jour and a user annoyance? Remember widgets when they were valuable and an innovative way to pull in information before marketers over-widgetized the world? Remember Facebook when it was a community platform with a few applications before marketers started to build almost 50,000 applications (at last count)? Remember the iPhone when it was a new way to interact with the mobile web before the application store launched and now it’s almost impossible to cut through the clutter and deliver a valuable application to the consumer?

Is there a trend?

It’s the tendency of marketers to jump on a bandwagon, fall into the trap of the GMOOT Syndrome (Give me one of those) and overwhelm platforms or new opportunities with marketing messages, not understanding how to add value. Marketers have problems making that switch from being professional disruptors to value-adders. Only if you add value to the user experience will you be able to stand out. Period.

People will leave a platform and move on when they feel exploited, when their user experience diminishes while the balance sheets of the platforms improve. Short-term.

Sure, it’s not only marketers fault. Platforms are often pushed into allowing marketers in as early as possible to facilitate growth and high valuations. Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO Evan Williams promised a revenue model by Q1 2009. Will Twitter fall into the old trap? Or will they found new ways to work with marketers to add new value to the platform by adding new features and functionality? Or allowing users to engage with a brand in new and exciting ways? One can only hope for.