The Psychology of Rewards

We live at the best time ever to be consumers. Every brand we love and store we frequent wants to reward that loyalty. It seems marketers have figured out the big secret: We humans are just like a pack of dogs, or rather Pavlov’s dogs, and come running for rewards.

Rewards
“Rewards,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by GotCredit

We live at the best time ever to be consumers. Every brand we love and store we frequent wants to reward that loyalty. It seems marketers have figured out the big secret: We humans are just like a pack of dogs, or rather Pavlov’s dogs, and come running for rewards.

Extrinsic motivation, or our behavior which is driven by the anticipation of being rewarded by others for engaging in specific behaviors, drives much of the choices we make in life — how we perform our jobs and what products we chose to buy.

And down deep that motivation is linked to what I’ve said before is our greatest psychological driver: our survival DNA. Unconsciously, rewards help us feel like we are getting closer to that place in life where we have what we need to survive the daily battle to fulfill needs and wants that propel us ahead of the pack.

When we get something cheaper than usual, more than what we paid for or something for free, as a rewards program often delivers — in our unconscious minds, we are stronger, better, richer, faster or have more resources than others, and so we are posed to survive. And it’s fun!

Getting rewards is like playing a game we know we can win. We do little things that take little effort on our part and get something back, like a two-for-one deal, a free gift, a big discount on a purchase. Even small prices, like a free car wash worth $10, can spark a dopamine rush. And when we drive out of that “free” car wash, we have a bigger smile on our face than when we paid for a car wash that was just as fast and clean. It’s simple how we are wired.

Loyalty Programs Spark Brain Triggers

Rewards programs have long been successful, in all industries, to spark trial, boost incremental sales and secure loyalty. We eagerly sign up for point programs that can earn us free pizzas, airline tickets, hotel nights and such.

And then really smart marketers came along and let us choose our rewards, like American Express Membership Rewards, that let consumers shop various brands for products purchased strictly through points. And today, marketers are getting even smarter and building apps for rewards programs that cater to the current frenzy and greatest needs of consumers today: instantaneousness.

Ibotta Case Study: Ugotta Love It and UGottaDo It

One of the best examples of a reward program that caters to the psychological state of most consumers today, regardless of there generation, is Ibotta, a young app birthed just five years ago in the basement of a fire station in Denver. It simply helps consumers get rewards, such as rebates and discounts, or loyalty premiums redeemed faster and easier than before. Ibotta allows users to submit their receipts online in order to get instant cash back, which is deposited into their accounts and can be cashed out via PayPal, gift cards or other digital processes, eliminating the “check in the mail” process that seems to take forever in today’s world. Just this past holiday season of 2016, Ibotta at four years old, was the third-most-used shopping app during the holiday shopping period in December 2016, outpaced only by Amazon and eBay.

Its growth has been staggering. Take a look at these numbers:

  • Nov. 16, 2012 — Ibotta app launch on iOS
  • Dec. 18, 2012 — Ibotta announces 100,000 registered users on iOS; announces Android version launch
  • Feb. 5, 2013 — Ibotta announces 500,000 registered users in just under four months
  • May 14, 2013 — Ibotta users have earned $1 million in cash rewards in just six months
  • July 20, 2013 — Ibotta users have earned $2 million in cash rewards

While every stat above is very telling about this successful new business idea and its value to consumers, take a look at the last two bullet points. In just one month, Ibotta doubled its payouts from $1 million in cash rewards earned to $2 million. And this, at just seven months old. This is serous validation as to how powerful the force of rewards is for attracting customers and keeping them actively engaged in what matters most: shopping! And shopping for rewards.

But not all rewards programs grow this quickly. Here’s what Rich Donahue, SVP of Marketing for Ibotta, has to say about the company’s success:

“What we’re focused on at Ibotta is helping consumers live a ‘Life Rewarded.’ Our goal is to make sure that you earn rewards on everything you buy, wherever and however you shop. With Ibotta, you earn cash back and make those rewards count in your life.”

Creating awards around everyday routines and shopping needs has catapulted Ibotta’s growth during its mere five years of existence. As of this past week, Aug. 9, 2017, Ibotta users have earned more than $200 million in cash rewards and a download total of 23 million. On top of that, it’s become the 43rd most-used app in the App Store.

So Whatta? Marketers Ask, ‘What’s in It for Me?’

What does all this mean for marketers today? Alotta!

  • Rewards, small or big, matter — and matter a lot — as they are not just prizes for the conscious mind to get excited about. They are triggers of the unconscious mind, which drives 90 percent of our thoughts and choices.
  • Instantaneousness matters, too. Everything about our lives is instant now … instant access to information via Google searches 24/7 on our mobile devices, which are instantly available as they are in-hand or pocket 24/7.
  • And Choice matters, too. We are long past the days of reward programs for more of a brand’s product and only that brand’s product, and on that brand’s terms, not ours. Brand loyalty programs may have a lot of enrollment, but they get very little redemption. According to a Forrester report, which surveyed members from the Loyalty360 association, only 16 percent of consumers, on average, redeem points from brand loyalty programs. To succeed, brands of all sizes need to take on the Ibotta and American Express approach of letting customers be rewarded for products and services they choose vs. get rewarded with “stuff” they may not need at the moment, if ever.

Conclusion

While I’m not suggesting you expire all of the points your customers have earned with you to-date (there are many cases of this backfiring), I am suggesting you take a look at your system to make sure you are offering choices that matter, and the speed to redemption that clearly matters to consumers today.

If you don’t up your rewards program to fit our psychological need to win rewards that help us up our chances to survive (emotionally, physically, financially, socially and more) and do it quickly, you’re wasting alotta resources of your own. Make your time and effort matter by changing your game to up the fun and fulfillment of the consumers’ game when it comes to getting the best deal and reward. It’s just something you GOTTA do!

Are You in the Organic Search Game?

Successful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

the search game is like basketballSuccessful organic SEO programs are in many ways like winning basketball teams. The players must know how to execute the fundamentals. They must be willing to make rapid changes of direction and evaluate the risk accompanying every shot taken.

I refereed high school basketball for about 15 years and can assure you that the very best teams, even those with tremendous talent on the floor, don’t just roll the ball out and play. That type of game is reserved for playground pick-up games. The best teams protect the ball as they move it down the court, work the ball on the offensive end, and look for the open shot. They have scripted offenses and clear defensive schemes. Today’s game has placed a lot of emphasis on the three-point shot, but even the best three-point shooters are more likely to miss at that range than the player making an at-the-rim slam dunk.

SEOs don’t get many open rim shots, so we must constantly look for the best shot.

Game Plan

The best search teams focus on the making sure that the fundamental elements of organic search are properly executed.

  • Are all key pages optimized?
  • Is there a consistent formula for stress-free optimization?
  • Can new pages be added seamlessly?
  • Is there a clearly articulated content creation scheme?

That is the equivalent of good ball-handling. Nimble SEO teams have in place the processes that let them move the SEO ball, their site optimization, down the court without dribbling it off of their foot.

With the complexity of today’s sites, making sure that the procedures are in place to ensure consistent high-quality initial optimization is an essential and complex task. As an SEO consultant, I have encountered a number of organizations where the essential routines for optimization are not codified and the processes are ad hoc. These organizations are playing the equivalent of pick-up ball with their SEO.

Execution

Just like today’s basketball defenses, search engines have evolved from easy-to-manipulate to very complex multi-layered technologies. Every successful search marketer has to be able to evaluate the impact each new change will have on their site and then adjust.

  • Is it worth the cost and effort to make the site secure?
  • How deep should the commitment be to mobile optimization?
  • What about making improvements to site speed?

Making the decisions that go into these are analogous to working the ball on offense. Not every team can run-and-gun. Each must work to their own strengths. It is easy to be driven off-track by the newest shiny object and lose sight of the overall goal: more qualified traffic.

Post-Game Review

College basketball uses a shot clock, and teams on offense sometimes let valuable seconds on the clock tick away while they seem to aimlessly move the ball around. With no time left, they either turn the ball over or put up a bad shot. They either had no real plan or could not adjust to the defense.

Google, in particular, usually signals major changes with enough time to allow site owners to react. The search marketing team must read the defense and adjust. When a major change is hinted, you and your search team are on the clock. Plan your offense early and know that the clock is ticking. If you do, then you will get your shot off with plenty of time left on the clock.

Evaluating, revisiting and tweaking your optimization will ensure more open shots and slam dunks. Your evaluation should be holistic, the site audit process is broadly used. This will uncover weaknesses and areas that may need immediate attention. Highly specific actions should focus on areas where minimal effort will yield large gains.

Creation of optimized content and re-optimization of individual pages can be very specific and result in almost immediate traffic boosts. These are your slam dunks. They only come from using your analytical tools in concert with a well thought-out game plan.

Just like basketball, search is competitive. Don’t just roll the ball out. Build a team and a plan that makes your search team a winner.

With Good SEO, Everybody Wins

As a nation, we are fixated on deciding winners and losers. This is the season for determining winners and losers. We are in the midst of yet another presidential election of enormous consequence; the MLB pennant race is heating up; and the U.S. Open is concluding just in time for the NFL football season to get cranking.

NFL To Show First-Ever 3D GameAs a nation, we are fixated on deciding winners and losers. This is the season for determining winners and losers. We are in the midst of yet another presidential election of enormous consequence; the MLB pennant race is heating up; and the U.S. Open is concluding just in time for the NFL football season to get cranking.

This language of sports has infiltrated business. Other companies are referred to as competitors, and there are often discussions of level playing fields. There is always the undertone of winners and consequent losers.

It is no wonder that SEO has adopted the language of sports and competition. For many years, SEO has been about competing and winning valuable top rankings. This required beating out the competition.

What gets lost is that a dynamic that focuses on winners and losers is binary. The assumption is that if one party wins, another loses. Can there be multiple winners? Yes! Of course, there can be. I’d like to suggest that the current SEO playing field is moving toward a scenario where there are multiple winners — the search engine, the business and the customer.

The Game

Here is how I see this working. First, we must assume that search is part of a marketing ecosystem that includes customers, products, multiple vendors and other intermediaries including search engines.

Each has a separate focus and drivers.

The customer wants to purchase the best product at the cheapest price. The search engine’s business success is predicated on gleaning lots of search requests and delivering information and directions to goods that make the customer happy and willing to search again.

The business wants to sell its products and grow its revenues.

Now, here is where SEO comes into the picture. By including plenty of accurate content on well-designed product pages, the site owner provides lots of red meat for the customer and will be rewarded with a higher ranking than the businesses that appear to offer less relevant information. High-quality information allows the customer to make a clear decision and walk away from the transaction happy.

This benefits all parties. The customer/searcher will return to the search engine again based on the prior experience, the business enjoys the benefit from the sale and the customer has a satisfactory experience.

Now What?

You might say: “Fine, this is all good, but isn’t the business competing with others who offer the same goods?” When you move beyond a limited transactional approach — goods for cash — and consider the totality of the customer experience as unique, then you destroy the purely goods-to-goods model.

Search, with its continuing focus on delivering what the users want, is begging for this type of rethink.

The job of a good SEO is to act as a matchmaker. As an SEO who works with e-commerce retailers, I am always amazed at the efforts put into creating gorgeous sites that ooze the brand’s personality that are then flawed by horrible SEO.

The practice of SEO today is far more than twiddling a few lines of meta information or creating a technically sound site that indexes easily. These are the table stakes. The ante for even getting in the game.

Now, SEO must play a role in articulating the brand and personality for each product on the site in a way that creates a unique and satisfying experience for all of the parties in the ecosystem.

It is a tall order, but the rewards are huge.

Pokémon Go Finally Gets Augmented Reality Right

We here at Target Marketing have tried to get behind augmented reality on several occasions. I even once said “of course QR Codes are gonna work, it just makes sense!” Scott Stratten said they killed kittens. Turns out he was right. So imagine my chagrin to see Pokemon — a bunch of Bulbasaurs and Jigglypuffs led by an electric rat — role out an augmented reality experience that conquered the world in less than a week.

We here at Target Marketing have tried to get behind augmented reality (AR) on several occasions. QR Codes on the cover, Layar throughout the issue, some goofy stuff in our digital editions …

I even once said, “Of course QR Codes are gonna work, it just makes sense!” Scott Stratten said they killed kittens. Turns out he was right.

So imagine my chagrin to see Pokémon — a bunch of Bulbasaurs and Jigglypuffs led by an electric rat — roll out an augmented reality experience that conquered the world in less than a week.

Pokémon Go leaves Tindr too wet to light, aiming for Twitter next.
Pokémon Go leaves Tindr too damp to light, aiming for Twitter next.

In less than a week, the free Pokémon Go app, available on Android, iOS and the Nintendo DS handheld game, is on its way past Twitter in active users, and already bigger than Tindr. (Does that mean Millennials prefer catching Charizards to dating?)

And the player base isn’t so much kids (although there’s a lot of them too), but young adults who grew up with the earlier Pokémon games.

What does all of that mean for marketers? Here are five things I’ve learned watching the electric yellow rat take over the world … again.

1. There’s a Way to do Augmented Reality Right

I think a lot of marketers have seen that, when it comes to augmented reality, just because you build it does not mean they’ll come. The novelty of augmented reality isn’t enough, and neither is getting a piece of your web content launched from a ketchup bottle or whatever else your trigger is.

Pokémon Go is a game that asks players to walk around outside to capture Pokémon hiding out in he world. And players are doing that! Social media is full of jokes about the fact that young adults are running around all over cities and the suburbs to catch Pokémon. It’s working.

How is that different from what we did in Target Marketing magazine? Or even what Google offered with Google Glass? Well for starters it’s an experience that is 100 percent designed to be augmented reality. Pokémon go doesn’t treat AR as just a way to access existing content on a new device, it is an AR-only experience. If you want those Pokémon, you have to take your phone for a walk.

It’s also a very novel experience that’s put together well. Nantic Labs, the company that actually developed the game for Nintendo, has been doing similar games for a long time. They know how to deliver an experience that gets the best out of the platform. That’s essential to a successful AR experience.

2. Grant the Wish

An article on Vox made a great point about why this game is such a hit with young adults:

Pokémon Go is an attempt at realizing what fans always wanted from Pokémon … Since the games came out for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, fans all around the world have shared a dream: What if Pokémon weren’t limited to the games’ world? What if they were real and inhabited our world? What if we could all be Ash Ketchum, the TV show’s star trainer, who wanders the world in his quest to catch them all and earn his honors by defeating all the gym leaders? I want a Pikachu in real life, dammit!
—”Pokémon Go Explained,” German Lopez, Vox

Every market has an ungranted wish. If you can find that wish and make it come true, they will love you for it.

Pokémon Go lets fans who grew up watching these cartoons and playing these games break that wall they never could and hunt Pokémon in real life.

What does your target market want that no one’s ever been able to give them? Maybe it’s not a specific thing, but a way to access a product or service, like Uber putting taxis at the tap of an app. Maybe it’s an experience they could never have before, like Pokémon Go.

Identify that wish and think hard about how you could do it. You may have five or 10 years of new technology to make something happen that no one realized could be done before.

3. No, You Can’t Buy a Pokéstop

Brands and the Psychology of Fun

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs? If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs?

If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

While consumers might tell you they want all of the above to keep purchasing from you and refer their friends, there’s another key driver of human behavior you and your customers themselves might not have thought about. Guess again? Hint: Cyndi Lauper did the big reveal 33 years ago.

Yep, consumers just wanna have fun. Yet most of us don’t consciously admit that we respond to fun appeals or humorous marketing tactics. But we do, because unconsciously we are drawn to anything that sparks our curiosity, helps us escape the mundane, or hints at rewarding us for engaging or doing something we didn’t know we could do — like reach a new level on a smartphone game or win a dance contest while totally sober. And when we earn that reward, or even think about it, we get that dopamine rush that makes life feel wonderful and we go back for more.

What we learn from Epicurus, the Greek Philosopher credited with what we now know as the Hedonism theory, human behavior is based upon two emotional premises: the Avoidance of Pain and the Pursuit of Pleasure. As a result of this innate psychological driver, we seek pleasure in life in many ways. That pleasure ranges from knowing we can care for our families, reach our goals, are recognized for a job well done and liked by others, to physical pleasures like the thrill of finishing a long run, getting a soothing massage or downing a favorite ice cream.

In digital vs. ancient times, another “pleasure” we seek is that rush we get when we anticipate an award through our cultural addiction to games. Games on our computers, games on our phones, games we watch on TV, and more. So many games that 1.2 billion people worldwide play them frequently, and 700 million of us play games online, says a report by Spil Games. Another gaming industry company, Newzoo, reports that the 2015 gaming industry is $91.5 billion, up 9.4 percent since 2014.

Another report by RealityMine shows that mobile gaming is increasing substantially every year and that the average session time per game we play is 4.7 minutes. Among the most popular are Words with Friends, Candy Crush and Solitaire, which are played many times a day by many gamers. We also learn that games are not just for teens, as commonly thought. RealityMine shows that 61 percent of gamers are parents with children, more women play games than men, more than 1/3 are 45 years of age or older, and that there are more middle-aged moms playing games than teenagers! Hmmm … sounds like the top consumers for most products today are playing games of some sort every day. If you’re in marketing, this should be added to the top of your “note to self” list.

Why are we so drawn to games? According to psychologists, it’s because so many games help fulfill some basic needs: a sense to compete, feel fulfilled, recognized and that we have achieved something others haven’t. According to a report on gamification created by Bunchball, a leader in the industry, game mechanics fulfill basic human desires that we seek consciously and unconsciously (opens as a PDF). These include our needs for rewards, status, achievement, self- expression, competition and even altruism.

The Fun Theory, a program dedicated to the thought that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for better,” challenges people to come up with fun ideas to get people to do things differently. Ideas that have won The Fun Theory awards include rewarding drivers for not speeding by entering them into a contest to win money accrued by fines paid by speeders, getting people to recycle bottles by making a recycling bin a bottle arcade like you find at an amusement park and increasing the use of stairs by turning them into piano keys that make music. Each of these experiments attracted attention and substantially changed behavior for the better in various cultures around the world.

So does all this talk about fun and games have a place in the marketing world? According to Todd McGee, CEO of Texas-based CataBoom, a gamification company leveraging behavioral insights to create engaging campaigns, it most certainly does.

“From a psychological point of view, ’fun’ engages us in a way that builds trust for a brand,” says McGee. “When customers win, or anticipate winning a prize, they get a dopamine rush that makes them feel good, and customers transfer that feeling to brands. Good feelings result in trust, repeat visits and referrals. So it’s a total win for customers and brands.
For CataBoom, the increases in customer engagement and sales they’re helping to deliver to their clients is just part of the fun of playing games. For one home industry client, the company created a game on Facebook that gave money away every day. As result, 71 percent of the visitors to their Facebook page engaged twice as long. For another company in the food industry, they created a “Spin the Wheel” game for a chance to win free product. People responding set a new record for site visits as they kept coming back to take their chance at the wheel.

Per McGee, CataBoom has seen brands in all industries, from entertainment groups to insurance and financial institutions, achieve not only better engagement, but monetary rewards, as well. Sales have increased as high as 30 times as a result of adding games to a customer experience.

Lesson learned: When life’s routines become a game, and fun is the anticipated reward, behavior changes. When brands integrate fun and games in their customer experience, results can change too.

Takeaways:

  • Have Fun. Its not only the spice of life, it’s the driver that gets consumer behavior moving, trusting and, in many cases, buying.
  • Use humor, when and as appropriate, and watch your attention levels soar on social channels and traditional ones, as well.
  • Spark curiosity to get noticed and introduce your customers to a fun brand experience, persona and happy result.

Make sure your customer service follows the rules of fun, as well. Evo.com and Moosejaw.com are great examples of companies that add a fun twist to routine sales and purchasing processes online. Their fun responses, language and digital conversations make you want to come back for more.

Now get off of your computer and go have fun!

Gamification: Game Playing? Or Game Changing?

Direct marketers have known for years that involvement devices in direct mail draw the reader in and often result in higher response rates. A couple of recent articles about “gamification” and the fact that the Super Bowl game is coming in a few days, got me to thinking about how direct marketers can seize the “gamification” phenomenon. Here are five ideas about how you can use our cultural obsession to play games to

Direct marketers have known for years that involvement devices in direct mail draw the reader in and often result in higher response rates. A couple of recent articles about “gamification,” and the fact that the Super Bowl game is coming in a few days, got me to thinking about how direct marketers can seize the “gamification” phenomenon. Here are five ideas about how you can use our cultural obsession to play games to boost response.

Two recent articles are worth noting for direct marketers. One article was about playing games. The other about gamification.

On one side of the coin, games are used to reduce stress by people who play on mobile devices. In this case, an eMarketer report said that 50 percent of mobile gamers spend up to 30 minutes daily playing games to reduce stress. Others use games to pass time.

On the other side of the coin, offices are using gamification to increase productivity, which reportedly increases stress. In office settings, gaming processes—gamification—engages users to solve problems that improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness and learning. An article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The ‘Gamification’ of the Office Approaches” noted how productivity inside offices can be tracked and measured in points, fostering competitiveness and excellence.

Gaming is all around us. Millions scratch off lottery tickets or pick random numbers, and casinos are often packed.

In a few days, the biggest football game of the year—the Super Bowl—will be played with millions watching, and a lot of money wagered, as it becomes a national obsession for several days.

Let’s face it: We’re a culture who loves to play games and keep score.

For direct marketers, we can use our cultural obsession with games for a marketing advantage to increase response.

Whether you use offline direct mail with tokens or other involvement devices, or online channels, gaming techniques that are vetted as being legal, can be a good way to perk up your results.

Here are five ideas:

  1. In direct mail, if you mail your prospects or customers frequently, add a game that builds over time for purpose, more interaction and anticipation of your mailing.
  2. For any channel you’re in, use games to create customer loyalty so your buyers return again and again.
  3. In social media, check-ins and badges using mobile apps are like games, and they get your name in front of the friends of your fans.
  4. Encourage people to play a game that requires completing surveys and gives information about themselves for use in nurture marketing programs.
  5. Let your prospects and customers track their game scores, but as a direct marketer using sophisticated marketing automation software, you can turn the tables and score your customers to determine who is most likely to come back and buy again.

Finally, if you’re stumped with generating ideas, get your staff together and play games to get the ideas swirling. Ideation meetings that include games often bring out unexpected creative ideas.

Bottom line, use the principles of gamification to reinvent and re-energize your direct marketing approach. By becoming familiar with gamification techniques now, you or your staff may identify the next big sales game changer.

Flag on the [Mobile] Play

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you already know that I’m a cheapskate. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always downloaded the free mobile apps and games. But recently I surprised myself by actually being captivated by a mobile ad from Buffalo Wild Wings and took the bait—only to be deeply disappointed by the lack of, what I like to call, experience management.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you already know that I’m a cheapskate. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always downloaded the free mobile apps and games. I’ve found that I don’t have a problem staring at an ad for 3 seconds, waiting to return to my next round of Scramble With Friends (SWF).

But recently I surprised myself by actually being captivated by a mobile ad from Buffalo Wild Wings and took the bait—only to be deeply disappointed by the lack of, what I like to call, experience management.

Here’s what got me hooked: The ad was brilliantly designed for this mobile user who had just spent the previous two minutes rolling my fingers quickly across the screen in different directions to connect letters to form words and score points.

The visual, in the center of the screen, was a circle with a thumb print in it.

The headline was very inviting to this 49er fan: “Football fever is spreading fast. Take a quick test.” And the call to action was “Press and Hold Your Finter [sic] for an Instant Scan.”

Aside from the typo (doesn’t anyone proof anymore??), I was hooked. Great call to action and great visual—especially for an ad inside a mobile game where my fingers do all the work.

Naturally I pressed my thumb over the thumbprint, and a little “scan” visual swept back and forth, seemingly scanning my print. The next screen was a file folder labeled “Results.” A red “stamp” stated “Further Testing Required”—and a call to action to “Get a Complete Fever Diagnosis” kept me motivated to continue to the next screen. So I clicked, and that’s when the brilliance of the campaign all came crashing down.

It seemed that I had landed somewhere within the Buffalo Wild Wings website. Nothing more about football fever. Nothing more about my scan or my fever diagnosis. Nothing even closely related to my previous experience. What was most prominent was a “Find a B-Dubs” (I figured out this is insider lingo for Buffalo Wild Wings) with a place to enter my zip code. Sigh …

If I hadn’t been a marketer, I would probably have hit the “x” button to go back to my game. But being a glutton for punishment, I entered my zip code, hopeful that the B-Dubs folks might tie the action back to my football fever. But instead, I wait a second and … and … I get a message: “Results (0).” Really?

I get that there may not be a B-Dubs within 25 miles of me, but according to the website (which I visited separately), I found several in my SF/Bay Area geography.

So here’s my advice: Instead of telling me there were none, how about programming your site to say “Oh no! There isn’t a B-Dubs in your neighborhood, but we’ve found 5 that you might enjoy as you travel around Northern California.” And then provide those pinpointed on a map.

And what happened to that football tie-in?

All digital advertising and landing pages are an opportunity to optimize a series of thought sequences, and it’s critical that marketers understand how to help a consumer connect the dots.

In this case, the game ended with Buffalo Wild Wings: 0, Consumer Purchase Opportunity: 0.

Two Summer Must Dos: Play and Play On!

It’s August. Have you taken any time this summer to play in your brand? To even play at all? Remember the days when you didn’t need a reminder to play? When, as a child, you just may have left the house for hours at a time and rode your bike or played kickball or went to the pool or beach or woods or played Monopoly or read under a tree. Long stretches of time went by without schedules, watches, computers, without anything at all plugged in around us. You certainly didn’t need to be told to set up a play date. Playing came as naturally as breathing.

It’s August. Have you taken any time this summer to play in your brand? To even play at all? Remember the days when you didn’t need a reminder to play? When, as a child, you just may have left the house for hours at a time and rode your bike or played kickball or went to the pool or beach or woods or played Monopoly or read under a tree. Long stretches of time went by without schedules, watches, computers, without anything at all plugged in around us. You certainly didn’t need to be told to set up a play date. Playing came as naturally as breathing.

Nowadays, there are serious adult-level articles, books and TED talks encouraging us to play. Experts from the fields of research, creativity, management, innovation, medical, education and human relations all want us to set up play dates. They want us to take play seriously. They remind us how important it is to unplug and unwind. To detach. To disconnect. To pause and be. To give our multifunctioning, always-on brains a rest. These experts nudge us a step further and call play a necessity. A must do for long-term vitality, for peak performance. Samuel Johnson believed, “All intellectual improvement arises from leisure.”

We don’t quite believe it. Or, we believe it but we think it’s for everyone else but us. Or we nod and agree and think yes, it is valuable for us, but we just can’t get to it right now … and then right now becomes three months from now which becomes six months from now … which becomes well, like never, not this year!

Play
Perhaps we need a permission slip … a permission slip not to read or listen or intellectualize about play but to actually play. To catch up with our souls, to feed our imaginations, to simply rest and be. DO IT! Mark some days off to be totally off. Soon. This month! Then do something not related to business at all. Whatever that brings you joy. Do it all slowly. Let the work brain rest. No business books, articles, videos. Nap. Stroll. Wander. Daydream. Journal. Paint. The “whatever” does not matter. What matters is actually doing it. And soon matters. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

We must develop this talent so that we will have the capacity to …

Play On!
Our business lives are demanding. Brand leaders must be on their A games day in and day out. Without recharging our batteries, we may get winded … or worse … we may lose our passion. There comes a time when we might need a reminder to keep in the game, to play on. Missy Park, Founder of Title Nine, knows the value of staying in the game. Take a peek at the letter of encouragement she recently shared with her customers:

So, before this summer wraps up, give yourself a gift: take some time to play. There’ll be plenty of time to play on soon enough!

A Look at Facebook’s Premium Ads

Last week Facebook officially announced its new premium ads at the fMC confab, its marketing conference. While there were several announcements, including Timeline for brand pages, the most relevant one for this column was the official launch of the social media platform’s new premium ad units.

Last week Facebook officially announced its new premium ads at the fMC confab, its marketing conference. While there were several announcements, including Timeline for brand pages, the most relevant one for this column was the official launch of the social media platform’s new premium ad units.

The new units put a brand’s page and relevant posts in front of the right audience and amplify its relevance and trust with “social context” by including an individual’s connections who also “Like” the brand. Based on internal Facebook testing, premium ads are 80 percent more likely to be remembered, drive 40 percent higher engagement and significantly increase purchase intent.

Aside from the obvious lift in performance, what makes the launch of premium ads so significant and what should marketers do to maximize this opportunity?

First and foremost, premium ads are a potential game changer. They combine the strengths of Facebook (connections, conversations and community) with the triad of marketing disciplines (paid, earned and owned media). As a result, they should be extremely popular with marketers interested in taking the conversation to potential fans. In addition, premium ads will play a role in potentially helping Facebook to maintain and grow its lead as the top U.S. display advertising company.

Premium ads are spouting a wave of new startups, which is great for the industry and economy. Forbes recently highlighted several social media players scrambling to support premium ads. While their approaches differ with various buy, build or partner strategies, activity is significant, as illustrated by the following:

For marketers interested in leveraging Facebook advertising to grow their community, the game plan is relatively straightforward: prep for a test; review and identify potential conversations to feature; and partner with a solution provider who can help you optimize the most valuable and engaging content to feature.

In addition, look to add retargeting tags into the mix. Premium ads are all about leveraging your social posts and social context to drive acquisition and encourage engagement. Adding a retargeting strategy is the perfect complement to help seal the deal and ultimately understand conversion and attribution for your efforts.

Will premium ads be a game changer and keep Facebook on top? If the emergence of new solutions together with the promise of combining paid, earned and owned media with a double-digit lift in performance is any indication, the answer is yes.

Online Games, Marketing and Engagement – What Marketers Miss About FarmVille

Wide engagement with FarmVille and similar online games is the biggest web phenomenon of 2010. And while many marketers are tyring to learn from online games, most don’t really understand what’s behind the appeal.

Wide consumer engagement with FarmVille and similar online games is the biggest web phenomenon of 2010. And while I’ve read periodic stories and blog posts about advergames and what marketers can learn from online games, most of the writers don’t really get what’s behind the appeal of gaming. Customization and avatars and collecting and bragging are the big takeaways, then they’ll give the real point a quick aside at the end: games reward players for time spent. They offer a particularly fun type of engagement, and give players a reward for engaging in it.

The big secret is simply that they’re fair. The more you put in, the more you get out. It’s no coincidence online games boom while employment busts.

That’s important to understand when you’re trying to adapt games or even just game concepts to your marketing. Things like avatar customization, bragging rights and collectibles are really just subcategories of rewards, and focusing on somehow implementing customizable avatar and collectibles and letting shoppers build their very own custom princess pillow fort on your site is exactly the kind of pie-in-the-sky takeaway that can derail good ideas. They’re just different types of rewards. You spend some — or a lot of — time engaging in a fun little diversion, and at the end you get a reward.

But games reward players for their time in many ways. The most basic is that they get better at the game. It sounds stupidly self-fulfilling, but Pac-Man doled out precious little besides keeping score and showing a leader board, and people spent months of their lives engaging with those machines to get better at them.

Games today almost always give players a little something extra. Perhaps the reward is that you progressed in the game and feel some sense of accomplishment, or see more of an interesting story (games are incredible storytelling tools). Perhaps it’s collectibles and customizables that let you show off that progress to others with some flare, or in-game rewards that make your character better at the game. Perhaps you get to interact with friends at a time you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, or have a new hobby to talk to them about.

The most successful games, like World of Warcraft, dish out hundreds of varieties of rewards: players progress, see more of an entertaining story, explore secret areas, find collectibles, earn bragging rights, build social networks … it’s practically Pavlovian.

So when you’re looking at games as a way to market your product, or just trying to find some new insight into your consumers, remember that’s it’s all about the rewards. And then you can start to think about games as a real marketing tool.

If you build an advergame, why not tie promotional offers to in-game achievements? Beat the game, get a coupon. It’s the simplest game marketing idea in the world, but no one’s doing it.

Or why not offer rewards on your site that mimic rewards players find in games? Imagine what your customers are going to say when someone finds out that putting two specific items in a shopping cart is rewarded with a secret discount? Or if after loading X number of pages on your site, you reward their time with some unannounced free gift with purchase?

Don’t get caught up in the cartoony, sparkly bits of the gaming phenomenon — they’re not the reason games are finding wide appeal. What can your brand offer consumers for playing that others couldn’t, and how can you get them to chase that and have fun at the same time? That’s what marketers can really learn from gaming.

You want engagement? Reward the time customers spend engaging. It’s only fair.