Rewards Marketing as a Form of Drug Abuse?
Last week while listening to NPR in the morning, there was a piece broadcast about how our brains our "wired" for rewards. In addition to some well-documented experiments with lab rats (video below), they talked about some innovative marketing tactics used by the on-demand car service, Uber (a great idea that is being very well-executed globally, by the way, if you haven't tried them yet!).
Uber has found a way to keep their customers continuously clicking on their mobile app even when they don't need a ride anywhere! By providing a somewhat eclectic and very random set of offerings that appear at un-announced times (including "on-demand" Texas BBQ, ice-cream, chopper rides, etc.), their users apparently are feeling a bit compelled to click on the app to check for these "little rewards" more frequently - even when they don't need a ride anywhere!
To quote directly from the NPR article, "An unexpected reward has much more power than one that is regular in driving behavior," says Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "This has been known for a very long time."
Yes, this quote is from THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE!
The Addictive Properties of "Likes"
Apparently, this reaction in your brain which is essentially the production of dopamine is yes, addictive, but can come from many sources. For example, seeing a bunch of "likes" and comments on your Facebook update has the same effect - it is an (mostly) unexpected reward which then drives more of the same behavior.
So just like the mouse that will click and click and click on the button repeatedly because at some unexplained timing and quantity a treat will pop out, our own brains are wired to be the same way - once we become aware that our behavior MAY triggger a reward, we will go back in and "click and click and click" ourselves...
Applications for Your Own Marketing
As marketers then, what does that mean for us? At a minimum, let's start with a few ideas and principles that we could work with:
1. Start with being PREDICTABLE - loyalty comes from a combination of your Brand, what your Brand stands for and the consistency in which you apply it across your engagement with your customers. You NEED to be predictable for a certain number of things: product quality, high service levels, pricing, innovation, etc.This is the basic price of entry to gaining and keeping GOOD customers! On the marketing side, solid Branding work and a reliable Inbound Marketing program are good place to be "predictable" too.
2. Now, mix in a bit of UNPREDICTABLE - However, like any long-lasting marriage, injecting some "random rewards" into the relationship doesn't hurt and keeps things fresh. There is no reason not to provide pleasant surprises to your customers now and then. Just enough of them so they anticipate seeing them, but not too many that would make you seem too random and bothersome.
3. Don't forget your eyes and ears - just because one of your "random rewards" has a great uptake doesn't mean you are helping yourself long-term. Stay with your disciplined process of observing results, long-term behavior and feedback so you can tell if you are helping or hurting yourself in the long-term. If you have a million customers and ten thousand jump through all your hoops to get one of a hundred giveaways that sounds great....but what if FIFTY thousand other customers with higher AOVs were offended by the perceived "hoops"?
Just One More Challenge to Manage
Like all advice about Marketing, the real challenge is always about balance. As a business owner, it sometimes seems impossible to get the right balance of consistent activities, one-off events AND still manage a solid approach to Branding that both your employees and your customer "get" without having to explain it in detail.
ALWAYS start with your Brand and THEN look at the set of activities that make the most sense for both your customers and your own business' capabilities. And if there is a capability that you MUST have that you currently don't, get some help. A Marketing Services Agency can provide help on many levels, from a refresh/relaunch of your Brand to a long-term lead generation program, etc.
The real challenge as you know is not getting it done, but getting it started.
To see the full NPR article, including this video of rewards-addicted lab rats, click here