online marketing psychology

December 12, 2011

Rebranding Greece

Greece is in shambles. Greeks are lazy and crooked people.

That's the reputation of the country and it's people for many foreigners. To break this negative spiral, Greece needs a change.

Branding expert Peter Economides blaims it on a lack of storytelling. Although there is plenty of holiday promotion, there is no branding, a real narrative that combines Greece's past, present and future.

An interesting view on how some of Greece's experts are on trying to get out of this mess.

November 28, 2011

An expensive form of affiliate marketing

I do not make fun of a lot of things on this blog. But recently I crossed paths with a movie called The Joneses. I had to say something about it!

The movie describes an approach they call stealth marketing, which works as follows.
There is a new family in town. They live in an ultra-rich gated community. Mother, father, son and daughter are all beautiful, popular and equipped with the latest gadgets. The idea is to show off as much gear as possible to influence their neighbours to buy the same.
After explaining this concept, the movie takes the love story angle which we will ignore.

Let's see how effective this marketing approach is.

The costs, assuming the family gets all the products on a free loan bases. 

  • Five expensive Audi's
  • Rental of a luxury house
  • All expenses to live a lifestyle like that
  • Big salary for the four family members
  • Money for document forgeries
  • The whole company behind it
Then I ask myself: how many golf clubs, cell phones, new sweaters or even Audi R8's do you need to sell to cover that?

For those that want to laugh for themselves, or just see Demi Moore, check out the trailer.

November 24, 2011

The Giant Is No Longer Asleep

Since I've been back in Belgium, I haven't mentioned Brazil that much. Not because nothing is happening there though.

Johnnie Walker is a very strong brand in Brazil. It has acquired noun status. "Not a tissue but a Kleenex" type of thing. Ordering a red-label means whiskey.

I feel the brand wants to connect to the growth of Brazil, tap into the patriotic feelings. With the large international events coming up, that might not be a bad place to be in. The ad fortifies that connection by connecting it to one of the hallmarks of Brazil: the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.

At the end it says: the giant is no longer asleep.

I guess it is not.

October 6, 2011

The Invisible Work

A part of Linchpin I thought was well fitting for today.
You could do Richard Branson's job.
Most of the time anyway. 
Except for what he does for about five minutes a day. In those five minutes, he creates billions of dollars' worth of value every few years, and neither you nor I would have a prayer of doing what he does. Branson's real job is seeing new opportunities, making decisions that work, and understanding the connection between his audience, his brand, and his ventures.
Excerpt from Linchpin by Seth Godin.

October 5, 2011

What the User Really Cares About - Copywriting at Apple

Once again the Apple hype machine has come to a stop with the release of an updated iPhone.

A video detailing the new phone uses much of the Apple talk we are used to: it is ground breaking, extraordinary, amazing, revolutionary, etc.

While some of their copy sounds pretty pompous for a small update, other parts of the video have some very good showing versus telling copywriting!

Benefits over features

Let's take a look how they transform hardware into something the average consumer really cares about.
One of the biggest enhancements on the iPhone 4S is in it's performance. It uses the same powerful dual-core A5 chip that's in iPad 2. With two processors handling the workload, it really makes a big difference. Apps will launch and run faster, graphics can render up to seven times quicker, making gameplay a lot better. And in Safari, webpages will load up to twice as fast.
They go inside out. What processor is it? The A5 dual-core that's also in to iPad. What does it do? It spreads the workload over two processors. Why should I care? It makes apps and web-browsing faster and games smoother.
Iphone 4S also has an all new eight megapixel camera. Which dramatically increases the amount of detail in your photos. But the quality of a photograph isn't just about megapixels. The optics of the camera are just as crucial. And we've made significant improvements here. We increased the size of the aperture to let more light in. We added a fifth lens, which gives you a sharper image overall. And the new sensor is designed to capture more light within each pixel. So you get far sharper photos with more detail and more accurate color. 
The same again. What are the specs? An eight megapixel camera and special lenses. Why should I care? They will make my photos sharper and more detailed. 
We also know people love to shoot video on their iPhone. So we made some big advancements here too. Iphone 4S recors 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. Plus, the gyro, along with the incredible new software, will stabilize your video as you shoot it. this will make your videos look a lot smoother.
1080p and gyro make your videos look smooth!


Think the whole video was a piece of mambo jambo? Or want to share something else? Please do share in the comments!

September 2, 2011

How Wikipedia Removed Friction And Gained Hearts

We know that most of the people on the web are window shoppers. They look but don't buy.

Wikipedia has extremely low user contribution numbers. The majority of the work on their site is done by 68,000 people, or 0.0003% of all users.

So they started a project to change this.

The Article Feedback Tool

In September 2010 Wikipedia started an experiment with a tool that allowed users to rate an article's quality on various dimensions.

After this initial testing they began tweaking the tool and increasing the number of articles where the tool was present. In July 2011 there were about 100,000 English articles with this tool.

The huge number of visitors creates a great opportunity to test and fine-tune the tools.

Let's take a look how the tool has evolved.

First version of the tool

Version 2 of the tool
The second iteration uses different, more intuitive, copy, has an expert box and hides the page ratings under a smaller link. After submitting your rating, the following box pops up.

Rating submit box page with call-to-action

Testing CTAs

Next to increasing the article quality, this part of the tool boosts engagement. The call-to-action (CTA) is made to pull users into the Wikipedia experience.

Most popular (37.2%) was the survey option, the editing option (17.4% of the visitors) has plenty of people clicking, but a low conversion rate. Seeing why these people don't complete the editing might be a good next step.

The Join CTA is less popular, 4.7% click through to login and 3.5% to signup. These numbers are lower because it is not clear what users will join or why they should join it.

Some nice extra findings from the research related to this feedback tool:
Three out of six raters in a small-scale user test did not complete their rating action, neglecting to press the "Submit" button. Recent revisions of the feature add a reminder to submit the rating.
Why make it necessary to press the submit button? With technologies like AJAX and an appropriate feedback loop (show the user that the score was submitted or registered) you can skip this extra barrier.
Our user studies have highlighted that readers do not consider rating necessarily to be a form of "feedback". The tool does not currently use the term "feedback" in the user interface, and we may add feedback features such as free-text comments in future, so this does not have major implications at this time.
How careful are you with your wording? Calling it ideas or opinions might be more effective than feedback. Test it!

The biggest conclusion of this post is that your focus should be on lowering the barriers for users to engage, test what is working and act accordingly!

If you are a fan of the show Arrested Development, go check and rate this article for its quality!

(Actually Wikipedia gains stars and not hearts, but that one sounded so much better :)

August 30, 2011

Nobody Cares That You're 60 Cents Cheaper*

You've got a quality brand, people know you, like what you've got to offer and are willing to pay extra for it.

Enter cheaper, private-label brands. 
Your market share comes under pressure.

What do you?
  1. People are paying extra for your brand, find out why and see if you are still worth this premium.
  2. In your advertising, highlight these benefits. 
  3. Don't mention the price. You don't want to play by your competitors rules.
  4. If your price is too much of a barrier, maybe think promotions or couponing.
*Lessons from the marketing of paper towels.

August 11, 2011

Grow Your Tribe With Number Magic

A subscriber count on your site works great as social proof. It shows that other people cared enough to signup and that it is ok for you to do the same.

But once you are subscribed, this number loses much of its meaning. The Get Storied newsletter found a way to use this number to strengthen their relationship with existing subscribers. In every mail, they show how the tribe has grown. It makes me really feel like there are other people that care. Plus it works again as social proof if people forward the mail.

Get Storified newsletter

[Big welcome to 89 new members of the tribe.
You now join over 8,754 subscribers of storytelling mojo.]

If you need some help crafting a better story for your career or business, go check it out, they got some excellent advice!

August 2, 2011

Why Your Stuff Won't Go Viral

A user visits your site, registers, fiddles around with your service and leaves.

A success right? Not if they are not coming back or aren't telling anybody about it.

So if it is your job to make your product or service go viral, you've got a problem.

We've seen before that most of the people online don't engage. And a new study on the adoption patterns of various online platforms (Twitter, Yahoo IM,..) has more bad news.

User adoption trees - click for full size - image by Sharad Goel

When people try out a new service, Twitter for example, they are very likely, 93% to be precise, to leave and never come back.

Across all researched platforms this turns out to be the most common user behaviour.

Only in 1-4% of the cases users will invite more than one person. Hardly something you can call a viral success story.


With the above patterns in  mind, it is interesting to look at the recent introduction of Google+.

Now that the false scarcity effects of the beta invites are fading, the press coverage is also decreasing.

One real advantage they have opposed to a stand alone platform is possibility to force users back to the platform. Their integration and mergers with other services gives them extra touchpoints with users, which might tilt the numbers in their favour.

I'm surprised how low these numbers are. But they give a very clear indication that it stays incredible hard to get your stuff out there. But nothing is stopping you from adding special viral sauce to it!

July 7, 2011

Why Your Site Looks Like A Loser

Monday morning, site stats time. The numbers look ok but not really what you were hoping for. You've been working hard to get this great looking blog up, filled with great content. There are more and more visitors, but they don't to do anything.
Many site owners are on the look-out  for ways to optimize their site and improve conversion rates. But no matter how hard you work to create an awesome site/product/blog/game, there will be people that don't seem to respond.

Jakob Nielsen and friends did a study on user participation in online communities:
  • 90% of the visitors are lurkers, who just read.
  • 10% might engage now and then, they are light contributors
  • 1% of the visitors are the heavy contributors, they are the core of engagement
Numbers vary for different types of communities, but most tend to skew even further.
  • Blogs: 95-5-0.1
  • Wikipedia: 99.8-0.2-0.003
Who is your real audience? The 90% silent ones, or the 1% that continues to show up?
Which conclusions do you draw from your engagement metrics. Is a success the same for every visitor?

If you use one indicator for your whole audience you disregard 90% of your users. They are very different: maybe they aren't as tech savvy, not aware of the benefits of engagement or maybe they just don't care.

If you use a blog to gather feedback for your products, new feature requests might just be the 1% most heavily engaged users (not necessarily heavy product users) telling you what they want. Getting closer in touch with users might be a good way to get additional information.

But these numbers aren't set in stone, what can you do to engage the lurkers?

Make it as easy as possible to participate
Rethink forms, captchas, confirmation pages, etc. Every barrier is a reason to give up.

Edit, don't create
Instead of making users do all the heavy lifting, give them a template they can edit. Example of this are the templates behind Tweet this buttons, already with a text and link. All you need to do is send, or make some small changes.

To all you lurkers reading this post that plan on leaving right about now: 

Do you engage differently on the internet?
Do you every comment on a blog? Or does it depend on the type of blog?

Break the lurking cicle and share your thoughts! :)

May 30, 2011

How To Become The Underdog

Avis Is Only No. 2, We Try Harder
Avis used this slogan to beat the top dog of car rentals in the 60s, Hertz.

In one of advertising's legendary campaigns they admitted being second, but showed their determination to become number one.

This underdog position did a lot of good for them. Employees were really trying harder. And clients were convinced that Avis really tried to give them the best service possible.

The company managed to change the conversation from being second after Hertz, to their quest of becoming the number one car rental company. 

You can't show how much less number two you have become. But you can show how much closer you are to number one.

And because of the campaign's success, they forced Hertz into a defensive position.

brand positioning avis hertz bkcp bank

Today the Belgian bank BKCP is trying to do something similar with their slogan: Luckily not the biggest (In Dutch: Gelukkig niet de grootste)

Like the rest of the world, big Belgian banks have taken a beating these last couple of years. Now this small bank is positioning themselves as the alternative to the big (bad) ones.

But unlike the Avis slogan, the premise is wrong. Being smaller doesn't automatically mean doing better business.

So how do they show that not being the biggest is better?

Their billboard ads and website say that you can challenge them to do things that other banks can't. 

They are trying to make me do the work to find out why bigger isn't better. But that's not the point of advertising. They should tell me!

April 13, 2011

101 Lifehacks Towards The Life You Wish You Had

Before I share my list of awesome lifehacks, I want you to play along:

Imagine you are a personal coach, hired to improve the live of your client.

Objective 1: Get your client to work harder and deliver better results.

How are you going to improve their performance?

One way is to tell them what they are doing wrong at the moment, follow-up by supplying them with all the necessary information and give them the best ways to accomplish their goals.

By doing these things, you hope that they will use these facts to improve their own performance.
Imagine a basketball player that can't shoot 3-point shots. We could record him on video when he is playing and go over every move he makes. Then we show him video material of the best 3 point shooters in the game. We can even connect the dots be comparing him side-to-side with the top player. 
Next time he is practising his long distance shot, he will remember some ideas from the performance review and use them. It is very likely that his 3 pointer percentage will improve.
Objective 1 accomplished.

Objective 2: Get your client to lose weight, quit smoking and start exercising.

This is a bigger challenge. In most cases, your client will know what's right and what they should do. But when they need to act on it they do the reverse thing.

One way to explain this is that success in these areas isn't visible enough, the benefits only show up in the long term.

Spending one hour to analyse someone's basketball shooting style will improve the game almost instantly. It is harder to see the results of giving up smoking for a week.

Visualizing that progress. Track the numbers and put them somewhere where you can see it. Number of kilos lost, minutes exercised, improved running speed,..

But it is harder than that.

How do you get your client to actually TRY a different habit?

A common approach is to REALLY convince people that being fat is bad for them. Tell them all the possible diseases they can get.

But people aren't adopting healthy lifestyles en masse. They aren't abandoning cigarettes.


Reading that exercising three times a week will reduce the risk of a heart attack by 100%  might get you out of the house three days a week.

For one week.

The second week you might go twice and before you know it,  the third week has gone by and you haven't done anything and you just stay at home, feeling guilty.

So if giving more information doesn't work, what CAN really change your behaviour?

Playing psychological tricks on your own mind

First of all: I tricked you, there is no list of 101 items waiting at the bottom. Even more: I urge you to get rid of 101 Ways To Do XYZ -lists you have got bookmarked.

I know, you were going to read and implement them one day.

But you are not.

Here is what does work: take baby steps towards your goal, find and destroy your barriers and create triggers.

If you aren't exercising now, do you have thirty minutes a week to go for a run? (You can go for a big walk if you are completely out of shape)

Now that you have your baby step, how can you make it as easy as possible to do this?

What has been stopping you before?
I don't have a nice park to run in
My running shoes are old and broken.

Probably you can come up with a bunch of reasons. Do these barriers really matter? Can you find an easy fix for them?

Now you have already got two pieces in place to really make some changes.

The last piece is designing psychological triggers in your life. Things that when you see or read them, you are reminded of your goals and remind you to take action.

Try stocking your running shoes in your living room, maybe next to the TV set :)

Objective 2 (maybe) accomplished.

Below is a different kind of trigger that I found.


Instead of a personal coach, imagine you are Google.

Objective 3: improve the performance of your software users.

A small overview of how Google AdWords works is necessary, skip ahead if you got the basics nailed.
An advertiser creates an ad and puts it into the system of Google. He then specifies how much he wants to pay for each click, for which keywords it should appear, to which users it should be displayed, etc. This information, together with that of all the other advertisers for those keywords is put into an algorithm which decides the ranking of the sponsored links. The quality score is a score that is based on how good the ad corresponds with the keywords and page where the user is sent after a click.
In the The Case of the Missing Quality Scores, it shows how Google is using psychology for their online marketing: getting people to write better ads with a higher quality score.

The author noticed that the distribution of his quality scores (ranging from 1-10) in  his account had changed over time. In February 2009, a score of 7 was very common and the other scores where distributed around this. Tests in 2011 showed a change in distribution. And suddenly there were almost 8 and 9 scores anymore.

Shifted distribution - graph from The Search Agents

It would make sense to see these changes if the account was worse. But the impressions, click through rates and conversions all were up.

After some more detective work the author concludes that Google is simply less generous to hand out these high quality scores.
Nobody likes to think they are below-average in something. This fact is the basis of both the Dunning-Kruger Effect (the idea that below-average performers don’t recognize that they are below average) and the Lake Wobegon Effect (the reason that most drivers consider themselves above-average at driving)
If people see that 80% of their ads score 6 or less, they know they are leaving money on the table.

Quality scores affect the cost per click. A good quality score gets you the same click for less money, a bad score will cost you more.

So an advertiser seeing low scores will spend more time improving their ads, increasing click throughs and conversions.

And as it happens, high quality ads get more clicks, which helps Google make money.

Psychology and marketing, hand in hand.

March 17, 2011

How much do you spend on link bait?

Is is worth it to create a blog to generate links/leads/sales?
Many companies are, rightfully, sceptic when someone tells them that they should be blogging.

Finding good information and creating good articles costs time and money. Resources that can not be spend on things that might be more appropriate.

How will this money come back? It is hard to directly tie everything digital to sales up front. An analysis after implementation can tell us this but it remains a very though exercise:
  • How much is a link from a top website worth?
  • What's the value of being amongst the first page search results vs being on page five?

That said, you still need traffic to your website. Some sites put up infographics, other create tools or even complete services to generate traffic and increase sales.

Email service loss leader profitability gmail facebook yahoo mail hotmail

E-mail as a loss leader

And one of these traffic driving products is one we use every day, e-mail.

At Inbox Love, a conference about all things e-mail the big providers said the following:1
  • Hotmail drives traffic to Bing and promotes new features for Office
  • Yahoo Mail drives traffic to its website and Bing
  • Gmail is the main driver of Google Enterprise sales and it encourages sign-in which gives Google more data on search
  • Facebook messaging system: part of the broader ecosystem
The story is likely a bit more complicated than just considering these products as loss leaders. But the main take-away is that these companies are willing to spend huge amounts of money on these products to get a whiff of traffic or data.

Then the question is: how will you use that hard earned information?

1. The Problem With Email: It's Not A Money Maker

March 11, 2011

Does your site really need badges and points?

Maybe you didn't care when you last got that Language Expert badge because you spelled your name right.

Maybe you don't care about that collection of secret items you've built up on that newssite.

But that's exactly what's wrong. These elements were put in to make you give a shit. If you want to make your app or site truly engaging, there is a lot more to it then just slapping points on.

I enjoy reading and writing about gamification. But the more the concept is spreading, the more people are doing it in a wrong way.

Not saying I got the magical formula, I've been there and tried to implement parts into an app and I know it is very hard to do right.

So it is good to see this presentation call out the bullshit and show how it can be fixed.

February 22, 2011

Passion for Music, Aliens and Direct Mail

I just finished a guide that Derek Sivers wrote to help muscians market their music. But it is a lot more than that.

This free ebook feels more like a lessons learned from his musical career, business and life.

And because I know most of you will never click, download AND read it, I have copied an awesome story from it. So if you like music and marketing, enjoy!


Back in 1997, when “The X Files” was still on the air, a friend of mine who called himself Captain T put out a record called US Aliens that was all about conspiracy theories, Area 51, alien cover-ups,and the Incredible Hulk. It was intentionally funny, but he would stay in character and play it straight: a guy who was trying to tell the world, through music, about the aliens and conspiracies. He wanted to send his album to college radio stations, but couldn’t afford to hire a real radio promoter. When we decided to do it ourselves, I was about to do things in a very normal way, but I thought I should take my own advice, and make his marketing an extension of his art, his image, his message.

(Also, I was thinking about that kid in the college radio station that gets 20 CDs a day, all exactly the same, in boring envelopes. I wanted to make his week.)

So - we bought 500 black envelopes, 500 sheets of brown oatmeal paper, 500 alien head stickers,and the best part : 500 huge stickers that said “CONFIDENTIAL MAIL - DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”.

We did a mail-merge to the 500 program directors at 500 college radio stations, so that each one got a personalized letter that said this:
Dear __name__, 
You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.
I have been here for 12 years and your station has saved my life many times over.
The music that you play has kept me going through my darkest of days and for this I owe you everything.
In this spirit, I must tell you that a man named Captain T found me in the gutter yesterday, and he taught me about what is really going on with the government and what really happened down there in Area 51. This man has a message that you have to get out to the world, because people need to know the TRUTH! 
Man in the bushes, looking through your window right now

We took each letter out to the backyard and literally rubbed it in dirt, crumpled it into a little tiny ball, then flattened it out a little bit, put the CD inside, sealed it into a black envelope, put the alien head sticker on it, covered it with the huge sticker that said “CONFIDENTIAL MAIL - DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON”, and mailed them out to each station.

We laughed for hours while doing it.

Now, imagine you're that kid working at the radio station, getting 20 CDs a day with normal boring packages, saying “Please play my record!” Then you get this scary black mess of a package that says “DO NOT OPEN”, and when opened is covered in dirt and says, “You don’t know me, but I live in the bushes behind your station.

375 of the radio stations played it.

Every now and then, my friend Captain T gets approached by someone that used to work at a college radio station back in 1997. They tell him they still remember it, because it was the coolest package they ever got.


As I said above, more of these gems can be found in the ebook by Derek Sivers.

February 15, 2011

The absolute marketing ground work

Imagine a really well-run startup that has all aspects of operations completely buttoned down: HR policies in place, great sales model, thoroughly thought-through marketing plan, great interview processes, outstanding catered food, 30" monitors for all the programmers, top tier VCs on the board.
But it is heading straight off a cliff.
That doesn't seem right I hear you think.

The story above is part of a guide for startups which analyses what is more important for the success of a startup: team, product or market.

In this area everybody has an opinion and many will tell you you  need a good combination of the three parts to strike gold.

But in the post above, Marc Andreessen picks market as the most important factor. He feels the main reason why many companies, wíth great teams or products, fail, is because they lack product/market fit. Coming from the guy behind the Mosaic browser, Netscape and Ning, it is worth examining a bit closer:
In a great market - a market with lots of real potential customers - the market pulls product out of the startup.
It is the absolute marketing ground work: making sure people need and want it.

When the product is done you can market it as one thing. But if you don't deliver on the promises, customers will feel tricked. And that isn't really a long term strategy.

A solution can only be found by redoing the product, tailoring it in a way that ensures a better fit with the market. So as long as there is money to burn, there is time to fix it.

This makes me think of Twitter (in which Andreessen is an investor in). It is popular, has a great team but what is its market? It is a complicated question that may even be hard for Twitter itself. Who are their real potential and paying customers?

Full article can be found on his blog.

February 11, 2011

The Direct Response Approach to Brand Building

Interesting article over at Kissmetrics' blog: Eight Lessons for Online Marketing Success I Learned From Direct-Response Advertising.
Starting off with a quote from Raymond Rubicam:
The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other justification worth mentioning.
He is very right, and this principle can seldom be repeated too often. Many marketers are unduly concerned with ‘building brand recognition’, ‘increasing customer awareness’, ‘leveraging social media’ and all these other fancy marketing techniques. But what is the point of these things if they don’t measurably lead to more sales?
Of course, brand recognition, customer awareness, social media and the like can all be used to increase sales—and significantly at that. But very often, marketers have no clear strategy as to how they should use these tools to bring in more money. Sometimes they don’t even consider the question; they just ‘know’ they should be doing these things…because everyone else is, so it must be important, right?
Add to that that brand building targets non or light users, while the real value is in existing customers.

This duality of advertising for brand building and sales purposes is something I find really fascinating.

This part touches on something essential: advertising should tie to sales, but not necessarily directly.

For more interesting lessons from direct advertising, read more at their blog.

February 3, 2011

Cheap Campaign Optimization with Google Insights

By reading Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik, I've become a lot smarter about nailing the essence of websites and how to successfully measure that. I'm only halfway through, but already found a lot of gems. Like these examples. Both use the search data that are available in tools like Google Insights for Search. it allows you to optimise both offline and online campaigns!

Movie marketing
Marketers used geographic interest analysis to determine the optimal marketing strategy for a Brad Pitt movie, first for the offline ads by city and state and then how to geographically best target online users across the world. It was a simple matter of recognizing where interest was highest and promoting the new movie more heavily in those areas.
Another  nice illustration:
It may worry me as the brand manager of Pampers that the top related search for my category is cloth diapers, a product that I do not sell. Combine that with the fact that five of the ten fastest-rising searches are all related to price (cheapest, coupons), and it is enough to give me an ulcer. But now I am more informed, and I can adjust my marketing strategies to emphasize affordability or offer strategic couponing without cannibalizing my bottom line. Consumer interest is clear; now I have to react.
When I'm completely through I'll probably have a lot more ideas about it. But for now, more info on the book can be found here.

January 25, 2011

Zynga, Creators of the Addiction Engine Formula

Zynga, the social gaming giant behind Facebook games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville, released their latest social gaming hit, CityVille, just over 40 days ago. Today the user count is already over 100 million.

Yes, 100 million users!

Their formula for maximized user growth and engagement has evolved over the years, in part through testing and tweaking of every part of their games. Let's take a close look at this.

zynga facebook games psychology analysis

Formula to success

In a very interesting post Kevin Rose analyzed the first couple of levels of CityVille. This offers a good view on the various techniques the game uses to hook users into it and make it spread like hotcakes.
  • Goals: give to user a clear goal. Example: build a road
  • Rewards: on completion of the goal the user is rewarded. Example: extra coins or a new level
  • Share: the user can then show of this reward for his friends on Facebook by posting it on his wall or their wall.
  • Cross promotion: with all the users playing other Facebook games by Zynga, they offered extra rewards in both games if you started playing this game. 
  • Encouraged collaboration: previous games already meant that the more you friends you managed to get playing with you, the faster you could advance through the game. In this game it has been brought to a new level, making bringing new friends key to advancing quickly.
For an intro into gamification, sprinkling psychological tricks onto boring things to make them fun, check out this post.

Finding your formula

You are probably no game designer, but you can learn something else from Zynga about user engagement.

Let us take a look how they found their formula.
  • They have developed 13 games with 1 million users or more
In the four years they have been around, they have plenty of experience and success with their Facebook games. The core of their success is the game, reward and share system. It has been present in most other of their Facebook games. And they paid close attention to see which parts worked best and which didn't.
  • They almost have 300 million monthly active users (if a user plays two games of them, he counts as 2)
This huge user base allows you to try some things out. I suspect massive A/B testing of all possible elements.

Getting the social gaming engine running as smooth as possible and removing all bumps. It is what game designers do. But it is also what companies intend if they want to use their website to make sales.

Optimizing landing pages so they convert best, finding copy that sells more, see how colors influence spending, what if we would put a video instead of this block of text, etc. And every single one of these techniques aims to increase user engagement.

The Part where the Money comes in Play

At Zynga all this optimizing tries to convince users to do three things: enter in affiliate programs, click on advertising or convert real money into virtual currency for their Facebook games.

Their games can becoming addictive easily. And matching psychological tricks with addiction is where business turns into a bit a gray zone.

Justin Herrick had some nice views in the comment section of the article above:
Their periodic emails to ensure you have "got your free daily reward" is a classic example of enticement and entrapment. There is a certain 'vegas slot machine' feeling to how the game behaves when you are collecting from your whole city. Things flash, everything makes funs sounds, meters are going off. It gives the sense of hitting the jackpot. 
Having played many games and designed a few, I cannot help but feel that this game was built more to be an engine of addiction than a video game. Obviously it was, it was built to bring in the most money possible and they are doing a good job at that.
So can you use these psychological tricks from social gaming to hook customers into your campaigns, or get to to engage deeper with your site?

There are a couple of guidelines that I think offer a good way to check if you are still on the right track:
Are people aware where they are being guided? 
Would they come to the same conclusion if they had the same knowledge than you on these psychological tools? 
If you use these elements, you will know if you are doing dodgy things. Changing a button color to improve conversion rates isn't one of them.

So I'm sure there are plenty of things you can improve to make your marketing more engaging!

Please post in the comments everything you have related to social gaming, psychological tricks, massive A/B testing or engines of addiction!

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January 24, 2011

Shopping Cart Branding

Consistency is key to brand building.

On a recent trip to the supermarket Colruyt, Belgian low cost retailer, I found the following message on my shopping cart:

We aren't putting a lock on this shopping cart
(saves 14 euro / cart)
Again cutting costs, a difference you'll see on your bill!

In other supermarkets you need a coin to unlock your cart, to ensure lazy people bring it back to the cart stall.

Less hassle and it shows the commitment to cuting costs. From their simple store decoration to a cooled room instead of fridges, all the way to shopping carts.

And by putting it explicitly on their carts, people are reminded of this. And it sets them apart from competitors where you still need that coin.

Branding is everywhere!

January 19, 2011

How to Achieve Success in an Already Cluttered Birthday Market

If you are looking for some ideas for your next campaign or even party, the video below might be of help:

(if the video isn't showing please click here)

(via Brand Mix)

January 18, 2011

Can Dutch retailer Albert Heijn threaten Aldi in Belgium?

Supermarket giant Albert Heijn (AH), present on every street corner in the Netherlands, comes to Belgium.

The first opens in a town close to the Dutch border. This secures them of customers and a spot close to their distribution center. The product line will be a mix of Dutch and typical Belgian products.

You could see this as sort of a trial run. And if successful, rumors are AH is looking to open up to 200 stores.

albert heijn retail belgium expansion
Two questions:

Is there room in the current market to open up 200 new locations?

How do they plan to compete with existing retailers?

Market situation

It's hard to predict if there is room for them. Their Dutch stores are a combination of sharp prices and a nice shopping environment.

On the low cost part of the Belgian markets there are retailers such as Aldi, Lidl and Colruyt. Their focus on cost control makes their stores also less fancy. Chains like Delhaize and Carrefour are at the top end of the market, with a bit more pricey products but a nice interior.

So if they would copy their Dutch concept they would be in between these two groups.

In the hunt for good locations AH might be looking to convert existing franchise stores. Or of course something drastic like a acquisition of the Belgian Carrefour operations, which have been in trouble ever since they entered Belgium.


Sitting around isn't a good strategy for the current players. They did that in the 80s when Aldi aggressively took the low cost part of the market.

The two main competitors that AH is likely to encounter:
  • Colruyt: very good results and growth figures due to a focus on good but basic service and low price
  • Delhaize: good results with its own stores, sharply priced private label products, opening of  Red Market concept stores that focus on low price
So even if Albert Heijn manages to secure good locations, they will have to come with something extra. And pricing right is likely to be a big part of their strategy.

Dutch people are more price-sensitive. Dutch consumers are used to a lot of promotions and retailers use loss leaders to increase foot traffic. These last years AH has been involved in various price wars with its competitors in the Netherlands.

On top of that are a lot of products priced differently than in Belgium. This might give the impression that everything is cheaper, but what is discounted on these products will be made up on others.

One technique that retailers already use is price comparisons. So if they can really compete with AH on a full shopping cart, this will continue.

If AH manages to gain foothold in Belgium, their pricing policy might cause some uproar.

Would you like to shop in a Belgianized Albert Heijn? Drop it in the comments!

January 13, 2011

Starbucks Goes Iconic

Starbucks is changing its logo. And like all big brands making changes, there are people who like it and people that hate it. See below what is about to change:

Starbucks logo changes
I think it's a nice idea to take away the words Starbucks and coffee. The mermaid now becomes the central element in the logo. Some people claim it is not known enough, but wherever the logo will appear, the Starbucks name will be close.

These changes make the logo simpler. Less colors and no more text around it.

This allows more freedom in the execution.

And with this simpler logo Starbucks claims a position next to the arches of McDonald's and Nike's swoosh. They are not there yet but this surely is the right direction.

The new logo looking good in the field

Starbucks has been looking to get a bigger piece of the money customers put down for breakfast. This could mean a bigger focus on things like sandwiches. Let's just hope that taking coffee out of the logo won't make them drop the focus on what they are best at.

January 10, 2011

Can product trials boost margins?

Product trials allow the consumer to check if your product is really what you say it is. But trials can have another effect as well.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman illustrated the property effect: 
If a person owns something, he tends to overestimate its value
In his experiment there were two groups. One group who were told in advance that they got a coffee cup as a present, then they had to give a price for which they would be willing to sell their cup.

The other group had to tell the price they would be willing to pay for it, without getting the cup as a present.

The first group, the owners, wanted an average $ 7.12 for it while the second group was willing to pay just $ 2.87 on average for it.

So what does this mean?

Giving people ownership or perceived ownership over your product will increase the perceived of it, thereby making a purchase more likely.

Trial versions let people experiment, but also own the product.

On more expensive equipment like televisions, another type of trial is possible. If you use a system of monthly payments, the television already feels yours but isn't. But because its yours it will increase the value you get from it and make you continue the payments.

Does this make sense to you?

January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a great holiday period and are looking forward to the new year.

I sure am.

After the changes I went through last month:
  • Finished my job as an online marketeer at Plano Bê
  • Moved back to Belgium after more than a year in Brazil (and damn it's cold!)
my schedule is completely cleared. And this leaves me with more plans than ever, both with this blog and other professional ventures.

I'm gearing up for a 2011 where I try to take this blog to the next level with better articles and some new things like an audio podcast. (If you have any suggestions or ideas I'd love to hear them!)

Let me finish by wishing you a year full of good health, happiness. And if you have some new marketing plans or resolutions for the new year, I'd love to hear about them in the comments or mail!