online marketing psychology

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 BĂȘ
  • 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!