Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gamification is Motivation - A Charity Success Story

Gamification is a marketing buzzword of late that involves using scoring and reward mechanics to encourage new users of a site or a piece of software to stay engaged.  Foursquare is famous for offering badges for various activities, which promotes further use of their application.
But gamification is not just for startups and mobile app developers. A recent visit to a MN charity showed how they use these tactics to engage new donors and to fulfill their mission of feeding children in need around the world.

Feed My starving is a charity devoted to delivering nutritious, culturally acceptable meals to families in impoverished countries. In collaboration with food scientists at private companies they have developed a $1.32 packet of dry food that can feed 6 kids when cooked. FMSC buys the ingredients, fills the packets and ships them to partner charities across the globe, who ultimately deliver them to needy families.
The game mechanics come into play during the packing stage. All of the food is packed by volunteers at one of their packing facilities in Minnesota, Illinois and Arizona. Everyone is divided up into teams, where they work to fill bags with the 4 ingredients, seal the bags and pack them into shipping boxes. It's a great time and amazing how many meals a group can pack in an hour and a half.  And it works! In a year the organization can ship over 120,000,000 meals with the help of 500,000+ volunteer packers and the food reliably arrives to those that need it. They have the highest possible rating at Charity Navigator.

But why use people, strangers, to fill the bags at all?

Wouldn't it be more efficient to ask staff members to do it rather than train new groups for each shift? And there must be machines or at least measuring equipment that could help automate the task of filling plastic bags with a consistent amount of rice. I think the answer is that the benefits of gamification, especially the increased feeling of ownership amongst volunteers, outweighs the potential inefficiencies.

While any contribution from a donor helps, it's the long term partners that are really useful to a healthy charity. For any non-profit, it's a challenge to get people involved and invested. Unfortunately donors are often asked to mail out checks and never hear from the organization about the results... until it's time to ask for another check.
Reward systems change that by offering measurement and feedback immediately.  It's clear from the moment you walk in as a volunteer that Feed My Starving Children has long term relationships in mind. Entering their facility you're greeted by the staff and given a nice introduction to how the ministry works. Subtle scoring systems and rewards start from there.

Volunteers are divided into teams and gather in the packing room around a station. By design, all the teams are in the same room with identical set ups, establishing a playing field for competition. Quietly, the staffers mention how many packs fit in a box and how many boxes a typical team can pack during a session. So the benchmarks have been established.
The staff never tells volunteers to rush or to try to set packing records. But do offer tips on how to operate quickly ("hand signals can speed up re-supplies by a few seconds") and they start the packing session in the same way a race might start. Ready, set, go.

During the session, there is up-tempo music playing across the room's speakers and the room gets loud with teams trying to communicate with each other. Of course some good-natured trash talking is included and teams start to shout out how many boxes they've finished. Each team is pitted against the rest and pretty soon there is singing, chanting and dancing going on as the ingredients fly. It's super fun but very much about winning.
Once a session is completed (after a count down of course) the groups gather back in the meeting room to hear the numbers. Staffers tally up the packs, boxes and palettes completed and share the results of that day's session. In all the times I've been to Feed My Starving Children to pack meals, I've always been assured that our group was phenomenal, much better than the average group's output. Either I'm just that good or FMSC is using intangible rewards intentionally to give volunteers a sense of pride, ownership and some bragging rights.

Photo: A View From The Edge
Finally volunteers are informed that all of the food they've packed has been paid for by the organization, costing hundreds of dollars. Previous donors have paid for the food packed in that session and FMSC needs more donations to enable future volunteer crews. The appeal is all very well done and guilt-free but it's very persuasive, as I can personally attest to.

In all, they've created a personal connection through a fun, competitive experience using game mechanics, which results in more volunteering, more donations and more word of mouth. This post is just one example!

For more information on Feed My Starving Children visit fmsc.org and seriously consider bringing some friends and volunteering. It makes a great team building event, birthday or night out and you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Content Marketing at Austin-Bergstrom Airport - 789% Lift!

When we talk about content marketing, marketers are usually referring to those ambiguously successful efforts like brand building, awareness and top of the funnel engagement.  Efforts not accountable to sales numbers, of course.
How about a form of content marketing that boosts the selling price of an item 9 times over?  Check out this bandana for sale at the Austin airport.
There's nothing to distinguish this bandana from one you can buy at a drug store for less than a dollar.  Except for the packaging.  Printed on low budget construction paper, the content turns an ordinary bandana into a cowboy bandana, perfect for business travelers looking for a last minute souvenir. (This is Texas after all.)
Plus you get the list of all the amazing things you can do with the bandana which includes such helpful suggestions as 'a sling for a broken arm' and 'a muzzle for a biting horse.'  It's one of those things where you know it's kind of lame, and the person you give it to knows, but it qualifies as an appropriate gift so you get credit anyways.
In the end the ten cent piece of paper turns the $1 bandana into a $8.99 souvenir gift. Now that's what I call content marketing with ROI!


Friday, March 22, 2013

Top subscriptions for your new RSS feed reader

"Dear internet, if you're reading this blog post then you already know.  Google Reader is about to be boarded up.  The doors. The windows. Everything. We're going to Feedly. Room 112. I love you, Matt."

They are taking away my favorite application of all time, Google Reader. And while it's all very sad, the show must go on.  I'll be taking my subscriptions elsewhere, along with tens of thousands of other Reader users.

Since every moving day offers a chance to clean out accumulated junk, I'll be doing some Spring cleaning of my feeds.  In case you're doing the same, I'm sharing some of my favorite subscriptions that I read on a daily basis. You  can pick and choose individual subscriptions or download a bundle at a time.  Consider this post a loving tribute to my soon-to-be dearly departed.

To import all feeds (right click, save as...) http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Fmarketing

To import http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Fwedding%20industry To import http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Finternets To import http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Ffun To import http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Fproductivity To import http://www.google.com/reader/public/subscriptions/user%2F18180136181577784927%2Flabel%2Fphotos

In Memoriam, see also http://matt-hamilton.blogspot.com/search/label/RSS


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Making your ideas their ideas (plus sneaky shortcuts for recall)

Getting someone else to come around to your point of view can be a tricky thing.  Before you can ask your audience to act, you’ll need to make them aware of your point of view and convince them to consider it. It’s even tougher to change a point of view that they already have. You could take on the task directly and come armed with a list of arguments and facts. But that’s just the standard way of doing things.

West Coast Trail, British Columbia
Another approach is to talk around the issue, subtly shaping the decision-making landscape. Like the forestry service offering a path through the woods that fits the setting, you clear obstacles and offer the best path past hazards while still allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. It's more difficult to do and takes more time. But it can be a lot more effective.

Groomed Trails and Shortcuts 

When planting an idea you have to be early enough to affect your audience before they take a firm position. And you can't come on too strong or they'll know the idea is not their own. A long term awareness campaign requires a lot of faith and patience. But we can also take advantage of shortcuts.  An idea that comes from a single source can take quite a long time to wedge itself into consciousness. Having the idea reinforced by multiple, independent sources greatly increase that message's effectiveness. And you get even further by getting your audience to agree with that message on their own, or at least recall your claim for a positive reason.  (Plus the act of recalling something can deliver positive benefits on its own as well.)

Total recall

Getting your audience to recall your message can jumpstart your attempts at persuasion and there are several effective tools for the job. Have you ever had to remember a phone number without having a pen to write it down? If you're like most people, you repeat it to yourself, out loud (at least if there's nobody else around to look at you funny.) There's something about speaking that makes it easier to remember. There has actually been quite a bit of neuroscience research on the topic – suffice to say voicing your ideas requires additional brainpower that helps with recall.

Likewise, concepts and arguments stick when you try them on for size, either in your head or on paper. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators said, "thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through pencil tips." Translating an abstract thought into coherent communication requires you to process it first.

Examples

So how can you get your audience to try out your idea without putting up conscious barriers first? As a thought exercise, let's take a look at some potential techniques and how they might play out in a creative campaign.

1. Awareness campaign plus 3rd party ask  - Let's say you're a small Chicago based company in a competitive industry like organic snack food. You could run a two part campaign to cement your message of being a local favorite. In part one, you'd do a typical awareness effort like becoming a sponsor at a 5K or a summer festival in town. Give away samples and literature that describe how you've been connected to your city for x number or years or another unique and re-callable claim.

In step 2, follow up with the people that were exposed to your brand claim shortly after the event but do it through a 3rd party. Your goal is to trigger the memory of their initial interaction with you (and reap the benefits of that recognition) and to use a positive reward to solidify your brand positioning claim. Continuing the example of a local snack company, you could create a simple Facebook quiz run by Windy City Software that lets users answer questions about how well they know their hometown. One of the questions will be related to your claim. "Which of these companies based in Oak Park was one of the first organic snack options in Chicago?..." The user is motivated to dredge up the memory in order to get the question right and your claim is reinforced.

 The rest of the quiz can be fun cover or you could band together with like minded complementary vendors who might also like to get involved.By the way Facebook has always made it easy to target advertising to a specific segment like residents of your city or neighborhood. They have also recently added an option to upload your own set of email addresses in order to create a custom advertising segment - as an event sponsor you might have access to just such a list.

2. Whitepaper and custom captcha - A lot of smart marketers are using content marketing to good effect these days. If you work in an industry where you can offer a helpful guide or intro to an unfamiliar issue, whitepapers are great ways to introduce your brand. Traditionally, content marketers will write a whitepaper and offer it for free on a webpage. In order to reduce friction and encourage as much use as possible, whitepapers are often offered without having to register or fill in a form at all.I agree with line ofthinking and believe it works out best in the end to avoid the temptation of requiring a name or email address. But even cynical consumers understand the need for short captcha tools to guard against abuse. Why not ditch the traditional captcha tools and come up with a custom one that works to your branding advantage? Ask them a simple question that makes them think, even a little bit, about your brand. "This guide to DIY photography is brought to you by the lighting pros at ______"

 By requiring that they type the answer, you've added a measure of stickiness to your branding message.

3. Co-opt a common sound and link it to your brand claim.  - As anyone who has had a jingle stuck in their head knows, audio can make a terrific vehicle for recall. If you were a pet food company you could incorporate the whirring sound of a can being opened into your TV or radio ads about the quality of your product. By linking your claim of being a superior brand to the common sound of a can opener working, you can encourage recall every time your audience encounters that trigger.

On a similar note, you could create a useful preparedness mnemonic that doubles as a recall device. 1-800-ASK-GARY is a lawyer referral service that already seems to be everywhere these days.  During their radio ads, they could offer an acrostic for accident victims to remember what to do while at the same time encouraging brand recall.
G - Get out of the way of traffic and put on hazards
A - Authorities: call the police and, if necessary, an ambulance
R - Record information including notes about the accident and insurance info
Y - Your rights - don't admit to guilt or sign anything and call a lawyer. 1-800-ASK-GARY is there 24/7 to answer your legal questions.

Each of these hypothetical campaigns use recall as a means of getting your message to 'cut in line' amid the clutter of traditional noise. What other creative ideas can you come up with for getting consumers to process ideas and boosting recall?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Persuasion Case Study: Peter's Speech at Pentecost

It's always fun to look at examples of successful campaigns and to learn from great persuaders.  With Easter behind us a few days I thought we could look at one of the most successful speeches of all time: Peter's address at Pentecost.  He transformed the lives of thousands of people with one speech, amid extremely adverse conditions.  Let's take a look at how it happened.


First, a little background on the environment where this event took place.  After Jesus was crucified, he rose and appeared to hundreds of people over at least a few weeks time.  But the large majority of the population thought of Jesus as simply a wise teacher and a failed Messiah.  They were probably aware of rumors of his ressurection but there was no real support of Christ as savior and there was certainly no 'Christianity' as a religion. In fact, Jesus himself instructed his followers to await the Holy Spirit before setting out to evangelize.


During the Feast of Weeks, Jews from dozens of countries gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest.  It was during this time that the apostles received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues to the crowds.  The audience was amazed that they were hear the message in their own language.  But rather than embracing this phenomenon as proof of the Lord's involvement, they were confused and skeptical.  Some were openly adverse to what was happening, heckling the speakers and accusing them of being drunk.  It was in this environment that Peter delivered his presentation.
Acts 2:14-36
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Entering a chaotic situation, Peter took charge by quickly connecting to the audience, establishing an authority and by challenging them with an extremely confrontational style.  By laying into his audience he ultimately won them over.


1. Finding common ground

Peter starts off by addressing his crowd as Jews, both native and foreign.  Then he goes on to refer to Joel and David's writings, both Jewish prophets that the audience would be well aware of.  In a sense he's getting the crowd around to his side by saying 'we're all Jews here, let's talk plainly."


2. Appealing to authority
The first task for a persuasive speaker is to establish why the audience should care.  Appealing to authority, what Aristotle called out as ethos, is a classic mode of persuasion.  But since Peter lacked the recognition he needed to stand on his own credentials, he held up Jewish authorities of the past and the audience's own experiences.  He quotes passages that concern the last days, judgement and God's promise to send a Messiah. These are topics that men not were not only aware of but anticipated intently.  He then connects those familiar passages with current events.  The men in that generation were witnesses to Jesus's life and ministry.  Peter is saying 'don't take my word for it, listen to Joel and David.  And if that's not enough, just think about what you've seen with your own eyes!'


3. Issuing a challenge
Rather than laying out a logical path for them to follow or presenting facts and letting the audience draw their own conclusions, Peter hits them over the head with their failure.  The most difficult part of creating change is pushing through simple agreement, where the audience is smiling and nodding in their seats, but won't wind up actually doing anything.  Peter pulled it off by essentially calling his audience out.  'The miracles and wonders that surrounded Jesus's ministry should have made it plain that he was sent by God.  But instead of receiving that gift, you put him to death.'  That kind of accusation would make indifference impossible.


The result of Peter's arguments were just what he needed to create change.  The audience recognized the problem and were ashamed enough to be open to a new direction.  The last thing he had to do was to offer a tangible action that they could take right then.  This part is not as tough as all the convincing, but it's critical to sealing the deal.  Peter is ready when they ask 'what must we do?'  He tells them simply 'repent and be baptized' and 'receive the Holy Spirit.'  He also offers the help and support they need to take that action.  With such a simple way to get started, the audience responds in a big way.


Acts 2:37 says when they heard this, they were cut to the heart. I love that line.  According to Luke's account, over 3,000 men went from being confused skeptics that doubted Jesus's ministry to committed believers willing to stick their necks out in front of their families and culture to follow Christ.  It's an amazing turnaround.  


The other part of that process that I've left out, but that can't be overstated, is the work of the Holy Spirit in working on hearts.  No doubt Peter's words alone would not have had the same effect.  Being obedient to the Spirit's leading, Peter was used in a dramatic way on Pentecost and provided a great blueprint for using persuasive rhetoric in a positive way: connect with the audience, establish why they should listen, make action urgent and have a simple way to get started.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Exploring the top of the funnel for untapped leads

When it's your job to decide how to spend marketing dollars and your budget is not unlimited, options that are easily trackable to revenue tend to win out. That's easy to understand; it feels safer to choose channels that you can prove were effective, or that at least didn't lose any money.
When you can show that A caused B, the picture is simple and simple feels good. That's one of the reasons why Google spends so much on reporting tools for its cash cow self-service ad platform. They want you to see the connection to revenue and feel content with your ad spend. It works too - Google pulled in nearly $10 billion last quarter.

Simple methods for lead acquisition are great, especially for products with a short sales cycle, but they're not the whole picture. Just because an effort is not easily tracked doesn't mean it can't be extremely effective.

When attempting to break through the noise into a consumer's consciousness, the deck is stacked against brands. Because of the onslaught of messages that we all get pounded with every day, defenses are up. Simply asking for a sale is not enough.

Long term efforts around awareness offer a way. They have gotten a bad name lately because they don't always show up well on a dashboard. But planting seeds of recognition early in a buying process can get around ad-blindness and deliver big returns. It's well known that word of mouth is the most persuasive form of endorsement and trust is usually credited as the reason why. And while it's trust that enables a Five Guys fan to make an effective lunch recommendation to a coworker, one of the reasons why he'll go along with it is this:

He doesn't feel that he's being sold anything.

Persuasion is most effective when it's invisible. The marketer's goal should be to arrive two steps before the discussion of products starts, shaping their methods for evaluation and scoring points before the overt game even starts. If done well, the audience draws their own conclusion based on subtle hints whose influence they weren't even aware of.

As a bonus, many brands don't have the resources or the guts to market this way, preferring to stick to methods that deliver a tidy ROI number within a short time span. The competition will be much lighter here. Plus, if you are fortunate enough to register a message within the brain of your target customer weeks or months before she needs to consider a purchase, you will benefit from the positive connotations of recognition when the memory pops back up in her mind.

Like the Bene Gesserit, your generous, friendly content will be subtly influencing under the surface. It doesn't have to be as sneaky or manipulative either. One example from my kitchen happened at dinner the other day. My wife brought out a new marinade from Frontera Grill for our fajitas. When I saw his picture on the bottle, my mind jumped back to years before when I had seen some of Rick Bayless's cooking shows on PBS. I never really loved that show in the first place but part of me was proud that I connected the dots and I was able to throw out a few things that I remembered from the show in conversation while we made dinner. The marinade's quality bumped up a couple of notches before we even sat down to dinner and I would be more inclined to buy it again in the future.

Longer term campaigns are especially useful when:
  • There is a long time delay between purchases
  • It's difficult to select a product without technical knowledge
  • Purchases aren't planned ahead of time but are urgent (e.g. furnace repair)
  • There's little to differentiate between products based on features
I'm all for accountability and love to eliminate efforts that aren't defendable. Buzz building awareness campaigns have been derided lately for being fluffy and often for good reason. But to ignore long term messaging for lack of reporting is to miss out on a proven method of influence, even if it is a little harder to recognize.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Non-verbal communication as social proof

I recently attended the Exact Target's Connections 2011 event, a user conference on interactive marketing. One of the takeaways from their education sessions came from the speakers - although they weren't speaking at all.

Social proof is a tried and true tool of persuasion. We know that consumers are much more likely to listen to what their peers think than to be swayed by messages coming from brands. That is the reason why customer testimonials and product reviews are so effective for websites looking to make a sale of some kind.

Besides the overt types of social proof we see online, there are plenty of ways to convey how you feel about a company in a more subtle way. It's been said that over half of communication is delivered non-verbally through body language. That's unfortunate for some of the speakers I witnessed trying to present at the show.

Many of the sessions I was in featured a panel, with each speaker taking a turn at the podium while the others waited. Take a look at the view from the audience.
The poor speaker (who is out of the frame here) is trying to make a point that he thinks is important while sharing the floor with these guys.
They even work for the same company! They are basically telling the room full of people listening "don't bother tuning in at this point, there's nothing exciting here. You might as well check your phone for new email."

This wasn't the only session either. I wish I would have snapped a picture of the first class of the day when the panel was still waking up. They were literally yawning on stage, totally undercutting the presenter.

The panels weren't all this way. Contrast the scene above with this one taken a little later in the day. (Sorry for the phone picture but it's hard to snap a photo when the speakers are actually alert.)
These panelists are actually giving their speaker some eye contact and following along. Much more respectful and helpful to the audience too.

Just an observation that little signals can communicate a lot to the audience, either online or offline. And a note to self - next time I'm speaking on a panel I'll have to remember to buy some coffees for the group on stage!