Consumers are best reached when using the Internet for pleasure, not work.
When is the best time to get a consumer's attention while they're online? When are you most likely to get them to think about your brand with a sales mindset, rather than as an annoyance? These are among the most frequently asked questions by people in the digital marketing industry.
BetaWave Chief Executive Matt Freeman says that one way to think about the topic is from the perspective of psychologist Abraham Maslow, author of the "hierarchy of needs" theory about human motivation. Seen through this lens, Freeman argues, the worst time to motivate someone to pay attention to your brand's online marketing is when they're engaged in the most basic and utilitarian of online enterprises, like checking e-mail, getting driving directions or looking for a job.
You're more likely to find willing listeners if you move up the online behavioral pyramid and catch consumers when they're involved in more diversionary, less practical pursuits, like checking out a missed TV episode on Hulu or surfing a gaming site. Only when someone's most essential online needs are not top of mind, Freeman argues, can you get them to focus on sales-related matters.
As a branding professional, I like Freeman's thinking. I'll take it a step further by suggesting that a consumer's tolerance for interruption has decreased in direct proportion to the increase in digital technology. It's not only important to appeal to consumers when they're most likely to pay attention, but you've got to get their interest with branded experiences that are relevant to them. Today, with the mouse mightier than any TV remote control ever was, it's essential to put even greater emphasis on the context and content of branded messages. The objective should be to build reach and scale not by flooding the Internet with gratuitous digital junk, but by creating brand experiences that can be appreciated by those consumers most likely to care, who will then pass them along to others of like mind. An impression online shouldn't be measured as an impression if it doesn't make one.
It's amazing how few marketers realize that not every touch point, nor every point in time, is a viable opportunity to engage a consumer. A number of marketers, especially those who have been at the forefront of technological innovation, do understand this premise. Knowing that most smart people care about the environment, GE launched a campaign that uses digital tactics to explain and demonstrate what it calls its "smart grid story." Online, General Electric invites people who want to learn more about energy-saving opportunities to navigate its smart-grid solutions pages, which include a series of 3-D storytelling films, along with information about energy-saving solutions for the home. It's a rich engagement experience and provides viewers the opportunity to take an active part in the conversation.
Coldwell Banker was the first major real estate firm to establish a branded YouTube presence. Coldwell knows that 77% of total Internet users in the U.S. watch videos online, so it established a site that lets potential home buyers learn about properties in a given locale, and also provides them with information about the area. Rather than inundate the Internet with banner ads or other un-targeted messages, Coldwell determined that the best time and place to engage potential home buyers is when they have the time and desire to pay attention. Incorporating viral functionality into its branding strategy also enables viewers to share the experience with others--a smart way to build reach organically.
Adidas does a good job of reaching consumers when they're in the frame of mind to respond to online marketing. The brand focuses on the value of its online content. With everything from calendars of local sporting events, to videos of Bob Marley in his favorite Adidas footwear, to day-in-the life stories of professional soccer players, the company knows how to incorporate useful product information into sharable entertainment.
Digital behavior increasingly mimics basic human behavior. There's stuff we need to do online to gratify basic needs, and stuff we want to do, either for entertainment or socialization. There are purpose-driven or utilitarian activities, and there are experiential-driven activities. The goal of marketing is to make a sale. Marketers are less likely to make a sale while a consumer is trying to find the shortest route to a destination, chatting with a friend, or paying bills.
On the other hand, if you can attract someone's attention while they're higher up on the online pyramid of life, if you can do it with an experience that's relevant to them and supportive of your brand's promise, your efforts are more likely to be rewarded. I'm not sure what Abraham Maslow would have made of our digital universe, but I have to think this repurposed interpretation of his theory of human need gratification would be pretty gratifying to him.