Most online marketers measure success in social media based on Engagement. This vague measure of online dominance takes many forms that all indicate some kind of “customer hand raising” in response to company content.
You want to see what Engagement REALLY looks like?
My kids recently discovered Legos for the first time. I watched my five year old girl and my three and a half year old boy enter a world where Dad can help them build their own toys from these little plastic bricks, which can become anything they imagine. Hours of engaged play went by, and now they want everything Lego. In the first week alone we bought two more Lego kits, got some Lego videos and even had our own little “Lego party”.
Little did I know this experience with Legos would teach me everything I ever needed to know about Decision Simplicity and what it has to do with Engagement.
Why Are Marketers Obsessed With Engagement?
July 2012 marks the death of Engagement.
Blogs began buzzing about this thing called “Decision Simplicity” after Patrick Spenner published his brilliantly titled post on Forbes.com: Marketers Have It Wrong: Forget Engagement, Consumers Want Simplicity. The article released a torrent of responses and blog posts decrying the demise of Engagement as the marketing metric of choice and proclaiming Decision Simplicity as the new king.
Corporate marketers and social media gurus had been obsessed with “Engagement” for years, touting it as the primary indicator of a company’s success in social media and the surest way to close sales and establish brand loyalty online. Just create Engagement and the ROI of social media will become obvious, right? Engagement thus became the Holy Grail of metrics for corporate marketers that justified pouring money into social media campaigns, setting up Facebook Pages, and building community sites to generate new sales and retain customers.
The Engagement Quest led to the belief that customers longed to connect with your brand, and craved community under the umbrella of your products. The IBM Institute for Business Value put that notion to the test when it conducted multiple surveys of more than 7,000 consumers and interviews with hundreds of marketing executives and experts. They concluded that businesses have been wrong about what consumers wanted from them online.
Marketers have long believed that consumers interacted with their companies in social media to feel connected and join communities. In reality, consumers want to keep it business as usual and are more interested in making informed transactions. From Spenner’s post:
The IBM Institute for Business Value found that 60-65% of business leaders who believe that consumers follow their brands on social media sites because they want to be a part of a community. Only 25-30% of consumers agree. The top reason consumers follow a brand? To get discounts – not exactly ideal for a company’s bottom line.
To top it all off, consumers feel they are being bombarded with too many messages from brands via social media. The information overload makes it hard to make decisions and actually winds up hurting the brand. Spenner concludes that what consumers crave is simplicity.
What is Decision Simplicity?
When you go to buy a pack of Legos there are literally hundreds of choices. From castles to super heroes, safari scenes to construction vehicles, and princess to pirates. With such variety a buyer’s purchase journey might seem like a consumer quest. To avoid this Legos makes it easy to make a decision based on multiple criteria that intuitively guide the buying process (we’ll look at that after we talk about Spenner some more).
Prior to publishing on Forbes.com, Spenner co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review where he defined Decision Simplicity as as a shift in focus toward “helping consumers confidently complete the purchase journey.” In plain English, this means means making it easy for your customer to make the right choices.
According to Spenner, organizations can gauge their Decision Simplicity Readiness by considering the following:
- Navigation – “How easy is it for consumers to gather and understand (or navigate) information about a brand?”
- Trust – How much can they trust the information they find?
- Ability to Weigh Options – How readily can they weigh their options?
For marketers this means aiding navigation with a clear message and purchase path rather than pushing the brand message in social media to stimulate discussion, sharing
and community. Many of the resources for consumers to determine their path will fall outside of the marketers control and direct line of contact, which has prompted some marketers to seek complex analytical tools to predict and map this activity.
Why not use good old fashion community management?
In my post Engage Your Online Community the Pink Floyd and Foo Fighters Way, I talked about social engineering and Disney. When you visit a Disney World theme park, every step of the journey through that venue has been carefully orchestrated by a team of experience design professionals.
As you enter the park, something stimulates you to get your heart racing. It leads you to an activity. Then a bench to sit on and collect yourself. The smell of food hits you reminding you to eat. At the food stand an ad for a grand attraction tells you to trek to another area of the park. As you embark on the next leg of your journey a garbage can is conveniently located a certain amount of steps away from the food stand where you took your food to go.
Disney’s design is not accidental, rather it is the result of careful planning, analysis and review to determine what are going to be the best experience paths for park visitors.
Decision Simplicity doesn’t replace engagement, rather it demands a clearer path from marketers for their customers. As I wrote in the Floyd article, “You should have a clear map of simple and important goals for users. Then move members through the life cycle. As they progress, reward them handsomely (or at least creatively; some of the best incentives are not tangible).”
The Decision Paradox: Consumers Want “the Perfect Pepsis”
When promoting his book “Blink” back in 2004, Malcolm Gladwell gave a fantastic T.E.D. talk on understanding what people want by examining the evolution of Spaghetti Sauce.
He told the story of psychophysicist Howard Moskovitz who made a discovery while developing Diet Pepsi that would change the food industry forever. Moskovitz had been tasked with finding the perfect blend of sweetness for the new drink, but when he got his consumer data back from taste testing he couldn’t make sense of it. Eventually he came up with the idea that there is no “perfect Pepsi” there are only “perfect Pepsis”. It took a few years for the food industry to realize the breakthrough Howard had made, but eventually it’s what gave us Zesty pickles, 45 varieties of spaghetti sauce, 14 different kinds of mustard, and 71 varieties of olive oil.
As Gladwell articulated, Howard Moskovitz really gave us three key insights about the way people make decisions and how marketers can make customers happy:
- People cannot always explain or know what they want. As marketers we should not expect them to know what to do when we offer “Engagement” as a means of providing them value. Understanding the path they will need to take to make the best decision and then providing them with clear options works better than asking them to know exactly what they want from our brands.
- Horizontal segmentation tells us: “There is no good mustard or bad mustard. There is no perfect mustard or imperfect mustard. There are only different kinds of mustards that suit different kinds of people.” As marketers we need to always look for the ways our customer interactions and Engagement can suit different kinds of customers. Rather than trying to wedge everyone into the 10% of hand raisers or the 1% of super users who comment and fuel Engagement on our sites, look for ways to recognize, optimize and be of service to the other 90% (we smugly refer to them as lurkers).
- We should seek to move from a search for universals to an understanding of variability. Medical science and genetics “opened the door to human variability.” No longer are we interested in “just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer.” As marketers this has been the major problem with Engagement until now. We sought to create this thing called “Engagement” with our customers by doing certain things and measuring their responses to it. We thought that a certain combination of responses would give us a Magic Engagement Number that would justify our efforts (and our social media budgets!). What variability tells us is that different customers are going to find different kinds of Engagement helpful. We need to be able to identify what type of Engagements will work best for our customers’ paths and then provide them with options.
So that’s spaghetti sauce, but what about Legos? Not to worry, it all fits together (shameless pun intended).
Decision Simplicity Creates Engagement By Offering Better Choices
Remember that Spenner highlights three essential components to Decision Simplicity: (a) easy navigation, (b) building trust, and (c) allowing a weighing of options. He hints at the Decision Paradox inherent in too many choices, but remember we are now looking for “the perfect Legos.”
Decision simplicity does not mandate fewer choices, rather it requires better choices that are in line with your customers’ needs and their happiness. Make choices easier for customers by creating clusters that cater to their tastes, and within these clusters provide them with additional choices to make them deliriously happy.
Legos uses the following clusters in their product offerings which quickly aid navigation and allow weighing of options:
- Age – Legos are created and clearly marked as appropriate for different suggested ages which are 0-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-11 and 12+. Clustering consumer choices by age creates a natural hierarchy to keep their customers engaged year after year
- Themes – Legos currently offers 31 themes across all of their age groups. Some examples include City Builder, Star Wars, something resembling Barbie called “Friends” and many more. A fan blog called “The Brick Builder” provided shopping tips for choosing a Lego set in which he emphasized focusing on themes, colors, price and whether you wanted theme set or just parts to go freestyle.
- Size – The Brick Builder called this “price”, but I am going to cluster it as size because despite these sets being more expensive, the often require more skill even among the intended Age cluster. For example, when buying in the 7-8 Age cluster you can pick the Star Wars theme and then choose to buy a small fighter craft or go for a huge Millenium Falcon. In freestyle building you can do simple things like animals in a small park or create Times Square in New York City. Buyers are given options to go as big or small, as complex or easy as they want.
There are countless choices in buying and building Legos, however buyers are guided by intuitive categorization clusters, a trusted fan community that offers plenty of opinions, ideas and buying advice, and a clear path to get to the desired end result.
Enabling and Encouraging User Feedback The Apple Way
Another quick method for creating Decision Simplicity is the prominent placement and promotion of ratings and reviews by customers. The Apple App Store has had billions and billions of downloads, and there are literally millions of choices that you can make. Apple simplifies the process by clustering the apps into 22 categories. The top selling app in each category gets its icon as the cover image on the categories main page. Buyers are then able to read reviews and see ratings based on 5 stars to determine whether they want to purchase the app (I never buy an app that has less than 3 stars).
Decision Simplicity v. Engagement: It’s No Contest
In closing, the issue is not whether marketers should focus on Decision Simplicity or Engagement, rather we should all be thinking about how we can create the most helpful and intuitive process for our buyers to make decisions while retaining a level of influence that satisfies the bottom line of the business.
At the end of the day, the business wants the customer to be happy, it wants to make money and achieve business goals and create a good reputation in the marketplace. As marketers we have plenty of tools at our disposal to marry all of these goals together, such as Facebook sponsored stories, contextual reviews, customer advocate programs (see Disney Moms), myriad ways to highlight and be responsive to blogger mentions of our company, as well as plenty of other techniques.
The Engagement will happen if you build it with simple steps.