Updated: Jul 6, 2019
Experiential marketing and activations are focussed on building multi-layered as well as multi- sensory experiences between brands and their target consumers in such a way that will build a positive relationship. The goal remains to maximize the life time value of the customer, and through profitability, the value of the firm as well. To achieve this aim, experience and experiential marketing practitioners have tapped into specialist knowledge from a range of disciplines. One of these disciplines offering new thinking is psychology; the field concerned with the science of behaviour and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought.
There exists a rich body of literature on how Psychology can be used to understand consumer behaviour and more specifically persuasive consumer targeted communications. Here are 7 true and tested Psychological Principles of Persuasive Platforms, which Experiential Marketers should consider when planning their next campaigns:
The Endowed Progress Effect
Reported by Nunes and Dreze (2006), the Endowed Progress Effect Theory suggests that when people feel they have made some progress towards a goal then they will become more committed towards continued effort towards achieving the goal.
They exhibit greater persistence towards reaching the stated goal. By incentivising users to take the first step towards engaging with your brand or campaign such as offering discounts, or trial samples or free information, the customer is more likely to complete a task and move along the engagement funnel. A good example of how this is used is the simple frequent purchase incentive programme used by coffee shops, bookshops and even car washes. The visual aid that is offered usually in the form of a purchase card shows the effort that has been made to date and how far the customer still has to go to obtain a reward. This underlying psychological premise can be used to drive customer journeys across various touch points including live activations.
In their 1985 paper “The Psychology of Sunk Cost”, Arkes and Blumer used a number of experimental examples where they gave participants various pairs of questions to answer, to show that humans have a tendency to continue down a path or endeavour once an investment in time, effort or money has been made.
There follows a general reluctance, largely driven by the fear of admitting to a waste, to discontinue the activity once they feel that an effort has been made. Experience and engagement marketers may endeavour to ensure that they design an initial investment ritual into the customer journey process even before the final sales closure. This sunk cost element needs to be signposted at an emotional level to the customer. An example might be through the use of a celebratory welcome notes or announcements or the triggering of a ‘rite of passage’ in the manner in which the customer is dealt with going forward.
Marketing communications is primarily about how branded information and content is produced, deployed and then received by the target audience. A critical aspect of this sequence is how the content is then processed by the consumer.
Processing fluency refers to how content is made easier to process through the use of psychological techniques that connect with the targeted audience at the level of awareness, meaning and perception. Simple techniques such as the use of repetitive and consistent patterns across all sensory fields, such as visual, sound, touch and even conceptual fields such as ideas, logos, jingles and propositions are perceived as being more trustworthy. Here the argument will also be for experiential marketing campaign planners to develop simple and symmetrical campaigns over complex asymmetrical ones.
Cognitive Load Theory was developed by John Sweller and published in 1988 in a paper on the subject in the journal Cognitive Science. "Cognitive load" relates to the amount of information that a person’s working memory can hold at one time, which is limited in capacity.
When executing campaigns, marketers must be mindful of just how much information can be absorbed. This is one of the underlying premises supporting the concept of single-minded propositions through the line. In other words, activations need to be designed to focus on the core message and proposition and take out what is not essential.
We find that now, more than at any other time in human history, people are getting bored and desensitised of the same thing quicker. Interestingly the research suggests that hedonic adaptation happens faster with positive experiences, than they do with negative ones.
What this means is that successful brand experiences actually breed more expectations and place brands under greater pressure to renew and refresh themselves in terms of excitement and positive experiences they offer the consumer. Planned obsolesces and a constant refresh is no longer a basis for competitive advantage but a mere qualifying impact factor. This is perhaps why popular consumer electronics products such as Apple and Samsung, as well as games like Angry Birds continuously release new versions. Experiential marketing professionals, must find how to incorporate this operating logic into their campaigns. This is even more compelling given that they are usually the most creative expression of the brand.
One of the more topical issues being debated today around the use of technology is its addictive nature. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been found to trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical in our brain which causes the pleasure-seeking behaviour which is often rewarded, and thus makes a person crave that pleasure even more.
This is what is known as the dopamine loop. A powerful psychological and social conditioning which creates strong bonding and some might argue almost near addictive use of Social media. While controversial, there are lessons that can be learnt by consumer engagement-oriented marketers. Developing and working reward triggers into the campaign process and thinking more in terms of sensory loops which mimic this conditioning process, helps to make the engagement or activation design more powerful. From a social conditioning point of view, events and experiences must be seen as also serving as external triggers for social validation of the consumer, through the preferred companionship of those who like what we like, and as such like us.
Appointment Dynamic is a gamification technique that is driven by the psychological conditioning of humans to take advantage of limited and specific time bound based opportunities. A good example is ‘Happy Hour’ in bars and restaurants which draws people into the location earlier because of the limited time offer.
Giving people special offers that are only valid for a specific time places a perceived premium or value on a proposition. Black Friday or Apple’s retail launch days which have people sleeping in queues the night before, have all grown to become significant cultural markers that tapped into this simple psychological idea. The challenge in utilising this technique is to be mindful of what is culturally acceptable
Most, if not all the ideas suggested above are not novel and have been used in one manifestation or another by different brands across several businesses and in some cases marketing contexts, particularly in the digital marketing arena. Despite its growing sophistication, experiential marketing which must be differentiated from user experience, or experience marketing has not taken sufficient advantage of contemporary psychology research, and could infuse more of such methods in coming up with more behavioural driven methods of improving consumer engagement within live marketing contexts.
Dr Rotimi Olaniyan is Editor in Chief at ExperientialNG