Imagine you’re a retailer. You plan on reducing the price of women’s sweaters by 40 percent or more as part of an upcoming sale. Normally you’d run ads in your major urban daily.
This time, however you take a different approach. You add a new landing page on your current website with 10 of the sweaters front and center. Each has a tweet button assigned to it with the promise that the more mentions a particular sweater gets on Twitter, the more its price will drop. You alert customers, fans and followers via email and social media to come and help drive the prices down, informing them that once a sweater gets 1000 tweets it will be 40 percent off.
You run the sale you were going to run anyway, but with this simple tactic you get a whole lot of “free” word of mouth advertising and social chatter, not to mention a quick sense of which items your customers are most interested in. Better yet, you may have even convinced them that it was their collective power that generated the lower price.
Your customers benefit, too. They enjoy influence (or the illusion thereof); an opportunity to contribute to the larger community of shoppers; and a chance to interact with a brand they now credit with including them in the process.
So how should we label this mini case study? Is it manipulation? You were going to lower the prices anyway. Is it a brilliant use of gaming dynamics? The approach inspires the crowd to play. Is it simply the new way to market in the age of social media? After all, we live in a time when everything we do should be interactive, participatory and shareable.
This week the New York Times shared another example of this approach. In San Francisco, Earth Justice, a non-profit environmental law firm is running an outdoor ad campaign asking passersby to check-in at each billboard. Every time they do, an Earth Justice donor will contribute $10.00 toward saving endangered species.
Obviously Earth Justice had already secured the donation in the form of $50,000 from an anonymous contributor. In a way it’s really no different than the matching donations that big donors often inspire. Only now, instead of asking for a financial commitment, the donor and organization are simply requesting that you spread the word via social media.
As with the sweater sale, chances are Earth Justice’s donor may have written a check anyway. But this is a smart way to promote the cause and turn that donation into visibility for the organization. Plus it gives supporters an effortless way to make their own contribution, albeit a virtual one.
At Mullen we took a similar approach over a year ago for Grain Foods Foundation with an online experience that let users create and share bread art. Every time they did, GFF donated $1.00 to Feeding America. The program succeeded not only in securing enough artwork to “raise” $50,000, it resulted in thousands of bread art avatars on Facebook and Twitter, including one from Good Morning America’s Dianne Sawyer who featured the effort on the popular morning show. In the old days a company would write a check to a charity then write a press release congratulating itself for doing so.That just doesn’t make sense anymore.
My guess is we’re going to see more and more of this approach. Why would a marketer do anything any more – run a sale, make a donation, build a greener building – without first getting its community to feel as if it’s partly responsible for making it happen by tweeting, checking-in, and otherwise spreading the word?
There’s always the risk that as consumers, we may get sick of the technique. In fact, we may the ones who get gamed if brands overuse the technique or take advantage of their communities. But then again, more and more people want to participate. And this is clearly one way to make that easy.