Brent Coker Internet consumer psychologist Dr Brent Coker

How to Increase Website Loyalty

13. November 2012


How to Increase Website Loyalty

Website Loyalty is how likely a website visitor is to return to the same website next time. Loyalty is extremely valuable for website owners because it is far cheaper to keep an existing customer than it is to attract a new customer. Loyal customers are also more likely to initiate word of mouth referrals, the most effective source of advertising there is. Loyalty is one of the Big Three metrics of importance to Marketers alongside Likelihood of Referral and Satisfaction. Without loyalty, businesses are doomed to fail.

In this article we continue our analysis of Webreep Industry Averages data by comparing website loyalty between May 2007 and May 2011. During this period, website loyalty dropped an entire point from 3.7 down to 2.7. That’s a 20% decrease in loyalty towards websites in 5 years. We explore reasons for this drop, and potential remedies for web masters to reverse this trend.


Related trends in the Webreep dataset provide clues for why Loyalty has dropped so far. During the same period from 2005 to 2011 we also saw a rise in trust and visual appeal. We discussed the relationship between trust and visual appeal in a previous post. Our analysis tells us the remarkable increase in trusting intentions towards websites over the past five years is also affecting loyalty.

As we pointed out is our previous post, trust has traditionally been a big barrier to website owners, especially during the early years of e-commerce when consumers were cautious about giving out their credit card details or personal information. Times have evolved and what we have seen is web surfers easing up and becoming more willing to explore the internet and try new websites. Web surfers are more trusting on the internet than ever before.

Because web-surfers are more trusting, and this increase in trust is correlated with loyalty, we can speculate why loyalty is down. Most likely what we are seeing is a phenomenon we call ‘Website Venturism’. Because web surfers are more trusting than before, they are more willing to venture out and try new websites. They are less concerned about giving their credit card details and personal information to untried websites, so the ‘glue’ that ties them to their usual websites weakens. Potentially this means that much of the glue that tied people to their usual websites beforehand was to a large extent simple fear of venturing out. My usual website has my payment details, no-way will I give them to anyone else.

So how can webmaster increase loyalty? The answer lies in disincentivising website venturism. The best way to do this is to increase Website Experience Satisfaction, since satisfaction and loyalty are strongly correlated. The way to increase Website Experience Satisfaction is to focus on: quality of navigation, ease of search, load speed, visual appeal, quality and relevancy of information. Deceptively simple perhaps, but as our data consistently shows, get these right, and you’ll see steady growth in Loyalty.

Find out more about what influences website loyalty here:


About the author

Dr Brent Coker is Lecturer of  Marketing at the University of Melbourne, Australia, with a background and education in Information Systems. Dr Coker regularly presents his research at international marketing and information systems conferences, and is a member of the North American Association for Consumer Research, and American Marketing Association. Dr Coker’s current research is focused on psychometric measurements of mobile learning, the effects of Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) on worker performance, and predictive models of purchase behavior.


Why Gangnam Style has Gone Viral

5. October 2012

The ridiculous success of the music video “Gangnam Style” over the past few weeks has me intrigued. At the time of writing the video has 360 million views on YouTube, up 100 million from when I checked last week. On the face of it, the success of the video appears to contradict what we know about viral. But on closer examination, it follows a familiar pattern…

Not so long ago scientists dismissed YouTube movies that went viral as a function of randomness. But in the past couple of years, evidence has been mounting to suggest successful viral events may be explained and predicted. In other words, we know enough now (in theory at least) to produce communication in such a way that it will have a high likelihood of going viral. In order to understand why Gangnam Style went viral, we need to cover the fundamentals.

The first thing to know about viral marketing techniques is that there are two elements of the communications continuum that need to be addressed. The first is curiosity –someone must be motivated to want to view the movie. This is achieved in most part by controlling emotion.  The second is motives-to-share. One must have a reason to want to tell others about the movie, and therefore pass it on. This is achieved by creating message congruency. There is another, called seeding (I also call this network involvement ratio) -but in this article we will restrict ourselves to motives-to-share and emotion.

The secret to creating curiosity that is sharable is keeping someone’s attention. There are two general categories of emotion that are known in viral communications to stimulate attention. The first is pleasure, which might manifest itself as humour, affection for something cute, impressed amazement, or even intense want. The second is shock, which might manifest itself as anticipation, intense surprise, embarrassment, or a violation of cultural norms.

For a viral movie to be successful, it needs to balance both of these categories of emotion, in a certain way. Specifically, each emotion must chop and change in short bursts. To illustrate, consider the success of the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” advertisement. The scenes changed rapidly, moderating humour and surprise in short bursts. This affect is also obvious in TNTs “Push for Drama”, where shock is mixed nicely with humour using the classic reverse psychology theme of “don’t push this button” Moderating and changing the two categories of emotion like this creates a short sharp emotional roller-coaster, fundamental for keeping the level of attention needed to evoke curiosity and therefore motives to share.

The “Gangnam Style” video also uses this pulsating emotional roller-coaster effect, but in a music video format. Incidents of humorous behaviour are peppered in between short scenes of emotional discomfort that surprise and delight the viewer. The effect is replicated in the music, creating a clever composition that sticks in the head (rather annoyingly for some!). The choppiness of the chorus interspaced with the intensity of the lyrics creates a sense of tension; much like a horror movie builds tension by altering the speed and intensity of the score. But in a much more complex way, interspacing tension with pleasure.

The second element to consider is message congruency. If we don’t relate to the audience, they will switch off. To create this relevancy, viral movies are often produced to attract appeal from a specific audience. One little trick we can use to maximise this effect and appeal to a broad audience is to show emotional responses in the form of facial and body expressions. In psychology we speak of “emotional contagion” whereby a person’s emotional state is influenced by the emotions of those around them. Imagine watching TNTs “Push for Drama” without seeing the responses of those who pushed the button. I am almost certain the movie’s success would have been much less. For Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, we are experiencing congruency from facial expression and action. The unique dance moves for example have captured the world’s attention because they convey a unique mix of emotion (close to shock and humour). Psy’s facial expressions also convey very strong meaning, particularly in the chorus “Oppan gang-namseutayil!”

In summary, whether by accident or not Gangnam Style is using strong techniques of viral marketing that we have observed already, in similarly successful viral movies. Emotion is key to creating this viral effect, but the art is in how the emotion is crafted. Chopping and changing between uncomfortable humour and surprise works. Emotional contagion caught from the expressions and actions of others also works. What is unique about Gangnam style is that it is neatly captured in a music video. Have we finally turned the corner towards a new wave of music marketing? The times. They certainly are a-changing.


Brent Coker ,

The Truth about Website Beauty

4. September 2012


Recently I’ve become interested in what exactly is meant by “website attractiveness”. What prompted this interest was a link I was given by a web designer to a website called, which despite ugly appearances has become an enormous success. Lingscars doesn’t sell anything special –it’s a car leasing portal. But it does have an exceptionally strong personality, displayed in a variety of ways including interesting language, personal commentary, creative but low budget photos of the website owner, and some rather creative props. According to Ling, the owner of the website, they were currently enjoying over 100k unique visits per month.

What surprised me about the success of Lingscars is that it completely contradicts the findings in a study we did last year, which showed that attractive websites are more trustworthy, and therefore more successful, than non-attractive websites. According to the study, the reason why attractive websites lead to trust is related to how human beings form trust between each other. We’re drawn to trust attractive people more quickly than less attractive people, because we assume attractive people are also more successful, and therefore don’t need to resort to hoodwinkmanship to survive. This is one reason why beautiful women make great con people! Given the success of Lingscars, apparently, we might have been wrong.

Or were we? For us to understand what website attractiveness is, we need to broaden our interpretation of how we use and understand the term “attractiveness”. Most commonly, we interpret something that is attractive as being physically pleasant to look at, like when we tell people they’re attractive because we like the way they look. But in reality, our interpretations and usage of the term “attractive” can be surprisingly liberal. My neighbour for instance recently purchased a pedigree greyhound that he described as an “attractive” dog, not because the dog was pretty, but rather because the dog was well proportioned. Driving past an unusual looking restaurant near the beach the other day, my wife commented that it looked like an “attractive” place to eat. The term attractive in these examples falls outside the boundaries of aesthetic appearance, and into the realm of holistic balance, feeling, and personality.

So how does this relate to the success of Well, I am beginning to suspect that our study was correct –people do tend to trust attractive websites more. But it is our interpretation of what attractiveness is that was wrong. Just like our interpretation of attractiveness in the real world, judgements of website attractiveness are formed from a variety of factors, not simply aesthetics. Personality, balance, warmth, and convention, all affect our judgements of attractiveness. Although Lingscars might be considered aesthetically ugly, it oozes inner beauty through its strong personality. We’re taught not to judge a book by its cover, and to evaluate a person’s beauty by what lies inside. I just learnt a valuable lesson -we should also heed this advice when we think about our next design.



Real Men Don’t Use Social Media

1. September 2012


The effects of cyber-bullying are becoming increasingly well-known as media reports become more frequent. Listening to the radio this morning a woman caller was explaining how her children had been affected by cyber-bullying. My own kid’s high school recently called an emergency meeting for parents to discuss the issue. And we were all saddened by recent news that celebrity Charlotte Dawson was admitted to hospital as a result of persistent digital intimidation. Recent research conducted at the Queensland University of technology suggests that as many as 14% of young people have experienced hurtful or angry comments through social media, with an astounding 11% admitting to being the bully. Cyber-bullying is no longer an obscure phenomenon in society; it is an endemic problem that cuts deep into the fabric of society.

Commonly, victims may suffer depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, or even self-harm. After more than a decade of research into this topic, still not a lot is known about why bullies behave the way they do, because most research has focussed on the victims and not on the bullies themselves. Interestingly however, many studies have at least found that those people who might be classified as cyber bullies share common traits to those who are considered bullies in the real world. There is a certain type of person who engages in abusive behaviour towards others. Before we can take steps to control cyber-bullying, we need to understand what makes people who have a pre-disposition to behave in abusive ways to others behave the way they do. Motives to behave in a way that is socially unacceptable is usually motivated by reward. If we take away the reward, we take away the motive.

So what motivates a person to communicate publically in a way that they would never do one-on-one? Is it simply the ability to hide behind anonymity? Or are there more sinister reasons? Surprisingly, research suggests that people who are cyber-bullies are often harmful in their offline behaviour as well. The most common theory applied by psychologists to explain bully behaviour is Social Dominance Theory. By nature, human beings will seek to establish their place in society. It is most obviously observed in year sevens in school where students seek to find their position in the social hierarchy after leaving primary school. But it is not just isolated to school students, nor is it restricted by gender. It affects people at all stages of life. The two situations where a person might become a bully is when they feel dissatisfied with their current position in the hierarchy, or more commonly, become motivated to establish their position more strongly. In these situations, a bully will identify weaker individuals to target as a way to signal to others their status. We might ask then why don’t all people who have an agenda to establish social status in society behave like a bully. The reason is because bullies also have some deficiencies that they feel unfairly threatens their status. Most commonly, this includes past victimization on themselves, loneliness, social retardation, or even physical differences. These factors weigh more heavily on the bullies consciousness than the majority, and as such, motivates them to behave in ways that the rest of us wouldn’t think of. It is ironic that the bully will often target those who perceived to be different in some way, when it is actually the bully who is suffering some form of psychological or physical difference.

The reward a bully receives for bullying is sinister indeed. Oftentimes it is motivated by a desire to have power over others –to exercise social dominance. The reward is achieved when the bully witnesses the outcome of their actions. For online bullying, this is usually in the form of a response, which usually has the effect of inviting the bully to attack yet again. Each time the bully observes a response from the victim, they are rewarded.

The women who I heard talking about her sons on the radio this morning ended by saying that she banned her kids from using Facebook until they turn 18. “Real men don’t use Social Media son” was her advice. But there is some hidden wisdom to this advice. The solution to stopping online bullying behaviour is to starve the bully of the satisfaction they receive when they get a response. If the victim responds, then they are feeding the psycho-social desires of the bully, and in affect the bully wins. Real people form strong bonds with people and strength of character offline. Social Media after all is just a tool for communicating with. If you or someone you know is the victim of online harassment –it is not you who should feel embarrassed. You are normal. It is the bully who should feel the embarrassment. After all, once you’ve sent a comment inline it is often impossible to erase.


-Brent Coker (PhD). Online Consumer Psychologist.



Brent Coker

Why Your Website is like a Restaurant

18. August 2012


There are many similarities between a website and a restaurant experience. Here are some.

1.       Chefs find out people don’t like their cooking too late. If you don’t like the food in a restaurant, you won’t poke your head in the kitchen and tell the chef on your way out. No-one wants to sound like a jerk. You simply won’t go there again. You’ll try a different restaurant next time.  Same with your website, if a customer is dissatisfied with their experience, they won’t tell you (unless they’re really angry!). They simply won’t come back, and will try one of your competitor’s websites next time. Your competitors are just a mouse-click away…

2.       Empty restaurants stay empty. People tend to choose restaurants by the number of patrons. If a restaurant looks busy, we assume the food and experience must be good. If a restaurant is empty…we assume something is wrong with it, and we end up choosing somewhere that looks busy. Same with your website. If a new visitor gets the feeling no-one ever comes here, they will almost certainly turn around and leave.  

3.       Good food = bigger crowds and more regulars. The most successful restaurants offer great food, and a great dinning out experience. The make us satisfied. These are the restaurants we recommend to our friends, take our dates to, hang out in, and visit again and again. It’s the same with your website. If you have satisfied customers, not only will they come back more often, they’ll also recommend you to their friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers through social media channels.  

Simply asking customers how their experience was goes a long way to creating a successful restaurant, and website. Think about it; if the chef comes out of the kitchen and asks you how the food was, and what he could do to improve your experience, chances are you’ll tell him! You’ll also feel pretty good that he actually cares! This is where website feedback tools come into it. Asking your customers how you are doing is critical to identifying problems, and understanding how to improve.

Make your website come alive with activity by showing evidence that people visit often and Like you! Most simply, display a Facebook Like button on your page, with number of likes. Give customers the chance offer comments or review your products. Set up a Wiki where customers can contribute to your knowledgebase, or a discussion forum where customers can socialize outside of their booths. Some entertainment and a dancefloor also work for some crowds (think apps/games).

Build it Right, …and they WILL come.


Why the internet is getting fat...

12. August 2012



Why the internet is getting fat… 


The internet is getting heavier. We’re talking about the size or “weight” of webpages compared to download speed. Recently we compared the download speed of 1100 websites in 2007 to 2011. Two seconds is widely considered the threshold from where people start to feel impatient when a page is loading. We found a significant drop in perceptions of load speed between the two dates of around 20%. It seems more and more websites are now crossing this two second threshold. Given that we have not observed a slowing down of connection speed, this means the internet is actually getting fatter. As with all things, heaviness leads to slowness.

So why is the internet getting fat? Is it getting lazy? Or is it just eating more than it used to. We believe it is the latter; pages are getting stuffed with more goodies than five years ago, and this is creating the sluggishness.

Eight years ago, at the forefront of most web designers’ concerns was page leanness. Back then, a significant proportion of the population had dial-up, spawning the ubiquitous phrase of the day “WWW – The World Wide Wait”. Slow connection speeds lead to a trade-off for designers—liberal use of graphics and code, or fast loading pages. A sure sign of quality work then (and even now) was efficient well organized code. Correctly, most web designers became obsessed with maximizing download speed and efficiency by making pages lean. Pretty graphics and useful but not so critical widgets took a back seat.

Five years ago, many more people had broadband internet speeds, so web designers could afford to pack a few more goodies into their webpages than they did before. But old habits die hard, and web designers were still obsessed with leanness when it came to design, largely in an effort to make pages still accessible for the increasing minority who still had slow internet speeds.

Fast forward to now, and we are seeing web designers loosening up as concerns over the slow speed minority wane. This means web designers now have more freedom to pack more features into a single webpage than ever before. However, as our data show, it seems web designers may now be pushing it too far. Consumers have noticed more sluggishness in website loading speeds across the board since five years ago, despite fast connection speeds. Web pages have gotten heavier to the point where they have overtaken the buffer we once had between webpage size and load speed. The critical two-second load threshold is being crossed too many times.

 The reason for this weight increase could either web designers easing up on their principles of leanness, or increased pressure from clients to pack more features into a page, despite mumbled protests from the designers. Perhaps we will see resurgence in the old saying, though with a twist: “WWW – The World Wide Weight”



The number one cause of customer dissatisfaction on the net, and what to do about it…

12. June 2012


The number one cause of customer dissatisfaction on the net, and what to do about it…


We recently reported on some interesting trends in consumer trust spanning 2007 to 2011 (1100 websites). In this follow up article we disclose the number one cause of dissatisfaction over this period, and discuss potential reasons why this dissatisfaction is occurring, and speculate on what webmasters can do to fix it.

 The number one cause of customer dissatisfaction in 2007 was Ease of Use (WIA score = 1.9). In 2011 Ease of Use slipped behind information relevancy to become the second biggest cause of website visitor dissatisfaction, so it has improved, but is still relatively low (WIA = 2.5). Ease of use had the strongest correlation with dissatisfaction in the Webreep model in 2011 (β = .42, p < .001).

 Ease of use of a website refers to the quality of the navigation system. The better the navigation is, the easier the website is to use. The data is telling us that the number one source of frustration amongst website surfers is when they can’t locate something on a website. Looking at Ease of Search scores across the same period, we see a similar pattern. Ease of search is currently the second biggest cause of frustration causing dissatisfaction on the internet. Ease of Use and Ease of search are related. We ‘use’ a website most often to ‘search’ for something, whether it be a product, some kind of information such as promotional offers or price, or simply to get a feel for what the website has to offer.

 To understand why Ease of use and Search are the biggest causes of frustration and dissatisfaction online, consider the contrast between searching for information offline and online. When we’re in a department store, we don’t have to walk room to room looking for what we want, everything is more or less in one large room. We look for the menswear sign, head in that direction, or maybe ask floor staff where something is. There is very little opportunity for search frustration to occur, unless there is no signage, what we are looking for is hidden, or there is no-one to ask for directions. In contrast, websites are more like large supermarkets where everything is arranged in silos or isles. There is often no-one to ask for directions, and unless you’ve been there before and know where to look, it is often a frustrating experience trying to locate an item as you walk from isle to isle. Think back to the last time you visited a supermarket you’d never been to before to purchase a couple of items, and were in a rush. Websites have a lot of similarities to this situation. Unless we have a very good map (navigation system), or someone to ask (usually a search function), we likely get frustrated pretty quick. If search function is poor (the person you asked doesn’t really know), or the navigation system is difficult (things aren’t located where you expect them to be, or signage is confusing), then you get frustrated and dissatisfied web visitors.

 One of the biggest challenges to websites in order to minimise frustration and dissatisfaction is making it easy for website visitors to find what they are looking for easily and quickly. Some websites have attempted to copy the department store experience by making it easy for visitors to drill down for more information while staying on the same page. This is achieved by using Ajax type popups that are all loaded on the same page. Instant chat services could be the key to reducing search frustration, or perhaps search engines that deliver relevant results, but the biggest problem appears to be in the way initial information is organised, and how that organisation maps onto the website navigation system. Simply installing an intuitive well organised navigation system is enough to reduce dissatisfaction, and in turn increase loyalty and likelihood of referral.

Why we’re more trusting on the internet than five years ago

6. June 2012


About the Webreep Project

The Webreep project is an academic study being conducted by Dr Brent Coker at the University of Melbourne. The aim of the study is to map the quality of the internet using the Webreep model, and the Webreep algorithm. The Webreep algorithm (aka WIA) is a mathematical function programmed in C#. The algorithm evaluates a score on each dimension in the Webreep model, including the dependent variables satisfaction, loyalty, and likelihood of referral, across 16 industry categories, with 119 subcategories across the internet. Each score is calculated to between 0 and 5, rounded to one decimal place. The following analysis was performed on a subset of Webreep data to include 1100 websites across 119 industry categories. The data is dichotomous (2007 / 2011), not continuous in the analysis (t-tests). Only websites with data in both years were used.

Why we’re more trusting on the internet than five years ago

We recently analyzed 1100 websites from our WIA dataset, and uncovered some interesting trends in the five year period from May 2007 to May 2011. One of these trends is the significant (20%) rise in trustworthiness towards websites on the internet.  In this article, I speculate on why this trend is occurring, drawing on evidence from other Webreep data, and mainstream social science theory.

The Webreep score is calculated to one decimal place, with 5.0 being a perfect score. Consumer feelings of trust towards websites in 2007 was 2.9. In 2001, this score rose to 3.7. This significant increase in trusting intentions towards websites is in contrast to recent reports showing dramatic increases in malicious websites (Websense, 2010 Threat Report). So why are we becoming more trusting towards websites, despite more danger? Have we simply let our guard down?

To understand why this trend occurred, we looked at trends in other website reactions during the same period for clues. Visual Appeal towards websites during the same showed a similar 20% increase from 2.9 to 3.7. It seems the two trends might be somehow related. To understand how, we referenced a mainstream sociology theory on attributions.

 In social science, visual attractiveness and feelings of trust are related. Subconsciously, human beings may form trusting intentions towards others based on their looks. This is not the only factor, but with the absence of behavioral cues it is often the main factor. Our tendencies to form trusting tendencies towards others traces back to primeval survival instinct. Humans have developed rather sophisticated thought attribution mechanisms to guard against our fellow men stealing our food, and potentially putting our families at risk from starvation. To give a modern day example, if a salesman tells us he likes our shoes, before we have made a purchase, we automatically think the salesman is lying just to make the sale. Even if the comment is genuine! Our protection mechanisms kick in to protect our ‘food’ (money). However, the paradox is that humans need to lower their suspicion attributions in order to form a relationship close enough to lead to procreation. We need to trust others to form a relationship intimate enough to result in partnership, or in the case of families, childrearing. And this trusting intention needs to form on initial contact for a bond to develop. This is where attractiveness comes into it. Attractiveness towards others evokes attributions of procreation, because attractiveness is linked to healthiness – a good chance of producing strong healthy children who will survive and carry on our bloodlines. In short, we tend to trust those people who are attractive more quickly than those who are unattractive.

 This relationship between attractiveness and trusting intentions towards others explains the relationship we see between attractive websites and trust. We tend to trust websites that are attractive because the same systems that regulate our trusting intentions towards people also affect our formations of trust towards objects, and even situations, if they have a human element. Websites are an extension of a person, organization, or brand. Some person or organization is signaling to the world an extension of their self – much like we signal attractiveness to others through our clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, and car. Because of this, websites have enough human element to lower trusting intentions when we believe the design is balanced and attractive.

 This explanation from a social science perspective still does not fully explain the rise is trusting intentions towards websites over the past five years. There is one more piece of information missing –and that is the rise in the maturity of web design. A large part of ‘attractiveness’ has to do with symmetry, not being too different from what is expected, and tending towards flawlessness. Modern web design has evolved. As it has evolved websites have become more similar as conventions have taken root. It is now ‘normal’ to center the website on the page, use a horizontal main menu, locate the logo top left, search box top right, two-column design, etc. Websites are collectively following conventions, and even trends (it seems fashionable now for example to use matt flat and not gloss). Modern browsers and deeper screen resolutions have facilitated attractiveness through enhanced rendering. Templates for CMS systems are free or almost free, and feature fantastic designs that can be installed effortlessly. Gone are the days of quirky experimentational designs, and fast disappearing are websites that in the past may have been considered ugly.

 Trusting intentions of website visitors has traditionally been the biggest barrier website owners have battled to overcome, especially where brand recognition and recall is weak. It seems a strong mitigator of this distrust is attractive design. My advice for web surfers is don’t let your guard down – website scams are on the rise – but we’re becoming more trusting. And for webmasters: don’t skimp on your design, and don’t try to do anything that could be considered quirky. Not many of us are attracted to quirkiness; it’s well balanced, nice taste, and flawlessness that turns us on and makes us think about forming a trusting relationship.


About the author

Dr Brent Coker is Lecturer of  Marketing at the University of Melbourne, Australia, with a background and education in Information Systems. Dr Coker regularly presents his research at international marketing and information systems conferences, and is a member of the North American Association for Consumer Research, and American Marketing Association. Dr Coker’s current research is focused on psychometric measurements of mobile learning, the effects of Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing (WILB) on worker performance, and predictive models of purchase behavior.

Digital Bullets. And the Date that Never Called Back

28. August 2011


If you really want to annoy people, call them at their home when they’re just sitting down to eat their dinner, and try to sell them a new phone plan. After they hang up on you, re-call them 30 minutes later and try again. And just for good measure, call again in the weekend to make sure they haven’t changed their mind!

Consumers don’t like to be bugged. We might roll our eyes in disbelief at our telemarketing example here, but many companies assume they are not bugging their customers. Cold calling people in their home is slowly disappearing (thankfully!). Nowadays, it’s all about building the “conversation.” Classic telemarketing and modern day digital communications like email, twitter, sms, and Facebook updates are different! Or are they…

Let’s break it down a bit. Assuming the telephone call described above was cold calling, the first difference is opt-in. Most companies do not send out communications to their customers without their permission. Facebookers ‘Liked’ you, Twitter people ‘followed’ you, and those receiving your emails opted-in somewhere. The second difference is communications delay (see media richness theory). Telephone requires the receiver to respond according to your schedule, not theirs. Someone is communicating with you, and expecting a response there and then. On the other hand, digital forms of communication give the receiver freedom to respond when it suits them, or in most cases may not require a response at all.

OK, so now we know the main differences, let’s revisit our telemarketing example again. If we include opt-in and communications delay, we can change the scenario to this: You are calling a person who gave you permission to call, and has an answering machine in case it is inconvenient to talk. Perfect! Now we have licence to call this person again in 30 minutes if we do get the answering machine. And call again in the weekend, in case they don’t return our call during the week. And we can justify our actions. “Yeah, she was probably out when we called last time, or she’s been out of town, or maybe erased our messages by mistake.” So, we’ll start calling again on Monday. Calls are free! So we may as well…

This scenario sounds a little bit like the date that never called back, that we ended up calling a few times in case they lost our number. But there’s a fine line between an enquiry and stalking. Sending messages to someone is in itself ok. But do it too often, and you’re going to seem a bit annoying.

Which brings us to the company, trying to drum up admiration and keep the “conversation”. Many companies post daily updates, or send out emails regularly on the clock.

“Hey its Monday again guys. You know the drill; find someone else’s viral news we can tweet, post it on our Facebook page, and drag up some company information for our weekly email. Oh, and don’t forget those call to actions. Let’s get these people down that funnel people!”

 Sound familiar? Sounds a little bit like leaving a message on an answering machine with a call to action to “call when you get in”. You might get away with it a few times. But do that every Monday, or every other day, and you will start to get a bit annoying, or worse, a make people angry!

This is where the digital bullets theory comes in. Think of your messages sent to consumers as bullets. You have a message gun that only has so many of them. You want to be careful and judicious about when you fire one. You want to think carefully about when to fire, and always consider the implications of what could happen when you do. The temptation is to fire one whenever you have the time, since digital bullets are so cheap. The problem is you end up annoying people. And resentment is the first step towards hate.

Only fire when the time is absolutely right. And make sure you fire at the right people. This means you need to escape the temptation to fire out messages on a set timetable. If you haven’t sent out an email in a while because you don’t have any new news, it’s no big deal. Your customers won’t miss it! Only send out an email when it contains important information your customers will be glad to read (‘you left your keys in the restaurant – I have them’). Don’t tweet viral stories you found on popurls for the sake of sending some tweets. Craft a relevant message instead (be the first to view our new Winter Collection). Or use twitter to respond to customers in need (Brent-we heard you had a problem. Can we help?). This is all relevant information. No-one likes to go on a date with someone who talks about irrelevant stuff. Be meaningful! If you’re interesting, you’ll find they will call you when they’re ready. Not when you’re ready.



End of an Era - Steve Jobs

25. August 2011

One of the greatest business strategists of our time handed in his badge today. He will be sorely missed. 

About Brent Coker

Brent Coker

Hi. I’m Dr Brent Coker, an internet consumer psychologist, and inventor of Webreep. Here I blog mostly about my research, and how customers behave on the web! 


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