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5 Customer Triggers That Make Your Product Addicting

Note: This week on my Blog Talk Radio show, Talk Business With Howard, I will be talking with Adrian Ott, author of the bestselling business book, The 24-Hour Customer. Listen in to the live broadcast on Wednesday, July 18th at 11 AM/Eastern (8 AM/Pacific). If you have a question you’d like Adrian to answer, just post it for consideration in the comments section of this blog post. Thank you, Adrian, for being a guest on the radio show and for contributing this blog post. -Howard-


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Sure, games are fun, and group buying is a hot trend, but there’s more to them. What exactly creates the strong attraction for customers? Here are five ways to get the attention your product or service deserves.

Adrian Ott - author of The 24-Hour CustomerDuring a presentation at DemandCon in San Francisco I tried an experiment. At the end of my talk, instead of presenting the usual recap of closing points, I offered a free copy of my book to audience members who shared the best ‘Aha’ ideas and implications. I told them I only had a few copies with me, so if they wanted to win, their co-creation of the summary had to be good.

Right away, the excitement in the room increased as people gave serious thought to what they would say. They raised their hands eagerly to respond. Although a question tends to generate audience interest, there was something much bigger going on in the ballroom: I had turned my finish into a contest, a game, and as a result I’d activated several key behavioral triggers.

Games Attract Time and Attention

According to Nielsen, games are the second most frequent Internet activity for Americans after social networks–more popular than email despite the fact that many of us use email for our jobs.

The integration of game elements in non-game environments, known as gamification, has been popular lately in business circles. Why are games important to business? Multiple studies have shown that the more time customers spend with you the more money, ultimately, they pay out. I’ve written about time magnets and business strategy here and here. When you gamify your customer interactions you grab your customer’s attention and hold it, cutting through the clutter of competing offers and distractions.

Games Are A Tool. Triggers Are The Fuel.

Although games have been the center of the discussion, they are really just one very effective way to tap into psychological ‘triggers.’ Triggers are behavioral prompts that spur us to action and keep us interested and engaged. Triggers breed that ‘addictive’ feeling we get when we find a game we like; they are the fuel that make games run. Without them, the game would just sputter and die.

Scholars and experts have identified many different kind of triggers, but in my work, I’ve narrowed down to five key triggers (5Ps) that direct customer time and attention in the purchasing process*. These triggers are:

Peers and Power (social): Social drivers are perhaps the most powerful triggers of all. Consider how businesspeople show off their achievements to colleagues, or how a slighted co-worker will belabor a point to defend his position. The desire for social power is at work here. People divert tremendous attention and time to improve or maintain their reputation and status. Social triggers are also at work when we offer help to family members or friends.

Personal Pursuits (internal): People feel good about themselves when they meet a goal or support a cause. They also experience fun or curiosity when solving a puzzle or a mystery. Greed plays a role here as well: for some, achieving wealth is the most important goal of all.

Prairie Dog Events: Playfully named after those furry Midwest animals that periodically pop out of their burrows to look around. For customers, prairie dog events cause them to “wake up” and look around at alternatives. Examples include crises, such as a broken computer, new regulations, a poor customer service experience, a new management regime, or a major life event, such as a new baby.

Productivity (time-saving): We are all time starved and looking for ways to streamline tasks and be more productive. Convenient services, fast meal options, even productivity tools all appeal to our need to cross off those items on the to do list.

Price: Anything on sale or discounted tends to attract attention.


4Ps of Marketing + 5Ps of Customer Triggers

A good way to remember these 5P Customer Triggers is that these are five additional Ps that drive customer behavior beyond the 4Ps in the marketing mix i.e. 4Ps of Marketing + 5Ps of Customer Triggers.

Of course, triggers are not limited to games. Considering underlying triggers in the design of a product, service or program helps to generate customer attention and excitement. Marketing campaigns or loyalty programs that don’t do enough to tap these triggers will not achieve ROI.

A product, campaign or service need not activate all five triggers to be effective. Most games, for instance, tap into Peers and Power and Personal Pursuit triggers. Daily deals from Groupon and LivingSocial are largely popular because they activate the Price trigger, but the designers deepen customer interest by tagging social Peer triggers (by sharing great deals with others), and Personal Pursuits through greed (sign up three friends and the deal is free).


Game Mechanics and Triggers

A few classic game mechanics in my experiment at DemandCon were particularly effective at tapping into underlying triggers.

First there was the reward. I had a limited number of books with me at DemandCon. This scarcity tapped into the audience member’s Personal Pursuits to win the prize as an achievement.

Second there was the challenge. By asking people to “Name an aha” I tapped into their sense of curiosity–another Personal Pursuit — as to who would come up with a good answer.

Third there was the ability to demonstrate status. DemandCon was a public forum, so participants who spoke up could showcase their expertise to the rest of the audience. This invoked a competitive spirit that activated the Peers and Power trigger. The people who were awarded books had a visual “badge” as to their achievement, further incenting others to participate and win one of their own.

Finally there was collaboration. Some people sitting close together at tables collaborated to help their peers win. This added a fun (Personal Pursuit) and social element to the challenge.


Applying Customer Triggers To Your Business

This was very simple application of gamification–it didn’t involve sophisticated levels of achievement, scoring, or multifaceted stories. Yet many people told me how much they appreciated discussing the implications in a fun way to help them to internalize the concepts better. Here’s a few take-aways on how to apply these concepts to your business:

  1. Map the Triggers: Once the basics of a game, campaign or loyalty program are designed, stop and identify the underlying triggers and the strength of the triggers at each point in the process. Are they strong enough to drive action? Is the reward and challenge sufficient? Will they activate social and reputational aspects?
  2. Build Triggers Not Features: Add fuel only if it stokes the fire. Game and program elements help only if they stimulate a trigger enough to drive action, but don’t go overboard. It’s easy to develop complicated rules, elements, and stories. Simple is often best. Consider the “fuel” and only add it if the trigger is strong enough to encourage incremental action. Otherwise, eliminate them.
  3. Test and Retest: It is sometimes hard to tell if a trigger will be strong enough to create action. Keep testing to get the formula right.

By applying 5P Customer Triggers to program design, marketers and executives can turn their products, services and programs into time magnets that close business and achieve desired outcomes.

Which of the 5P Customer Triggers does your product, program or game activate?

*In my own pursuit of simplicity, I integrated my prior work on 8Ps into 5Ps. ‘Procrastination,’ ‘Proximity,’ and ‘Physical Need’ now fall under the time-saving benefit of the Productivity trigger. This does not change the findings other than to simplify the structure of the descriptive taxonomy.

Adrian Ott is the award-winning author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy which was named a Best Business Book 2010 by Library Journal and by Small Business Trends. She is also CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. and a frequent keynote speaker. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge.

Reprinted with permission by Exponential Edge Inc. ©2012. All rights reserved. Originally published online at Fast Company.



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