Balancing Preference and Persuasion

By Gary Stein
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The Internet changes everything, right?

Although reports of its death were greatly exaggerated, we seem to still believe the premise that methods of doing business are remarkably different because computers are now truly personal and they are all linked to one another.

The sticky part is the nature of that change. I always get a suspicious feeling anyone who professes, "The old rules no longer apply," never actually bothered to learn the old rules. I can't speak for all industries, but I know for marketing one particular old rule definitely has changed.

Once, there were two primary marketing campaign categories. The division was based on goals: marketing that established preference versus marketing that persuaded. Sometimes, the split was referred to as "brand" and "direct" marketing.

Direct was a hard-working cousin of brand. Brand helped build a positive image; direct got telephones ringing and orders flowing in. Brand advertising built preference. Direct persuaded. So-called "integrated campaigns" employed common themes and ideas but usually were separate entities.

The Internet changed marketing because it blurred that dichotomy. The interactive technology upon which the Internet is built enables (in fact, practically demands) all online advertising be backed by both preference and persuasion strategy.

Every Ad Transacts
All online advertising should have some transaction built into it. This does not mean every online ad must sell. The distinction is one of the fine points painted over with a roller by online advertisers.

According a Jupiter Research (a unit of our parent corporation) executive survey, half of all businesses that run online campaigns look for real, revenue-generating results from them. It's a valid expectation. Advertising should provide real business benefits. But the expectation is money spent online will have a direct effect on sales. Offline, spending is generally viewed as having an indirect effect on sales.

With the line between preference and persuasion blurred, there's an opportunity to develop strategies where advertising can establish a positive mindset about an offering, then pull the consumer to a transaction. The key to developing such a strategy necessitates broadening your notion of what a transaction is.

What Consumers Spend Online
Much research is conducted to explore what consumers buy online. Focusing on this worthwhile goal helps in planning, but it assumes an underlying step — one deserving more attention: what consumers spend online.

There are three broad categories of online currency. Preference/persuasion strategies must choose at least one as a foundation:

  • Money: This is the easy one, worth starting the list with. Consumers can spend money online as a result of an ad. The most important consideration is whether the consumer views the amount as inexpensive or extravagant.

  • Information: Consumers and businesses realize the value of online information. Cash is valued based on its denomination ($50 is five times more valuable than $10); information is valued based on whether it's general or specific. General information can be demographic (city or age range) or attitudinal (agree or disagree with a statement). Specific information focuses on actual behaviors and is, therefore, more valuable.

  • Time: Time is a tough one. Consumers spend time online. Brands compete to capture a portion of that time. Brands can achieve this by creating interactive marketing pieces, but doing so too frequently doesn't connect to actual brand purchase. Getting a consumer to spend significant online time is good for Internet pure-plays, of course. For offline brands, it may not be a completely worthwhile endeavor.

A Solid Strategy: Lee Jeans's Emu Lander
A brand that's effectively built a strategy integrating both preference and persuasion is Lee Jeans. Its Emu Lander game asks players to attempt to bring a poor emu in for a decent landing. The game builds preference (part one of the strategy) by virtue of its existence. Lee has had a good lift over the last few years in the hyper-competitive jeans category, building relevance and expanding the notion of its brand. They're not just for cowboys anymore.

The game also persuades by capturing both time and information from users. In using the game as a primary draw in online advertising, the company competes for consumer's online time. (The production values on the game, by the way, are great, which definitely increases chances a consumer will stick around for more than a few seconds.) Information transaction is achieved by the simple inclusion of a "sign up and win" button, through which consumer data is captured.

It's a solid strategy. One could argue Lee needs to follow through and actually sell jeans online. I don't know that's necessary. Lee needs to create transactions online, but that shifting perception with the game that enables the capture of consumer time and info makes this a complete strategy, one that effectively exists inside that blurred space between preference and persuasion.

Gary Stein covers direct marketing, online media planning and buying, and agencies as an advertising analyst with Jupiter Research. He's an expert in rich media, analysis, optimization and creative execution. As a former strategist with Red Sky Interactive, Gary advised clients such as Lands' End, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Nike and Levi's on interactive marketing and advertising. He developed e-commerce applications, online loyalty programs and integrated campaigns. As project leader and account manager for Poppe Tyson Interactive, he led both B-to-B and consumer accounts, such as HP Storage and Sony Playstation, in bridging the gap between traditional advertising and marketing and interactive. Gary was also director of content at Mactivity. (Jupiter Research is owned by SmallBusinessComputing.com's parent company, Jupitermedia).

Adapted from ClickZ.
This article was originally published on January 06, 2003

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