The Spontaneity Mandate

Want to understand the Internet as a marketing channel? Only read marketing books written before 1991.

Maybe that’s a tad harsh. I do, after all, want you to continue reading ClickZ! But there’s a wealth of insight to be gained from sources that focus on people and behavior without getting all wrapped up in technology and idiosyncrasies of the medium. Books about Internet marketing too often ask how technology drives behavior, not the other way round.

A book published in 1961 divulges the secret of successful Internet marketing. It’s “The Image” by Daniel J. Boorstin. The secret is spontaneity.

Boorstin argues against increased consumption of prepackaged, synthetic experiences as entertainment. As people are overwhelmed with fully scripted experiences, a hunger for spontaneous experience is fueled. I’ve never seen a quantitative study of this phenomenon, but it makes sense. Look at the rise of reality TV. People love watching what’s unscripted and unknown. A reality TV experience is closer to watching football than watching drama. The result is highly engaging, even habit forming.

Spontaneity Opportunity: Who Uses It?

Anyone who uses the Internet to market products should understand spontaneity. It can be the single best element in a campaign, particularly if the campaign relies on content as its primary consumer draw.

Current campaigns using spontaneity well:

  • Sony’s “Make your Mark” promotion. Sony is running a promotion in which anyone (literally) can pitch a movie idea. The audience votes for the best and, through a series of final rounds, one is chosen. The winner gets a stack of Sony equipment with which to make the movie.

  • Coca-Cola’s Coke Music program. Coca-Cola is running an extensive music program aimed at teens. It successfully created a community by providing an ability to personalize your look along with tools and assets to create things. The result is a living, free-flowing, spontaneous world.

Spontaneity’s appeal is simple: The stakes are raised for those not paying attention. Online advertising must attract consumers, so it cannot be easy to ignore.

One way for brands to combat consumers increasingly ignoring their ads is to become more intrusive. The other approach is to be clever about attracting. Spontaneity is the most powerful tool to attract and sustain your target. And spontaneity, because of the technologies and abilities of interactive channels (given an admittedly undeserved slap above) is better achieved online than anywhere else. No other medium can adapt so quickly to a consumer’s behaviors.

Getting Spontaneity Into Your Strategy

So, how do you do it? Guidelines for creating spontaneity:

  • Get your audience to care. Many things are spontaneous, but only relevant stories and environments are worth attention. Research your target. What types of media do they consume? Which ones do they return to frequently?

  • Introduce elements of random drama. The point is to increase the audience’s uncertainty about what will happen. Introduce elements that defy expectations or create situations in which significant choices (ones with dramatic effects) must be made. Think of the TV Bachelor choosing his bride.
  • Enable interaction. Reality TV provides the thrill of spontaneity. The audience only observes it, there’s no participation. Online, users become involved only if they can affect the outcome, either by influencing global decisions (in the Sony example, voting for the best film) or interacting (in the Coke example, creating and trading music mixes).

The result should be a tighter group of users who become almost a community, conferring the vitally important gift of loyalty. Don’t forget — we’re talking about loyalty to a marketing program, not loyalty to the product. The critical leap from affinity to purchase and repurchase is often overlooked by marketing organizations.

Next, we’ll dive into how to take a popular, compelling marketing program and tie it to consumption.

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