Thursday, August 10, 2006

A marketing book for the Internet age


Marketing is all about turning consumers into Pavlov's dogs, salivating at even the mention of a brand name. That's a stereotype, but even among marketers themselves the received wisdom was that the most heavily promoted brands would have the most loyal following.

If that was ever true, it is less true today with the advent of the Internet. On the Web, consumers have access not just to the "big" brands but to all brands, all equally a click away. It turns out consumers are not dogs after all, but cats. How do you get a cat to stick around?

That's the question a new book for marketers sets out to answer. "Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?" ($19.99 in hardcover from Nelson Business), by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg with Lisa T. Davis, is subtitled "Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing." The authors write that "increasingly, customers are associating brand not with a message but with their entire experiences surrounding the product or service." The central message of the book is that customers, like cats, have a "what's in it for me?" attitude, and good marketing works when it attempts not to manipulate but ("within the confines of profitability and integrity") to delight the consumer. Why? "Delighted customers become repeat customers."

But how does a business provide this delight? The authors have developed a set of conceptual and software tools they call "Persuasion Architecture," which they present in detail in the book. I found the first half of the book quite helpful in understanding how the democracy of the Internet has changed marketing; the latter part of the book seemed to indulge in more and more jargon ("masks," "wireframing," "waypoints," "persuasion entities") with more and more mentions of Persuasion Architecture. The Eisenberg brothers veer awfully close to wanting professionals in their field to salivate at the mention of their brand.

Yet I think the authors genuinely want to be helpful. The CD packaged with the book includes an 80-minute question-and-answer session video and the Eisenbergs are clear they don't have all the answers. The CD also features a PDF file of the entire book which can be sent to colleagues. A delightful touch!

The book is unified around an examination of three questions.

First, "who are we trying to persuade to take the action?" This involves the creation of "personas" on the part of the business so marketers can develop empathy and anticipate questions. "Personas are stand-ins for the various angles from which your customers view their problems and your solutions." As an example, the authors offer Best Buy. One of the company's personas is "Jill," "a soccer mom who is motivated to please and care for her family. She doesn't want an intimidating experience when she shops for appliances or electronics. She needs to feel she has a friend along to help." Empathizing with "Jill," Best Buy can develop ads that talk about "Hassle- and fear-free electronics shopping."

Second, "What is the action we want someone to take?" Imagine a Web page that gives product information but offers no way for the user to make a purchase.

Finally, "What does that person need in order to feel confident taking that action?" This involves answering relevant questions in a timely fashion. Imagine someone about to order a product online who wonders how much the shipping is. Does the site make the consumer complete the transaction before providing that information?

We cats value our time. So delight us!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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