What can the use of heroin and cigarettes teach marketers of IT products?

Posted: July 11, 2011 by David Lamont in Interesting Data
Tags: , ,

I was listening to David Linden talk about his book, Compass Of Pleasure, on NPR. He’s a neuroscience expert who maps out the brain’s relationship with pleasure and addiction.

Mr. Linden pointed out that 80% of people who ever try cigarettes become nicotine addicts and 30% of people who inject heroin in their arms will become heroin addicts. Since heroin delivers a more intense pleasure than the nicotine in cigarettes most people would expect the addiction rates to be reversed. Why the disparity?

Addiction is a form of learning so repetition is a key factor. While a cigarette smoker experiences less pleasure per instance than a heroin user, that smoker experiences the pleasure more frequently. Ten puffs per cigarette multiplied by 20 times for someone who smokes a pack a day. While even the most addicted use heroin 3 time per day and most addicts would use it less often.

Repetition of a reliable small pleasure is more addicting than a single, unreliable, infrequent large pleasure. Mr Linden reinforced his point with an example familiar to most dog owners. A dog trainer gets better results by reinforcing the desired behavior frequently with small treats than infrequently with large treats.

The Marketer’s Experience

Since most marketers have limited budget we often have to decide between a one-time  “big splash” event and less noticeable, but more frequent “drip” events. The decisions may be between a single full-page advert and a series of smaller adverts or it may be between a large trade show booth with lots of giveaways and a series of smaller booths with no giveaways. Experienced marketers know that consistent repetition will result in more people remembering their brand. They also know that a recognized brand is twice as likely to be selected over an unrecognized brand.

I believe there are exceptions where a “big splash” has so much impact that a message or brand is forever remembered. Apple Computer’s 1984 advert during the Superbowl may be an example of that. However, while “big splash” successes are often highlighted by marketing publications in reality they are exceedingly rare and typically B2C oriented, rather than B2B oriented. The products that sell as a result of a one time “big splash” are typically easy to understand and easy to purchase (sorry, enterprise IT rarely qualifies). Apple’s 1984 advert succeeded at creating brand recognition. At the time, this brand recognition did not translate into a major marketplace success. In the 1980’s the Mac was a B2B product and it was not easy to purchase due to price, availability, compatibility, available software, etc. I know –  I was selling Macs in the late ’80s!

Unfortunately, “big splash” marketing is often driven more by an executives unspoken objective of self-glorification than the business sales objectives. Of course, these events will be hailed as great successes by the executive (regardless of cost).

Lessons for sales-centric marketers:

  • You must deliver frequent, consistent messages to the same people in your target audience. A useful rule of thumb is 21 messages per prospect. Achieving that frequency in a short period of time is tough so speed usually requires the simultaneous use of multiple media.
  • Your messages have to satisfy the prospect’s “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me). Think “how-to” (educational) white papers, tips, benefits (not just features), etc. The more personal the WIIFM, the better. That’s why so many business events are held in Las Vegas and other vacation spots like Florida and California.
  • Your message must be seen and relevant at the time the prospect decides to act. This is especially important when selling products that are purchased infrequently. If a decision to purchase is made once every 3 years there may be 35 months, 155 weeks and 1094 days when your message is not relevant enough to have an impact. This bolsters the case for frequency, but also for “trigger” based marketing that allows you to communicate when the prospect takes some action to indicate an interest.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes marketing in data storage, data management and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

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