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THE SHOPPER ECONOMY
THE NEW WAY TO ACHIEVE MARKETPLACE SUCCESS BY TURNING BEHAVIOR INTO CURRENCY
By LIZ CRAWFORD
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Liz Crawford
All rights reserved.
Foundations of the Shopper Economy
Today there is a new currency that extends beyond the dollar. It is made possible by digital technology, and it can be minted by anyone who has a cellphone. This new currency is behavior.
In the groundbreaking book The Attention Economy, a Nobel Prize winner, Herbert Simon, is quoted as saying:
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
We hardly need a Nobel Prize winner to tell us that we have a poverty of attention—most of our daily lives are a testament to this. But from an economic standpoint, attention is scarce, and scarcity creates value. Attention is so valuable that it is becoming a literal medium of exchange.
Consider Virgin Mobile's Sugar Mama program. The Sugar Mama program (now ended) allowed subscribers to earn free cellphone minutes by watching and responding to ads, either online or via text message. Robert Borden, a blogger who was a user of the program, described his experience with it this way: "The first time you use the Sugar Mama site, you'll be asked to answer a few demographic questions so that they can send you targeted advertising—but this literally takes less than two minutes. After that, you'll be taken to your first ad. Most ads are in the form of videos and are about a minute long. For watching a 1 minute ad, you get 1 minute of airtime. After watching the video, you'll be asked one or two questions about what you thought of it, and then you'll be taken to a link to receive your free minute of airtime. Make sure you click this link, because if you don't you won't receive your free minute. It's as simple as that." Other companies, including Facebook, Telcordia, and Alcatel-Lucent, have launched similar programs.
Let's stop here for a moment. Isn't this just old-fashioned advertising? Not really. What's different about the digital economy is that advertising morphs into a deliberate and intimate transaction. In exchange for paying attention, the shopper gets personal rewards. This isn't a frequent shopper program. It doesn't involve a purchase. Yet it directly rewards the participant—immediately and personally.
Unlike with traditional advertising, the marketer gets an additional benefit: a receipt, tangible verification that attention has been paid. The receipt in the Virgin Mobile case comes in the form of the answered questions, which the shopper texts back to a central location. By paying for a shopper's attention, the marketer has bought awareness. The marketer also got a bit of market research as part of the bargain. This is an example of a new digital transaction, paid for with behavioral currency. The behavior in this case was attention.
While The Attention Economy was prescient in many ways, a number of changes have taken place since the book was written more than a decade ago. Most of these changes have to do with the mass penetration and adoption of technology, notably GPS, mobile social networking, and cellphone scanning. And marketers have been quick to take advantage of these developments by creating programs for shoppers. These programs involve much more than rewards for simply paying attention. Shoppers can create value with a myriad of behaviors that don't necessarily involve purchases.
Shopper currency is just this: shopper behaviors that create units of value that can be used to buy goods and services. Let's look at a few examples that extend beyond attention.
At present, Shopkick (http://www.shopkick.com/) is a front-runner in terms of sophistication in using behavioral currency. Here's how it works. A shopper downloads an app onto her cellphone. When the shopper walks into a Shopkick-participating store, her mobile device automatically records the behavior by receiving a special signal. Without further effort, the shopper has earned kicks™, which are a form of digital scrip (see Figure 1.1). (Note: The original name of the credits program was Kickbucks, but it has been shortened to kicks™.) These credits may be redeemed at hundreds of retailers and restaurants.
Phil Hoops, a reporter for the South Orange Dispatch, described his initial experience with Shopkick, soon after its launch. "Upon entering the mall the app instantly recognized that I was inside the mall and promptly credited me with Kickbucks. Shopkick uses a special transmitter that communicates with your phone, which can determine whether or not you are actually inside a particular store. For my efforts in the mall, I earned a total of 137 Kickbucks. To put this into perspective a Twilight DVD costs 4400 Kickbucks and the minimum Best Buy gift certificate is valued at 500 Kickbucks. It seems that the Best Buy certificate would be within reach after a few visits to the mall. Instead of cashing in my Kickbuck points, I also was given the option of donating them towards a specific cause."
Today, retailer members include Best Buy, American Eagle, Sports Authority, Crate & Barrel, Target, and many malls in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Shopkick claims that kicks are available at more than a quarter million stores. In terms of redemption, there are many options, including iTunes, vouchers at local restaurants, gift cards at participating retailers, discounts at hundreds of small businesses, and even specific big-ticket items from major brands like Coach and Sony Bravia. These points aren't just one-off coupons good for a single purchase, but value that can accrue and be tendered at the discretion of the shopper.
Shopkick rewards behavior other than just walking into a store. Shoppers can earn points by scanning products with their cellphone. Again, purchase is not necessary. Simply scanning a designated product can earn points for the shopper.
Why would a marketer provide incentives for scanning a product without a purchase? Scanning a product means that the shopper has interacted with that brand by seeking it out and picking it up. This action proves (to the extent possible with a promotion) that the shopper has given consideration to the marketer's brand. For bigger-ticket items, where product sampling and trial aren't feasible, this is a good marketing technique.
So far, we have seen two behaviors being rewarded directly: paying attention and participating (here, walking into stores or scanning products). It seems that from a shopper marketing perspective, walking into a store is more valuable than paying attention. Why? Because a shopper is more likely to buy a product while he is in a store (even if that store is digital, but more on that later). Further, scanning a product puts that brand into the shopper's hand, while paying attention does not. So, again it seems that scanning is more valuable than paying attention. It appears that shopper currency has escalating value, from a marketer's perspective.
A third valuable behavior is advocating. This behavior may be more valuable to the marketer than either paying attention or participating, because it opens a network of new shoppers. This behavior extends beyond the single shopper or the one-off purchase. Think of this category as a continuum, from simple sharing to brand evangelism.
Consumers are given options to quickly and easily share commercial messaging with their networks all the time—posting an item on Digg, tweeting a link, posting on Facebook, blogging, hitting a "like" button, and a host of other mechanisms. There are incentives for some of this sharing. For example, Rimmel cosmetics offered a discount coupon on a new product if the shopper hit the "like" button. But many, even most, sharing opportunities do not have incentives at this time. Consumers share in order to gain social prestige ("I'm in the know") or to offer something that they believe would be relevant to a select group of friends.
Tasti D-Lite created a very savvy program to provide incentives for sharing with social networks. Max Chafkin in INC. magazine described the program: "In January , the company began asking its customers to turn over their Twitter account information as part of Tasti D-Lite's loyalty program.... Fifty points gets a customer a free medium cone or cup. To get points for tweeting, a customer submits his Twitter username and password. Then, every time he buys something at a store, he swipes a loyalty card at the register. Tasti D-Lite's point-of-sale system automatically logs in to his Twitter account and sends a tweet informing his followers of the purchase. 'I just earned 9 TastiRewards points at Tasti D-Lite New Rochelle.'"
Sharing "likes" with social networks is advocacy "lite." Real advocating takes sharing one step further; it is endorsing the brand personally and aligning one's reputation with the brand. Hitting the "+1" button, tweeting a link, or sharing on Digg is valuable. But personally urging a friend to buy or taking the time to write a positive review has a bigger financial impact on the brand. In fact, WSL Strategic Retail (http://www.wslstrategicretail.com/) reports that reviews influence actual purchasing more than tweets or "likes" at a ratio of 2:1.
Location-based social networks are most important for retailer advocacy at this point. The reason is that people are seeking friendship and connection, and the retailers benefit as the hosts of the party. Here's how it works:
Download the foursquare app (https://foursquare.com/) onto your smartphone. Find your friends. You can use Facebook, Gmail, or Twitter to find your friends who are already on foursquare (the program automatically finds them for you). Now you are ready to begin checking into locations. Check-ins can happen anywhere—from the gym to coffee shops to schools and even on the road. When you check into a place more often than anyone else, you become the "mayor" of that location.
By becoming mayor, you earn a badge. There are many other kinds of badges you can earn, too: the swarm badge, the adventurer badge, the explorer badge, the I'm-on-a-boat! badge, and hundreds of others. The badges (and a few other digital tokens) are units of value.
Entertainment properties have hopped on this bandwagon. There are Bravo-, MTV-, and CNN-themed badges. Bravo TV celebrities, such as those from Top Chef Masters, recommend various local places for foursquare users to check in, including restaurants, stores, and events. Imagine hosting a series of branded events across the country, like wine tastings at Morton's or local produce fairs at farmers' markets. Not only can you provide direct incentives for participation, but your customers can invite their friends to meet them there—with turn-by-turn directions. These are opportunities for advocacy like never before.
I did a blog scrape to get a better understanding of why people use it regularly. I found this explanation from a veteran: "I'd consider myself a heavy user of geolocation services (621 check-ins over 233 nights out). I use foursquare to add a layer of information to the world around me. Often as I'm finishing dinner out or a meeting downtown, I'll check to see who's around. Checking in (and having friends that check in) has led to many shared drinks, meals and cabs. I've also discovered events that were happening (attended by friends) in my town or in other places I've visited when I had a free evening."
Foursquare, or any mobile social network, can be used to implement a marketing program involving shopper currency. Foursquare is an example of advocating because of the way it is used by its denizens. It adds a layer of personal information, namely, the location of the user's friends and places of interest. If I invite my friends to meet me at a mall or a restaurant, that is an endorsement of that venue or an alignment of my brand with it. If I am the mayor of a downtown Starbucks, that is a hearty endorsement of that brand. I am actively advocating that brand, broadcasting that fact to my social network, and (implicitly and sometimes explicitly) inviting the members of that network to join me there. This is not the only mechanism for advocacy, but it is one that showcases some of the digital technology coming our way.
Both the Tasti D-Lite and the foursquare examples show that the marketer has commissioned advocacy, as well as trip frequency. This brings us to another question: What about loyalty? Traditional, passive cents-off programs aren't the same as earning scrip for simply behaving. Discounting price without requiring behavior is a sale. However, true loyalty behavior does have a place in behavioral currency because it involves shopper commitment. Frequent flyer miles, American Express points, and Kroger card points are examples of scrip used to incent commitment.
It may seem that the digital economy is overstated here a bit. The platforms supporting these programs are not uniformly available or used. But the point is that the ubiquity of digital communications is radically changing our lives, including marketing interactions. As William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed."
We have described four types of shopper currency. Each type of behavior represents increasing value to the marketer. However, the continuum of worth from attention to advocacy is rough. There will be cases in which participation will yield better financial results than advocating. For example, certain personal-care products may be too embarrassing for an advocacy program. In such cases, marketers would want to engage shoppers directly through a participation program. In other cases, advocating may be more valuable than loyalty, for example, in categories with very long purchase cycles, such as appliances. The relative worth of these behaviors needs to be measured on a brand-by-brand basis, according to the marketing objectives. Thinking of these behaviors as having different units of worth is useful to a businessperson who needs to provide incentives to shoppers, as well as tally the cost of a whole program against an estimated profit.
Furthermore, the absolute value of advocacy, or any behavior, will also vary from category to category. Several market research studies are already beginning to demonstrate this. An excellent report by WSL Strategic Retail measured the impact of social networks on buying behavior. It created an SI score, or a social influence score, based on hundreds of surveys. The study shows that the impact of advocacy and social networks indeed varies by category. The SI score for computers and software is a hefty 68, while the SI score for health products such as prescriptions and OTC drugs scored a 44. So, OTC marketers may not be as interested in investing in advocacy programs as marketers of electronics.
Why is this currency? Aren't these just ways to execute promotions? These examples are promotions. However, digital technology adds another dimension to the transaction, converting shopper behavior into fungible currency. Digital technology enables virtual currencies because it can record behaviors, translate them into earnings, and store and bank the value, which can then be redeemed across channels and platforms.
In terms of recording, all of these behaviors can be verified and documented. A special transmitter enables Shopkick to verify whether a shopper is in fact standing in a particular store. At some point, GPS may be able to do the same thing. Simple texting lets advertisers verify that a viewer has seen an ad. Alternatively, facial recognition technology could do the same thing. Scanning allows marketers to verify that their shoppers have indeed picked up the product, and sending messages to social networks is easily confirmed as well. Identifying a user and her tracking behavior on a mobile device or laptop (or soon with ambient computing) is a no-brainer. Technology allows various receipts so that marketers know that the debt has been paid. The implication is that not only is ROI easier to determine than with traditional TV or print, but also offers and messages can be measured and optimized in real time, as well as be very specifically targeted.
The accurate accrual and recording of value makes "earning" really possible. Shopper currency, or shopper labor, is most often repaid with virtual currency, which for our purposes is any form of digital scrip. In this book, virtual currency includes everything from Facebook Credits to WoW Gold to store gift cards to coupons to Bitcoins to frequent buyer points to Eaves.
Value can be stored in such a way that it is visible to the seller, the banker, and the shopper. A shopper who has access to stored value can spend those resources when he sees fit. Importantly, stored value needs to be recognized by merchants in order to be redeemed and therefore retain its worth. One of the reasons Shopkick is successful is that many merchants are recognizing kicks™ points. At the end of the day, the virtual currency winner will be the one that is recognized by the broadest group of companies.
Today, American Express Membership Rewards points is probably the front-runner. However, it is intriguing to think about the newly minted Facebook Credits as a potential force in the future. The sheer size of the Facebook user base (see Figure 1.2) would give some weight and cachet to the currency. However, these credits would need to be recognized beyond the virtual realm to become a viable supplement to fiat currency.
The point is this: insofar as digital scrip is recognized across channels and platforms, it is "real" currency for shoppers' purposes. This brings us to the overall nature of the shopper economy.
The New Marketplace
Let's put shopper currency in a larger economic context. Because technology is allowing us to expand our units of exchange, the marketplace for transactions has expanded, too. Buyers and sellers have more options in terms of what they can spend to acquire goods, services, and other assets.
In the schematic in Figure 1.3, each box lists the forms of currency that are available to the entity at the top of the box—either buyer or seller. The internal arrows indicate the exchanges that are most frequent today. Starting at the top, the first arrow shows consumers spending billions of dollars in hard cash to buy traditional merchandise, like groceries. The second arrow shows that virtual currency is also used to buy traditional goods and services, like redeeming a coupon or frequent flyer points. Virtual currency is also used to buy virtual goods, such as enhancements for World of Warcraft, FooPets, or FarmVille.
Excerpted from THE SHOPPER ECONOMY by LIZ CRAWFORD. Copyright © 2012 by Liz Crawford. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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