Checking Into a Stieg Larsson Novel? Get Ready for Check-in Fatigue
Stickers and Badges Will Lose Perceived Value as They Become Less Tied to Meaningful Actions, Rewards
The ever-brilliant Caroline McCarthy posted a story on companies rolling out badge programs to reward things that do not involve location. New entrants focus on what you happen to be doing over location. Whether you're attending a concert, for example, or as McCarthy notes, "reading one of those ubiquitous Steig Larsson novels."
The problem with the rush to "reward" consumers with badges and stickers is that they eventually diminish in value as they become a) less scarce, and b) not attached to anything of value.
There's a classic movie term called the "MacGuffin" (popularized by Alfred Hitchcock), which, as wikipedia explains:
A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is "aplot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction." The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, or a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained.
But here's my favorite part of the Wikipedia explanation:
MacGuffins are sometimes referred to as plot coupons (especially if multiple ones are required) as the protagonist only needs to "collect enough plot coupons and trade them in for adenouement."
And that's exactly the problem. We're not giving people a reason to redeem these plot coupons. There's no dénouement. No series of events that follow the climax of the story we're taking the participant through -- or are asking them to tell.
If we don't tie check-ins to real-world rewards, then we will miss out on a great opportunity to affect consumer behavior by avoiding "check-in fatigue" that will inevitably be brought about by a lack of value attributed to the action. Stickers and badges (even while scarce) will eventually become devalued as they become less scarce and hold less perceived value, and will not be a strong enough incentive to keep people engaged.
We must always be looking for ways to reward activity with things that have material value to our consumers. These are the beginnings of true digital loyalty programs that reward people not just for frequency, but advocacy. We must not delude ourselves into thinking that rewarding consumers' loyalty with a "virtual" item will be good enough in the long haul. Imagine if all you got from your airline-of-choice was not redeemable miles, but variations on the "Wings Badge." Which one would get you to fly that airline more often? Exactly. Whether it's more product or even virtual currency that can be used to buy more product (see Facebook Credits), the delivery of material value will be necessary to keep consumers engaged.
As marketers, if we want to play in the world of loyalty programs, we need to learn how to deliver not just one, but multiple climaxes that reward multiple interactions and keep our best customers not only coming back, but telling others how great we are. I hear that works.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Ian Schafer is the CEO of Deep Focus, and can be stalked on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ischafer.
Very timely article in Adage as I've been getting somewhat bored with foursquare recently; not only does the blackberry app work very sporadically these days (I'm assuming they're getting pounded by traffic), it's also become less exciting to check-in and not get a lot of trophies or real rewards out of it (I don't eat at Tasty DLite...). I believe concepts like Shopkick are onto something better as they will be able to provide highly targeted couponing in a purchase environment. In the meantime, I'm checking out of checking in.