Get ’em Hooked

The screensaver with the "upgrade" option.


I had a pretty humorous exchange with my boss yesterday about the Kindle Fire he received for Christmas. He was testing out all the different buttons, settings, and options, and he was excited to show me the screensaver he’d picked out. The screensaver is a picture of a coral reef, and every few seconds, some bubbles float up, and a blue or an orange fish swim across the screen. Pretty engaging little picture, I must say! He commented that he wished there were more bubbles and more fish, and I said that there was probably an option on the settings menu to make the fish and bubbles come up faster, or in different patterns. Upon clicking into the settings menu, he was given the option to purchase an “upgrade” to the screensaver app that would give him all sorts of options on speed, fish variety, and many other COOL features!! I laughed and said, “Smart marketers”. He shook his head and said, “Evil marketers!” He didn’t buy the upgrade, but I found this to be a classic marketing case. So, what did the app marketers do right, and why couldn’t they close the sale?

Hook ’em up front. These marketers used the tried-and-true “free trial”, which allows the customer to decide, risk-free, if they like the product. This has become particularly popular in the tech world, since the results are immediate, and once people learn to use the system, the opportunity cost to switch is generally high enough that they’ll just click “purchase” at the end of the trial. For things like games online, customers want to keep their score, and for the low, low price of $1, they can keep playing!

Make ’em think it was their idea. Marketers know that if someone decides they want something on their own, it’s much easier to convince them that the something they want, is something you provide (as opposed to trying to convince them that they want anything in the first place). So, my boss decided that he wanted more control of the settings all by himself. This means that when he went into the settings menu, he was already primed to do something to meet the needs he already saw for himself. It’s marketing gold if you can find a way to have a natural lead-in to paid features, such that customers already want the feature, and it just so happens that you have the feature available… for a small fee. Depending on the product, the “small fee” might make customers shake their head and think, “evil marketer”, or they might be glad that the provider has already thought of ways to meet their needs.

Make ’em think it’s not frivolous. This is where the app marketers failed to close the sale with my boss. I don’t know how much the upgrade cost, but it was enough that my boss thought it wasn’t worth it. There could be several explanations for this; maybe he thought it was too frivolous, or he didn’t want to be “duped” by the “gimmick” (see his reaction to the “evil marketer”), or maybe he just isn’t the type of person to spend money on apps for his mobile devices. People are willing to spend money on tons of frivolous online endeavors, from Angry Birds, to Farmville, to using real dollars to purchase gold on WoW, so it’s not that the product itself just won’t sell. Huge volume sales are the key to profitability for many of these apps. Of the millions of people with access, you only need to capture a small percentage of them to make a decent revenue. Again, marketing gold if you can convince the customer that your game, app, or “virtual capital” is worth dollars in real life.

I still think the Kindle app people were smart marketers, even though they failed to coax my boss into a purchase. Have you ever been “hooked”? Were you impressed or annoyed at the marketing ploy?

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