The psychology secret to Zynga’s success (now valued at $10 Billion!)

SCap_ 2011-02-23_42OK, so Facebook game maker Zynga is raising additional money at a $10 BILLION valuation. One would hope that that’s enough to make anyone’s ears prick up…

So how did they get here: By understanding something about human psychology, and then HACKING it for all its worth.

1) Addict people with SIMPLE, low learning-curve games, that 2) are social in the way you might have played certain board games in real life in the past, and that 3) have Irregular Reward Schedules (these are the most addicting forms of behavioral reinforcers, read up on your Behaviorism 101…).

THEN, 4) offer them little ways to essentially cheat in the games (making things go more smoothlyfor you), that 5) can be purchased for amounts that fall within the Impulse Purchase threshold, i.e. below the price level where your conscious mind kicks in fully and begins to wonder whether this is really a good idea, asf.

Read the following quote at least 3 times to yourself: “Zynga makes all its money selling virtual goods…Tiny amounts of money make the games progress faster.” (From Business Insider.) If you get it, you’ll know that tons of companies have been neglecting/violating the lessons therein to their considerable detriment.

I just argued yesterday that Sony is making a huge mistake by not going the $1/month route for complete/unlimited streaming music access with their new offering:

Another example that I saw just yesterday: Clever Twitter service “Buffer” ( @bufferapp ), which allows you to in essence do a bit.ly-like bookmarklet share to Twitter WITH automatic posting throttling/buffering built-in, so that your tweets are dripped out over time even though you can batch collect them all at once over, say, your morning blog reading hour:

All great, except that they are mispricing their premium levels very badly: 10 tweets in buffer, 3 tweets a day is Free. $5/month for 50 tweets in buffer, 10 tweets/day dripped, and $30/month (crazy…!?) for all unlimited is simply not going to work for them IMO. [See: http://www.bufferapp.com/pricing ]

$5/month is outside of impulse purchase range, while $1/month = Bingo! Sold! At $5, your mind is beginning to ask: Do I really need this? Is it worth it? Can I justify it directly via increased ROI? Where/how am I even going to measure this ROI?

All questions that you DON’T WANT your prospective customer asking at the entry point!! Which is exactly what Zynga has realized so brilliantly, and to such obvious success. The proof of the (psych) pudding is still in the eating… Zynga: “Would you like to improve your position in this game you are already playing for 10 cents?” – Unconscious Mind: “You bet I would.”

Which brings me to another of my pet points about successful online advertising/selling: Offer people only things which make sense in the context of what they were ALREADY doing. In this case, don’t try to offer them after shave, bracelets, or cars while they are playing Farmville, offer them something to do with Farmville!

Disclosure: I don’t play Farmville or CityVille, and have never tossed sheep or vampires at my Facebook friends. I do however study these phenomena very closely… 🙂

Is Advertising Failing On The Internet?

Techcrunch.com today featured a guest post by Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet”.

In the lengthy post he argues his “basic premise […] that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it”, which due to its sweeping nature definitely warrants further examination. The post as of right now has generated well over 200 comments, on a Sunday, so it obviously hit a nerve.

Among other things, Professor Clemons makes the following points about advertising both online or via traditional broadcast media:

Consumers do not trust advertising. Dan Ariely has demonstrated that messages attributed to a commercial source have much lower credibility and much lower impact on the perception of product quality than the same message attributed to a rating service. Forrester Research has completed studies that show that advertising and company sponsored blogs are the least-trusted source of information on products and services, while recommendations from friends and online reviews from customers are the highest.

Consumers do not want to view advertising. Think of watching network TV news and remember that the commercials on all the major networks are as closely synchronized as possible.  Why?  If network executives believed we all wanted to see the ads they would be staggered, so that users could channel surf to view the ads; ads are synchronized so that users cannot channel surf to avoid the ads.

And mostly consumers do not need advertising. My own research suggests that consumers behave as if they get much of their information about product offerings from the internet, through independent professional rating sites like dpreview.com or community content rating services like Ratebeer.com or TripAdvisor.

While I would agree with all three points made, and would count them among important caveats for anyone choosing to advertise for anything in this day and age, I disagree with Professor Clemons’ basic premise. Here’s why:

I would argue that none of the major “Old Media” players online (or for that matter none of the “New Media” either) are anywhere close to having efficiently monetized their page views. Everyone is still clumsily fumbling around when it comes to intelligent targeting of ads, both as to offer theme, as well as to offer pricing.

(Or rather mostly lack thereof, as when trying to employ Madison Avenue “image advertising” without any clear offer being made. Which, if it ever worked on TV, etc., certainly isn’t working online. In fact, online it may increasingly create a negative image of a company/brand/product as “someone” who just doesn’t get it).

This is astonishing, when all it really takes is some common sense about selling people stuff that makes sense in the CONTEXT of what they were already doing.

First, let’s get clear on the fact that an article or opinion piece in e.g. the New York Times provides a lot more pointers as to readers’ state of mind/interest than most Google queries ever could (as do Web videos posted on such sites), so the failure to target properly is in part simply a form of laziness.

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