What Google Algorithms Can Teach Us About Making New Fans
One of the most amazing accomplishments of Google has been the development of complicated algorithms that can predict your future behavior. Essentially, it is accomplished by taking the aggregate of all past searches and behavior online: what types of content you click through, search terms, how you are connected through the World Wide Web. The more that you use social media, search on Google, or visit websites, the more the automated system learns about you. Over time, it begins filtering out content that it doesn’t think you are interested in. Here is where it becomes even more interesting: the filtering process is accentuated when it comes to dissenting opinion. For example, if you are a Democrat, it automatically reduces content posted from a Republican’s point of view and increases content related to progressive interests. Google is not the only company using these algorithms: online stores like Amazon.com, interactive sites like Twitter and Facebook, and other search engines are all incorporating more sophisticated formulas to filter your behavior.
To me, this direction is not surprising. Technology has been striving to emulate processes that are natural to human thinking for decades. As people, we naturally create our own filters: we tend to spend the majority of our time with people whom we share similar values with, the types of books that we read are in areas where we already interest, we generally listen to music of a certain genre or feeling (which is why Pandora Radio is so popular). Most people only have limited amounts of time so the idea of researching and evaluating multiple products or idea systems isn’t thrilling. We tend to rely on existing sources like friends and family or expert opinions that we trust. It seems like this should be common knowledge yet so many marketers act like this type of behavior doesn’t exist.
The intuitive marketer would find what types of natural filters led the customers to discover their brand (or similar organizations): common traits that exist in constituents such as demographics, interests, lifestyle, monetary behaviors, etc. This information would narrow the scope of marketing efforts to an extremely defined target audience. It would not broaden the market at all. The intuitive marketer would then spend the majority of their resources developing this target audience rather than wasting it on broadcasting to new ones. Marketing guru Seth Godin states that if “you fire 70% of your customers and watch your profits go up!” The amount of time, money, and energy invested in attracting new customers is always greater than the resources invested on retaining existing customers. The return is also greater: customers that are catered to directly spend more for longer periods of time. In addition, they naturally attract new customers by recommending your organization to others.
Instead, we find that our world is loaded with artificial marketing. Companies spend billions of dollars on mass advertising that are quiet general or rely on some kind of “surprise” factor to get you to take notice. The Return on Investment (ROI) is difficult to measure in these types of campaigns and they’re often backed by a “this should work” or “hope for the best” attitude. At best, this type of mass advertising only works for widely recognized brands. For example, when I thumb through the local paper for upcoming events, I generally have no interest in an ad by some band I’ve never heard of but I would pay attention if the ad was about my favorite singer. The average person is bombarded with ads: tv commercials, radio commercials, billboards, magazines, internet, blogs, and even most email programs have some sort of ad system built in. They’re so used to it that they generally tune these things out so advertisers spend more time and money trying to catch an audience’s attention. This is not natural; it is artificially pumping substance into the marketing message and hoping that it sticks with enough new customers that it offsets the cost.
I know what you’re thinking: if you ignore trying to reach new customers, how do you expand? How can the organization grow? Subscribe to this blog, watch for updates. More coming soon.