Thursday 13 August 2015

Enhancing digital coupon recall and usage

If asked, could you draw the Apple logo unaided?  

Can you remember all it’s simple features?  Is there a leaf or not?  Is there a bite out of it?  Which side?

Given the ubiquity of the logo on our devices and in the media, many of us would be fairly confident we could create a reasonable facsimile of the logo.

Researchers however put this to the test - or more accurately, put their participants memory to the test - and as expected, most participants were confident of their ability before starting out.  However the research showed that despite this confidence, only 1 in 85 actually got all aspects of the logo correct and less than 50% managed to correctly identify the logo when presented with a number of alternatives.

So, despite seeing it every day, we don’t really “see it” - we haven’t really committed it to memory sufficiently that we can recall its detail.  Remembering a logo is one thing, but what if we need to remember something more important.

From a marketing perspective, one of the most important things we need is for consumers to “remember to remember”.  

We’ve created the perfect conditions for the consumer to form an intent, we just now need them to carry that intent out at some future date.  We’re essentially relying on the consumers memory to prompt them at the right time; whether that’s to further research the purchase or to actually go on to buy it.

This ability to remember to remember is termed prospective memory and is basically defined as where an individual intends to perform an action at a later time.  This could be an event based prospective memory such as "give a message to a friend at the next meeting” or could be time based such as "remember to go to the dentist at 10am on Friday”.
As marketers, we rely on a consumers prospective memory for the call to action to be executed and unfortunately we're relying on something that is extremely fallible.  

Despite our reliance on this prospective memory, there has been little understanding of how it works or how it could be improved.  This is changing though and in recent years there has been a real surge in research studies around prospective memory - and this couldn’t come at a better time.

With the ever increasing transition of marketing from paper based coupons to digital, we are potentially removing an important aide to memory recall.

One of the key parts of prospective memory recall has been found to be a target cue.  Using the example of a grocery coupon, where the consumer has seen the offer and made a decision to take up the offer they would traditionally have taken the paper coupon and put it somewhere to act as a cue when at some point later they went shopping.  This may have been within their wallet or purse or next to their shopping list.  The point is, the physical coupon would have acted as a target cue to trigger the intention at the point it was required.

As coupons move digital however, it’s very easy to browse offers in an email or via an app and select which ones you intend to take up, but then the offer is gone; the email disappears or the app remains unopened. For these digital offers, we’re relying on the prospective memory of the consumer to help them remember they signed up to the offer and to then go on to purchase the product at some point in the near future.

There could still be a target cue -  the event of shopping - but even then, if they have signed up to a number of offers, how likely is it that each offer will be remembered.  At this point we’re then relying on the target cue of the product itself - when (if) they see it and that they remember it’s on offer.

We’re putting a lot of pressure on someones prospective memory - to recall they have signed up to offers and to then recall what offers they have signed up to.

So how can we counter this to ensure we more fully link the intent to take up the offer with the activity of shopping.

Well this is potentially a two step process:-
  • First - We need to get the consumer to remember to check for offers so that they can be reminded of which products to look for.  
  • Second - We need to get consumers to do this every time the shop - we need it to become habitual.
It makes sense to start with the second step first as this is the end state we want.  Essentially, we want the process of checking for offers to become habitual for the customer.  When an activity is habitual we don’t think about it directly, it’s just linked into a wider script we have for the parent task.

As an example, when we drive a car, we don’t have to remember to put the key into the ignition or make sure the gear is in neutral, we just do this automatically.  This task is not being held in prospective memory; we don’t have to remember it.  Getting the use of offers routine then and linked into the wider task can help it to become habitual and move it from something that needs to be specifically remembered to something that simply gets done.  Checking the offers available/opted into then allows individual product offers to provide a reminder - a target cue - which can help to prompt the consumer to find and select the product.

Before this can become an habitual activity however, we need the consumer to start doing it and remember to continue to do it. This essentially relies on prospective memory, with the consumer forming an intent to check the offers when they go shopping and to then actually carry this out.

Anything we can do to help strengthen activation of a prospective memory will be key to helping to turn the task into something that becomes habitual.

One approach that researches have showed works well is when people form implementation intentions.  This involves identifying when and where they will execute the intention and what cues will be present - basically visualising themselves carrying out the task.

The research also shows that people better remember to perform a delayed task when the target cue (the trigger) is encountered in the context of an ongoing task associated with the delayed intention than when the cue is encountered in a different context.  To put it another way, someone trying to remember to use a grocery product coupon will be more likely to recall the offer when in the supermarket - if this was the implementation intention - than when they see the product in their cupboard at home.  

The real trick here is what is termed the encoding - ensuring that the thing to remember (the offer) was specifically linked to the right target cue (being in the supermarket) and to the time (when you plan to shop).  

Encoding implementation intentions has been shown to improve prospective memory performance substantially - between 2-4x - so this works.

This linking of prospective memory intentions into a wider task can also help them to become habitual as it ties them to the bigger task such as grocery shopping which is much easier to remember due to more obvious target cues (i.e. empty cupboards!!)

Thinking about the issue with digital offers, it may well be good practice to not only allow someone to indicate their intention to take up the offers, but also to indicate when they will do it.  This could involve them flagging a likely location for the shop and a date when they may carry this out - forming an implementation intention for checking offers and linking it to a wider task of grocery shopping.

Doing this would also have the added advantage of allowing us to switch the prospective memory task from being an event based one (going shopping), for which we can’t influence the trigger cues, to a time based one which we can.  For example, knowing the intended date and time of the shop we could use an additional target cue such as adding a diary reminder to flag up at the agreed time as well as a location based notification when the customer is in the vicinity of the selected store at the appointed time.

Strong target cues which we can control also help to overcome another weakness within prospective remembering - which is that prospective memory is typically impaired when the current task is demanding.  

So if someone is busy doing something requiring a lot of memory based thinking, then it is less likely they will remember an intended action unless the target cue is highly salient.  Using the context of remembering a grocery offer, you could argue that the mere act of grocery shopping in a busy store with kids in tow is a taxing enough task on its own - trying to remember something that was on offer to you 5 days before will be less likely.  However, using time and location based notifications which are closely linked to the broader task of shopping makes it more likely that the intended task - using offers - will be remembered.

Retrieval of the intended task is also interesting as its not just triggered based on target cues - although these are shown to be very powerful.  

Interestingly, in one study by Kvavilashvili and Fisher (2007), they found that when participants were given a task of phoning the researchers back the following week, the participants typically recalled that task over the week around 8-11 times.  Many times this recall was found to be associated with trigger cues related to the task such as seeing a telephone.  However, more interestingly, around 40-50% of recollections were completely untriggered - they just popped into the participants head.

Knowing we recall an intention 8-10 times before its intended implementation could be a useful characteristic if directly catered for within a digital offers solution.

If consumers will randomly remember the need to check for offers a number times during the week, it may be possible to include functionality to reward this recall.  

For example, building in a “need” to review offers in the app - maybe to check for changes such as a better offer - could create a reason to check the offers regularly, helping to reinforce them and also ensuring that any date/time based implementation intention is still correct.

This whole area of prospective memory is still an emerging research area with differences of opinion as to exactly how we remember things and how this could be improved.  That said, given our increased reliance on the consumers memory as we remove physical target cues, combined with our ability to intelligently create new, highly relevant ones suggests this is an area we should pay more attention to as marketers.