Don’t Discount the Primacy Effect

Updating my iPhone 4 to iOS7 was pretty much a fiasco.

Not only did the process halt about 3/4 of the way through, but I was then forced to wipe my phone, start clean and  reload my latest backup. All told, this gobbled over an hour of my day, leaving me with a sour stomach, elevated blood pressure, and an aura of co-mingled sweat and fear. My reward for relying so much on technology. Thanks, Apple. I can’t wait to update the iPad.

safari-compareThe real surprise came when my iPhone returned to life. I mentally kick boxed myself for having reflexively clicked “yes” on the update request before first reading up on what to expect. As you probably know by now, while the past few “minor” iOS updates had essentially left the interface intact, this new operating system was…different. Brighter colors, less texture and shading, new icons, and new security. Like an alternate sci-fi universe that’s close but not quite like our own, simultaneously jarring and comforting.

I was forced to halt to my day a second time to pay serious attention to this unexpected challenge. A flood of questions: What was new? What was removed? What features switched places? Would I like this new interface over time? Was it better than the old iOS?

The Struggle of New vs. Old Users

Faced with the redesign, I immediately thought of what marketers know as the Primacy Effect. No, it’s not a hotly anticipated Tom Cruise movie. It’s the psychological tendency to remember and favor what we know over what comes later. The primacy effect is our bias towards the familiar. It dramatically impacts our initial experience with any new redesign, whether it’s a Web site, a car interior or a mobile phone, and it often reveals itself as an initial lag in adoption or acceptance. Smart companies and marketers recognize this phenomenon.

Which Test Won recently presented an excellent example of this effect (now in their archives). In an A/B test, marketers compared click thrus on two newsletter formats: the original text-only version (the control) and a new, slicker HTML version (the redesign). They segmented the audience by subscription date (newer vs. older subscribers) and ran an email test to see whether the new format increased the number of clicks on linked offers in the email.

The test data showed that newer subscribers significantly and more frequently clicked on links in the new HTML format. Success! However…long-time or repeat list members  clicked less frequently on the HTML version and at about the same rate as they’d previously done on the text-only version. Follow-up testing suggested that this was merely the primacy effect in action, not a dislike of the new format. The HTML version became the standard, and long-time members eventually adjusted.

What can we learn from this experiment?

  • First, understand your audience. The segmentation of repeat vs. new subscribers was a savvy approach to analyzing the short- and long-term effects a redesign. There’s no other way do detect the primacy effect.
  • Second, test over a longer period of time. The Which Test Won case study shows how the primacy effect can give the control version a short-term advantage over the new variant. Don’t be in such a hurry to conclude your testing.
  • And third, consider incremental change over radical redesign. If the lion’s share of your business depends on repeat customers, ease them into change through communication and experimentation.

Back to my iPhone

After learning enough of iOS7 to regain control of my phone, I launched an informal survey of my iPhone-loving acquaintances. It revealed that while few of us love the new iOS7, we’re all resigned to accepting it. Apple’s most certainly got a handle on this, having tested and retested the interface, curried the favor of influential analysts and reviewers, and adjusted iOS7 enough to limit any customer backlash. They know that the abundance of cool, Android-like features will be a hit with new customers and that the majority of us existing customers will fall in line, as we always do.

If you feel that learning this new iOS is a waste of your time, go ahead and blame Apple. But in the end, as we grit our teeth and rewire our existing phone habits, recognize that we have the primacy effect to thank as well.

Denver Startup Week is Here!

I regrettably missed out on the inaugural Denver Startup Week in 2012, and so I was determined to attend at least a portion of this time around. This year’s event is an entirely different beast (which you can read about on The Denver Post site if you can get past the barrage of annoying ads). It’s twice the size, with over 125 scheduled events – all of which are free. I do like free.

I scored a ticket to the Monday opening luncheon, which featured the popular marketing guru Seth Godin as the main speaker. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not wired for hero worship, but as a long-time follower of Godin’s blog and writing, I do admire many of his insights. I’d never heard him speak live, and he delivered a thoughtful keynote that touched on many of his standard themes (marketing to tribes, becoming a purple cow, etc…), punctuated with apt examples from real-world businesses.

I furiously scribbled down a few of his ideas, which I paraphrase here:

  • On our changing world: “The music industry is dead. Music is doing fine.”
  • On relationship marketing: “There are two ways you can try to get married: go to a singles bar and ask every stranger you meet to marry you or go on a series of dates and get to know your intended bride first. Does anyone think the first method really works?”
  • On your tribe (who you market to): “Your real mission is to delight and overwhelm them, to become an indispensable supplier to them such that they cannot go forward without you.”
  • On how companies succeed: “You cannot buy mind space with cash. You must buy it with connections.”
  • On how we must market in today’s world: “Build a story worth spreading.”

I Break for Butterflies

Years ago, my wife bought me a small, mostly black-and-white fine print titled “Fully Vested in 3 Weeks.” It depicts a businessman sitting in an office, hunched over in concentration. What draws your eyes are the enormous, incongruous yellow-green butterfly wings growing out from behind his back. I’ve always loved that piece; it perfectly captures the jumbled suffering you feel with impending, but not-yet-realized, freedom. Oh, so close!

This summer, I’ve enjoyed watching real butterflies flit freely around our sheltered yard, doing as they please and going wherever they care to go. Although we live close to the heart of Denver, we still manage to see an abundance of small creatures: dragonflies, pill bugs, ladybugs, snails, paper wasps, kitchen ants. A month ago, when I discovered a butterfly chrysalis fastened to an adjustable wrench I’d left on the porch, I was barely surprised.

After I convinced my skeptical daughter Jane that it was real, we began our scientific experiment. So many questions: What species was it? Was it living? Could we hatch it?  Was it still alive after Jane’s constant manhandling?

butterflyOur first answer came within days. We emailed pictures of the chrysalis to David Bettman, our favorite Curatorial Assistant in Entomology at the Krell Lab at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and to Amber Lynn Partridge, Entomologist Manager at the Butterfly Pavilion. They separately confirmed it was a form of Western Tiger Swallowtail (thanks!), which made sense, since we see those in our yard every summer.

Both entomologists warned us that it might not emerge until next spring, but we decided to try to hatch it. I glued it to a piece of paper, taped the paper to the roof of the butterfly cage, and promptly forgot it. Then, last Saturday morning, we awoke to discover a live Swallowtail (pictured above) in our cage! Its droopy, velvety wings suggested that we had barely missed the hatching. When Jane put her hand in the cage, it walked to her and clung on like a new, best friend.

We jettisoned our morning plans, instead lingering by the cage to see what would happen. “She” was a perfect specimen, with everything outsized: huge compound eyes, antennae, proboscis, body and wings. It seemed hardly credible that a butterfly more than four inches wide (bigger than some of the birds we see our yard) could have emerged from a mere inch-long chrysalis. Jane christened her “Zing,” and we watched as she slowly dried, firming up and flexing her wings. A few hours later, we released her, recording the maiden flight around our yard on my phone. Then Zing disappeared into the world, fully vested.

I’m going to resist the impulse to mine any deeper meaning regarding this metamorphosis. Why over think it? Life is change, and just occasionally, even we city dwellers are blessed bystanders to its pure amazingness.

Marketing I Admire – Caribou Coffee

As of late, I’ve been frequently asked: “Which companies’ marketing programs do you most admire?” I’ve never loved this question, in part because I’m not wired for blind marketing hero-worship, but more because I view companies over the axis of time, as their campaigns swing from delightful to dreadful and back.

No one, no matter how amazing their marketing prowess, can hit it out of the ballpark every time. Just look at Apple’s less-than-inspiring “Designed by Apple in California” campaign.

That said, I do feel a distinct thrill when I interact with a business that uses its brand to truly understand and engage the customer. Caribou Coffee does this so consistently well that after heading to the coffee line, I always take a moment to scan the signage, merchandise, cups, napkins, etc… for their latest messaging. They’ve generated a loyal following because they (1) totally grok the needs of their customer, and (2) carefully bake their brand into every possible customer-facing opportunity.

caribouAs an example, take a look at the coffee cup and holder pictured here on the right. After sucking down half my latte, I finally focused on the copy, which:

  • Perfectly captured their friendly “personality” (brand),
  • Teasingly asked for my opinion (compare this to my less salutary Excel Dryer experience), and
  • Succinctly delivered their memorable tagline on why most of us are really drinking coffee: to stay awake and alert for the moments that matter most. Like driving or interviewing.

Notice what’s missing: fuzzy bromides on the superb quality of their coffee, their exclusive bean selection process or why they’re so much better than the competition. They’re not talking about themselves. Instead, they’re purposefully dedicating this valuable space to build a connection, an ongoing conversation about values. It’s an essential two-way dialogue, like my friend Casey Demchak discusses in his books and Web site.

I bit down hard on the bait and found myself hauled onto their Web site, creating a custom cup message and even uploading a photo to match my note. For my time and effort, they rewarded me with a memorable, interactive moment and a downloadable jpg of the cup. In exchange, I gave them my permission to email me and even supplied my zip code, which I am sure they will use to track and target me. I also liked them on Facebook.

caribou3And I didn’t mind at all. They gave me a unique experience, made me stop and consider what I valued, and thanked me. That’s rare and refreshing, like the guy you meet at a party who – instead of monologuing his dreary life story – leads off by asking what you’re passionate about. The next time I am passing a Caribou Coffee store and need to stay awake, they’ve got my business, hands down.

They’re producing powerful, well executed brand and content marketing. I can’t vouch for what they will do with my data, if and how well they will nurture me to spend more money with them. Follow through is half the battle, and many marketing organizations still haven’t got that down.

But I will say this: I admire you, Caribou Coffee. Keep up the stellar work.