This weekend I had my first chance in a long while to see a movie. I arrived at the theater earlier than I had planned. I bought my ticket for “No Country for Old Men” and found myself roaming around the 16-screen multiplex with some time to kill. Naturally, I gravitated towards the arcade games, all corralled neatly into a corner across from the concession counter. I felt a bit out of place, my oldest compatriot among the games being no older than 13, but it wasn’t too long before I found myself seated behind the wheel of an old classic, “Cruisin’ USA.”
So now you’re wondering why you devoted 20 seconds of your valuable time to reading about my excursion to the movie theater. The answer is that I noticed something while playing Cruisin’ USA that had never occurred to me before. That is: the Cruisin’ USA arcade game is a perfect allegory for the race that is social media marketing. Don’t believe me? Read on.
For those of you not familiar with the territory, Arcade racing games are different from the kind of racing games that you have for your (or your kids’) Playstation or Xbox. In household console games, you have already spent all the money to buy them so they allow you to focus on the racing aspect. But an arcade game is different, charging you only seventy five cents to start playing. Now, I realize that not everyone reading this has played a racing arcade game so I’ll break it down really simply. You put your money in, and you start to race. But at the top of the screen is a timer which counts down from, say, 30 seconds. Roughly 30 seconds away on the virtual race course is a checkpoint. If you make it through the checkpoint before the timer runs out then you get an additional 30 seconds to make it to the next checkpoint. So you see, you’re not just trying to get past the finish line before all the other racers, you are trying to complete each piece of the race course before the timer runs out. It doesn’t matter if you are in first place; if you don’t make it past the checkpoint before the timer runs out, you will have to put more quarters in to keep playing.
So “how is this like social media marketing?” you ask. As social media marketers, we serve two masters. On one hand, we champion a new marketing zeitgeist, a theory of facilitation and consumer engagement rather than hard sales. But, on the other hand, we have clients who are trying sell their products or services and we must produce results. In order to do our jobs effectively, we need to think of the marketing process more like a Cruisin’ USA race, where we need to first focus on completing each section in time and then worry about winning the race. In reality, each consumer is an individual with many things to do on (and off) the internet. If they give us their attention we have to remember that we have it for only a short amount of time and, like Cruisin’ USA, we have to work hard to get through that checkpoint and keep their attention for a little longer. Let’s use a viral video campaign as an example.
- You have just finished producing a great viral video for your new client and you have put it out on the net. But people need to see it. Let’s say you have roughly 10 seconds to get to that first checkpoint where the people actually watch the video. How do you successfully get your consumers (racecars) past that checkpoint? Well, you need a great title, a good description, and great placement so that people want to start the race. As people start to watch it, they will ideally tell their friends about it and those friends will decide to watch it.
- So your title and placement was good and you got a bunch of consumers past that first checkpoint. You’ve piqued some peoples’ interest and now you have about 1 minute to get to that next checkpoint. This section of the race is the video itself. It has to be good. It must be compelling, funny, amazing, sexy, cute, or otherwise interesting enough that it holds peoples’ attention. If it’s not, then you’re going to run out of time, the game will be over, and those potential customers will navigate somewhere else. But your video is good, so you make it to that second check point with time to spare and you get another time bonus.
- Now you’ve got people interested and gained a couple minutes more of the consumers’ attention. This stage of the race is the website that is referenced at the end of your awesome video. It is a specially crafted landing page that helps bridge the gap between funny video and why the consumer actually needs to buy your product. The page has to do a lot of things and you only have about two minutes to keep racing. But your site is great and you get to that third checkpoint with time left on the clock.
- This is the final leg of the race as you head for the finish line. The customer has decided to buy your service or product, or donate to your cause, or sign up, or whatever you want them to do. You have gotten another minute time bonus to work with in order to finish the race. But, of course, the purchase/donation/sign up process on your site is easy and streamlined so your cross the finish line in first place and you have turned that potential customer into a customer. That consumer has chosen to give you their time and you have not abused it. You have won their attention at every stage. You have done your job as a social media marketer.
It truly is amazing how perfect of an allegory the Cruisin’ USA game is for the process that marketers must go through. Everything correlates:
- You are the player sitting at the wheel, trying to do your best to get consumers to want to race with you.
- The car is the consumer that you are trying to influence. You want to provide them with engaging marketing so that they want to line up on that starting line with you at the helm.
- The course (whether easy or difficult) is the natural path towards your product.
- The random cars and obstacles are distractions threatening to take the attention of the consumer.
- The other racers are competitors trying to cross the finish line before you do in order to make you lose the game. They are doing all they can to steal your customers, take your market share, or otherwise ruin your perfectly good race.
- The clock and the checkpoints are the constant reminders that you have to take the process one step at a time.
In the web 2.0 world, you don’t have influence over the consumer for an entire race and don’t have the luxury of driving them around however you please. In web 2.0, the consumer runs the show and you have to work hard, engage them, and earn their attention in many small stages in order to win the game. We all know that consumers aren’t just going to say, “Hey I have 15 free minutes, why do you try to sell me something.” When they stumble across your site, or get your video emailed from their friend, you have a very short time to earn their trust and attention and through the whole process you need to keep on pulling. You need to be racing the clock and the competitors at the same time in order to win the race and end up with a customer. It is not the easiest task, but it can certainly be made easier by visualizing the larger race as a series of stages and focusing on engaging the customer at each and every turn. Or as a wise man once told me, “take care of the little things, and the big things will fall into place.”