Jonah Berger, "The more someone spends time and attention with you, the more likely they are to engage with you downstream."

Jonah Berger: Make Marketing Part of the Experience, Not an Interruption

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Jonah Berger discusses what makes one customer experiences more engaging than another in this DX Leaders Interview

Jonah Berger is fascinated by what makes one customer experience more engaging than another, and why some brands attract more buzz than their peers.

With a hard science background in math, science and computer science, he was curious about applying the same type of rigorous experimentation and statistical analysis to examining social behavior. “Social behavior often seems much more complex than the movement of atoms or gravity,” Berger said. “But if we have the right tools and the right data, we can actually understand and predict and even influence a lot of social behavior.”

Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He joined the Wharton School in 2007 after gaining a doctorate in marketing from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Harness the Power of Culture 

Berger didn’t originally consider pursuing a career in academia, his goal was more to work in marketing for a brand like Nike. But after doing some academic research in college, he saw academia as a great fit for him.

“I love the ability to explore a range of academic questions and also help organizations,” Berger said. “I’ve worked with dozens of companies from the Googles and the Nikes and the Apples to small startups to help them think about issues of customer experience and digital and marketing. So it’s been a great job with a lot of flexibility.”

Along with teaching, research and consultancy, Berger has written several books, including “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior.” His latest book is “Cultural Velocity: Making Ideas Move,” co-authored with Stefan Burford, global chief strategy officer of communications agency Intuitive. The book examines how today’s brands could benefit from harnessing popular culture.

“We were really interested in the power of culture to transform and to carry ideas,” Berger said. “If we can get culture to carry our messages, those messages are going to have much more of an impact.”

Berger is a speaker at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago. He is giving a session at the conference titled “The 6 Principles of a World-Class Customer Experience,” on Nov. 6.

We spoke with Berger to get his thoughts on how organizations should approach brand loyalty; the current state of marketing; and the increasing use of personalization.

Think Beyond Behavioral Customer Loyalty to Create Attitudinal Loyalty

CMSWire: What one thing should organizations trying to boost brand loyalty stop doing immediately, and why do they need to do so?

Berger: I think we often think about loyalty programs as the way to engender loyalty. If we just give people points, if we pay people, we give them some sort of gamification, they'll be much more likely to behave a specific way. But while that creates behavioral loyalty so people end up sticking with the brand, it doesn’t really create attitudinal loyalty.

I think about the way most of us feel towards the airlines that we’re frequent flyers of — we don’t necessarily love those airlines, but we have all our miles with them. And so, we’re unwilling to switch airlines, at least in the short term.

To generate great word of mouth, to build brand love, and to generate engagement, we need to stop just thinking about loyalty in terms of behaviors and getting people to stick with us, and really think in terms of how to engender attitudinal loyalty.

How do we make people love our brand? How do we make them want to talk about us, whether we give them points or not? Loyalty programs aren’t the only way to generate loyalty.

CMSWire: What one thing are organizations not yet doing, which would help them to make their customer experiences more engaging, and why will it be so helpful?

Berger: This is along the same lines as my previous answer. It’s really thinking about how do we drive word of mouth.

Too many brands when they think about loyalty, when they think about engagement, they think digital. Certainly, digital is a powerful way to engage with customers. Social media is a great tool to engage with customers, but it’s not the only tool.

Less than 10% of all word of mouth is online, so it’s actually offline, it’s face-to-face. So, to really engage with our customers and to become more successful organizations, we need to engage with our customers, both online and offline.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what’s the current state of marketing? What’s going well and where are improvements needed? In a world where everyone is — or will soon effectively become — their own media company, how does marketing shift in terms of its role, influence and importance within organizations?

Learning Opportunities

Berger: So you sort of alluded this in your question, but I think a lot of marketers now are thinking about content marketing rather than using paid media where we interrupt something someone’s interested in to tell them how great we are.

How can we create content, whether an article, a video, or an in-store experience, and how do we get people to consume that content or that experience as a way to engage with us rather than making our content the interruption between something they want to be doing? How can we make our content what they want to be doing in the first place?

That’s what the companies that do good content marketing are very good at — thinking about marketing not as an interruption, but marketing as the experience itself online or offline.

It’s about building engaging content and experiences that get consumers to spend time with brands because the currency isn’t money, the currency is time and attention. The more someone spends time and attention with you, the more likely they are to engage with you downstream.

CMSWire: What are your thoughts on how digital customer experience will continue to evolve in future? What role might artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other emerging technologies play?

Berger: Artificial intelligence is certainly going to play a role in updating digital customer experience, not necessarily as much on the customer side but on the brand side. It will be helping us understand what customers are likely to do and what content might be most valuable to them.

I think when we think about things like AI, AR and VR, I think many brands are sort of chasing something that’s not totally there at the moment. Sure, there are definitely opportunities in that space. But more brands are going after something than have actually figured out what to do with those technologies. So what you have to think about is what is the use of this technology for a particular brand?

CMSWire: What’s your take on the increasing use of personalization within digital consumer experience and in marketing in general? What do you see as the likely pros and cons of organizations adopting a more 1:1 marketing approach based on individual customers’ data?

Berger: I think personalization is great, not just personalized marketing, but really personalized engagement. Think about what brands do with recommendations, for example.

Brands don’t just say, ‘Hey, let me give the same recommendation for everybody.’ They say, ‘Given your past behavior and your interests, we think this is a really good fit with you.’ And consumers are happy when brands recommend things to them that are a good fit. Consumers get unhappy when brands recommend things to them that are not a good fit.

When we can use digital data, the bread crumbs that are out there, as well as AI and other tools to really figure out what consumers want and deliver them what they want at the right time, then we’re going to be much more successful.

People often talk about marketing as not being selling what you can make or what you really think you’re good at and just trying to push it out there. Instead, marketing is really about making what you can sell. It’s understanding your customer, starting with the customer needs, and then using that knowledge to build products and services and suggestions and recommendations that will fit those needs.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit.

About the author

China Louise Martens

China Louise Martens has been fascinated by how individuals and organizations choose and use business software for over 20 years. To dig deeper, she’s interviewed and profiled end users, developers and executives as well as software vendors and IT observers.