Entertainment vs Usefulness – Which Builds More Loyalty?

On Wednesday, I talked about how digital marketers always tend to jump on fads, assuming they’ll become trends. I called it digital fluff. My position was that something has to become useful before it will have staying power. And our judgement of usefulness takes time. We have to get beyond the initial obsession with novelty. Marketers jump on channels when they’re still a novelty, which creates churn when the majority of these channels die away because they’re just not useful to the average person.

Lance Loveday posted a great comment and in it he brought up another potential factor of audience longevity and loyalty: entertainment value:

I’d add “entertaining” to usefulness as a requirement for achieving sustained behavior. TV and video games aren’t very useful, but they’ve definitely made sustained behavior status. I can only assume it’s because they’re entertaining.

Hmmm…the Psychology of Entertainment. Sounds like a good topic for a further post. In fact, I’m thinking a series of posts: How Our Brain responds to Entertainment.

After Lance’s post, I started doing some digging. In short time, I dug up a fairly rich vein of research into how our brain responds to entertainment. My goal is to find out why some types of entertainment have more staying power than other types. And then, once we discover the psychological underpinnings of entertainment, lets look at how that applies to some of the digital trends I disparaged: things like social networks, microblogging, mobile apps and online video. What role does entertainment play in online loyalty? How does it overlap with usefulness? How can digital entertainment fads survive the novelty curse and jump the chasm to a mainstream trends with legs? Why are we continually attracted to bright shiny objects to begin with? And is that trait universal or is it just a function of the early adopter tendencies of the current online audience?

I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to go through the research, but already, some interesting titbits have come to the top that present some compelling questions:

Why Does Fiction Typically Outsell Non Fiction?

If you look at the best selling books of 2009, or any year for that matter, you’ll almost always find that fiction tops the list. And, when you do get down to the fiction books, you’ll probably find that close to the top is a book by Malcolm Gladwell. Why? Well, in both instances, we’re suckers for the appeal of a story. We enjoy narratives much more so than rhetoric. Gladwell is a master of this. He wraps his points (and he always has a point) in a rich tapestry of anecdotes and stories.

Why do humans love stories? Well, it appears it’s a hardwired trait. Research seems to indicate our brains process narrative differently than rhetoric. This is one area I’ll be diving deeper into.

What Makes some TV Shows Great and Some Flashes in the Pan?

Lance brought up the example of TV as a bed for sustained behaviour. There is probably no source of sociological data richer in the past half century than our TV viewing habits. I’ll be taking a look at what separates a one season wonder from a multi season success story.

What is the Appeal of a Video Game anyway?

Lance’s other example was video games. Here there’s a psychological buffet of hardwired enticements. In fact, some psychologists are worried that the jolt received from video games may be addictive – a mainline hit of dopamine producing stimuli wired directly to our pleasure centres.

Why Do Boys play Video Games Much more often than Girls?

Video games may be addictive, but the danger seems to be much greater with males than females. We’ll explore why.

What is the Entertainment Value of Social Networks?

Of all the trends playing out currently online, that of social networks seems to be the most prevalent. Are social networks useful, or simply entertaining? Are they in transition from entertainment to usefulness? What is the future of social networking?

Can Online Compete with TV for Entertainment Value?

When we look at where our entertainment comes from, we’re definitely a culture in transition. Increasingly, more and more of our video consumption is online. So, if we find that entertainment and usefulness are both factors in online audience loyalty, what does this mean for future marketing?

The Difference Between Entertainment and Usefulness in Targeting Strategies?

At some point, I’ll have to address the fundamental question raised by Lance: If entertainment is also important, what are the implications for marketers? What mental modes are in place in both instances? This gets to some of the fundamental questions I’ve been wrestling with in marketing – the nature of engagement, the role of intent, the question of attribution. What is the difference in a strategy for search (usefulness) vs a strategy for Hulu (entertainment). And, does online bring about a significant paradigm shift as the worlds of usefulness and entertainment come closer to merging?

Lance..you got me thinking. Stay tuned!

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