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January 17th, 2022 3 minute read

More Fuel or Less Friction?

Rob Seas Content Strategist/Copywriter

A recent episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain with Shankar Vedantam highlighted the topic of fuel versus friction. According to their website, “Hidden Brain explores the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior and questions that lie at the heart of our complex and changing world.” As marketers, we explore the same territory of human behavior. And fuel versus friction is an important topic that touches on many aspects of marketing.

Listen to the podcast if you have the time. If not, here’s the gist: Sometimes you don’t need to make an offer more attractive, you just need to identify and remove impediments to induce folks to take the desired action. The knee jerk reaction of many marketers is making the offer more attractive but that’s often not the answer.

The show provided two great examples, where primary research and the development of an empathetic connection with the intended audience led to insights about what was motivating potential customers.

The Friction Was Baked In

The first cake mixes were invented by a Pittsburgh company called P. Duff and Sons in the 1930s. It was a revolutionary new product category that was quickly picked up by competitors like Pillsbury and General Mills. All you had to do was add water. Initially, this innovative product enjoyed soaring sales until they inexplicably dropped off in the mid 1950s. New customers were hard to come by once the novelty wore off.

There were two problems that centered on a single ingredient, dried eggs. First, dried eggs led to inferior cakes. They stuck to the pan, had poor texture, a shorter shelf life, and a strong egg flavor. Second, their research indicated that people felt like mixes were a poor substitute for a cake made with care from scratch. Simply taking out the powdered egg and allowing bakers to add fresh eggs gave them a sense of making an effort and having a role in the baking process. And the flavor and texture was superior. The rest is history.

Out With The Old

Beach House was a furniture startup that targeted young folks making their first new furniture purchase, typically a couch. Their couches could be customized to the individual’s space and the company had great engagement with the target demographic but sales lagged. After doing more primary research, they found that the buyers weren’t sure how to get rid of their old couches. When they added the service of removing the old couch when the new one was delivered, sales went through the roof.

Both examples illustrate that friction is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to consumer behavior and marketing. Understanding and removing friction requires thorough, empathetic knowledge of your customers. This knowledge is often developed in the course of interactions with customers by asking questions and openly communicating with them. Alternatively, you can conduct primary research in the form of a customer survey or engage a marketing firm to dig more deeply into customer research with focus groups and extensive interviews.

Language Matters

Customer knowledge extends beyond your immediate interactions with them to include cultural awareness. Marketing in other cultures requires sensitivity to language and other differences.

For example, when Coca Cola and Pepsi first introduced their products to China, they failed to adequately address cultural and language issues. Coca Cola chose to use a Chinese phrase that sounded like the original name. Unfortunately, that phrase translated to “Bite the Wax Tadpole.” Pepsi introduced a new slogan for their product, “Pepsi brings you back to life.” To their Chinese customers, however, the slogan meant “Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life.” Both companies had to revamp their Chinese campaigns.

Generation Gaps

Cultural differences encompass more than distinctions between national or ethnic identities. They also include generational differences. We noted some of those differences in a recent blog about the fact that marketers are currently facing the need to appeal to three generations at the same time. Each generation’s experience shapes who they are and how they spend. You need to pay close attention to your marketing strategies and messages to ensure they appeal across generations.

One of Kinetic’s clients, City Brew Coffee, experienced this generation gap friction firsthand during the recent labor shortage. They were having trouble getting prospective employees to complete the application process. After research and reflection they determined that the younger generation found their application process too cumbersome and lengthy. Reducing the application to a single page and launching an apply by text campaign that allowed people to choose interview times was the answer to the friction they unearthed. The result: a substantial increase in applications has allowed them to fill more positions.

As you address the big marketing challenges of 2022 and beyond, pause to consider whether addressing friction might pay more dividends than simply sweetening the offer. And if you need help understanding your customers at a deeper level, Kinetic can provide insight through primary research.

Rob Seas

Content Strategist/Copywriter

It all began with a father-son fly-fishing trip at 16 years old, and Rob was hooked on Montana. Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, it took a little while for him to make his way here for good. But in the meantime, he graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Magazine Journalism, held a variety of editorial positions across the country and worked as a freelance web developer for companies large and small, ranging from startups to international corporations like Visa, The Nature Conservancy, and Levi Strauss & Co.

He still loves to fish – and hunt, work magic in the kitchen… and he’s an artist. All of this experience, worldliness and creativity means that Rob is an incredible Kinetic talent and invaluable asset to the team and our clients.

Read more about Rob