#TBT: Reward Me, Don’t Pay Me

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Reward Me, Don’t Pay Me.

The brilliant Damian Bazadona wrote a piece that’s worth reading on an entertainment marketing website. Here’s a key tidbit:

“Oh, please no. The idea of brands rewarding consumers financially or otherwise through a mainstream digital platform for promoting products to friends just gives me a knee-jerk reaction of PLEASE NO. We all survive in some way, shape or form off of the recommendations of friends and colleagues. Do we really need to now develop a marketing platform that claws at the authenticity of the consumer driven referral?”

"Summertime lunch @ Bryant Park," © 2009  Ed Yourdon, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Photo Credit: “Summertime lunch @ Bryant Park,” © 2009
Ed Yourdon, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

I know exactly what he means. He’s referring to a comment made by Dennis Crowley of Foursquare who said that next up will be the ability to know which members of a social network actually have influence. Damian quotes Crowley saying, “Once that happens, marketers will be able to reward the most influential users for mentioning them.”

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about rewards of this kind, and I think it applies here. Most people don’t want to get paid to sell out their friends. There are some people, it must be noted, who don’t care. The ones who forward emails to you day and night and are in it for the cash and prizes. Most people, though, would rather feel that they’re sharing something valuable, and then if there’s some recognition for it, great. If this kind of thing is pitched as something the customer is supposed to be doing FOR the money, you’re going to narrow the audience significantly because most people are not comfortable selling something at all — much less for a few measly bucks or a free latte. Very, very few people sell Amway because they love the products.

Here’s another thing, Damian. I have a funny feeling the “authenticity of the consumer-driven referral” has already been significantly eroded. As different forms of media have become progressively less effective, marketers have tapped into person-to-person referrals in ways that aren’t constructive and have, therefore, muddied the water. I think we’re in for a bifurcation in person-to-person referrals: those that you can see from a mile away are being done for money and those that are done from personal enthusiasm. They’re not mutually exclusive, but whereas they’ve been pretty much blended, we’re likely to seem them separate. Naturally, performance on the paid side will (and probably already has) plummet; there will be (I’d argue already is) a war to raise the bounties and payoffs but, eventually, the market for that will top out.

True person-to-person referrals will quietly march on the whole time. If you happen to thank the people who do that for you, you’re in good shape. They’ll feel appreciated and be more likely to do it again without feeling like they’ve sold their friends down the river.

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