The other day I bought a candy bar at checkout. A few minutes later I realized what I did and buying that candy bar made me mad! I was 10% angry at the chocolate company for purchasing checkout space and 90% mad at myself for making that thoughtless purchase.
We like to think we cannot be fooled. We want to believe we make better decisions than other people. We like to think we can’t be played.
Unfortunately, our brains are not optimized to make the very best decisions all the time. Our minds rely on many shortcuts like heuristics, biases, and calculations we are not even consciously aware of. These shortcuts make us act irrationally, make poor decisions, take needless risks, or take no action at all when action is needed.
Sometimes we go with the flow not realizing anything is wrong and then in retrospect, we wish we had said something. Other times we feel forced into making a quick decision and regret it later. Sometimes we act on auto-pilot and find ourselves wondering why we did that.
If everyone always acted in everyone else’s best interests our flawed brains wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, there are those who know our loopholes and are exploiting them for their purposes.
Food companies make addictive food.
Media companies make binge-worthy media.
Retailers know how to get you to buy items you do not need.
It is worth it to them to capture our minds, attention, hearts, and dollars. And so they have developed affinity programs, gamification, predatory sales tactics, and much, much more.
And we, their consumers, know it. We realize when we do precisely what these companies what us to do, and we feel like they are taking advantage of us. We lament the airlines’ frequent flier programs. We are closet players of silly video games. We hang up on telemarketers because we know if we stay on the line they may guilt us into a purchase or donation, not in the budget.
We don’t like feeling like we were just gamed. But these predatory tactics work for the big corporations, so they keep doing it.
What does this have to do with member engagement? Those member engagement shortcuts may do precisely to our members what the big corporations do to us. It seems harmless when we ask:
Should we create an affinity program?
Should we add more gamification to our conference app?
Should we force non-members to buy a membership to attend the conference?
Sure, these things might work. They might work well. But each time we come up with a strategy that benefits the association more than the member, members know. They feel played, and they don’t like it. (By the way, I am also not saying that these three tactics are inherently bad, it depends on how members perceive their value).
Could it be that some of the tactics we are using to build engagement look good on paper but actually achieve the opposite result as they prevent real member engagement?