The Surefire Way to Make Your Customers Leave You!


If your customers are looking at other websites for the best deals before they buy from you, then your persuasion strategy is weak. It may work tactically but it is bound to fail in the long run. What you need to do instead is target the deeper drives of the customer to build brand engagement and loyalty.

I met the CEO of a multi-national travel company recently. She was narrating how Indians want the best value for their money. Paisa vasool, I chimed. She said even the uber wealthy are constantly on the lookout for cheaper deals and would rather close the transaction in person, in the hope of getting that extra something. “It’s in our DNA,” she asserted. May be the D stood for “Deals,” I snickered.

This insight did not come as a surprise to me. Because when we did the user research for her premium travel brand, the number one thing most Indian customers looked out for on the revised designs was deals. And these customers were rich. Rich enough to have personal assistants to book their travel for them. Rich enough to not bother using the various widget controls to narrow down their search results because they couldn’t care less – “What, me click?!” And yet when we asked them to think out loud as they saw our new designs during the user research, the first thing most of them asked was, “Where are the deals?”

The Challenge
For an expert in the science and art of persuasion user experience design, this is a tad worrying (see the lines on my forehead?). Providing customers with extrinsic rewards is definitely persuasive and will surely get your products rolling off the shelves. But only for now. In the long run, this strategy does more harm than good. Like life.

Allow me to regale you with this analogy from, well, life: Once there was an old man who retired recently. He moved to a new neighborhood and all he wanted in his final years was some peace and quiet. Instead, he got raucous kids (of the rugrats kind) who constantly made noise outside his house. His repeated requests to tone it down were received with as much enthusiasm as the words “cavity search.”

One day he got an idea. He told the kids he would give them Rs 50 every day to make as much noise as they could outside his house. In their infinite wisdom the innocent children correctly assessed that the old man was going senile and that they should lap up the offer before he got better.  So, for the next couple of the days, the old man rewarded them with Rs 50. And for the next couple of day the kids made as much noise as they could.

Then, on the fifth day, as they approached the old man for their remuneration for a job well done, the old man said, “Look kids, I am but a poor, old, retired man. I cannot afford to pay your Rs 50 every day. Can you please make the noise for free?”

No child was ever seen close to his place for infinity. Let alone make noise free.

Be it rats or human rugrats. The behavior observed is very similar. Condition them by giving them a reward to do something that you want them to do (like buy your products) and they will. Pull out the reward and they will leave you like bat crazy. Or, worse, go to a competitor site for a better reward.

Sadly, this is the state of most e-commerce brands in India. And if your customers are looking at different websites for the best deals before they buy from you, then you or your domain have already conditioned them to leave you the minute your brand stops the reward, or if they get a better reward elsewhere on a competitor’s site!

Here are a few examples of some top e-commerce brands in India whose sole persuasion strategy seems to be deals.

The travel websites are even more aggressive in offering extrinsic rewards.

If not deals, then what?

Deals or value for money do drive customers. You could retail deals as part of your tactical strategy. Especially now that you have conditioned your customers for deals. It will help pull the customers in. But once they are in, you could use far greater intrinsic drivers that could be part of your long term strat. For example, the drive to online shopping could be social belonging, esteem, social pressure, or how I perceive myself.

Look at the examples of different travel brands below. Each travel brand caters to different intrinsic drives. The last one focuses only on the extrinsic reward of deals. Which one of these brands will create a better longterm brand loyalty and engagement?

Travel experience designed for Social Needs – “Find a travel buddy”

Travel experience designed for Esteem – “We will make you feel important and special”

Travel experience designed for Control – “DIY your holiday

Travel experience designed for How I Perceive Myself – “Express who you are by the way you travel”

Travel experience designed for Extrinsic Rewards – “10% cash back offer/deals/lowest fares”
(Note: If a competitor site offers 15% cash back, will you buy from the competitor’s brand?)

Bottom line
It’s not surprising then that big successful brands are not built on deals. Coca Cola is all about “Open happiness.” Pepsi is all about “Live for now.” Nike is about “Just do it.” All these multi national brands that spend billions of dollars in marketing do not use extrinsic rewards as their primary persuasion strategy. Instead, they focus on offering something more intrinsic that helps them build longterm brand loyalty and engagement with the customers.

A good persuasion strategy comes from good persuasion research. And a good persuasion research tries to find the deep drives (and blocks) of users that make them buy your brand. From this persuasion research comes your frame – “Drinking cola will make you happy” and a meme (something that is viral in nature) – “Open happiness.” This is powerful!

Only using rewards as your persuasion strategy is weak. It may work tactically but it is bound to fail in the long run. Instead, target the deeper drives of the customer through persuasion research. This will not just translate into sales. But also give you brand engagement and loyalty. Unlike rugrats.


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About Thinking Aloud

“Thinking Aloud” reflects the emerging trends and varied outlook of the rapidly evolving internet and communication sector. An IAMAI publication, this is a part of the market education initiative of the association.

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