Imagine you are in the following situation: You get a piece of chocolate from your colleague. But actually you were just about to have lunch.
What do you do in this situation?
Do you eat the chocolate right away and then go to lunch? Or do you wait and eat the chocolate with your after-lunch-coffee?
The Marshmallow Experiment
In a famous study by Walter Mischel 4 year old children were given the option of eating one marshmallow right away or getting two, when they wait until the researcher gets back. Watch this video below to see the children’s behavior. This is not from the actual study but just to get an impression.
As you can see there is a difference in behavior. Some children can not wait and eat the delicious marshmallow right away. Other children are using every possible trick to prevent themselves from eating the marshmallow. Sitting on their hands or looking away, so they will not see the marshmallow.
A follow-up to this study took place 14 years later and the parents and teachers of the now grown-ups were asked about the behavior of the children.
Children who ate the marshmallow right away are described as looking for instant gratification. As grown-ups they were overall more troubled, less self-confident and could not concentrate that good on goals which take longer to achieve (like studying).
Children who waited to get two marshmallows could wait for delayed gratification. Later on in life they were overall more positive and could better concentrate on long term goals, like studying. (1)
Of course I have to say that these are statistical results, so it can not be said that these results are true for every child (or person). Some children who looked for the instant gratification, could still change their behavior and fall into the category of delayed gratification.
How can you use the insights for your marketing strategy?
In this German advertisement the idea of the marshmallow experiment is used to show that children can not wait to see what they get as a surprise:
Of course you can focus on showing your magnificent content to people who can not wait to read it. But there are other ways we can use the insights from Walter Mischel’s experiment.
The key takeaway from this study for modern marketing is the importance of a long term marketing strategy, so to say delayed gratification marketing. Building up a long term relationship with your customers is key, sticking to what you do, to not stop with your nurturing after a short period. Lead nurturing is a great way to build up this relationship with your customers.
It is important that you keep on blogging, twittering and creating other amazing content together with your team. This way you will build up trust. Maybe not today and tomorrow but it will build up and stick.
There are also quick fixes for instant marketing gratification which can help to get a campaign rolling, but this can only work when it is accompanied by long term commitment and tactics. (2) When you do not have a long term plan for your marketing, also the short term fixes will not help that much.
The experiment by Walter Mischel is a psychological classic, which is still great to watch and used today for most different examples. The idea of delayed gratification can also be used for a marketing strategy, whereby you as a marketeer have to make sure that you are building a long term route for your marketing.
Do you have any experience with instant and delayed gratification in your marketing? Tell us in the comments below!
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