Digging into Simulation Research for Sim-Based Marketing

By | December 8, 2009

I am still pretty consumed with thoughts of fleshing out simulation-based marketing, or perhaps it is more appropriate as ’simulation-based advertising.’   Of course part of the process in thinking out this area is to dig into research about what makes simulations effective for training.

Ever since I met Will Thalheimer of Work-Learning.com several years ago, and since then, following his blog and research, I knew he’d be a great person to turn to in thinking some of this out.  Around the turn of the century (neat to be able to use that phrase, though of course I mean the 21st century), he identified five key aspects of simulations that make them particularly effective for practicing real-world skills: Context Alignment, Retrieval, Repetition, Feedback, and Spacing (apologies to Will if I misquoted any of these–I can’t seem to find the article on his web site).

In any event, I spoke briefly with Will recently and he felt that clearly Retrieval, Alignment, and possibly Repetition would be at play in these contexts.  As in training, marketing and advertising activities have their own goals to achieve.  We talked about the idea of coming up with a good diagram to illustrate the process, perhaps a funnel or maze (possibly with multiple entry points and multiple end points–I can see the relevance of David Scott Meerman’s “buyer personas” here).

Another interesting point he made was that for most any significant purchase, say over $100, people don’t decide to buy at once.  Ideally, you want not only to recognize when those people to return, but also trigger the information you have already conveyed about the product.

In all, it is clear that many aspects of simulation-based training have parallels/counterparts in sim-based advertising (or marketing), but potentially at different priorities, due to the overall goal (skill transfer/building, for training, vs. awareness/sales/product research for marketing).  Since simulation-based training has been explored much more fully, it would be wise to use that experience in hypothesizing potential parallels to advertising/marketing.

4 thoughts on “Digging into Simulation Research for Sim-Based Marketing

  1. Will Thalheimer Post author


    Great discussion today. I really enjoyed it and think you have something here in the concept of simulation-based marketing.

    Today I finished the first draft of a chapter on memory retrieval so I’m probably overly-focused on this concept right now. Still, I think it has great relevance for this discussion.

    Ideally, we want our buyers and our learners, to retrieve information–make it active in Working Memory–at critical, targeted times. For buyers: We want them to retrieve certain information and conceptions when they are: (a) thinking about making a purchase, (b) surfing websites looking for information, (c) discussing a purchase with a friend, colleague, or partner, or (d) simply ruminating/worrying about what to do. For learners: We want them to retrieve certain learned information when they are (a) in a relevant job situation, (b) when they are continuing their learning, (c) when they are thinking about what they learned, and (d) when they are thinking of buying our learning products and services (okay, I’m joking). SMILE.

    Well-designed simulations are good for learning because they utilize key learning factors. You got them right above (e.g., retrieval practice, context alignment, repetition, feedback, and spacing), though I might even add a few more learning factors today (e.g., building understanding, guiding attention).

    The bottom line is that well-designed simulations can certainly be used for marketing and advertising because it’s still retrieval that is key–and they’re wicked good at creating and enabling long-term retrieval (remembering), which is the life blood of decision making (such as purchasing).

    – Will Thalheimer

  2. David Meerman Scott Post author

    Interesting stuff here.

    Obviously, the more complex the sales cycle, the more difficult creating the right content and paths becomes. But also with complexity comes great rewards for those companies that can figure it out.

    Creating appropriate content to develop a lasting relationship over a long sales cycle is possible only when an organization knows the buyer personas well and understands the sales process in detail.

    Many marketers make the mistake of assuming that all visitors are ready to buy right away. (The auto industry is my favorite example of this flawed strategy because most automaker sites are only about selling cars, not educating consumers).

    David Meerman Scott

  3. Will Thalheimer Post author

    Ah David. Great point about the long sales cycle.

    Of course “long sales cycle” is perhaps mislabeled or at least delivers the wrong connotation, because it really becomes a “long purchasing-decision cycle.”

    And so, getting our purchasers to remember key information, triggers, and motivations as they travel this long cycle is a key.

    I see this as one important role that simulations and other manipulatives and interactions can play.

    – Will Thalheimer

  4. Jonathan Kaye Post author

    David advocates the idea of orienting sites and materials to buyer personas, which I agree with completely.

    Not to get too theoretical, but there really are at least two personas: (1) the real one, which is going to have a lot more detail but may be unobservable to us unless we have the appropriate sensing metrics, and (2) the image that the company has of that person. In other words, our company’s “buyer’s persona” is really just a model, and hence has assumptions which may or may not be true for the real “Ian Snickerdoodle” (David suggested to name personas, so don’t hold me to what I think of off the top of my head when I’m not suitably medicated ).

    The accuracy of how well these contexts/beliefs are aligned I think will determine whether the products/services resonate with the real buyer — I don’t mean necessarily to make a purchase at this point, just allow the buyer to continue along the funnel that leads to the purchase activity (or perhaps the up-sell activities). In some industries, like the Fire Service, it is industry folklore that once a department buys from a company, they will continue to buy from the company, so the toughest challenge is getting ourselves initially aligned. It is interesting to ask, then, how might we understand as a competitor can we take advantage of the context involved in existing relationships to identify/help those customers make the switch over to us.

    Ideally, then, a company would want to make a mechanism for reducing the difference between these two contexts. Essentially, we simulate the context in which we perceive the buyer is in, but we let the buyer drive decisions that we have purposefully crafted that help us understand if our buyer’s persona is really sensitive to the real buyer’s persona. We can get a lot of the value from focus groups for free — we use buyer behavior as the ultimate feedback, rather than asking a more indirect question through a typical focus group.

    We don’t have to anticipate everything about the buyer in our company’s persona for that buyer, rather, just enough to the point at which the buyer’s actions reveal their intent. That’s where I think simulation can be incredibly useful — we use a simulated context to essentially ask the buyer to align themselves with what we believe should be their context.

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