25 April 2019 14:36:08 IST

How ‘cobra effect’ can influence digital marketing

Align the underlying goal with brand vision while strategising a digital marketing campaign

I skipped the stereotypical midlife-crisis years and went straight into midlife-entrepreneurship by starting my own digital marketing agency. Starting a company was just an idea; however, before I started up, I reflected deeply and tried to figure out the random roadblocks and the possible solutions to address them. What if? And what about? — these were the two questions that I stressed upon.

I am not a pessimist, but I wanted to be prepared with a set of action items that would not have a negative impact or make an unknown situation worse. To be frank, I follow this technique almost every time I strategise digital marketing campaigns, so that I can decrease the probability of aggravating the problem with a quick-fix solution.

You will be surprised to know that there is a term for this in economics. It is called the ‘cobra effect’. The anecdote refers to an incident in colonial India, where a population of venomous cobras started increasing. The government agreed on a (seemingly) sensible policy to offer a bounty for every dead cobra. However, the solution made the problem worse, as people starting breeding cobras to get more rewards.

Digital marketing rules

As management graduates, you will get a chance to dive deep into this concept in economics under — ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences’. Let’s see how this rule applies to digital marketing.

1. Check your underlying campaign goal while you are strategising and planning a digital marketing campaign, since it is important to clearly lay out the underlying goal that is aligned with a larger purpose or brand vision. Always chart out the campaign goal in the beginning, to avoid confusion with immediate campaign results.

2. Emphasise long-term impact rather than short-term results Digital marketing campaigns are generally measured on short-term effects, such as site visits, impressions, clicks, leads, and so on. These short-term outcomes can have an insidious effect and generate results that show the superficial achievement of targets. Make sure your plans are optimised with the right metrics to increase the campaign’s effectiveness.

3. Closely scrutinise the new ‘trend’ digital marketing, as it is a very interesting field and the fun part is ‘it is never the same’. Every other day, there is some emerging trend that brands want to harp on. A good way to get the most out of a new trend is by experimenting with tools, taking quick feedback from brand followers and closely analysing the pros and cons.

Cobra effect implementation

We can look at numerous real-life examples where implementation of the cobra effect could have helped brands avert a potential crisis. For instance, many e-commerce players incentivise users by offering heavy discounts on products that the user ‘added to cart’ but never purchased. Generally, companies start sending push notifications or re-market the product that the customer selected but didn’t buy for more than 40-45 days.

Initially this strategy could help but may backfire later when customers look for discounts on products, leading to high customer acquisition cost and low return on investment. Especially in e-commerce, this initial strategy used by a few companies has been widely adopted by competitors, and has ultimately changed customer behaviour in the online retail marketplace.

So, whether you are planning to tackle an existing problem with a new idea or trying a new solution with the emerging trend, just pause to ask yourself if the accidental consequence of a well-intended idea would make the problem worse. With time you will realise how the consequences could have been avoided with a little bit of planning.