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Simon Spencer

Simon Spencer (General Social Sciences, ’12) taps his knowledge of human nature to design compelling marketing strategies.



The average human attention span is eight seconds—worse than that of a goldfish. That poses a challenge for Internet marketers like Simon Spencer.

However, Spencer has a secret weapon in his advertising arsenal: his deep understanding of human nature. It’s something he developed while earning his 2012 degree in general social sciences, a discipline that allows a student to design their own major by combining courses from several departments.

Spencer, for example, turned to the business school to learn how to write a business plan, and to the philosophy department for an education in Socratic logic. Meanwhile, he concentrated on sociology.

“I really like how in sociology I had to try to figure out how people think, how people make decisions and how their minds work,” he said. “That’s given me an innate ability to figure out how people interact with marketing.”

That makes him a good fit at Scratch-It, where he is Head of Customer Success at a company that bills itself as the “leader of reveal marketing.” The company provides retailers with a marketing approach wherein the recipient of a message must perform an interactive action—say, click on an icon—to reveal the contents of the message.

Using digital animation that imitates a “scratch and win” lotto ticket, Scratch-It relies on people’s sense of curiosity to increase the probability that they’ll click on a promotional message from a retailer.

If the client is a department store, for example, they could use Scratch-It’s software to create a scratch-to-reveal coupon embedded in an email with text like “scratch here to see how much you’ll save.” Customers have to click the coupon or rub it with their finger on their smartphone to reveal the discount. The mystery dramatically increases the likelihood that people will engage with the e-mail, Spencer said.

“It’s just (human) psychology,” Spencer said, “to want to reveal something that’s hidden from us.”

Spencer relies on his sociology background to develop profiles of prospective customers and to design messages that heighten interest in Scratch-It’s approach. Using demographic and sales data, he creates a psychological profile of an “ideal” customer. Then he works through to find individual customers who fit the bill.

“I might find someone, for example, who’s an email marketer at Macy’s, who makes $80,000, is from the East coast and is married with no kids. I’ll see she hits our profile, and I’ll know she’s someone we should contact,” he said.

Spencer cites an Intro to Islam class he took with Tariq Jaffer, a religious studies professor, as being especially influential to his work today.

At the time he took the course, Islam was being widely discussed in American media, usually in relation to terrorism and Al Qaeda. But Jaffer’s class exposed Spencer to a deeper understanding of Islam and the various types of people, philosophies and political views under its umbrella.

“This reminded me to keep an open mind about people in my local community and to not be quick to assume they understand me and my views,” he said. “This is something I remind myself when I’m creating customer profiles for Scratch-It or when I’m talking to a member of my team.”

Call him Scratch-It’s new customer detective. He also helps create content for Scratch-It’s blog, trains sales and management staff and regularly works on improving their sales approach.

“What I needed in school were classes that directly helped my career goals and expanded my ability to think creatively,” he said. “(General social sciences) helped me accomplish that.”


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