After a decade working with major CPGs and retailers in the pursuit of truly “shopper-centric” marketing strategies, this orange sheep has honed in on a few ‘classic’ pieces of “dead thinking” that have slowed down a client’s progress, time and time again.
Here I’ll share the top three pieces of “common (non)sense” that I think we need to overcome as an industry, and open the floor to you all to add to the list.
#1: “The P.A.L.M. Problem”
No, this is not to do with ‘trees’, ‘springs’ or reading your future from the lines on your hands. PALM in this sense stands for “People Are Like Me” – the all-too-common (and slightly narcissistic) view of far too many marketers that they know shopping, because they shop and they’ve been in plenty of stores themselves.
Especially when talking about shopper missions and trip types, I am too often greeted by a shocked look on the faces of people I consider to be very intelligent marketeers. I distinctly remember the reaction from one very smart and successful marketer at a major CPG company when we introduced the idea of the shopper that made 3-4 quick trips per week and rarely did a major stock-up: “Why would anyone in their right mind shop like that?” she said. It was so different to her own way of shopping, and what just seems ‘rational’ (i.e. to stock up once a week, save time and money).
Well, folks, it’s time to get over this one. Shopper needs and motivations are as varied as favorite colors: yours are highly unlikely to be the same as mine, nor the next guy in line. If you don’t believe me, just go stand in a supermarket, a convenience store or a corner store and watch shoppers for ten minutes. I guarantee you won’t see a line of lemmings all acting the same… and perhaps NONE that shop the same way as you. Indeed, you probably won’t even see two that behave the same.
Many companies are investing in ethnography and shop-alongs for specific shopper research projects. The most successful have started making it standard practice to send senior executives and decision-makers on these exercises, to open their eyes to the ‘other world out there’. More should follow their lead.
#2: The Myth of “Shoppus Rationalus”
Once we get over the idea that all shoppers think and act like us, we need to get marketers off the crack that shoppers behave rationally. This would be ever-so-convenient for us as marketers, but ‘the rational shopper’ is as much a myth as bigfoot, el chupacabra or mermaids. In fact, if you gave me $10,000 to bet on one of them being real, I’d go with mermaids being real before the rational shopper.
Plenty of great shopper researchers before me (Sorensen, Scammel-Katz,Lindstrom, Underhill et al) have all highlighted the role of emotion in shopping, yet still many of the strategies and tactics of shopper marketers reflect that hard-to-let-go belief that rationality always triumphs in the end. This myth is the downfall of so many great ideas, as it leads us to put aside meaningful insights simply because they can’t be defended logically, or, rationalized. (As an aside on rational thinking, if you’re in any marketing field, and have not read Dan Ariely’s “Predicatably Irrational”, go to his blog and buy it now.)
Last year, the orange sheep read an article by pricing research agency, Vocatus, that challenged the concept of the ‘homo oeconomicus’ (the person that always chooses the purchase that makes the best economic sense). To this little sheep, that article was a breath of fresh air in the field of pricing – and more people in the field of shopper marketing need to embrace the idea of shoppers making emotional decisions that defy logic. Perhaps then we can start imagining a new world of retailing – one that makes sense, precisely because it makes no sense.
#3: “The String-Pulling Delusion”
This one might hit a little too close to home for some marketers, because it sucks the air out of that powerful feeling that our own marketing strategies are our companies’ greatest assets. Indeed, when I’ve discussed this one in industry forums in the past, it gets the prickliest response, and nobody feels that they are guilty of committing this particular crime against good thinking. But it’s prevalent in every marketing organization I have ever worked with, and not showing any signs of going way.
It’s the mental illusion that the majority of what shoppers do in stores is a direct response to some piece of stimulus that marketers have provided: the delusion that shoppers are marionettes and we’re pulling the strings.
If you don’t believe this one, just look at the ‘causal factors’ that are utilized in the sales models and marketing mix models of so many manufacturers and retailers: how many of them are ‘marketing levers’ and how many are related to shoppers’ lives and the context of their trip? Whoever stops to consider that more people bought Red Bull in their store this week because exams are coming up and they’re all pulling all-nighters… no, it must be because you took 10 cents off per can.
In this last piece of nonsense, we see bright and clear that shoppers are not at the center of shopper marketing strategies, and we’re not even close to putting the shopper first. Instead, we’re still putting marketing strategies at the center of the universe, and at best just paying a little more attention to shoppers as the target of our own particular brand of wizardry.
That type of thinking will get us nowhere.
There’s more than three, but these are some classics (which I think in ‘Pareto’ terms account for the ‘big head’) to get the ball rolling. The sheep is interested in your thoughts and whether you’ve seen these problems too. And even moreso, in how you’ve overcome them.
Agree or disagree… let the discussion begin.
the orange sheep