So far we’ve discussed Shopper’s focus on the mental modes that differentiate a ‘shopper’ from the somewhat depersonalising denomination of ‘consumer’ (let’s call them ‘people’, shall we?). We looked at the relevance of an approach focused on understanding the subtleties of an individual’s behavior when closer to purchase, in a world where purchase is now only ever a click away. We’ve considered how else we might conceive the path-to-purchase beyond the linear ‘funnel’ and acknowledged the smartest brands are nimble and responsive to the customer feedback loop provided by data.
Fundamentally, marketing in 2016 happens ever closer to purchase and so the micro moments of behavioural influence that facilitate purchase become evermore-key battlegrounds. Shopper, then, is undoubtedly a critical skillset but so are Direct, CRM and other disciplines closer to ‘people’ than the ‘organisation’. So, what’s the point in persisting with the skill silos? One reason Shopper sits apart is its historical relationship with retail.
Shopper and Retail
Unique among Shopper practitioners is a focus and commitment to retail. The relationship between a brand and retailer needn’t concern an agency charged with designing a brand storytelling campaign. But it may become a fracture in the brand when a person’s experience – whether that be in the real world of the high street or the UI of a website or app - is badly mismatched with the brand promise. Shopper marketers understand retail and brand and strategically manage the balance and relationship between the two.
Tesco Metro in Haggerston, East London has a whole Tumblr dedicated to its transgressions (http://haggerston-tescos.tumblr.com/)
Power has shifted from brands to retailers as retailers have become an essential ‘filter’ for the profusion of product choices on offer within every category. A Shopper strategy will consider the value exchange needed to earn a brand prominence at retail, often looking to enhance the experience of the store in the way a brand is brought to life there. Bringing rich brand executions to digital in the e-commerce environment, however, is often clunky and an unwelcome distraction in a world where pursuit of the most frictionless route to purchase is the Holy Grail.
Where physical and online commerce are most alike in their requirements of brand marketing is in a need for creative communications that are easily recalled through visual or mnemonic distinctiveness. Byron Sharp’s hugely influential book How Brands Grow proved behaviour is often shifted by seemingly minor influences rather than deeper brand associations and makes a case for the most urgent role of marketing to be winning what he calls ‘mental and physical availability’. That is, a place in the consumer’s mind that can be easily activated by recall at point of purchase.
Certainly, for FMCGs and low interest categories there is often a strong argument for brutal consistency through a simple language of art and copy. This is often designed to drive behaviour through autopilot or ‘neurological’ responses, rather than the more nuanced storytelling and differentiation that is the art of the most celebrated TV advertising. Whether you call this a ‘shelf back’ strategy or ‘neuromarketing’, the common characteristic of these approaches is a pragmatism about the mental space real people actually give to brands.
As advertising accountability becomes the norm and frictionless retail transactions proliferate, this approach will have a lot of appeal for clients who are frequently called on to justify every last penny of marketing spend.
Close your eyes and you can still see this simple, visual ad from Lucozade burning your retina
Developing a crystal clear creative thread between headline brand communications in traditional media, digital media and at the retail shelf, makes obvious sense when people are zigzagging across channels en route to purchase. It ups your odds on staying front-of-mind no matter where that purchase ‘moment of truth’ arises. But this tendency to purchase unpredictably reaches beyond traditional paid media and has ramifications for the more fixed qualities of a brand.
In digital user experience, it means we favour brands that consistently reward us with an experience aligned to the values they espouse; especially when those values resonate with our needs. Apple has consistently succeeded by offering experiences across its products, services and retail that deliver on its promise of making the future accessible to all through simplifying technology. It revolutionised retail by bringing this experience vividly to life in tactile product experiences, Genius bars and tutorials and extended its appeal from the design community to your gran and grandad.
Okay, you make the future simple. Now, quit being so smug.
As opportunities to purchase spring up across every conceivable media an e-commerce revolution has swept through our lives. With new levels of speed and service normalised, shoppers’ expectations of the store itself have been reset. The store is now a place where product research, price comparison and fuss-free transaction can all take place at the push of a button. As it becomes less and less the locus of transaction, the store’s role in the ‘experience’ of the brand only becomes more acute.
In the week of writing this, Amazon announced its Amazon Go service and again it seemed technology was moving ahead of customer behaviour; trying to answer needs we don’t yet even have. Amazon Go is the first truly frictionless bricks and mortar retail experience allowing customers to fill their bags and walk out of the shop without queuing to pay. It uses what Amazon is calling “computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence” to inventory the goods you take and bill you direct via an associated app.
Superficially, it seems digital’s relentless quest for frictionless user experiences that lubricate conversion has leaked into the design of the high street. But perhaps this is the first really startling manifestation of what has been called ‘total retail’, a brand-focussed approach to customer experience across channels.
Writing in 2015, AdMap described total retail as a “unified approach, not a multi one: pulling everything together behind a strong central brand and a consistent customer experience, and supporting it with a genuinely integrated back office.” That is, not just wiring-up the retail experience across digital and physical, behind one database with some out-bound communications that cross the gap between the two. Instead, building a brand as a perfect sum of all its touchpoints; a totally consistent customer experience that draws us to that brand whether we are interacting with them on or offline.
To understand Amazon Go, look no further than the ‘total retail’ concept. Amazon is already understood by many of us to be one of the most customer-centric brands on the planet, even if all that this means to you is the ability to order almost anything with the satisfaction of seeing it on your doorstep the next day. Most of us have their app in our pocket, many of us have their TV service in our living room and all of us are in their customer database. If they have struggled a little to impact food retail (a key ingredient for the biggest retail giants from Walmart to Carrefour), what better way than to take their brand promise of customercentrism to the high street grocery experience? And the battle hasn’t really even started yet for online, which only accounts for 6% of the UK grocery market.
Bringing an experiential dimension to the modern tech mega brands (Airbnb’s recent launch of their Trips travel experience service, for example) may be a play that helps cement them in consumer affections. The risk is that if our only experience of an Amazon, Uber or Airbnb is a slick interface and seamless service experience, another player can duplicate and upgrade with the latest in experience and service. From a brand point of view, rich experience can help establish price – the difference between a £3 Starbuck coffee and one half that price from Wild Bean Coffee is in part craft and provenance, but for most of us it’s the framing effect of the Starbucks store experience that allows us to dig deeper in our pocket.
Come in. It’s Christmas, treat yourself…
Retail across the board has become a richer experience – from Rapha cycling cafes to Dyson experience stores – as e-commerce has conversely made purchase the functional full-stop that sits at the end of shopping. Yet, according to research from Deloitte, the high street retained 93% of all transactions in 2015. (They also note conversion is 20% higher when shoppers use digital interactions alongside their store visit.) A rich and effective experience, it seems, will bring our digital and physical worlds together to deliver on the expectations of the empowered and demanding customers we’ve all become.
Part 3: Conclusion
- Retailers are a crucial ‘filter’ for the profusion of product choices on offer within every category. Shopper strategy considers the value exchange needed to earn a brand prominence at retail, often looking to enhance the experience of the store in the way a brand is brought to life.
- With Byron Sharp’s influential research dominant in industry thinking, we understand brand advantage to be won by gaining most mental and physical availability. So campaigns are looking to drive behaviour through ‘neurological’ responses, rather than nuanced storytelling.
- Shopper expectations of the store experience have changed, as digital convenience and accessibility have become the norm. We not only expect research, price comparison and ultimate transaction to be available at the push of a button, we also want more from the physical – a sense of ‘experience'.
- Experience is now an important dimension of a modern brand – whether that be a traditional high street stalwart or a tech giant like Amazon. The high street has become an important, tangible channel in which the brand comes to life.