First of all, map out the terrain, then define the strategy
Have you ever stopped to think “where” experience happens? When the lights go up in the cinema at the end of a session, we hear the different comments about the film we have just watched. Without much effort, it is possible to detect that, although the audience has just seen the same work, each of them saw the film in their own particular way, paying attention to different things, processing everything according to their particular standards of thought and finally, and as a result, producing their very own individual experience. So where did the experience happen? In the mind of the spectator and not in the cinema theater.
In the world of retail it is pretty much the same thing: the shopper’s buying experience inside the shop or in a website is always personal, internal and therefore a little unpredictable. Luckily for our ‘experience’ designers, by investigating the shopper, it is possible to arrive at certain groupings of people with similar “backgrounds” (or life stories) and mental models, reflecting each other through similar behavior and thus making customer segmentation of a shop or network possible. Apart from this, research on segmentation permits the shop’s environment and dialogue to be realigned, so that they make sense for each of the segments, thereby increasing conversion.
Success is a question of “rapport” with the shopper
The successful communication of consumer-good industrial brands and retailers with the shopper is fundamentally based on creating a kind of fine-tuning with the different segments of shoppers that visit a retail establishment. This fine-tuning is the “rapport”. When an insurance sales rep knows the pension strategy of a prospective client, he has a much better chance of closing a sale. This works with sales people for insurance, cars, clothes, and further works in self-service.
Here in New York, for example, anyone visiting Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F – apparel shop) for the first time is surprised by the nightlife-style decoration, with strobe lighting, loud music and photos of people working out, on the walls and behind the counters. Black and white photos of masculine waxed torsos displayed on the walls and printed on bags certainly attract the attention of some, while displease others. This very well focused communication strategy is the basis of success of A&F, which has created a legion of fans among teenagers around the world.
In Brazil, Chilli Beans is, for me, the best example of how a shop can enter in tune with its public on various levels to create a unique experience. It is even possible in a Kiosk of this glasses, watches and accessories brand to recognize the marked signature of its creators and its focus upon its young public. They were successful in defining a clear target and connecting themselves with this target at the point-of-sales on all the neurological levels of experience.
But let me first explain this concept: our experiences are processed in our minds on 5 levels linked to the very form that our brain was “designed” to work:
a) Environment: this is the most instinctive of levels, we either like or don’t like an environment, without even knowing why;
b) Behavior: involves some emotions associated to the effect of “love at first sight”. We simply feel good or bad, depending on how we are received. It is instantaneous: an unwary waiter could ruin our experience with the simple drop of a comment, for example;
c) Identity: identity is linked to the immune system. As such, we feel more comfortable among similar people. That’s the recipe for success of the dolls and kid’s clothes shop – American Girl. There, the kids can buy dolls that look like themselves, and then dress up in the same clothes as the doll they mimic. It’s clever and goes straight to the center of identity of both the kids and their mothers. Everyone is caught off-guard by the pretty dolls;
d) Beliefs and values: these reflect the way in which we were brought up and educated, and, further, in what we believe. This type of thought is processed by the brain in the cortex, the newest region in human evolution. Many people decide not to buy products tested on animals as a question of values. Such beliefs show how people judge events. For example, the discussion over privacy in the social media involves a debate over the values based on personal beliefs. People who like Macs hold the belief that they are better than PCs, and so on and so forth;
e) Beyond identity: this is the type of experience that could be called “spiritual” because it involves the way in which we see the world and see others within the world. The great human aspirations and most noble sentiments, such as compassion, occur on this level. When a brand is sincerely involved in helping a community, we perceive this and connect with it. Once I heard Phil Duncan – vice -president of design of P&G – talking about the concept of “brand karma”. He explained that, when we do good, we earn money. He was bang on target on this last level of experience.
How can a retailer create a successful strategy using neurological levels of experience in the buying process?
Seven steps for a great shopping experience
Every consumer-product retailer wants to sell more. This is only possible with one or another of the following two strategies: increasing the traffic of people in the shop, or increasing the sales conversion within the shop, making shoppers buy more. I have listed seven steps that any retailer can use to guide their neuro-marketing experience to increase the conversion of shoppers within their shops:
1) Know your shoppers. Invest in research, analyze data, observe them in the act, interact without fear, be where they are (in the shop, on Facebook, in the car park, etc.) and most of all, listen to them. Without knowing how the minds of shoppers work, it is impossible to connect with them;
2) Create segmentation. This could be based on a demographic profile, buying behavior and/or purchasing motivations. This will guarantee greater efficiency in communication with the shopper later on;
3) Choose the predominant segment or segments. Ideally it is the one in which the company has greater affinity and, thus, greater chance of success;
4) Make an appraisal of whether the values of the company coincide with the values of this group. If this is not the case, the result will be rapidly perceived as a fraud by the target public;
5) Get connected. A genuine buying experience will be created through the transformation of a strategy into practice. As such, your communication, selection, attendance and design in relation to the chosen group of shoppers will be perceived in their interaction with the points-of-sale. (The levels are: environment/behavior/identity/beliefs and values/spiritual);
6) Establish two-way channels of communication with your public in the shop, on the web and in the community. Participating in the social life of shoppers increases the sense of identity with the store. Chilli Beans, for example, by selling tickets for young music concerts establishes a link with its public by means of musical taste. To provide another example, whisky brand Buchanan’s sponsors jazz events;
7) Create a signature which involves the five shopper senses. This makes the experience more complete and even more memorable. If well worked, the senses are going to function in favor of the brand. It it not for nothing that the jeans of A&F have a characteristic smell that show their authenticity.
I have never seen an Intel chip, but I recognize its label and its jingle when I hear it. Why? Because our senses help us to recognize brands instinctively.
Using the five senses to create a memorable experience
Experience marketing is confused a lot with the use of the senses, or rather, the sensations with which to stimulate shoppers during the purchase. Let’s get one thing straight: the senses are the doors, not the experience.
When we listen to a romantic song today, we can be raised to the heavens, but when the sense of romance ends, this same tune can become the source of pain and hurting. The experience takes place within the mind. This is how we relate on the levels of instinct, emotions and thought, with everything that our senses capture from nature. That’s to say, everything that we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. For example, the smell of McDonald’s is unique. Certainly it is a sensory signature of the brand.
Once I had a very unpleasant experience. There was a problem in the building where I worked, and the fire alarm went off. I was surprised by the fact that nobody evacuated the building, despite the impending danger. Some time later, in the same building, where a part of a factory also functioned, the alarm rang again. This time there was a smell of burning plastic in the air. Everyone got out of the building immediately!
So why did this happen? – It happened because, on involving more than one sense, a message gains greater credibility.
Imagine that you are buying cheese in the supermarket. Although its appearance looks good, if the smell of the cheese is off or unpleasant, this will exclude it from the purchase. We place great faith in our senses. It is, thus, possible to extract advantages from this neurological aspect in favor of the brand.
In order to use the senses to ones advantage, one needs to “deconstruct” the brand, breaking it down into several attributes, electing certain sensory factors that distinguish the brand and remain active in the memory of the shopper. The format of the Coca-Cola bottle is an excellent example of this. It is a visual and tactile signature of the brand that could be recognized without the brand logo in any part of the world. Its jingles are further perceived and recognized instantly when heard.
In the same way, Victoria’s Secret, the American lingerie chain has a characteristic pink and black striped bag (just one of the visual signatures of a carefully designed brand). Apart from this, the characteristic fragrance of the stores is unforgettable for its shoppers. In another segment, a bank in Colombia (Grupo Helm) uses a specific color – like Itaú – but goes much further. It also has a particular fragrance in its installations, different sounds in each part of the agency and even offers branded sweets with unique flavors to envelop all the senses of their clients into a unique experience with their chain. The ATMs of this institution are the only ones where one can withdraw money, seated in padded “supports” for tactile delight, not to mention the delight of your spine.
All the senses can lead to emotions. Music, for example, has a really great potential for provoking individuals emotionally. But it is the double act of smell and taste that are directly linked to love. This happens because, right from when we are babies, we learn to love those who feed us and establish a bond with us, starting with our mothers, of course. Food is love.
This is so true that many people eat food to feel happier, or when they are depressed. When we wish to celebrate something, what do we do? We go out to dinner! It’s as simple as that. And while we are on the subject, certain luxury stores offer little titbits for their customers; chocolates, truffles, biscuits, juice and even champagne are offered to clients, creating a bond with the brand. Certain supermarkets also know how to exploit this aspect very well, intelligently using tasting sessions to create an even more enveloping environment.
Constructing a context that makes emotional sense to shoppers
While the experience creates the connection with the shopper on several levels and with the senses involved, it is through communication that we could create a relevant context for converting the shopper into a buyer. But what is the meaning of relevance?
The relevance of communication and of the offering of a brand starts with the understanding or comprehension of the mind of the shopper. In other words, how he or she thinks, what their decision strategies are and, consequently, how they act. This is the difference between a product launch and what we call “throwing the product onto the market”. The same comparison could be made for a promotional tabloid leaflet of generic offerings – whose promotions are, to a large part, items that the shopper doesn’t buy – and a direct mailing with personalized offers. Now this is ‘relevance’. Macy’s, the American chain-store has a great variety of promotional catalogs, one for each segment, with a different configuration for each of them.
Only with a relevant context is it possible to use an emotion to move the shopper and influence them in favor of a brand or retailer. We already know that the five senses have an important role as emotional stimulus, and that the context is what creates the climate – now, all we need is the closing. At this point it is necessary to use emotion to reduce the potential regret over purchasing a product. I always cite the example of Argentinian waiters. They are trained to respond with an approving expression such as: “Excelente, señor!” when we make
an order, whatever it may be. This encourages us, because we believe that we are ordering the best dish in the house, their specialty.
In self-service it is possible to reduce the sense of potential regret over a purchase, making the shopper feel less guilty for having spent their cash on consumer goods. When a retailer indicates that the product is a “best seller”, as the English supermarket TESCO did with its Spanish cucumbers, this reduces the risk of a wrong decision on behalf of the customer. Immediate donations to noble causes and seals of quality, for example, have a similar effect on shoppers – they reduce the risk.
To sum up, then, in order to use emotion to your advantage, one needs a “call to action” – powerful, direct and, above all, a call that is relevant to the context of the life of the shopper. There are more than 20,000 options at the point-of-sale and just 30 minutes on average to convert yet one more shopper. I am convinced that it is worth while. After all, considering their fidelity to a retail brand, how much is one more shopper worth to your store, when placed in the perspective of a lifetime? What is the ROI (Return on Investment) that justifies investing in shopper marketing? Think on.
Originally published at Mundo do Marketing website in 1/23/2012