Putting Things Into Context

As traditional media fragments then the retail coal face becomes ever more important in the battle of brands to capture the attention of consumers en-mass.

Little wonder then that shopper marketing and the research and insight which fuels it are becoming an increasingly significant element in many organisations marketing and communications mix.

But marketing to shoppers at this first moment of truth presents a unique set of challenges.

Shopping, by and large, and particularly shopping for day to day items in grocery stores is a subconscious activity in which shoppers instinctively filter out irrelevant communications and act on autopilot using habitually acquired heuristics to guide their purchasing behaviour. In this context capturing attention and communicating the benefits of a product never before considered is no mean feat. Couple that with the fact that human beings tend to walk at a rate of around a metre a second and the window of opportunity to achieve an impact in-store is minimal. Products on shelf therefore need to rapidly capture attention and shout a benefit if they are not to fall by the wayside and end up delisted and consigned to the NPD elephant’s graveyard. In this environment, shape, colour and position on shelf are the keys to success. A huge amount of effort therefore goes into getting this formula right. Product packaging is designed and developed to maximise standout and elicit desire. Research to test its impact is becoming increasingly sophisticated with neuromarketing and virtual reality environments becoming more commonplace as testing grounds in which alternative designs and shelf positions can be manipulated in order to optimise the solution. Yet all this effort may still not fully translate into real life revenues for one simple reason – context!

Focus groups, surveys, even virtual reality tests and neuromarketing techniques all take place outside of the context of a real shopping trip. They ignore the countless other shoppers and trolleys winding their way through the store and getting in between a shopper and a product; they do not account for the whining child at the mothers knees as she attempts to buy the new cereal on special offer instead of the infant’s favourite; they disregard the fact that the commuter on his way home from work has a train to catch and doesn’t have the time to “explore” the wine section for a new and interesting bottle to complement the steak he will eat that evening. They ignore these things because they cannot be accounted for or modelled, but that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant and will go away.

So how can we tell if all that effort to get the packaging and placement just right is going to work? The answer is remarkably simple. Test it in context. Set up your aisle in a real store, just as you want it, make sure your product is on the self and then sit back and watch what happens. When shoppers are shopping, when they are rushing for a train, distracted by their offspring, or hindered by the bustle of their peers on a Saturday afternoon, do they slow down, stop, look and buy?

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