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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Musings on Choice, Culture and the Retail Experience

The lost world originally uploaded by Brunoat.
These recent postings about choice - Are There Too Many Choices? & The Problem With Too Many Choices And The Opportunity - and culture - A Transcultural Perspective on the Retail Experience - have led to additional musings relating to the retail experience....

Consider that Katia, in A Transcultural Perspective on the Retail Experience, refers to Colgate, a brand familiar to her in Brazil and the US. Although she encounters more US Colgate products to choose from, her familiarity with this global brand allows her to navigate those choices effectively. It 'translates' from one culture to another.

Store brands tend to be more local in nature and require more from consumers who must determine how to connect with them. The connection results from relevance and context. The first time I experienced IKEA, a global brand, I had no context for it. It wasn't yet relevant to me, and had no meaning [n.b., think how valuable endorsements or word-of-mouth referrals are in these situations]. No relevance means no meaning.

This post from CK's Blog titled To be brand free highlights how Get Shouty's Katie Chatfield experienced freedom from brand constraints in lands as foreign as China and the US [Katie is Australian and has recently moved to Chicago]. In China, she can read neither words nor numbers. In the US, many products, brands and stores have no meaning for her [e.g., what is the difference between Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Nordstrom?] and no context. They are irrelevant.

Depending on one's state of mind [and need], that freedom from brand constraint can be buoying and a source of discovery or mind-numbing and a source of tension. When on vacation, I love visiting stores that carry food, stationery, toiletries and accessories. Any 'foreign-ness' is a source of delight and discovery. However, when a need is more pressing, the charm and delight vanish immediately. Foreign-ness becomes cumbersome, inefficient, and frustrating.

Mind you, foreign-ness can occur at home. It can result from a simple difference in frame of reference: logical, generational, cultural, gender-based, experience-based as well as linguistic. It can happen at any time.

A logical difference: how many times have you been frustrated with a grocery store's non intuitive category scheme? You tried to find an item and the place where you eventually locate it has nothing to do with your original expectations. [That's why cross-merchandising can be so effective!] This post from Reshma Anand titled Super (fluous) Markets offers new perspective on grocery shopping!

Perhaps you live in an area where alcohol cannot be purchased in a grocery store or where stores are closed on Sundays. Did you know that in France, Ibuprofen requires a prescription whereas it is available over-the-counter in the US [at least, this was the case the last time I visited!]?

For a marvelous taste of cultural and religious differences, listen to these clips from a new Canadian show titled Little Mosque on the Prairie. I learned about the show while in Atlanta listening to NPR and was intrigued not only by the humour of the show, but also by the generational and cultural differences that the show explores. Read more in The Globe and Mail's story from 1/09/07.

[David Wolfe from Ageless Marketing recently posted these 4 articles on the On The Subject of Generational Nonsense, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. David objects vehemently to categorizing people into generational groups because it leads marketers to overlook points of commonality - hence the benefit of promoting the principles of ageless marketing and appealing to consumers based on where they fit in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. How we meet those needs changes from generation to generation; the needs themselves remain constant.]

Linguistic differences: It can be as minor as different expressions based on geographic regions for a same thought: "I'll take her to the store" vs. "I'll carry her to the store." On a more extreme note, Retail Design Diva describes in Not Lost in Translation an interesting new translation tool that Kroger offers for its pharmacies. The ultimate solution for dealing with linguistic issues [e.g., think of Katie in China] is hiring an interpreter - although one still needs to get 'calibrated' with the interpreter.

Experience-based: What about categories where the consumer feels completely at a loss? Where, not only is there no brand context, but also no affinity? Think insurance, mortgages, carpet, legalities... How does one navigate? Here, too, an interpreter or advisor can come in handy, but oftentimes that 's not an option! I experienced this while making baby-related purchases: a first time mom, I felt the weight of the world on me [literally and figuratively], and couldn't for the life of me understand pricepoint and product feature differences and their benefits to me. Now, I know better, but not then.

Gender-based differences: Deborah Tannen has written extensively about the differences in how men and women communicate: lots of potential for foreign-ness there! Marketing to women and recognizing those differences represents a significant opportunity in retail where women represent over 85% of the decision makers. Especially in carpet/flooring!

CK makes this point: "In this global economy--whether brands are shipped there or new brand buyers shipped here--histories and well-entrenched hierarchies matter less, brand experiences more. With more touch points, channels and media than ever for making a meaningful impact with audiences both familiar and fresh to our products each brand needs to build its case each time, rather than resting on past merits. Along with the round world going flat, everything old is new again.

So, if the experience matters now more than ever, then we must take every opportunity to see the world from our customer's perspective, to be Marketing Experiences Not Products and Experiencing the Lifecycle from a consumer's perspective as Becky Carroll explains in Customers Rock!. We must probe and ask questions, and get beyond issues of foreign-ness to determine the best way to help consumers navigate the options and decide on the best possible solution to their needs. The ultimate end result is a retail experience that not only has them coming back again and again, but also generates extensive word-of-mouth buzz, and endless referrals!

Note: Laurence-Helene at Blog Til you Drop promises to post further about some of her experiences with consumerism and culture shock. Her blog, by the way, offers a wonderful perspective on French marketing and advertising - among other things!

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