Repenting at leisure
John Goodman (and I somehow) wrote this article for the great and newly redesigned about the power and pitfalls of using technology to influence shopper behaviour. Have a read when you can (you’re using Pocket, aren’t you?) and, if you like it, leave your Likes and comments below. We’re really interested in sparking discussions.

John Goodman (and I somehow) wrote this article for the great and newly redesigned about the power and pitfalls of using technology to influence shopper behaviour. Have a read when you can (you’re using Pocket, aren’t you?) and, if you like it, leave your Likes and comments below. We’re really interested in sparking discussions.

People don’t do what they believe in, they just do what’s most convenient, then they repent.
— Brownsville Girl, Bob Dylan, 1986

The only decent song on one of his worst albums (Knocked Out Loaded), it is nevertheless an unexpected place to find a piece of marketing insight. However what Mr. Zimmerman identified was a core truth about human nature – we don’t always think about what we’re going to do, or do what we say we would. Sometimes we act and then we repent, or change our beliefs to reflect our actions. That’s why getting people to act is at the core of the discipline we call Activation.

Activation is a relatively new discipline for modern agencies. However what is new is recognising it as a core marketing discipline and trying to raise standards of creativity, brand and consumer understanding to match. Promotions are as old as the hills; in fact the distinction between Above-the-line and Below-the-line comes from the way in which advertising and promotional costs were itemised on an agency bill in ‘the old days’. Although agencies have not seen it as particularly glamorous or exciting until recently, this was rather myopic given the importance placed on it by our clients, who recognised years ago that getting people to change their behaviour at the time of purchase decision was crucially important.

A couple of years ago we conducted a global study into how people made decisions when they were about to buy and were able to pinpoint 52% as the magic average number of changed decisions – about brand, quantity, category or even to buy at all – made by consumers around the world, when they were in store. As Bob Dylan recognised, people don’t always do what they say they will do – or even feel that they ought to do. All of us act on impulse, changing our mind for reasons that we keep to ourselves, and then rationalising the decision afterwards. This does not just apply to consumer goods and low-interest categories; in the automotive sector, for example, people will often start off the buying process with one marque of car in mind, but end up driving home in something completely different. One of the roles of car advertising is to help the buyer feel good about the choice they made. (Post-purchase reassurance, as it’s known.)

So, if everything else about communication in business is changing in this digital era, forcing us down new paths of innovation and creativity, what is changing in the ways in which we try and change shopper behaviour? After all, despite the growth of e- and m-commerce, aren’t the majority of shopping experiences still primarily physical, the moment when you have a tangible material interaction with the brand or service you’re buying? If one of the roles of Activation is to provide a real experience of the brand, how can digital and mobile technology make a difference? How is the digital revolution changing the way in which we are creative about the way in which we act in The Last Mile?

Firstly we need to recognise that the last mile is no longer a straight line. The mile has looped round into a circle, or perhaps a figure-of-eight or double helix. Google recognised this when they identified the concept of the ZMOT – the Zero Moment of Truth. Traditionally we experienced two moments of truth with a brand – firstly when we bought it and secondly when we used it. Now however the interaction with the brand can often take place much earlier as we research our choices, comparison shop for price, read expert or consumer reviews or just view cautionary tales from our friends on Facebook. This is the ZMOT – and the scary thing is that everybody else’s first and second moments of truth contribute directly or indirectly to our ZMOT (and vice versa). Hence the Last Mile experience loop described above.

Secondly people no longer cruise gracefully down a funnel from Attention to Interest to Desire to Action, in the classic AIDA sales formula. The decision to enquire further, to sample, to test or to buy can happen at any stage of the buying process, and in any environment. We are beginning to live in a world of always-on shopping, whether we like it or not (and most of us seem quite comfortable with the concept). Buying can take place at home, sampling can take place on demand, research can be going on in-store – movement within that last mile is becoming increasingly randomised.

It’s our belief that the most successful way to spark the consumer’s imagination and then activate their wallet is to combine the physical and the digital (or as some poor unfortunate soul described it to me recently, the ‘phygital’) in an experience which combines data, online connections and a physical experience. Used with imagination and innovation, digital and mobile communications allow us to do what we always wanted to do – but so much better. (One of my European colleagues, Rory Sutherland, once wrote ‘direct marketing is an idea in search of a medium, and the Internet is that medium.’ He was right, but not only about direct marketing.)

Let’s look at some examples of how ‘the things we used to do’ have been made better by the combination of new technology and – most importantly – a good idea. As David Ogilvy famously said, ‘unless your campaign contains a big idea it will pass like a ship in the night’. As our lives become increasingly subject to a barrage of ideas expressed in communications, you can be sure that only the good ones have the slightest chance of breaking through.

Take sampling for example. There is no better way to convince a consumer about the superiority of your product than to give them a taste. However it’s also expensive, hard to direct effectively and needs human promoters who can be difficult to manage and control. This piece of work from Germany not only utilised the geographic location app Foursquare to trigger sampling, but also even delivered it, not to the human consumer, but to their dog – allowing the animal to drive the consumer to purchase. Of course it could also have been done mechanically, but that would have lacked the sense of innovation and ‘coolness’ of using a fun piece of interaction.

It’s not just a question of location though. A similar use of a downloadable app in Ireland gave beer drinkers discounts on Budweiser when the weather got hotter – even giving out free samples when the mercury reached a certain high point. Because the app resided on your phone the discount or sampling could be activated wherever you were – walking past a pub for example. This was an interesting piece of work, not only because of the way in which it used technology to make the activation time and weather sensitive, but also because it used a combination of old and new media to surround the consumer with the message in a way that was both familiar and innovative. 

Technology is also influencing point of sale of course, with many stores now having in-store TV channels, interactive screens and electronic couponing issued in-store. The danger of this technology is that it requires a high capital investment, is heavily controlled by the retailer and can become very cluttered and irritating for the shopper. However when it used with subtlety and driven by a big idea, it can be highly effective. Take this example from Ogilvy in New Zealand for Fair trade bananas. It’s amusing, it’s subtle and it is exactly on brief.

One of the most important roles of activation is to provide a demonstration of the product. If you can get the consumer to try it, there is a much greater chance that they will buy. However most people are either too busy or not motivated, and don’t really want to get involved. This is where technology has a unique benefit, drawing people in, and making them part of the demonstration in a way which is entertaining and enlivening. Mini, in the UK took an old idea – seeing how many people you can fit inside a Mini (a staple of Records Books for decades) – and brought it into the 21st century by the use of virtual reality technology, here.

And finally activation is a great way to dramatise the product benefits in real life. Even here though, innovative uses of technology can pay off, as seen in this demonstration of Mercedes fuel cell environmental efficiency. By taking the car and make it (almost) invisible using photo-voltaic cells, a few people in real life saw the demonstration – but over 9 million checked it out on You Tube, not to mention the extensive TV news coverage it received.

There are certain key factors needed, in order to succeed changing people’s behaviour when they are in shopping mode, in-store, on the street or at home. Firstly it is important to recognise that shoppers are in a different mind state from passive consumers, and that mind state will also vary depending on what type of shopping they want to do and the purchase environment. Buying a Coke in a nightclub is a very different process and experience from buying one in a 7/11. Therefore we need to design communications with this in mind.

Secondly we need to create ideas that are tangible, involving and bring out a sense of playfulness or entertainment in the shopper. To quote David again, “you can’t bore people into buying your product.” It is highly likely that the store of the future will evolve into more and more of an entertainment destination – and therefore the dull store will fail, replaced by the convenience of online shopping. Take a look at this example from Daffy’s in Times Square, New York, and you’ll get the point.

Finally, as people suffer from digital overload, creating at the intersection of the tangible and the digital is the best way to create real involvement and therefore – purchase. To leave the last word with Mr. Ogilvy, “we sell – or else.”

By John Goodman & Daniel Comar

May 5, 2012

Regional Executive Creative Director, Geometry Global Asia Pacific