New Frontiers

By David Lewis

Navigating the New Frontier

With the increasing fragmentation of many traditional marketing media and the intensity of competing messages on the rise, those in marketing, advertising and retailing must work ever harder to capture the attention of consumers and persuade them of the merits of their propositions.

Perhaps one of the most challenging media through which to communicate with the consumer is at retail where the noise of competitive activity is at its greatest and the window of opportunity to convey a message at its shortest. Nevertheless the returns, given that the media continues to touch a mass audience on the verge of making a purchase are potentially significant, and for this reason in-store marketing and communication has seen a phenomenal rise in attention and budget over recent years.

A report published by Deloitte in 2008  notes that: “In-store marketing tactics have not only become actively embraced by marketers of consumer packaged goods, many rank it as one of their most effective tools. 75% of manufacturers and 86% of retailers studied ranked in-store marketing among the top four activities in terms of gaining strong ROI.”

The challenge of the in-store medium presented to marketers is also one shared by those striving to measure the efficacy of in-store activity since conventional market research approaches fall flat in the face of the requirement to establish whether a shopper, in the matter of seconds that they have spent in a particular aisle, has seen, engaged with, made sense of and responded positively to a message.

Often in-store marketing, cannot be recalled by shoppers when posthumously interviewed over their awareness. Within the fleeting seconds that a shopper is exposed to an in-store communication their interaction with it is typically at a non-conscious level. As a result they are unable effectively to articulate their response to it, post-rationalising whether or not it appealed if questioned.

As the American psychologist Robert Zajonc has commented: “We sometimes delude ourselves that we proceed in a rational manner and weigh all the pros and cons of the various alternatives. But this is probably seldom the actual case. Quite often ‘I decided in favour of X’ is no more than ‘I liked X’. We buy the cars we “like,” choose the jobs and houses we find “attractive,” and then justify these choices by various reasons.”

This suggests that familiarity, likeability and other emotional responses are significantly more likely influence a decision to buy than calm and reasoned deliberation.

Can neuroscientific techniques provide us with some of the answers to our problems with respect of evaluating in-store marketing activity?

The technologies which underpin Neuromarketing are capable of capturing non-conscious attitudes, brain and other associated physiological activity objectively and in great detail however, to date, the majority of measurement exercises have been performed in relatively controlled conditions and have focused on the evaluation of stimuli such as TV advertising, website and packaging design. There are significant challenges to overcome if we are to transfer these measurement techniques from the laboratory to the real world.

Since the advent of market research in the mid 1900’s the discipline has always been concerned with understanding how and why people make decisions in order to enable businesses to better influence behaviour. The application of these techniques, is in my view, no more than a sophisticated and potentially more reliable means to the same end.

Dr David Lewis

(1)Deloitte and the Grocery Manufacturers Assn (USA). Delivering the Promise of Shopper Marketing: Mastering Execution for Competitive report. September 2008

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