Authenticity: If You Can Fake That…

Groucho-1933-Duck-Soup-300

RIGHT NOW CONTENT MARKETING is the name of the game. That’s Content with a capital C, which is presently a thriving business in the ad agency domain. The idea is to influence the trends that flow through social and mobile media by inserting Content on behalf of brands.

There are many ways to accomplish this — ranging from hiring ringers to post favorable reviews and spam blog comments, to sharing genuinely valuable consumer information like product usage tips or recipes. It is also desirable to monitor Content posted by others, then respond as needed to amplify, rebut, or influence perceptions.

The motivation is, I think, largely fear-based. The social-mobile frenzy generates tons of uncontrolled consumer sharing, both pro and con, accurate and inaccurate. No doubt there are also dirty tricks being played every day by competitors bent on undermining their rivals. Brands lose sleep over losing control of their messages and so they hire hip young firms to help them create and spread content of their own.

The trick to making Content work is to put enough of it in front of the folks the brand wants to influence, especially the ones capable of influencing others — like bloggers and social media divas. The agencies are supposed to ensure that the Content is both artful and discoverable by the target audience. Hipness and coolness are good traits too.

So the goal is to create the right Content and embed it within the right Context, in order to better drive Commerce. A key attribute to making all of this work is authenticity — the perception that the Content is believable, relevant, and true (probably in that order). The new Content Marketing agencies are all over this, of course.

Today I shared a bit of content of my own on RetailWire.com as part of a discussion, Which Came First? The Content Or The Egg? It make me think about the quip about sincerity most often attributed to Groucho Marx, who is pictured here in the classic film, “Duck Soup.” (It may actually have been first uttered by French dramatist Jean Giradoux, but Groucho is funnier.)

Here’s my take:

It seems “content” is a wheel that keeps on rolling. Remember the “content is king” slogan that was popular at the peak of the dot-com frenzy? Its relevance then was the hunger for product data and other information needed to populate the new web sites. If you build it, you have to fill it with something, right?

Content was soon displaced by “commerce” as folks got the shopping cart and delivery mechanisms worked out and consumers got used to the idea of shopping remotely. After a period of more or less centralized control, the social-mobile reality has caused user-created content to explode, but in an entirely uncontrolled manner.

It is into this chaotic environment that the new content marketers are venturing. They hope their organized campaigns will somehow float above the SoMoLoMe din, resulting in a degree of influence over brand perceptions. A whole industry of B2C content marketing agencies is emerging to service this trend.

The risk is that these messages drown in a vast content sea in which the relevant mixes with the contrived. I don’t believe brands will win in this environment simply by opening the floodgates or turning up the volume.

Only quality and authenticity can win in such content-flooded environment. To paraphrase the sage, Groucho: If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

© Copyright 2013 James Tenser

SCAMP: Five Pillars of Shopper Experience

I had an invitation recently to address an executive summit on Shopper Experience on the subject of In-Store Implementation. Regrettably, the event did not materialize, but the thought process it inspired could not be stopped. I decided to capture some of it here in the Tirades.

But first, are you experienced?

If you have ever shopped, of course you are. Shopper Experience is one of those big ideas that is hard to define because it encompasses everything we encounter in connection with a retail shopping visit. It begins with the traffic on the drive to the store, takes in the sights, sounds and smells of the store environment, and layers on the actions that take place while we are there. It probably even extends to the drive home and the interaction with purchased products.

Wikipedia defines it this way: “Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction.”

A large and complex construct, as the consumer behaviorists might say. To my mind, Shopper Experience cries out for a bit of de-construction. I took a crack at it.

As I see it we can break down the shopping experience into five “pillars” or components. Taking each in turn may make the whole concept easier to grasp for purposes of analysis. More importantly, it may lead us toward practical ways to improve the whole shopper experience by optimizing its elements.

My proposed five pillars of Shopper Experience are: Service; Convenience; Ambiance; Merchandising; and Price (SCAMP). I’ve thought about these pretty carefully and I believe this breakdown meets the MECE test. That is, they are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Each of the five pillars merits its own definition, and each encompasses much detail. For the purposes of the present post, let’s briefly define each:

Service. People, practices, policies, and the training that enables them. Top performing retailers excel at both hiring the right people and setting service practices that sustain and support their success.

Convenience. Both time-saving and effort-saving. Sometimes the line between time and effort may be blurred with other pillars – as when it takes too much effort to locate a desired product. Is that a merchandising problem?

Ambiance. Physical design of store environment, including lighting, spaciousness and other sensory cues like temperature, odors, and sound. And yes, other patrons figure into this experience pillar – we tend to like to shop with people like ourselves.

Merchandising. The product assortment; their arrangement on shelves or displays; all associated messaging designed to inform and persuade.

Price. Base or every-day pricing and store price positioning, of course, but also promotions and markdowns when they occur. Shoppers tend to form a relative price-value perception or price image for each retailer based on all these cues.

SCAMP is submitted for your consideration. I find it a useful first cut at analyzing Shopper Experience. Of course, each of the five pillars merits much more detailed discussion. That’s an opportunity for future Tirades.

© Copyright 2008 James Tenser
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