Of Habit and Target

THE New York Times Magazine made people nervous with its February 19th cover story by author Charles Duhigg. Its chilling headline, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” seems to have compelled readership as a matter of personal protection. I make this inference from the number of acquaintances who asked me about it.

[Author’s Note: This column was originally published on March 13, 20122 in the TradeInsight CPG Chatter blog.]

“Creepy” was the adjective repeated most from individuals who read about how Target Stores applied data mining techniques to shopping baskets to infer which shoppers were most likely pregnant, then sent them promotional offers for pre- and post-natal products.  Motherhood is pretty personal business, so I can’t say I disagree with the folks who were offended. What gives them the right?

Focusing on this creepy surveillance was a pretty crafty editorial decision by the editors at NYT Magazine, who used the cover line: “Hey! You’re Having A Baby!” The analytics behind pregnancy detection was actually just one example from Mr. Duhigg’s just-released book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” Having a baby, as it turns out, is one of a handful of predictable moments in life when our consumption habits change big time. For eager marketers that information is, well, mother’s milk.

Even if we look past the intrusiveness of offering coupons for cocoa butter lotion to stretchy young mothers-to-be, Mr. Duhigg’s larger thesis about the enduring nature of habit remains compelling in a different, less sensational way.

It tends to strengthen my own observations of long-lasting retail shopper behaviors, such as trip planning, coupon clipping, list-making and response to promotional cues within the store. In “Shoppers’ Perspective,” research I helped co-author for CPG manufacturer Henkel USA in 2009, we learned that shoppers could be sorted into fairly stable groups based on these enduring habits. It took the pain of the subsequent economic downturn to disrupt the patterns. As a result, coupon redemption statistics turned upward to what we may hypothesize to be a new norm.

The central example of the Duhigg article – Target’s effort to target “new natals” in its promotion marketing – is interesting too, but it offers little, truly new insight about behavioral segmentation analytics. Food, drug and mass retailers have understood the buying traits of new and soon-to-be parents (and other behavioral segments) for decades, without the need for sophisticated data mining tools. These insights are easily inferred from examining the contents of shopping baskets from the store’s point-of-sale transaction records – or better, from frequent shopper data.

It is not necessary to know individual identities, but such knowledge does enable the delivery of more personalized offers and services. These may be welcomed by opt-in frequent shoppers, but can be downright creepy when they seem to be the outcome of cyber-stalking.

The NYT Magazine editors correctly surmised that an article excerpted from Mr. Duhigg’s book could quite possibly be a snooze for readers not already fascinated by human behavior, retail analytics and segmentation and targeting. So they focused – perhaps a bit unfairly – on Target’s stalker-ish behavior toward new moms.

For us retail pros, however, divining the nature of repeat behavior is solid stuff – part of our every day thought work. It reminds us that when we try to influence purchase behavior positively, we also take on the challenge of overcoming pre-existing habit.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

“Omni” What? It’s Da BOMB

IN MY MEANDERS around the vibrant NRF Expo hall (#NRF12) in New York this month, I tried my best to spot the visible stars of the show and detect the invisible three-degree background radiation that lurks behind the retail firmament.

The atmosphere was energized, the crowds were large and buzzwords were flying. Shopper insights swirled in the cloud, mobile technology hype charged the atmosphere, and business intelligence oozed out of every software booth into glowing puddles on the Javits Center exhibit floor.

Ultimately there was too much for one greying, recovering journalist to absorb. This is surely why I wound up at the bar in Manhattan’s Landmark Tavern one evening with a group of senior retail business writers (a.k.a.,”ink-stained wretches”) who gather each year to drink beer and tell lies.

The BSQ 

We talked about how NRF has become primarily a retail operations exhibition, and how that had evolved to be primarily about software solutions. Egged on by my fellowship of professional cynics and emboldened by many lagers and stouts, we began evaluating the first day’s bullshit quotient. The BSQ is a pretty simple ratio – buzzword repetition divided by genuine new ideas. (This is a party game only old journalists could love.)

The buzzwords were easy: “Insights” (every retail software solution promises better ones); “Analytics” (every retail software solutions promises faster ones); “Business Intelligence” (how every solution promises to deliver the insights and analytics); “Big Data” (what results from gathering so many insights and analytics); “Cloud” (the place in cyberspace where every vendor proposes to house its Big Data); “Dashboard” (a screen where retail practitioners are supposed to want to access their BI); and “Omni-Channel” (a state of retailing where online commerce coexists with mobile commerce and bricks & mortar, empowered by – you guessed it – insights, analytics, Big Data and BI).

As ever, the genuine new ideas were harder to detect. “Performance Management” may be a good one (the quaint notion that retailers might want to measure the outcomes of their insight-driven plans to see if they are really paying off). “Retail Industry Creates Jobs” is another, presented as a core theme by the NRF itself.

Readers familiar with basic arithmetic will quickly reason that for the umpteenth consecutive year, the BSQ on the exhibit floor was off the charts. The principle factor here is buzzword repetition, which drives the numerator toward infinity, while really genuine new ideas to pad the denominator are rare indeed.

Da BOMB
There is a lot to say about each of the major buzzwords and concepts that enlivened the NRF Expo. Right now let’s focus a little on “omni-channel retail,” which is recent nomenclature for an idea that has been around for quite a while. As far back as the dot-com boom in 1998 we began discussing the interplay between virtual and physical stores, catalogs, kiosks and call centers. By 2000 we identified several multi-channel players – like Eddie Bauer, and JCPenney – who had succeeded admirably (we thought then) in melding online, offline and catalog businesses to the benefit of shoppers.

The “shop anywhere, buy any where, return anywhere” principal was captured in the final edition of VStoreNews, where we labelled it “Broadband Merchant,” re-purposing a popular adjective. By then much of the industry had adopted “multi-channel” as the nom de jour.

At NRF this month, alot of folks were calling this “Omni-Channel,” I think because of the stunning influence of mobile technology within the mix. We can (and will!) argue long and hard about the appropriate understanding and application of mobile technology in retail, but for now let’s just stipulate that mobile is colossal in its influence. Explosive even.

Which is why I’d like to humbly offer an “omni” alternative. Call it BOMB retailing – Blend Online, Mobile & Bricks into a single entity where every channel shares a common information platform and consistent shopper interface. One brand, one shopper relationship, one inventory, one set of service standards, many moving touchpoints.

Surely after 14 years on the interweb machine, the omni-present, omni-channel, but hardly omniscient retail industry is ready to blow up the status quo.

© Copyright 2012 James Tenser

Why In-Store Implementation Is the Next Frontier

I CALL IT the Paradox of Scale: Grocery chains keep getting bigger, but industry profit performance remains stagnant.

It’s been a doggedly persistent trend. Between 1992 and 2009, the top 20 U.S. grocery retailers increased their cumulative market share from 39% to 64%, according to the U.S. Economic Research Service. Meanwhile from 1996 to 2010, industry net profits have hovered consistently around 1% of sales, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

These facts seem to run counter to intuition. After all, bigger chains are supposed to have top-of-the-line executive talent, fine-tuned supply chains, advanced IT systems, greater buying clout and economies of scale. A deeper look reveals the paradox: Bigger chains also suffer from intensified store operational complexity, larger assortments and poorer visibility from the home office.

Bottom line – as chains expand, store performance management gets much, much harder. This begins to explain why out-of-stocks continue to run at 8.2%, unchanged in 15 years, yet 78% of items sell fewer than 3 units per week. It begins to explain why as many as half of all authorized in-store display promotions are never erected or erected late. It begins to explain why most retailers have no effective process in place to ensure or even monitor everyday planogram compliance.

A Rich Prize

Where some may find darkness and frustration in these statistics, others identify a golden opportunity. The In-Store Implementation Sharegroup identified tens of billions of dollars at stake – a rich prize indeed. Bold retailers and marketers who commit to improve retail compliance practices in the next few years should gain a distinct performance advantage over their less nimble competitors.

In-Store Implementation is not an isolated solution; it’s a multi-threaded initiative that incorporates improved in-store sensing and measurement; better inputs into planning processes; a performance-oriented culture; and alignment of trading partner resources. Many of the enabling practices and tools already exist, ad hoc. Still needed is an organizing principle that can tie them together into an effective set of best practices for the industry.

Workshop at LEAD

In just two weeks, a select group of industry thought leaders will come together to explore how to make this ambitious agenda a beneficial reality. They will be participating in a pre-conference workshop at the LEAD Marketing Conference in Rosemont, IL, on Sept. 19.

The workshop is presented by the In-Store Implementation Network, a membership organization with an educational mission centered on advancing awareness and knowledge of ISI practices. The group boasts more than 1,400 practitioner members in 28 countries who share a common goal – the establishment of a culture of performance at retail that makes stores work better, shoppers more successful and businesses more profitable.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship support of our friends at Gladson, ISI Network has assembled an all-star faculty to address key facets of the opportunity. The workshop format is intended to ensure that participants will leave the half-day event with a fresh perspective and practical ideas that may be applied immediately to their own ISI business challenges. As Executive Director of the ISI Network, I will be the lead facilitator of this workshop.

A few seats remain available; admission is complimentary to retail and CPG practitioners. I look forward to greeting many of you in Rosemont!

To register for the LEAD Marketing Conference, click here.

For a detailed agenda about the ISI Pre-Conference Workshop, click here.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser

A Web of Truths

WATCH OUT, Shopper Marketers! You may find yourselves entangled in a web of truths of your own making.

It all began innocently enough; in 2005 when brand marketing behemoth Procter & Gamble advanced a provocative set of ideas around what it called the first and second moments of truth. Thanks to some savvy and persistent promotion, the terminology caught on fast:

  • FMOT, the first moment, refers to the brief period when a shopper selects a desired product in the store.
  • SMOT, the second moment, refers to the at-home consumption experience associated with that product.

Within the then-nascent Shopper Marketing community, this framework was a minor revelation. For brand marketers, FMOT gave credence to the argument that real marketing persuasion needed to be extended from measured media into the shopping environment. The store, it was discovered, shelters a separate marketing reality, where pre-purchase leanings are transformed into final choices.

Shopper Marketing defined a path to purchase that commences with media-induced product awareness and proceeds to interest, formation of intent, and ends with product selection at the shelf, FMOT. Once home, SMOT, or the actual product experience, takes place influencing subsequent decisions.

FMOT/SMOT was a pretty handy framework at first. But the concurrent rise of digital out of home and mobile media conspired to make things a lot more complicated, fast. The path to purchase, it turns out, is littered with hundreds of moments – text messages, in-store video ads, Web search, service encounters, Facebook apps, twitter feeds, QR codes and downloadable coupons, to name a few.

Stuck in the Moments

A few weeks ago the gleefully disruptive folks at Google seized the opportunity to coin a new Moment of Truth and promote it hard. They call it Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT. Its premise is that interactions with search, Web, social and mobile price and product research media create a third type of online decision-making moment. The concept is a bit self-serving coming from the world’s largest seller of online advertising, but it has attracted much commentary and attention.

Almost immediately, new Moments starting appearing like so many pop-up windows on an e-commerce Web site.

In his post, “What is missing from moments of truth marketing”, blogger Joel Rubinson argues for the existence of “minus one” moments of truth that include such influences as word of mouth, in-store product visibility, and various types of advertising. Most interestingly, he proposes that these -1MOTs may occur in any sequence relative to FMOT and SMOT.

Joel’s point about the non-linear nature of the Moments of Truth is worthy of frequent repetition. Product experience is certainly a web of moments, not a fixed linear sequence. Call it WOT (Web of Truths)?

On the very same day and from an independent thought process, blogger David Berkowitz proposed adding “The Infinite Moment of Truth” to the model, which reflects his excellent observation that consumers may well describe their product and service experiences to others, relaying and amplifying the message beyond the scope and control of the marketer.

Bon MOTs

I applaud David for extending this Shopper Marketing discussion from the path-to-purchase toward the path-to-loyalty. A good thing, really, since the linkages are powerful and real. It made me think about Fred Reicheld’s 2006 book, The Ultimate Question, which proposed that genuine loyalty was best judged by an individual’s likelihood to recommend a product or service to others. Social media can super-charge this potential.

Both bloggers are smart, experienced people I know for some years and their ideas are intelligent and worthy of respect. But I must confess to an impish reaction that led me to ponder: Just how many bon MOTs can one industry handle? ZMOT; FMOT; SMOT; Rubinson’s -1MOT; Berkowitz’s IMOT…

At risk of attracting ridicule, my imp compels me to toss another acronym into the mix: XMOT, the eXtended Moment of Truth. It’s my way of stretching the Web of Truths a bit wider – not quite to infinity, but toward its potential to help us understand the multifaceted tangle of influences each person receives, reflects and responds to in their roles as shoppers, consumers, and friends.

© Copyright 2011 James Tenser