I used to interact with my TV, except for nobody knew about it because all it meant was me giving my opinion to a screen with no way to send the comment. Maybe some of you are smiling here, have you done the same? Have you responded to a talking head on TV during an interview muttering your two cents? They couldn’t hear you, could they?
That is changing. One need only think about the many ways we can now provide feedback in real time -– online and off line. How is our new focus on customization and personalization shaping the retail industry, for example?
Recently, I asked Mario Vellandi who blogs at Melodies in Marketing a simple question -- what are you passionate about? The conversation that ensued between us was inspiring. We talked about personalization, buying behavior, and choices -- and the role marketing plays in helping provide them.
Valeria Maltoni: What are you absolutely passionate about?
Mario Vellandi: Well, I am a very curious person about many of life's pleasures the humanities has to offer, but it is social science applied to commerce where I am most fascinated. What I mean by that is, how do people naturally behave in particular contexts and how are they influenced? Ultimately, we're humans not consumers. We don't like to just feed the seemingly insatiable self. I think most of us also like to interact, play, enjoy, share, and importantly: relax and be content.
Where does this leave me? Marketing and Experience Design is probably the answer.
For what industry? Mostly consumer product goods, although I do like to keep an open eye for interesting small projects involving nonprofits or other consultants and independent contractors.
Valeria Maltoni: A while back we met with a group of analysts of cultural behavior -- the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis. We had the most fascinating conversation about the "Seven Shoulds or Seven Things all Americans Believe in" and I recall checking out their age chart that delineates behavior when in group. They do a lot of work for the entertainment industry. They study behavior to help those companies design great experiences.
In your work with consumer good companies, how much emphasis do they put into research and behavioral-based analysis? How are the results utilized for product and service development?
Mario Vellandi: Well, you kind of stumped me because that was an interesting website and I had to think about how to respond.
I've worked with a few consumer goods companies, but they were relatively small (<$60 million). The categories were food, beauty care, and home decor. Behavioral research at these firms was quite limited to hypotheses and personal preferences among employees. However, we did have excellent designers who knew their materials well and how to concept new products quickly. Management of course wanted to make products that actual shoppers would buy. So we would all go competitive shopping and analyze what we saw on the shelves at various retail establishments, upscale and downscale, and took note of what products seemed to have a higher velocity based on the comparative number of units on shelf, among many other factors.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we made it a priority to give the retail buyer the option to customize the product to their liking (naturally limiting the amount of flexibility to their relative purchasing power). For the largest retailers, it wouldn't be uncommon for us to turn around a new concept with pricing, photo, and a sample shipped within 24-48 hours.
Depending on the product category, sometimes actual consumer behavioral analysis may not be that important. Instead, giving the retail buyer (aka Category Manager) a product they'll love is far more important. That option is oftentimes not available though. It takes excellent sourcing abilities, flexible manufacturing options, and an internal company culture that is devoted to serving the customers' wants. That is one very difficult cookie with a long bake-time.
But I don't want to underestimate the importance of testing. A product may look good, but may perform poorly with extended use. I liked one company's innovative candles, but noticed when I tried out a square-shaped candle at home; the burn diameter was large enough to start leak wax out of the sides, thus making a mess. I told a couple people about it, but they said they do test all their products. I didn't buy that excuse because the wick size on the final product looked exactly the same as the concept candle.
I really liked Mario’s team comparative shopping. You know when a retailer is up to something good –- you really like to be in the store and keep going back for more. Window shopping is a real activity in Italy, where the stores are true stages –- they entice you to buy via suggestive stories.
What is your recipe for successful buying experiences?