At some point, this happens to you.
If it hasn’t, and you don’t make the changes in this article, I promise you it will.
And when it does, it’s excruciating, expensive and exhausting.
The monologue in your head has driven you to create the perfect Facebook ad, a sublime new product range, the faultless webinar or an accomplished article with a compelling call to action.
And what happens?
No one comes.
No one buys.
No one visits your site, comments or redeems that coupon and your social “likes” and “engages” stick stubbornly at less than ten.
Why is it that the tribe you desperately want to connect with are the most difficult to reach out to even though they seem to be engaging with everyone else around you?
Why is it that despite having more customer insights, deeper knowledge of spending patterns and laser sharp marketing tools, that we can increase traffic but not conversions?
What is it that’s making customers walk away when you think they’re ready to close the sale?
The Illusion of Control
In the 25 years I’ve spent working for, and with, some of the world’s leading companies, I’ve noticed a sudden and explosive shift in buyer behavior, especially in the last five years, in both consumer and B2B markets.
CxOs and middle management are struggling to understand why sales, market share and profitability are declining suddenly and alarmingly.
Despite spending billions of dollars on research, marketing, being competitive and squeezing efficiencies in supply chains, marketers, strategists and managers are at a loss.
Why has the concept of caveat emptor (buyer beware) transformed into caveat venditor (seller beware)?
Everywhere you look, brand loyalty is declining – increasingly, purchase decisions are newly made and fewer decisions to buy are made outside the shopping environment, bricks or clicks.
Your Loyal Customer Is Being Unfaithful to You
Despite any illusion of control you may have of your customer base, or even evidence that there’s active interest for your products and services, you can no longer demand the advocacy, trust oreven previously held loyalty no matter how you performed before.
As Seth Godin famously said, you now must have permission. But why now, more than ever?
Four Seismic Shifts – The Consumer Calls for Change
There are four, huge cultural shifts that are reframing the way customers behave:
- Loss of trust in institutions, everything from government to brands. Everything is up for grabs.
- Customers crave “new” and don’t always know what they want
- The combination of technology and relentless content has created customers with low attention spans
- Customers are themselves struggling to translate their deep emotional needs and beliefs into purchasing decisions.
It’s interesting to note that in a 2010 study, the 50 brands that had the fastest profits growth were associated with five human traits – joy, pride, impact on society, connection and inspiring exploration.
Doug Stephens, a leading retail industry futurist, pinpointed in The Retail Revival why buyers have irrevocably redefined their relationships and expectations with businesses and brands.
“Virtually every aspect of life and society is up for debate now – healthcare, environment, gun control, privacy, marriage, human rights, politics.
But many retailers are entrenched in the same old business models, just trying to be a little more competitive or efficient”.
The psychology of your customers has changed permanently and your prospects stridently and loudly demand that you change your business to make them feel in control.
“Make my shopping experience easier and enjoyable”.
“ I want you to give me more attention, involve me in your brand, personalize my offerings and above all, appreciate me. You’re not just going to get my money anymore”.
“I don’t always believe your advertising – I rely on reviews to tell me the truth before I buy”.
Stop interrupting what people are interested in. BE what people are interested in.
If you had any lingering doubts about whether this major shift is real or not, consider these two facts:
Dr. Kit Yarrow, an award winning consumer psychologist, professor and speaker has extensively researched the major seismic shifts that have obliterated the old customer landscape.
In her exceptionally profound book, Decoding the New Consumer Mind, Dr. Yarrow redefines how marketers must respond in order to build brands based on trust.
Customer Craving for New and Connection
She points out that buying never been just about buying what we need but that social and cultural norms have always influenced how we shop, what we buy or don’t buy and how we use the products and services we buy to connect with others.
Customers today are very clear about the need to be seen, to be respected and to be connected with “people like me”.
It’s more important to create a “postable” moment than to actually live in the moment and enjoy the experience personally.
Technology: The sexless foreplay
According to Gartner, by 2018 the Marketing department will spend more on I.T. than the CIO’s department.
Professor Yarrow asserts that the cognitive and emotional shifts that evolved from the explosion in technology has led to three new behaviours not seen before:
- We are developing a deep intimacy with our technology and now interact more with our smartphones than we do with other people.
- The average U.S. household has six Internet connected devices and as Seth Godin says, society never goes backwards. Can you imagine reversing electricity, air conditioning and computing?
- We’re faced with a 24/7 barrage of stimulation, content and interruptions and now we think differently and faster.
- We scan, we view, we’re more easily distracted and we demand more stimulation. We don’t condone ambiguity, but perversely demand more involvement and connection both in our personal, business and shopping lives.
- Although the amount and time spent shopping online is increasing exponentially, so have anxiety our levels and just a one second delay in page load can cause a 7% loss in sales conversions.
- Making a customer wait or delay her checkout online or offline is now seen as a punishment.
Intensified Emotions: Think it, Want it, Have it
Dr. Yarrow elegantly summarizes the mindset of the new customer in a lovely anagram:
“I want it when I want it”
Popcorn, a post war snack evolved from a traditional stove top cooking method to a three minute microwave product and now to a pre cooked, pre packaged, flavoured range.
Three minutes is too long!
We are overloaded with millions of stimuli and information every minute but can’t process everything so the brain responds in two ways:
- The conscious brain only focuses on immediate problems, anything new or interesting.
- The subconscious mind sucks up the remaining 99% of nonverbal messages, which then influences our cravings, impulses, habits and “gut feelings”.
So let’s look at how these deep emotions play a role in a typical customer’s shopping experience.
“The consumer isn’t a moron. She’s your wife”.
Amy is a forty three year old wife and mother of three children, all aged under twelve.
She’s a Beltway Boomer (grown up post war Baby Boomer), college educated, upper middle class and a homeowner.
She’s raising her children in comfortable suburbia and the family pursues children centred lifestyles.
Source: Neilsen Prizm categorization.
Why Amy REALLY shops:
- Amy is looking for psychological or emotional relief through shopping.
She’s easing into a new transition – a new job, children moving classes, an upcoming dinner party.
- Preparing to shop and visualizing the experience gives her a greater sense of control and reduces anxiety about the transition.
- She gets a pleasure boost of connection, creativity and aesthetics by looking for products that match her lifestyle, feelings and wealth and then sharing the experience physically or online with friends.
- She has a busy life. Studies show that people’s minds work through complex problems whilst we’re engaged in different types of activity.
- Amy’s shopping provides mental refreshment and escape, whether it’s window shopping, surfing online or delving into the bargain racks in the mall stores.
Amy’s at the shopping mall and her favourite stores:
- High performing businesses understand the power of symbolism to the unconscious mind and symbolic marketing cues such as colours, images, symbols, scents and sounds all make a direct connection to our emotions and memories.
- Amy seeks out authentic brands that not only do the basics by delivering what they promise, but those that have a distinct personality and community.She relates to their brand stories on social media because:
- They’re authentic and genuinely understand her issues
- She feels her custom is needed and appreciated
- They invite her to participate in their stories
- They seek her opinion and are therefore “human”
- She’s rewarded with activities, contests and surprises.
- Research by Paco Underhill proves that the longer Amy remains in the store, the more she will buy and that time depends on how comfortable and enjoyable the experience is.
So how many of the following design elements are built into your favourite store?
- Recognition: People shop where they feel wanted and will even pay more for that. Even a greeting (within ten feet and ten seconds of entry) increases the possibility of a customer buying. The icing on the cake is a non pushy sales salesperson genuinely being helpful.
- Social: Stores and brands that use compelling stories to attract lots of couples, friends or groups of people to create a lively ambience perform better
- Discovery: Engaging and seducing customers with suggestions, aromas, visuals, hints and clues that create excitement (and prolong the experience)
- Touch: In an increasingly tactile free society, bargain racks and bins result in high levels of unplanned purchases as customers see, feel and taste the media promises.
- Merchandising: Product location, visual merchandising and mirrors all enhance the experience. Add the word “organic” to a cookie and place it in the centre of a horizontal display will encourage a customer to pay 23% more than ordinary cookies.
- Service: Charming, engaging staff interaction that is consistent and genuine.
- Amy’s favourite brands create a shopping experience that keeps “out of stocks” and checkout waiting to a minimum through intelligent systems.
What Amy Buys:
- Dr. Yarrow’s research highlights that Amy’s constantly scanning for simplified decisions (purchases) that makes her feel more in control and offer her immediate and clear emotional benefits.
- She seeks out the one thing that is psychologically potent in meeting all her needs – bargains!
Why Amy Hunts Bargains:
- Although she’s financially comfortable, the recession has accentuated her expectations of value because they capture her attention and help her manage the “options” overload
- She’s already “invested” in the purchase because she feels that she’s committed by driving to the mall and that making the purchase means that she’s saving rather than spending.
- Amy has a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and the sale gives a buzz (a dopamine rush to the brain)
- She’s rationalized the purchases and uses bargains to give her psychological permission to buy even if she has other financial priorities
- Bargains bring out Amy’s competitive nature and bargain hunting enables her to win against other shoppers and even against the store.
Instead of a rush to the “bottom” in terms of price, look at ways of bundling and adding value to differentiate your business.
Do brands get “Me”?
The short answer is that your individualistic customer will only respond to businesses that honour, admire and serve them by allowing them to be the personal star of your business.
Shorter still, make your customers feel smart in selecting your brand.
The long answer is to re read this article and read the short answer again.
Your Individualistic Customer: The New Marketing Breakthrough Approach
“Marketers have less time to GET ready – they have to BE ready”
Dr Kit Yarrow, Decoding the New Consumer Mind
The isolated, systemized, individualistic customer demands that they become the hero in your business, both before and after they engage with you and during the entire buying process.
So here’s a brief ten step guide to connecting more intensely with your customer:
Before The Buying Experience: Shift from channels to experience
- Accept that your customers are overloaded, anxious and individualistic.They will not look at detailed information but will absolutely look at a wider range of options when searching for solutions to their problems.Customers are easily bored with their existing products and businesses that simplify decision making with new products by quickly building an emotional connection will perform better
- Your customer is desperate for you to translate your product or service attributes into an extraordinary emotional benefits that makes them the star of your business.Create amazing emotions such as escape, joy, power, control, simplicity or surprise that make people laugh, get a buzz or cry (watch the the Journey).
- Technology and social media are here to stay so make your business more relevant and live to your target customer by “humanizing” your brand.Customers still want a positive relationship with you so make it easier by creating intensity around your business, products, brands and promotions.Do this by consistently telling stories (such as Apple’s 2013 Christmas commercial), creating events, personalizing the relationship through contests, special openings and making your customer the hero.
- Create breakthrough messaging.Your customer’s screaming at you to “talk like me”.People now scan advertising, packaging and web pages and grasp the symbolism – so integrate your advertising copy, visuals, wording and online / offline experiences.
The juice maker Innocent is an outstanding example of using faster, more symbolic ways of communicating purity and simplicity, which gives the customer a sense of control.
- Emphasize your customers’ sense of being unique by personalizing their experiences.In doing so, you create what Dr. Yarrow calls “intermittent reinforcement” where you take your customers to a more interesting place emotionally where they feel free to break the rules or get a sense of being intoxicated or self indulgent about your brand:
- Create personalized special and exclusive offerings for different customer subsets
- Create exclusive, private events
- Promote limited offerings and secret discounts
- Develop multi level programs that create a sense of social rankings
- Surprise your customers with random gifts, offers and promotions
- Launch “pop up” events to surprise and delight your customers
- Create instant win opportunities during the shopping experience
- Upgrade the customer’s basket with something unexpected
- Rewrite your customer messaging throughout the customer journey to “make it about me”. Look at these two examples of the same message:
The first statement is about what the business is doing and is impersonal.
The second statement creates the anticipation of what’s coming soon.
Even if people don’t register the words you use, they’ll register the emotions and transfer that emotion to your business, giving you an advantage your competitors can’t imitate.
The Buying Experience: Make Your Bricks Click!
- Paco Underhill, in his extremely insightful book, “Why we Buy”, asks a powerful question. “When does a shopper actually possess something?”Almost everyone believes that it’s when the item is paid for but he argues that possession is an emotional experience caused when the product is within reach of any of the customer’s senses, so the sooner you get the product into your customer’s hands, the more easily it changes ownership.
- Reduce your customers’ anxiety by reviewing how your products, store, website and checkout processes are simplified and clearer.
A shopper confused by prices, product locations, deal complexity or delays will leave your store or website rather than try and resolve the issues.
- Strongly encourage your customers to tell you about your products and their experiences. Dr. Yarrow has discovered that there are three main reasons customers are more likely to leave reviews:
- They receive an email request with a tone of gratitude
- They’ve been thanked for previous reviews and the ability to see whether previous reviews have been helpful
- The are given the opportunity to win something in return for their efforts
- In busy times, waiting times are unavoidable. Paco Underhill’s research indicates that anything over 90 seconds wait induces frustration.
“Taking care of a customer in two minutes is a success, three minutes is a failure”.
Telling customers how long they have to wait, whether accurate or not, reduces anxiety.
Customers today are completely different today because of how they relate to the world.
Their relationships with your business are now owned by them and not you.
Your customers now expect a different type of buying experience that can be accessed whenever they choose.
Thanks to big data, you will be able to analyse, track and monetize their behavior faster and more accurately but to be truly successful, you will now have to marry technology and marketing to keep non traditional and global competitors at bay.
The last word goes to Professor Dr. Kit Yarrow:
“Run to the power of social media – encourage your customers to champion your brand.
Remember that people “speak visual” these days so rethink all of your communications – focus on visual impact.
It’s not only about bringing something good to your customer’s life but also about how you can take away hassles and make their harried lives easier – they will love you for it.”
Note: My sincere thanks to Professor Kit Yarrow for her startling and powerful insights and input.