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BW Businessworld

Consumer Cues

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One of the trivially serious chats I have often had is on the movie Chennai Express. My friendly “opponents” call this movie garish, but could never tell me why it became the second largest grosser till date in Hindi mainstream cinema. I also couldn’t fathom why this movie has spread “hate” among so many of my friends. With Kit Yarrow’s book, Decoding the New Consumer Mind, I have discovered a new term to explain this love and hate — emotional contagion, a phenomenon the book explains as “catching” the (bad) moods of strangers, and spreading a sentiment in a manner not otherwise explained.

The book traverses a journey within shifting consumer trends and how our use of technology is shaping up as the new “gene”. More significantly the book shares a good number of strategies adopted by marketers to unlock value from these trends. Yarrow introduces herself as a “consumer psychologist”, and clarifies that she is a psychologist who studies why and how people shop and buy — and not a therapist for shoppers. This introduction sets the tone for the pace and chunky contents in the book.

The chapter on ‘Rewired Brains’ calls for a re-imagination of brand relevance, suggesting that consumers are less receptive to aspirational brands and instead more receptive to brands that admire consumers. This echoes with discussions I have often had with my marketer colleagues — what should be higher in order — the sanctity of brand or the purpose of business. The examples given in this book suggest the latter, and present interesting cases of brands where the sharp edges of a hard-coated “brand key” have been rounded by consumerism.

A paradox of our age is mentioned where there are more “friends” and yet people feel increasingly unheard, unseen and alone. The book shifts to this introspective space with a description of consumers in US that feel more isolated and lonely, all in a full chapter. It also delves on how rising anger can cause shoppers to make irrational demands on the retailer. The jury is still out, on whether extreme form of individualism that appears to have seeped the US will ever impact our country, or, whether the diversity of support systems in the Indian family will never allow this to happen here. While I personally believe the latter scenario will prevail, I do feel the points raised in this book on this subject of isolationism will sensitise all consumer custodians to pro-actively interact, engage and enthuse consumers.

A brand’s discount / retailers’ markdown is a shopper’s profit!! Retailers and shoppers especially within lifestyle categories are discovering this by having to rely on a near perpetual “sale” always on slow burn in the store shelves. The book celebrates this world of bargains and yet presents an alternative: the “plus one” incentives that are becoming part of many brand’s proposition.

Customisations, an event, developing multiple uses of the product, entertaining pop-up stores are some examples of “plus-one” incentives Yarrow refers to. The section ‘Intensified Emotions’ builds around the insight of how shoppers visualise for a product, how it will look at home, how it will be used, and in doing so, reduce the dissonance while purchasing a product.

Champions, customisation, crowdsourcing and contests are the four opportunities the author states to involve the customer at various stages of the product life cycle. These sections are however mentioned as a template and would possibly merit another dedicated book! These thoughts evolve later into a need for a brand to be “involved” in its communication and Yarrow suggests four consumer needs for a brand to acknowledge — “talk like me”, “make it about me”, “surprise me” and “shock me”. If we scan a lot of advertising today from the lens of these four needs, many brand communications are likely to require a complete re-imagination.

Through the book, Yarrow manages to share a glimpse into interesting examples of brands having adapted to the consumer socio-cultural shifts. Adidas, Panerai, Frito-Lays are some examples of brands having put mega activations to live up to these fundamental shifts.

This book repeatedly transports the reader into the retail shopfloor, but always through the lens of the shopper. It also acknowledges how deficits in financial resources, time and emotional support causes “stress shopping”, and how brands have managed to break through by focused deals , through association with experts and by making shopping easier. An apt illustration is how a shelf planogram of small, medium and large kept from top to bottom is completely out of sync where tall shoppers bend and short consumers tiptoe to reach for their size of garment, and getting more stressed in their shopping visit.

Consumers move far more quickly than organisations. In many ways, the author is able to establish that the thirst to know and understand people will cause a marketer to move from good to best. This book is for all those who like to be with consumers in some form, function or purpose.

Nayak is CEO, Future Retail

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)