Hello Kitty

I’ve always been a fan of the Hello Kitty brand, mostly because the founders never “gave” the brand a positioning, It was always about letting the consumer define what it meant to her. I loved that.

Until yesterday, I was cool with that. But yesterday I wandered around the Chicago Cultural Center (which is an amazing space) during a break from the 8th Annual Marketing to Women Conference, into an exhibit that was a celebration of type and fonts and words. (very cool exhibit, btw)

Being a marketing woman for decades, I must say the exhibit was super engaging and I took a bunch of pictures and fully enjoyed the visual stimulation.

And then I found this image titled “Hell No Kitty” and it made me sad. Especially since some guy, named Zach Schrey, whoever he is (and I’m NOT googling him) exhibited this screen print he did in 201o of the Hello Kitty image.

a sad day for women

I’m sad because this was and is an iconic brand that always inspired women to create their own meaning, which is an uber-powerful concept, especially in marketing, where the norm is to push your brand meaning out and on to your target audience. Hello Kitty trail-blazed the idea that women, even young girls, had power to create meaning in the world.

And then,  some random guy who I don’t even know just trashes all that goodness with what he calls art, titled “Hell No Kitty.” All I can say is UGH! Well, I could say more but it might be profane.

I’m posting his “art” even though I don’t want to give him any press. But I am posting it so women might be inspired to rise up and say “HELL YES KITTY” as an anthem for women to make their own mark and their own meaning in the world of marketing today.

That is the inspiration I got from the 2012 Marketing to Women conference called She’s Got the Power. She does, and she is me and you and us. So let’s just use that power. Shall we? I plan to use mine by buying and gifting Hello Kitty merchandise to all the young girls I know. Will you join me?




Is price the only answer to showrooming at retail? I think not.

If you touch retail in any manner in your profession, you’ve no doubt heard about “showrooming” – the practice of using a smartphone from a store aisle to check prices and potentially buy from another retailer or an online only retailer.

This practice isn’t going away, in fact I believe it will increase, causing a potential billion dollar problem for our nation’s retailers. Amazon is the most notable beneficiary of the dollars that leak out of both the retailer’s physical store and website.

This week, an article in the Wall Street Journal posed the thought that the only answer to this problem is price. The common belief is that retailers have to do whatever it takes to get their price points down to match Amazon. I SAY THIS IS CRAZY.  If price is the only rathole left for retailers to go down, I, for one, am going to call it a day and go work on a golf course driving the beverage cart. (my dream retirement job, in case you don’t know me that well).

Why do I feel this way? Because my years in the business of marketing strategy have taught me a few things about the almighty shopper, even those with the smartphone in their hands in the aisle.

First point. Price is important.There are a lot of shoppers who will flit from retailer to retailer for price. So let’s just give up now, right? WRONG.

There’s one solution on the table that makes sense in the digital world, and that is to use “near-field” communications to offer an in-aisle shopper a price-match to retain the sale in the store. “Offering people personalized prices through their mobile device may be the most effective way to beat showrooming,” said Anne Zybowski, director of retail insights for KantarRetail, a global consulting firm. But that practice has huge margin implications, for the likes of Walmart, Target and BestBuy, especially as showrooming behavior escalates.

BestBuy is on to a good old fashioned retail idea – incentivize the sales person to close the sale on the floor. Really.

If you are a student of human behavior, and I am, it’s clear that marketing should always intersect with anthropology. You’ll want to remember that for ages and ages, and still today, the number one influencer of purchase behavior is information from other people. Also known as word-of-mouth. Human influence. Yes, it can come from a smartphone in the aisle, in the form of ratings and reviews. The shoppers are absorbing content that influences their behavior from other humans. The smartphone is just the device to bring the content to them in a most convenient way! But really, it’s best from human to human.

REMEMBER THIS  – Over 70% of conversations that influence behavior take place face-to-face. Read this blog post from Keller Fay to see the details. Only 10% of it happens online.

REMEMBER THIS TOO – 75% of consumers say they will walk out of the store if they don’t have access to knowledgeable associates. And 80% of consumers say their shopping experience is improved when staff is eager to help. This comes from a whitepaper from Retail TouchPoints based on research conducted late in 2011.

AND THIS – 71% of retail executives say that shoppers want a meaningful experience with the sales associate as brand ambassador with strong product knowledge and the ability to up-sell and cross-sell for greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. This comes from a Deloitte Retail Survey in 2011.

Just consider those recent research results. I’ve been reading similar research for decades. So why is price the only solution to showrooming? It’s not.

Maybe if the retail show room actually was a showroom with people to “show shoppers” something, to perhaps participate in some face-to-face human influence, retailers might have a more powerful weapon against Amazon and other online only retailers. And they might just provide the kind of shopping experience shoppers crave. Fancy that.

Despite whatever is said about not being able to “afford” this human solution, I propose that it might just be worthy of a little more face-to-face discussion. I’d bring the chart below from Nielsen as Exhibit A.

Human conversation. Face to Face. A alternative solution to showrooming.

The debate on using BIG DATA for retail insights!

Yesterday, the RetailWire discussion board posed some questions about the merits of using big data sets to gain understandings and insights into shoppers. Use of big data sets is a growing trend, in part because the data is available, and in part because advanced (and mega-fast) analytics truly can churn out a lot of information.

But the key is what is actually done with the data, both on the front-end query and the back-end actions taken from data outputs.

The comments are here in the link below. Whatever your job, if you touch retail in any manner, this is worth ten minutes of your time to read.

(In my humble shopper marketing opinion!)




Windows into the Future

Occasionally, when I’m out and about, I’ll take photos and post my personal opinions about retail merchandising. If you find cool things and want to share them here, let me know and I’ll lend you a page here to do that!

Perhaps taking a page from the Ralph Lauren book of best-in-class story-telling at retail, BestBuy gets a “nice job” from ShopperAnnie on the window displays I ran across in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. Dramatic in their styling, each tells a different lifestyle story, and two of three featured QR codes to embellish the information available to window shoppers.

My particular favorite is the kitchen window featuring Keurig coffee makers. Who knew you could get one of those at BestBuy? Perhaps I’m enamored more because I covet a Keurig. BestBuy not only tweaked my desire, but got on the list. Time did not allow me to explore the in-store presentation in the Chicago store, but I’ve got a trip to BestBuy on my brain to check it out. Do I dare hope to get an actual cup of coffee while in-store? If it were me, I’d make that event happen in-store and add, even on a temporary basis, a window cling with “come on in for a cup of coffee” on it.

Come on in for a cup of coffee!

I also liked the “photo story” window, although it may have been stronger if it featured an actual photo story.

Every picture tells a story, don't it?

The least impactful window, to me, featured tablets. In a category that’s hot, this display effort, while matching the visual theme of the other two, fell way short of creating any real desire. Maybe they’ll jazz it up a bit with the iPad 3 launch.

And by the way, enjoy the reflections of a bit of Chicago in the photos. It was a gorgeous sunny Saturday when we shopped Chicago.

Sea of Pink at Retail Needs a Reboot


For those who might not know, I’m a BrainTrust Panelist on RetailWire.com, a weekday discussion site that poses three topics each day. Today’s topic is about Pinkwashing, and you can read the lead-in here, which outlines the issue.

The Discussion Questions: Do you see a pinkwashing backlash coming? How should retailers and brands deal with the issue in light of the potential for increased scrutiny from consumers, advocate groups and the media?

This topic actually has a great response, and the issue of supporting breast cancer research and programs is a personal issue for many, including myself, having lost both family and friends to this killer disease.

But, the panelists were asked, in essence, a marketing question, and I’m posting my response below, not only because I’m an adamant believer in what I wrote, but because I’m more than willing to donate some time to a worthy brand or retailer that might want to conduct an innovation session to re-think different go-to-market strategies for October 2012.

My response:

Instead of turning all the products and packaging pink, I wish marketers would think about providing consumers with more directly useful ways to contribute to the cause. If manufacturers are supporting a trade discount deal to get the merchandising, plus paying the expenses to produce pink products and POS, why not skip all that expense and get shoppers engaged in something more meaningful. An example of this might be brand ambassadors serving pink Vitamin Water at Komen walks. To me, that brand association is way more meaningful/memorable to spectators and participants (whom are all shoppers) than pink labels on the shelf in October.

On the retail side, I don’t understand why more retailers don’t adopt the method Whole Foods uses to collect money for good charities, allowing shoppers to round up their bill to the nearest dollar and donate the money on the spot to breast cancer research, free mammograms or whatever.

We’re stuck in the pink sea of sameness; it’s time for new thinking and more engaging ways to support this worthy cause. For the 2012 planning cycle, brands should be determined not to push the repeat button on their promotional planning and instead challenge the women in their organizations to get an innovation workshop together and make 2012 something better.

Your opportunity: Get it touch with me if you’re serious about re-booting your efforts for 2012. I’m willing to support the cause with some of my time and skill-set as a inovation planning workshop moderator.

I think it’s time for a re-boot in planning for October 2012.

My Missoni Mistake

I’m no rookie when it comes to shopping. This morning, while commenting on shopper behavior on the RetailWire site where I’m an “expert panelist” I made the decision to switch my planned grocery trip to Target (not Meijer) and go check out the Missoni apparel scene. The discussion topic was about the shopper quest for a trophy purchase, and I used the Missoni collection at Target as an example.

Before heading out, I browsed the collection on Target.com, noting a few sweaters I might consider as my personal trophy purchase.  The “out of stock” notices on much of the apparel online should have been my first clue.

Indeed, only one day after the launch,  every rack of Missoni at my local Target was already re-stocked with Merona, Xhiliration and Mossimo items. Even the kids area and the accessories areas were bare. The only Missoni item left in the entire store was a plastic headband, hardly the statement piece I thought I might acquire.

Target got an $86.00 basket ring from my journey for a fashion find. The closest thing to fashion in the cart, however, was Maybeline mascara.

Savvy shopper that I am,  I tracked down an “in-the-know” associate who gave me the story ( it ALL sold out in 30 minutes, she reported) AND whispered to me the date that the store will have more Missoni. That date is not advertised and will remain my dirtly little secret until I rectify that mistake and get my trophy Missoni sweater.

I can’t remember the last time a retail event made me note my calendar, set an alarm alert and will get me in the store the minute they unlock the door.


Sparked-Up Takeaways from 2011 Shopper Insights In Action

Last week I spent three days at the IIR Shopper Insights in Action conference in Chicago. It was my seventh annual, and I must say 7/11/11 was more than just free Slurpee day, it was a lucky day to start slurping up new and highly useful insights.

I think I heard the phrase “Insights to Activation” about a hundred times. Having spent the better part of the last ten years preaching and practicing the mantra, I am happy the phrase is now ubiquitous.

However, my 2011 conference mindset was really to be both radar and sponge for what’s out at the fringes. And this year, the clear winner for sparked-up insight was neuro-research, despite the litany of pros and cons. Why? Because so much of the neuro research can indeed validate intuition; what many of us have spent years cultivating, which is a profound sense of what might disrupt things for shoppers in a positive manner.

I feel lucky to have had (at the 2011 SIA conference) multiple exposures to this young (by comparison) science that can help provide oft-needed validation to many “gut-level” genius ideas that emerge from innovation and never get funded. It makes me feel more hopeful about the future of shopper marketing.

On Wednesday I heard the phrase “Insight to Innovation to Income” from keynote speaker Dr. A.K. Pradeep of NeuroFocus:  It became the key takeaway of the conference for me in a nanosecond. (Frankly, it gave me goosebumps, as I applied some of the immediate learnings to a new retail concept I’ve personally been working on.)

At the end of the day, success is always about applying a deeper understanding of shopper behavior. Neuro research has unlocked a way for us to understand how shoppers are in touch with their deepest emotions, and how emotions influence decision making. It has also unlocked information about how important it is to understand visual processing, how memory works, and the importance of non-conscious processing and patterning that guides decisions.

While the learning is fantastic, the excitement, for me, is in the application, what I’ve always called the “so what and the do what.” I’m so willing, and I hope I’m not the only one, to play on the fringes and begin testing some of the key learnings as stimulus for the ShopperSparks(SM) Innovation sessions my firm sells.

Who else is game? I’m thinking about an innovation session that focuses on what could be dramatic, simple and disruptive retail and shopping models for the future. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who had tons of new ideas that jumped out from listening to many of the neuro research findings from smart, savvy presenters like Jonah Lehrer, Siemon Scamell-Katz of TNS and Dr. Pradeep.

I’m deep into the new Lehrer book, How We Decide, and next on my docket is Pradeep’s book The Buying Brain. New stimulus, combined with passion, innovative minds and a workshop format that encourages building-on practices will take learning from the leading edge of science and into practices that can result in pure shopper delight.

What’s not to love about that! 


All Aboard the Innovation Train!

It matters not if you’re a retailer or manufacturer. At some point, you have to look in the mirror and say it out loud – “how do I get off this destructive price promotion train?”

That mirror reflects fear in the eyes of many as margin-eroding price discounting seems to be the only way to maintain or maybe eke out a point of share growth. We’re worried that new shopping behaviors signal permanent change. But that’s an oxymoron, folks.

The one thing we can count on going forward is more change. So why are we afraid to create some change ourselves? Why do so many companies slow down on innovation when change is the marketplace is inevitable?

Innovators, not fearless by any means, win because they continually strive to to act on cultural inflection points earlier than others. And they seek, through the process of innovation, to be the inspiration or catalyst of change in the marketplace.

I am a proponent of having two trains, and acting like the conductor on the second. If discounting has to be a part of the volume train, so be it. Anybody can ride the caboose and still get somewhere. But to have a high speed innovation train stirring up dust and seeking new tracks to growth is akin to sticking your head out the window and smelling the winds of change amid all that fresh air.

Looking ahead, sniffing out the seeds of change on the track to future growth is not for the faint of heart. But if your goal is any kind of shopper perception and behavior change beyond “hunting for the coupon that’s killing your margins” I suggest a ride on an innovation train is well worth the price of the ticket.

Come on, BE the little engine that could.