Sea of Pink at Retail Needs a Reboot


For those who might not know, I’m a BrainTrust Panelist on, 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.

When Color Matters, Moleskine & Target Deliver

Blue or black ink doesn’t make the cut. Give me purple, pink, green or even orange, please. I’m the consultant who buys the “Caribbean Collection” of Sharpie markers in the dead of winter to liven up a client’s brand planning session.  It’s just my thing, and I don’t much care if it costs a few bucks more. It makes me happy to be colorful.

So when it comes to what to write on, I’m pretty picky as well. I tend to opt for a trip to Utrecht Art Supplies for Strathmore notebooks, with no lines, and acid free 30% post consumer fiber paper with the bright blue covers. I’m serious about saving my notebooks, and have them dated so I can go back to conference notes, idea sessions, and major project notes.

I’ve never been a Moleskine girl, until last week when I happened across this back-to-school display at Target.

A much more fun way to take notes where ever you are!

I had recently read a few articles on Moleskine’s upcoming launch of business cases and bags, which had heightened my interest in the brand. Even though I only saw sketches, there was a bag I began to covet. I browsed, which involved more feeling than looking, and bought my first Moleskine notebook at $17.95. I hesitated at the price, but felt a desire that won out over budget. I bought the blank page notebook with the cool orange graphic. I’ve now traveled with it and because it’s different, have had to turn it over for examination by at least eight or nine other marketing/communication/consulting business friends, each who carries some kind of notebook all the time.

My new Moleskine attracts attention with cool graphic!

From the comments I’ve heard, I’ve drawn a few shopper marketing conclusions. First off, Moleskine brand has a definite cache, sort of akin to Apple. I felt my stock rise in a familiar sort of way you can feel but that is hard to explain. Secondly, the product performs beautifully. How the pen and paper interact is essential to those who write notes, it has to be smooth and fast, period. Thirdly, its partnership with Target feels like a perfect fit to even the long-time Moleskine elite. Easy availability is a plus and the colorful collection makes the partnership feel very appropriate for both brands.

As happy as I am with my purchase, it’s hard not to sniff out an opportunity. Which one of the writing brands could pair up a perfect pen with Moleskine at Target for the fashionable bundle that could be sold as a set all year long? Now that I found a great notebook, I’m already worried I’ll never see it again at Target until August of 2012!

In fact, I’m changing my shopping trip for groceries to Target today just so I can try to get another one before they are gone!

FOLLOW UP NOTE – I did go back to Target, and indeed the notebooks I love were sold out. I did, however find and bought a lined Moleskine with a red cover that was marked down from $17.95 to $8.97. In the meantime, Target gained a trip and a basket ring of about $55 that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten from ShopperAnnie, thanks to the unique, albeit limited product strategy they’re so good at!

Come on baby light my fire…..

If you need a way to set your shopping marketing efforts on fire, take a look at the SHOPPERSPARKS(SM) session outline. Driven by the strategic principles of crowdsourcing, we’ve pulled together a workshop outline that is tested and proven to over-deliver on concepts that can drive commercial innovation and success in shopper marketing.
I think there are four keys to lighting a good fire:
1. Pick the right spot. You wouldn’t start a fire in the office parking lot and expect to have fun. So why would you try to get out of the box and innovate in your boring conference room? We purposely put our sessions in interesting places, like an art gallery or the Zoo or a place like Catalyst Ranch. Environment matters. Lighting up ideas requires visual stimulation. And less time with our butts in chairs.
2. Lay the groundwork. Frame up the problem by building the story of the Shopper’s Journey with barriers as the guideposts. Then let us help you re-frame the problem so we can approach it differently. I remember being shown by my Dad the Boy Scout Leader that there are at least three ways to lay a fire. One match and they all burn the same. Same principle for problems. Lay them out differently for alternate routes to a hot solution.
3. Get good fuel. Wet wood doesn’t work. Dry kindling is a great start. We call them Sparklers, they are people we add to the mix. The analogy is that they are proven dry kindling, able to spark up with ideas and to build on them until you have a bog bonfire of an idea that can light up the sky with new solutions. Sometimes too many insiders just sit there and smolder, generating too much smoke and not enough sparks. Borrowing from crowdsourcing, getting good fuel for the fire is what’s called smartsourcing.
4. Give it air. As in fresh air. New, external, seemingly unrelated stimulus to think about and apply to your problem is like fresh air. It’s about getting out of your silo, your box, your aisle and your category. It’s also sort of fun to find a bunch of success stories and “rip and re-apply” the principle elements to your issue.  Fresh air comes from all over the planet. We help you find it and how to blow it over the problems like  perfect breeze.
Playing with fire can be fun. Especially when there is an adventurous but skilled Girl Scout in charge.
Oh yes, ShopperAnnie is and always will be a Girl Scout. Let’s go to camp and have some fun.
I promise we can help you light the fire!

Walmart activates Moms on Match It Program, but is it working?

When Walmart began airing it’s TV ads letting the nation know it will match prices, a little bit of chaos ensued. Namely, the sales associates wouldn’t match prices at the registers unless the shopper had the other ad in hand. Hmmm, not so good for the shopper, right?

After a few weeks of confusion, Walmart has taken steps to actually help the shopper get the deals. But shoppers must still ask. The good news is that Walmart is now training associates to be more responsible themselves to have other ads and flyers handy, and to take some personal responsibility to the mission of attracting more shoppers more often by being ready to make good on the national ad campaign.

Interestingly, the retailer has also activated the Walmart Moms to make and post personal videos on their blogs and on YouTube to help train shoppers how to navigate the policy and get the deal. I looked at some of these video’s and while they’re helpful, they’re not getting many views. One posted on April 12 had 87 views, another had 287. That’s not making a very big dent in clearing up the confusion.

Is Walmart too late? Is the price-matching campaign just another grasp for shoppers who have moved on and found satisfying shopping experiences elsewhere? I have to drive 30 minutes to get to the nearest Walmart supercenter, so this is a campaign lost on me, given the price of gas and about twenty other well-priced options I can shop without feeling very much financial stress. I also, just for fun, looked at the 18 coupons I could print from and decided there wasn’t anything worth activating. If I had a pet, the best offers out there were from Purina, just in case anyone with pets wants to print them!

What about you? I’d love to share some experiences, so let’s hear your shopper stories and point-of-view on this effort.

PLEASE help me say YES to the Mother of Bride dress!

So, the short story is that the custom dress is a no-go, and there’s only 7 weeks left till the big day. I’m back on the Shopper’s Journey.

Help me fashionistas. My vision was lightweight, swingy, breezy but in a sophisticated way befitting for the mother, not the gorgeous bride and her maids, all of whom are young, fit, and stunning in their own right.

This dress is on order as of last night from Saks at the price of $310 plus $15 shipping. It’s really pretty on, despite the super intensity of the Melon color. It’s kind of heavy and no swing. Yes or No?

This next one I already own. It’s a Sadashi Toji and fits nicely, especially when the Spanx are on! Not crazy about the jewels, could change them, and it too is not swingy. I have  other May and August weddings to attend, so this was the back-up and I know I’ll wear it. It was $258, when I ordered I did not know it was unreturnable. Note to self, read the fine print, ShopperAnnie! Yes or No as the MOB dress?

And now for some real fun. My bride daughter is HOOKED on and she orders from them almost weekly for her social life, which is pretty darn active! So I signed up, and have been shopping for jewelry to rent for the wedding.

When the custom dress disaster happened, I posted a help notice and some parameters to the @RentTheRunway twitter account. Yes, I do these things all the time. Twitter is the BEST for customer service! So, I get a posted reply this morning with 4 links, one of which I fall in love with. What do you think? Mother of groom wearing blue, intense shade, and all the men are in custom made light grey suits. So the neckline is PERFECT, right? Yes or No?

Oh, and the rental price is $100. Not bad, eh? I’m getting this one shipped ASAP for a test trial. PS – if you want to sign up for RTR, let me know your e-mail and I’ll refer you. The referral bonus is a great program!

And, there’s one more I found while browsing the RentTheRunway site. Might be an option too, and is only $50 to rent. I like this brand, Robert Rodriguez, the fabrics have a nice hand. But still no swing in the skirt…  Yes or No on getting this one in for a test run?

Fashionistas and friends, weigh in now and help me say Yes to the dress! Many thanks in advance for your collective wisdom.

DataData vs. ShopperShopper

The ISMI Shopper Marketing Summit in Chicago this week was a “brain on fire” event, very fitting for the 10th anniversary of a conference designed to be small, smart and easy to navigate and network. It delivered on all counts.

While just about every session I attended was high caliber, several notable speakers stood out as excitingly excellent! Yet in retrospect, they were at opposite sides of the insights spectrum.  As the shopper marketing industry matures and becomes more “science” driven, it’s not surprising that the juicy new brain fuel is coming from the outside edges.

I like to learn and be inspired at the edges of the industry. To me it’s like choosing to explore the unknown stream with your kayak instead of just riding the tide of the big waterway. The discovery is always worth the extra effort.

The edges in insights are 3.0 versions of what I’ll call “DataData” and  “ShopperShopper.” From a data perspective, it’s no secret we are swimming hard against the current but still drowning in an ocean of misused or underused data and information. Much of it is still only being bought and used for tracking and reporting today’s business or to answer fire drills in corporate silos,  according to Jill Brant from KantarRetail. Jill told a story about her life, and the potential insights that could be uncovered and transformed into solutions by new methods in ways data can and should be “crunched” today. She challenged marketers to ask different questions of the data, and get better answers by layering data differently to find answers. Especially relevant for marketers that depend on relationships with grocers with loyalty card data.

On the post measurement side of  the “DataData” method of deriving insights, Jill also posits that brand should re-examine how it measures shopper marketing strategies by using new analysis methods to discover “did the effort actually drive the change in shopper behavior I set as my objective?”

A notable example of different, creative ways to derive insight from data is the partnership that Safeway has with 4Square. When Safeway learns how many of their card-holding shoppers check in at the dog park weekly,  it can offer me solutions in pet care (that might include snacks and even a portable water dish that fits in a shopper backpack) Smart, solution oriented and relevant to shoppers even without a coupon. Safeway can also socialize the offer through Facebook, Twitter and all of its other shopper communications vehicles.

On the “ShopperShopper” side of the spectrum, deriving insights from measuring shoppers emotional responses to visual cues and pattern recognition can also be a powerful way to adjust strategic activation at the shelf. Dr. Hugh Phillips of Phillips, Foster and Boucher presented shopper research that verifies instinctual shopper response to visual shape cues at the shelf. He used the Pringles can as an example.

I’ll interpret this in the dog treats frame of reference to illustrate his point. If we know shoppers respond emotionally to shape cues, why wouldn’t we shape the packaging or a display unit for dog treats to look like a dog bone. Giving dogs a treat is a more emotional satisfying experience for the owner than it is for the dog. Add a heart shape in the dog bone and the emotional interpretation for the shopper could instantly be recognizable as “doggy love.”   Is anyone brave enough to test this and perhaps forever own the “shapes” that translates instantly to a powerful emotional/visual purchase cue?  Why not get out on the edge and merchandise differently? Play at the fringes and potentially be a category change agent as well as a shopper-centric marketer.

Another shopper-centric insights effort that nicely combines both ShopperShopper and DataData is Shopper Sciences. John Ross, a classic storyteller, helped create and engagingly presented the science to use largely non-invasive sensors to track, aggregate and analyze shoppers’ subconscious response to just about any kind of stimulus. They can determine not only the nature of the influence on behavior, but why.

A cake mix manufacturer used the tool to uncover that the answer to gaining and holding share lies in helping the shopper feel confident in succeeding on her party vision and giving her creative ideas with directions to make that very special cake. These factors far outweigh deliciousness and price. With a package change and idea dispenser (not coupon) dispenser at the shelf, look for one brand to perhaps take a giant leap forward in a category that’s a virtual commodity display of center-store vanilla today. Ads can focus on confidence promotion, not product, and websites/videos can show what you do with the product, not what the product does.

From a Data/Data perspective, the heat-maps, charts and graphs the research produces are simple, clear and full of data that shopper marketers can use immediately to change their actions to better connect with shoppers. What’s more, the output includes a net influence ranking by media node, so the whole team knows how to re-allocate the same budget in a much more productive manner. Finally, a marketing mix solution that includes all of the pre-shopping tools such as offline social, search and online discovery.  Nirvana for bold and ready-to-leap ahead marketers.

The shopper marketing industry suddenly teeming with innovation. I think the outputs from new methods of new insights methodology is perfect fodder for stimulus in the new ShopperSparksSM commercial innovation session service my firm just released. I’m looking forward to putting these new tools into practice with brave, bold marketers.

Let’s steer our kayaks off the main river and paddle our way up the edgy streams to new territories that will certainly lead to a plethora of engaging shopper solutions. As I’ve said before, my brain lit up with ideas as a result of the newest thinking in both DataData and ShopperShopper insights. Thank you ISMI for a world-class Shopper Summit. Happy 1oth Anniversary.


I’m lusting after a water bottle. Really?

I’m impressed by this winning display merchandising, the product and the story. Water is one of those essential elements that is very visceral, and so pleasing in so many ways.

I learned of BottlesUp a month ago. I adore the website homepage photo. I’ve showed it to about a dozen people. Normally I don’t lust after a new product. But this lovely glass water bottles lives up to all the right expectations. It’s a work of art, innovatively spot-on for shoppers who walk the walk in being both eco-friendly and effortlessly hip. When I found the company on Twitter, I reached out and made the connection. I can’t stop visualizing that water bottle in my hand.  I want the orange one.

Now that we’re connected, I asked for a visit when I’m on my Mother’s Day Road Trip. I’m excited to visit them in Bluffton, SC on May 5th! I can’t wait to hear the business start-up story. And to congratulate Laurel Hertel, artist, innovator and winner of a very nice award at this year’s Housewares Show.


The Mobile Misfire

In my guest post for the Shopper 360 blog this week, I took a jab at how the shopper marketing industry is using mobile marketing. In a nutshell, my biggest frustration is watching the stats grow on shopper use of mobile coupons, knowing full well this is an extension of unprofitable trade promotion practices being extended to the shopper smartphone. It’s not good for manufacturers bottom line nor is it good for a brand. Marketers are being seduced by user stats to think it’s a good idea, but I think shopper marketers should re-think this strategy.

After my post went live, Tim Hedrich @hedrichcreative astutely used the word “misfire” as descriptor for what is happening in mobile today. So he gets credit for the title of this blog post. There are countless ways to use mobile marketing to provide more value through solutions and service. I’ll cover that in next Thursday’s post on the Shopper 360 blog and link to it here.

In the meantime, let me clarify that I’m not suggesting we never use coupons in mobile marketing. What I am saying is that many vendors jumped on the coupon train as perhaps the path of least resistance with manufacturers to generate revenue in smartphone advertising. I stoop up in a conference last year after hearing a pitch from a vendor and challenged the concept. I said then and I’m re-stating it again now. It is NOT a good business practice to continue to extend more and more coupon offers to shoppers just because there is a new form in which to do it. It’s time to re-group the team strategists and think harder about a new playbook to win the game in mobile marketing.

Say Yes to the Dress – Girls Party Weekend

One would think by the time we get to the wedding shower phase of the year-long bridal journey, we’d be off the “dress theme” for at least a few months. But no, we are all about the dress. You see, the bride-to-be is addicted to For good reasons.

She looks adorable in just about every dress she ever rents, especially the well-cut designer duds! Plus, she works 60+ hours a week and travels non-stop. So the RentTheRunway business model suits her lifestyle very well. Literally she gets off a plane on Friday evenings, picks up the box on the doorstep of wherever she’s landed for the weekend, and after a 5 minute stint with an iron, is on her way out for fun. Sometime she rents the jewelry to accessorize as well! Her TravelPro “consultant luggage” is full of suits and workout clothes and of course, party shoes.

Last weekend a bunch of her girlfriends came into Detroit for a Saturday night party and a Sunday brunch wedding shower. After singing the praises of to her friends for months on end, the unthinkable almost happened. We stroll into the Saturday party to find her good friend Sarah had rented and was wearing the identical dress bride-to-be had rented for the Sunday shower!

A few “weddding cake shots” later, the two girls agreed to rent identical dresses for a party in the near future just for laughs. They’re saying yes to the dress. They’re also saying yes to and actively promoting a business model that is identically matched to their lives!


Delivering on Share of Solutions means Less Ties to Physical Products

Today I found a perfect example of something Bryan Gildenberg of Kantar Retail spent  time talking about at the Executive Forum last week. Just product is so old school. Let’s get a big jump on solutions. It’s not all that hard.

For marketers everywhere, the focus on shoppers has never been more pronounced. Being open to a closer, more personal relationship with shoppers means you can listen. learn and begin to think like a shopper. The airline industry is beginning to get it. I’m a frequent traveler. Now, I can choose from door-to-destination luggage service, special security lanes and designer snacks on the plane. All good solutions to my shopper problems.

I almost missed my flight to the Kantar Retail conference due to a security line that felt like it stretched from Detroit to Toledo. You bet I would have paid a few bucks more for a fast line and a good breakfast snack on my flight. That’s a shopper solution that delivers on the personal relationship I already have going on with Delta.

Bryan (smart guy) Gildenberg advised marketers to line up solutions planning with the mission of the company or brand. He says “marry your mission to the goal of changing the economics at shelf” by solving problems, and thinking about solutions in the context of your relationship with the shopper.

Another Kantar Retail  SVP John Rand gave this example: “Think ring tones and network bundles versus the phone itself. And yes, I paid extra for personal ring tones without batting an eye. It’s worth it to hear “Sweet Caroline” when so-named daughter calls her Mama!

In a commodity driven environment, it’s not always feasible to change the product itself and hit the shoppers with a price increase. That’s almost a certainty in many consumer product categories today. So, as shopper marketers,  we need to get moving and recast the problems shoppers face, striving to learn new insights that can drive ideation for solutions.

Sometimes the pay-out doesn’t come immediately. But the right solution will take hold and become something people can communicate with each other about. I’m thinking about that girl’s golf weekend in Vegas where none of us has to schlep the clubs. United will do it for $79 per person. Bring it to me Delta! I’m yours.