Pouch obsession can pose dangers for toddlers.

Sometimes a key insight smacks you like cold water in the face.

I had the honor of watching my 21 month old grandchild in my home last week. Believe me,  I got plenty of water in my face as she showed me her swimming kicks at every bath!

But I also realized that anything in a pouch type package goes directly in the mouth, which I witnessed in horror as she grabbed and sucked on an open sample pouch of organic baby shampoo her Mom left for us to use.

Given the surge in Mommy using pouch packed foods as convenient nutrition, even this “real-foods” based girl has had pouch foods for on-the-go nutrition. So we’d been at Harris Teeter earlier that day to grab two Plum Organic pouches of airplane-ready travel food for the trip home later in the week.  I quickly stashed it out of sight, but all day she pestered me to “hold it” or “have pouch” or “eat pouch”, all of which I successfully dodged.

Later in the bath, she saw and immediately grabbed the shampoo pouch, gleefully exclaiming “Maren do it” and into the mouth it went. You can imagine the ruckus that began when I snatched it out of her slippery little hand. This girl modeled her objection after Adele. Full-bodied, loud and long.

The insight hit me again the next day when we tried to apply sunscreen from, yes, you guessed it, a pouch-like container. I got the full blown “Maren do it” and had to act lightning fast to avoid another episode.

I bring this up not as a new “so-what” but as a “do-what” for anyone who looks after a child. An insight is only useful if applied. Realize these things:

  • the associations made in the toddler brain can’t discern the difference between good or bad things in pouch packaging
  • the toddleer sucking for nutrition and satisfaction instinct is still very strong
  • the inherent default for a toddler is “I do it” and they get great satisfaction and praise from others for just about any accomplishment
  • when “they do it”  – they get a dopamine shot in the brain and then they crave it again and again
  • no amount of  logical conversation with a toddler changes this.

Pouched nutrition is a convenient way to accomplish feeding young ones. But we must all be aware that the dangers of “pouch obsession” translating to ingesting very bad substances are very real and must be managed with great care by parents and childcare professionals alike.

A new view on spending in December!

This is the first year I’ve used up all my healthcare pre-tax savings account. To be completely transparent, it was gone in August. And now it’s December. And I’m still spending!

I’m spending on healthcare this month like it was all I wanted for Christmas!

One might surmise that I’m not feeling well, or that I have some disease, but that’s not it. I’ve spent most of my money on wellness procedures to get some nagging aches and pains under control. And that worked. (insert smiley face here).

The new view on December spending is frankly this: I’ve met my deductible and can finally tap into my insurance.

Now I get why all the docs are so jammed in December. And I’m glad I had appointments booked in advance.

On my spending list this month is some shoulder therapy, which has helped my golf swing and is also prep work for a January trip that includes white water rafting and zip-line fun in Costa Rica. Today I go to pick out and pay for new glasses, that’s always an expensive treat given I’m now up to three layers of vision in the lenses!

And Monday the hubby and I are both off to the lab to prove to our interinst that our “number” are better and our health efforts have been worth it.

Too bad, Walmart, Target and the mall stores. Too bad Amazon Prime.  Our gift budgets are gone. But we’re making the best choices we can, given what our premiums and deductibles will be come January. Taking the long view has changed our December spending, but we are feeling like Santa came early!

I’m totally upside down!

Putting a camera in front of my face is one of my favorite ways to use my brain. For me, when I’m using my vision and perspective with the equipment, I’m also allowing my brain to do its own thing with whatever I’m working on for business.

The beauty is the dual outcome. I get photos that please me and ideas that please my clients.

What’s not to love about that?

Here’s a little treat of a photo on a clear fall day at Big Lake in Northern Michigan. I love this reflective world we live in!!

The world on the lake is wonderful when it’s upside down.


Crackin’ with McCracken

A few years back I sat in a conference hall enjoying this jitter-bug kind of of guy flit about the stage and roam up and down the aisles ranting about human culture and marketing.

I was riled up, excited by this McCracken guy, being a former student of both anthropology and marketing… and then of course I had to go back to work.  I’m lucky my work combines these disciplines nicely, working through various models for innovation and insight.

Today, I’m more excited than ever, reading Grant McCracken’s new book “Culturematic” because the main theme is about blowing up the models and provoking the world with experiments that probe the possible.

It’s easy to love this kind of a book. It’s hard to get paid to do the kind of work he’s recommending. But it’s 100% possible to invigorate your mind with this thinking.

I’m gonna get crackin’ on finishing this book and give my mind a nice big long rope to play with. This is business conversation worth joining.



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!)




How to keep current on retail issues!


Today, I’m posting a link (above) to my comments on the RetailWire discussion site. It’s a wonderful site, and I’m proud to have been a BrainTrust panelist for a number of years.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you.

I encourage you to read and participate in this daily discussion board. Anyone can post, not just the panelists. It’s great to see what everyone has to say. I use links to RW discussion boards all the time to keep up on issues and inform my clients.

Here is the link to the main site, so you can bookmark it for daily or weekly reading and posting.



PayPal – Brand or Commodity?

Well. I just got an e-mail to take a survey about PayPal. I thought: “I use it, so why not take the survey?”

I think I flunked.  The invite told me it would take ten minutes, which I was willing to invest…but it only took two…..a sure sign of self-select termination survey research.

When I thought about it while answering the first few questions, the brand doesn’t really have a benefit to me other than it allows me to pay my tech service vendor with one-click.  I literally use it ONLY for that. When I answered the first two questions in that frank of a manner, the survey then stopped, and told me “Thanks, we have no further questions.”

Hmmmm. I have a sneaking feeling that in fact, PayPal might want to hear more about why I dumped its brand into a commodity category the moment I tried to find more than a convenience benefit and could not. I can’t recall thinking about wanting or trying to set up PayPal to be my go-to payment method for anything else. I have a (sort-of) positive feelings about the brand, but when pressed , those feeling are really not anything I’ve ever acted on.

The oddest thing is, as I dissect what just happened, I still can’t summon up any desire or reason to change things.

To think…how quickly what you might think is a brand can become just another commodity……..


Three Words for 2012

I do this because it works. Following the lead of Chris Brogan,  a business leader who continually gives to others, I set three words in 2011 and used them as a lighthouse to guide me to where I knew I wanted to be.

For 2012, I choose to use AHA! as the framework for my words. Here goes….

ASSAY. I like this verb. It means to examine and determine. It’s similar to the “So What” word I chose in 2011. It defines what I’m good at and how I conduct myself in my work. And in 2012, I am thankful to have a lot of work, so I’m keeping focus on doing great work through the selection of this word.

HEROIC. This word is the “H” word for my AHA! framework for two reasons. One, because it’s a synonym for many other words I love, such as bold, brave, spunky, and undaunted. Those words help me state who I am.

Two, in a lot of my work, the consumer (or the shopper) is the hero. As part of the executive team at my former agency, MARS, we launched the company positioning around this concept. So I feel connected enough to the concept that the shopper’s journey is analogous to the hero’s journey to use it still.

APPLY. This word is a great motivator.  Get it done. Ship it, a phrase I love thanks to Seth Godin’s great books. We all can benefit from a word that holds us to the promise of delivering great work. This is mine for 2012.

My consulting practice is built on delivering AHA! moments. These three AHA! words: ASSAY, HEROIC, APPLY, will help me continue to do just that.

What are your three words?



ZMOT – Will Marketers Act On A Trillion Dollar Concept?

That’s right. Or at least projected to be right. Specifically, $1,007 TRILLION dollars in retail sales will web-influenced this year (2011), according to Forrester. That’s about 40%. This means marketers really need to pay attention to what Google introduced recently as the ZMOT.

The “Zero Moment of Truth” is the stage at which a consumer actively seeks information about a product or service to inform a purchase decision, according to Google’s free e-book. It often takes place after passive exposure to marketing stimuli and always before the “First Moment of Truth” at the store shelf. The stage, as they refer to it, takes place online. The reality of the matter is that a consumer can now use a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet to seek information; and can do it from home, work, school, the retail store aisle or even their cozy bed.  Already, 78 million Americans have smartphones, and as of May 2011, 50% of them are using smartphones for shopping activity 3 times per month or more.

Kantar Media’s spring 2011 “Online Shopper Intelligence Study” found that 79% of consumers research products online for more than half of their shopping occasions.

Marketers are playing catch up.   In a recent IBM survey, 65% of CMO’s state that the growth of channel and device choices shoppers have is one of their biggest markting challenges.

What are the next steps for marketers? I suggest focusing on having current answers to these questions:  Which device are my shopper targets using for online activity in my category(ies) of products?  If smartphone/tablet use is growing in my key categories, what will this look like in two years? What is my shopper-centric strategy with key retailers that will provide and measure growth tied to the ZMOT?

If you thought you could wait a while longer before integrating the ZMOT into your shoppper marketing activity, think again.

In an Iconocommunities (SM) session, read what a Gen X member said recently: “I find myself getting pissed off at anything I can’t control from my iPhone.” I know it’s not a quantitative stat. But it reflects the level of control consumers will go for when given the chance.

Even though it seems really radical, because 2012 online retail sales are projected to be 11% of total retail, I submit it’s time to start thinking about the web-influenced sales, not the online sales themselves. It’s past time to start testing the full integration of smartphones and tablets in shopper marketing.

When retailers like Walmart have already announced their intent to serve up to shoppers (on smartphones/tablets) virtual, personalized endcaps of products based on advanced social analytics, it’s time for marketers to wake up and hear the Click. For shoppers, that means a one minute shopping trip. Click. Pick it up or have it shipped. For Walmart, it means capturing whatever kind of trip the shopper wants, and earning loyalty be being smartest with shopper assortment and convenient to boot.

The idea of “ZMOT to Purchase” in just a few minutes and with just a few clicks is really not all that radical to shoppers. And if it will affect over one trillion dollars in sales in 2011, I think it deserves some marketing attention in 2012.