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Better For Them Means Better For Us, Too

Better marketing, LeBlanc blog 3

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by Eric LeBlanc, director of marketing-deli, Tyson Foods Inc.

To paraphrase a popular book: Supermarkets were made for people, not people for the supermarkets.

That’s why we put frequently purchased items like milk, butter and eggs at the back of the store. Because that’s what people want—to walk the entire real estate of the store to get to the item they really want. In one of the stores I frequently shop, the store design forces you to walk all the way to the right wall and the far right corner before you can turn to the left across the back of the store. In the extreme left corner of the store you will find the milk, and while you could technically go anywhere else in the store, the most likely course takes you along the left wall and then across the front to the checkout. If you’re looking to get your steps in, this store design is for you. But a similar store design is VERY common. We clearly do it that way because it’s better for shoppers.

Let me brush the sarcasm off.

I bring that up because I have lately been in conversations with industry people about meal solutions. It’s pretty clear you can’t co-merchandise EVERY meal solution, so shoppers who like variety are going to have to move beyond co-merchandised solutions. It’s at this point that I hear very solicitous comments and concern for shopper convenience. For example, I have often heard that co-merchandising is better for the shopper because it means she doesn’t have to walk all over the store. Um, like they have to do to get milk? Because it’s OK then.

When I worked in retail, I would frequently step outside of the store into the parking lot and walk into the store, trying to experience that in the way my shoppers would—not the way a retailer would. I’d do that inside the store, too. Looking at an endcap or a department and how shoppers would approach it. What would they see? Could they find what they wanted? I see that it has changed now, but once upon a time, nearly every planogram for analgesics placed Doan’s pills on the bottom shelf. Why? Because it is not one of the fastest moving or brand- blocked items in the department. Perfectly reasonable. Who buys that product? People with back pain. So they have to bend down almost to the ground to get the medicine to help with their sore back? I think I hear the sound of an evil genius cackling.

My primitive exercise in trying to really see the store is the smallest down payment on something that I believe is critical today: Do we understand what the shopper experiences as they shop our stores? Do they feel they can find what they need and leave feeling good about their experience from closing their car door when they arrive to loading the groceries in the car when they leave? How do they feel about the experience?

That’s an odd question to ask, isn’t it?

So many tools that we use in looking at our business are about behaviors and co-relationships. There are two problems with approaches like these. First, they are better at looking at the past and present than they are at finding the ideal; the second is they are largely superficial—looking at a behavior rather than a motivation. Big Data, for example, identifies things that happen together reliably, and doesn’t attempt to identify causality. Armed only with the information that two actions happen together frequently, we make assumptions (which can be wildly incorrect) about the underlying motivations for the observed behavior.

What if we imagine that when people are purchasing pain or cold remedies that they, or someone they care about, is probably sick? Their motivations would seem to be about taking care of someone, helping them to feel better. Or helping themselves to feel better. Maybe they’re experiencing pain, discomfort, fatigue, concern—maybe urgency. What makes their trip better? I imagine it would be getting a remedy in which they have confidence. They may need some help knowing which remedies are best for their situation. It would be good to have a resource to help them feel good that they were going to be helping themselves or their other who is sick. Providing good care helps patient and caretaker feel a little bit better. Maybe that is the end state we’re striving for. Have we engineered an experience that understands and caters to those needs? I don’t claim to know anything about this part of the store, but I do think it is interesting—and maybe not that unique.

Marketing on a human scale is more about trying to get into the experience of the shopper and what problem-to-solution-to-outcome really looks like. The food journey looks an awful lot like the example above. I enter the store because I or someone I care for is going to need to eat shortly. I want to feed them something they will like, something they need. Maybe I or someone I’m with feel hungry. Maybe we need to feel cared for tonight because it was a rough day. Maybe we need something fun because we’re celebrating—or need to cheer someone up. What makes my trip better? Information and inspiration give me ideas and help me feel ready to implement them. Feeling like I’m getting the right things for the problem I’m trying to solve. I go home and I and my others eat the meal, and the caretaker feels better when the other is filled, satisfied or comforted. That’s my outcome: My other feels filled, satisfied, comforted or whatever I was trying to accomplish. It’s not just a funnel with calories.

Marketing on a human scale challenges us to try to place ourselves in these experiences of our shoppers. These are the experiences that are most really real. There are brand experiences—products, events, locations—that have been engineered to this level. These experiences are literally constructed as they are because there is a particular outcome that is sought. For example, that someone feels like they have experienced magic, or that someone can achieve physical feats beyond their dreams. That someone feels smarter. Or pampered. These brands have as their object not just the conclusion of a transaction, but a need, a solution and, most of all, an outcome. And that outcome is not functional—it is emotional. A loved one’s day—or your own—is just a little bit better.

That’s shopper marketing, right? I don’t think so. Trying to understand what goes through someone’s head when they have a certain need. What are they thinking and feeling in the parking lot? How does their trip help them or hurt them in their need? Do they have/can get the information they need to solve their problem? What does it feel like to fill that need at this store? How do I feel walking to my car? Most important, how do I feel when I have used my solution? Do I feel like my efforts produced the result I wanted?

Next time we’ll dig into some thoughts about what Marketing on a Human Scale looks like in prepared foods.

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