About a week ago I ran into a neighbor who had just become the proud new owner of an iPad. Nothing about that would have piqued most people’s curiosity. Oh, the fact that he was a PC guy might have made it interesting, but in and of itself the purchase of an iPad meant little. However, when he told the story of how he came to make the purchase, things got more interesting, because it all stemmed from the need to buy beer.
We’ll call this neighbor John. It was the first really lovely day of spring – one of those days where it’s perfect to be outside, but still early enough that it negates any reason to do yard work or plant flowers (indeed, we had snow a week later). So John decided it would be a perfect day to sit on the porch and drink a couple of beers. He headed to the liquor store and picked up a six pack of Anchor Steam, which reminded him of his grad school days in the Bay Area, a time when he was a voracious reader. His sense of nostalgia kicked into overdrive, John headed across the street from the liquor store in search of a good book to round out the day of relaxation in the sun. Not long into the process of shopping for a book, his eye was caught by the Nook being sold at the front of the store, the Nook Color in particular. He made a point of saying that he had no intention of buying an e-reader, but wanted to see what all the fuss was about and test out the technology. Not long into the trial run, he started to ask, “With all the things this can do, I wonder if I should buy it? On the other hand, people seem to be talking about the iPad. I’m sure it’s mostly bullshit, but I should check it out.” And so, John (the PC guy) headed a few blocks to the Apple store. Thirty minutes later he walked out of the store with 64 GB iPad, a cover for it and a keyboard docking station. What had started out as a plan to make an $8.00 purchase ended with an $800.00 purchase.
So why does it matter? John’s story is perhaps extreme, but it demonstrates that shopping behavior is complex and a sound marketing strategy needs to account for those elements of human behavior that defy quantification. It matters because John’s decisions were driven by a series of memories and events that could never be predicted in statistical data. They could never be marketed to if all a company did was focus on talking to shoppers about features. According to the Richard Ellis Group, 92% of retailers plan to increase store openings in 2010. 70% of purchase decisions happen in store. 68% of in-store purchases are impulse buys. 59% of purchases are unplanned. Looking at those numbers and John’s story, it speaks not only to the need to develop a marketing campaign and retail experience that draws people in, but one that keeps them coming back again and again.
Whether we like it or not, human beings need symbolism and metaphor to function properly. Every ritual we have, every religious ceremony, every myth, every iconic figure is tied to subconscious patters of culture and personal experience we can’t escape. To manage your brand, you need to talk to both the conscious and the subconscious. If you want to establish real loyalty and inspire spontaneous buying in an age where procuring goods is simply a matter of an internet connection and a couple of clicks, you have to speak to these deeper needs and symbols.