When Technology Strategies Fail

Lowe’s, Home Depot, the local nursery — they’re all gearing up for the rush on seed, fertilizer and tools with which to till the soil. Our agrarian roots run deep and while people in this century have run to get off the farm, we still see growing things as a noble act.  Thousands of years of our ties to the smell of freshly turned earth can’t be erased.  We may have hunter and gatherer roots, but there is an almost primal joy taken in mastering our environment, even is a small suburban way, rather than simply accepting our fate.  Planting ties us to nature, makes us a partner rather than a master or servant.  I have to wonder how the rush to add technology to every facet of our lives plays into this.

QR codes adorn every plant container and seed packet now, but I saw surprisingly few people using them while shopping in the early morning.  Partly it’s an issue of function; dripping water and the jostling of bodies as they scramble to squeeze through the tight corridors of stacked plants make using your smart phone a potentially dangerous act. But there is also a symbolic disconnect in this environment. Planting, gardening, etc. is still a primitive act and this particular shopping experience lends itself to a symbolically charged return to simplicity. It is, in many way, the antithesis of modern innovation.

We can do practically anything when it come to technologically augmenting the retail experience, but should we? And if we do, how should it be done? All too often, strategies are built around function and form, the symbolic elements dismissed as so much ambiguous fluff. But that is a flawed strategy. Indeed, it borders on being a series of tactics held together by a loose set of intellectual leaps that don’t reflect deeper patterns of human behavior, but the desire to sell more stuff. Unfortunately, if you get the pattern wrong, or ignore it because your cognitive frame won’t allow you to see it, you lose money because you taint the experience.

This isn’t to say technology doesn’t have a role, it is to simply say that shopping is about more than the objects we seek out. Shopping begins in the collective memory and shared symbols of a population. It is pleasure, validation, a reflection of values and a way of creating meaning in our world. A strategy needs to be grounded in those complexities, not at odds with them. You don’t get that knowledge from segmentation schemes and demographic data. You get it from immersion in a cultural process and from seeking out the links between observations.

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