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Shaping Customer Experiences

Shaping Customer Experiences

Sifting through the latest trending news in marketing, I feel kind of, well, disappointed. In the last 24 hours, there were 24 marketing articles that trended worldwide. Eight of the articles were about current popular TV ads, six about how to write content, three about creating video content, and then there were three about the latest SEO news, another three about social media, and one about angel investors. It’s been a year of countless how-to guides and lists of marketing dos and don’ts. It’s been well, nothing really.

Run the same 24-hour trend search in the technology sector, and the results tell a completely different story. To give you a taste – Nintendo is launching demos of their new console Switch, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is going to have true edge-to-edge display, Bluetooth Five has just been launched and promises better range and faster speeds, and doctors can now sift bacteria from your blood using magnets. Doesn’t it all just scream innovation?

Comparing both, I have to ask myself: Have we, as marketers, forgotten how to innovate?

Surely, as the “more creative” group on the planet we should be the ones pushing the boundaries of innovation, constantly searching for improvement, pioneering new ideas and concepts that blow our customers’ minds. But we’re stuck in a rut of how-to marketing guides and lists. Guides and lists that talk about big data formulas for better marketing, better writing, better SEO, better social media. We rinse and repeat and expect better outcomes. We’ve hit a wall.

So, I’m going to go ahead and say it. The marketing world is going through a midlife crisis. We’re not really sure who we are anymore and what we’re actually supposed to be doing.

There, now it’s out there.

So, what happened? How did we get here?


The digital era has coaxed us into a comfortable belief that most brand experiences and touchpoints now happen on flat digital screens and that we can rely on big data alone to drive our marketing decisions. In his latest book, Small Data, branding godfather and New York Bestselling Author Martin Lindstrom talks about a small data revolution.

“…while big data spews out countless terabytes of impersonal data in an attempt to predict future directions of businesses and brands, it is the uniquely human small data, right in front of us that reveals all the real truths and insights. The smallest clue can reveal unexpected insight for a brand or business with extraordinary results.”

Lindstrom is world-renowned for his consumer research, and is said to spend 360 days a year on the road, living with consumers to gather small data that inform purchase decisions and brand loyalty. So when was the last time you observed your customers? Do you know how long they stand in front of the shelf before they decide to buy your product? Or whether they pick up your bottle or a competitor’s first? These small data observations can spark a brand turnaround, produce unheard of results in a recessionary market or even launch a revolutionary new concept or product. In 2015, I set out on a small data journey with pharmaceutical heavyweight Solgar. The problem? Sales, of course. The pharma industry is one of the most, if not the most, competitive industries in the world. And all the competition comes to a head on the shelf, where consumers have a plethora of options to choose from and brands battle it out for attention. So, our first port of call was to observe consumers at the point where the purchase decision takes place. Right in front of the shelf.

What did the small data say?

Our investigation across vitamin brands revealed that it took the average consumer 21 seconds to find Solgar on the shelf. Twenty-one seconds is an eternity to stand in front of any shelf, and if you follow Google’s research on micromoments you’ll know that the average consumer makes their purchase decision in less than six seconds. It was taking consumers four times longer than it takes to make a purchase decision to simply spot their product on the shelf. Well, just make the label more eye-catching, Rob! Make it stand out. But herein lies the problem. Why do we expect flat, 2D design to impact 3D experiences? We’re so used to slapping the same logo onto different surfaces, expecting our customers’ experience of the brand to change. If we want to shape customer experiences, then shape is where we need to start. We started working on a solution for Solgar by looking at the product shape itself:

 Were the pill bottles uniquely shaped?

 How did they feel in-hand?

 Were they easy to open and close?

 Where did they fit in on-shelf?

 What did they look like next to competitors?

 Did they own a silhouette?

 At a distance, what did the consumer recognise without being able to read the label?

 How quickly could you navigate through different product options?

 How could help the consumer find what they were looking for?

By again looking at the small data, we were able create an environment that optimised consumer recognition time. The results?

Product recognition time went from 21 seconds to 7 seconds. An improvement of 13 seconds. Sales increased by 17 per cent and have been increasing steadily over the last year. Now that’s a headline I’d like to see trending.

It’s time for the marketing world to get over its midlife crisis. I’m prescribing a good dose of innovation.


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