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A few weeks back, the Director of Insights at Vertical Marketing Network, Betsy Berman, challenged me with a pleasantly surprising assignment: GO SHOPPING! No, she wasn’t implying I need a makeover. Rather, she asked me to explore the tangible marketplace versus the mobile one that I — like so many Smartphone users — have enthusiastically embraced. Savvy marketers, Betsy explained, look beyond their brands, categories and trade-specific press to gauge the cultural pulse. My challenge was meant to be equal parts marketing crash course and field trip. It wasn’t until after we hung up that I realized how unprepared I was for the task at hand. I am one of an estimated 85 percent of American adults who own a cell phone; we use them to connect, check email, surf the Web and shop. Was m-commerce, I wondered, like e-commerce before it, replacing the beloved shopping mall? My inclination was to ask the Internet, but instead I took to the streets. Sans iPod and Smartphone and any other distraction, I did what smart marketers do daily: I observed. I went into stores I would never think to enter simply to see what was happening there. I tried new things, but not everything. My trend watching revealed many new products and innovations, but it also — time and again — did the unexpected: it redirected me online.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like online customer interaction is the “umami” of the marketing world. Also known as “The Fifth Taste,” it is said that “most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it,” but it’s widely considered the secret to making food taste good. In other words, it’s the taste of an experience that remains. But first, there’s the inspiration.
To get a sense of what’s happening, I visited commercial shopping areas, but I also simply opened my eyes to the new products, advertisements, billboards and store windows that were vying for my attention daily. The dots practically connected themselves:
Retail: Does the URL at the bottom of my Sephora receipt advertising a customer satisfaction survey with free giveaway, and the new window displays for GapKids not represent the the best of both the in-person and online shopping worlds? One of the first things to catch my eye was the miniature denim giant’s display for a “Casting Call,” which directs prospective “models” to the company’s Web site, which then, among other things, directs photographers — er, parents — to the iTunes store, where they can download a free mobile app that allows users to search photo galleries, upload their own photos and even vote. When I read over the summer that British department store Debenhams was using petite, plus-sized and wheel-chair bound models, plus-sized mannequins and had banned airbrushing, I was reminded of Dove’s ever-growing Campaign For Real Beauty, which continues to catch my eye for being honest and original. As entertaining as it was to walk by a lingerie store the other day featuring scantily clad live models striking a pose for the public’s enjoyment, I feel drawn to the former advertisements, which seem to acknowledge that consumerism is as much about escapism as it is reality. I was starting to connect the dots…
Health and wellness: Speaking of reality, the second and third trends to catch my eye were at drug stores. Has anyone seen the Dr. Scholl’s Custom Fit Kiosk? No sooner had I stumbled upon it — literally — then I was on it — again, literally. Another invention that will surely draw consumers to stores: the virtual mirror, which allows consumers to sample drug store cosmetics without opening any packages. Kiosks are being tested in Walmart’s throughout the country, and are up and running in Chicago-area Walgreens stores. I have yet to try one out, but be assured, I’m on the look out!
Beauty: In the meantime, I’ve had fun playing with the latest collection from M.A.C. cosmetics and Disney. Just in time for Halloween, the make-up brand and kidspiration conglomerate have formed and unexpected but attention-getting partnership to create a line of products inspired by some of Disney’s most notorious female villains. And I thought the ever-present Halloween pop-up stores were the best holiday game in town?
From the in-store experience to the fast-emerging (and surely one day ubiquitous) QR codes to the final mention of visiting the company’s Web site, brands are excelling at getting my attention — and yours — in new and creative ways. The smartest brands capture our eyes (and other senses) in-person, and then enhance that experience with the ultimate consumer resource, or umami: the Internet. Savvy marketers recognize this, and are actively participating on both fronts. And smart consumers are reaping the rewards. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Be assured: this girl about town will remain on the lookout.