Blogging Out Loud

Connecting You with the Latest Marketing Tips and Trends.

Trend Watching About Town.

Hitting the streets proves to be eye-opening and inspiring.

Savvy marketers know they can reach out to consumers in malls and stores, but more shopping experiences are ending with brands directing consumers online, where the experience can be further enhanced.

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.

Has a recent promotion, clever ad campaign, new product or unique marketing use of technology caught your eye? Share your experience in the comments section.
Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.
Photo credit: Ivan Walsh

About JJ Nelson

Freelance blogger for Vertical Marketing Network; food writer; bartender.

12 comments on “Trend Watching About Town.

  1. Pingback: 15 Years, 15 Marketing Insights. « Blogging Out Loud

  2. Pingback: Right On Target. « Blogging Out Loud

  3. Joanne
    October 25, 2010

    After reading this article, I had to take quite a few steps back to try to remember the last time I was really in a Mall to just walk around! My visits have been directly to the one store I needed some items. Made me think on how much I missed the personal “touch” … only to realize how the convenience of the internet has really changed my shopping patterns. Now I’m really curious and will have to make it a point to visit my local mall!


  4. Breaz
    October 19, 2010

    I haven’t been inside a mall in quite some time and the last time I did go into one, I remember thinking there’s so much more to see online. It was a little disappointing. I know the product(s) so well that there’s no need to see in store(s) before I buy online.
    This note was a bit inspiring though so I might try and block out some old fashioned holiday shopping time at my local mall…maybe. 🙂


    • JJ Nelson
      October 21, 2010

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that online retail is convenient, but I don’t think it has replaced the value of good old-fashioned shopping, especially for marketers, who need to get out and experience the marketplace in order to spot new trends. Do you find you can follow trends while shopping online? Would love to hear your thoughts.


      • Breaz
        October 26, 2010

        For me personally, I can and do follow trends online. I think it depends on the person and the situation though. I work full time right now and maximinze my children’s bedtime to follow-up on what’s hot right now since I can’t make it to the mall on a weekend. I’m usually at a park running around like a silly person with the kids on the weekend so online works better for my husband and I. Now in reference to your current blog about Target: that is a place I frequent often.


      • Breaz
        October 26, 2010

        PS – I do miss the nostalgia though. I will definitely try my best to get out to a mall for that experience!


  5. Danielle Conte
    October 19, 2010

    I love that Toys R Us has in-store Wish List kiosks in every store for the holidays. Lists can be updated online as well.


    • JJ Nelson
      October 21, 2010

      Thanks, Danielle. We do, too, and we’ll be talking about that in a few weeks in our holiday preview!


  6. Diane
    October 19, 2010

    Vertical Marketing Network has always believed in the “layered approach” to reach consumers on many levels – and with online and virtual in the mix – it just adds all the more layers. It will be interesting to see which layers fall by the wayside – as marketers strive to efficiently/effectively reach consumers – it would seem no one can cover them all.


  7. Jeff
    October 19, 2010

    Excellent post JJ!. The umami analogy is right on the money. The internet has become an integral part of any comprehensive marketing and branding strategy.

    Working on a nice example in the non-profit world right now. We are creating a holiday giving campaign with the theme “There are new stars shining in the sky tonight!”

    Contributors can for the first time in this organization’s history, donate online using a credit card, which is great because of the increased resistance to writing this very vulnerable information down on a return response card, and the ease of contributing online. With charitable giving down 11% this year, we need all the help we can get.

    To inject a little fun, we are creating both a “virtual” and an “real” Holiday tree that will be displayed online and in the large lobby area of the clinic and food bank. Each contributor will have their own personalized star placed on both trees and they will be able to visit the virtual tree and view their own star shining brightly!


    • JJ Nelson
      October 21, 2010

      Jeff — Thanks for sharing! I look forward to seeing this online. Please be sure to pass on the link.


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