Thinking, thinking, thinking...

The Foot On The Pedal Of FMCG


Fast Moving Consumer Goods. We all talk about it easily in an everyday kind of way. But what is the fast part all about? And who’s driving?

One way to look at the F in FMCG is through the lens of efficient stockturn logistics. Having goods in place on time with shelves always full is certainly a vital part of the puzzle. And speed to shelf is an artform in its own right. But they are a supply-side maintenance to the real driver that is demand.

The regular routine of grocery shopping is also a way to look at the fast in FMCG. Most of us pass through supermarkets weekly or more often throughout the year. It only takes the threat of a day’s closure for a public holiday or some other disruption to see irrationally massive queues and bulging trolleys of shoppers desperately wanting to not miss out. We’ve also all witnessed the panic buying around COVID and recent cyclones to know the existential value that groceries play in our lives.  

The more interesting way to look at what fast means in shopping is our way of thinking. The behavioural scientist Daniel Kahneman wrote a seminal book called “Thinking. Fast and Slow” which explores how we use our brains with two gears.


Our fast mode of thinking (also called System 1) is all about instant, instinctual, emotionally-driven decision-making. Slow thinking (System 2) is our more considered, rational and deliberate thinking. 


Each of us every day is constantly alternating between these two modes; without trying or (ironically) thinking about it. Fast System 1 thinking makes us order the flat white, or grab a bag of salad, or drive-by Maccas on the way home. Impulse zones were made for System 1 thinking; rewarding our shopping effort or tempting us with chocolate, sweets or magazine treats. 


For the times when we need to stop and think about it rationally, to consider the pros and cons of our options, to confer with our partner, or seek recommendations; we switch gear to System 2 thinking. Insurance, financial services, and durable marketers need to excel at feeding more complex System 2 decision-making.  


Grocery, like all shopping, is a ultimately mix of both System 1 and System 2 thinking, but the dominant force in-store is the speedy System 1. We’ve all read reports of having only a few seconds to be selected at the point of purchase, and this is the reason why. People tend make quick, instinctual, familiar decisions in grocery. If we all used System 2 thinking for every grocery purchase, reading all the labels and considering all the alternatives in each category our grocery shopping would take hours. Indeed, supermarket operators design stores to optimise shopper flow. Enough time to quickly stop, scan and select without clogging the arteries of the aisles.  

If this is the underlying nature of grocery shopping, what are the implications for creating influence?

The grocery shopping environment is great for some things:

·       Big brands can dominate space and trigger default purchases

·       You can deliver disruptive offers & promotions to interrupt purchase routines

·       It is possible to interrupt people to try new things or impulse treats

But there are some things that need to be done outside the retail shopping environment where you can deepen the level of consideration and connection with your brand:

·       Creating brand awareness is best done away from the shelf clutter and aisle bustle 

·       Building brand identity meaning and positioning that people relate to

·       Getting people to learn about your brand without having to read your label

·       Creating buzz, excitement and engagement 

·       Creating social proof and endorsement from influencers

Driving our shopping carts with fast thinking is normal. The challenge for FMCG brands is to pre-load the driver with brand preference before they hit the aisles and catch their eye when they pass by the category.

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