A quick ask-around of some people whose opinions I value revealed some consistent and disturbing news. This latest level 4 lockdown has brought a significant threat from COVID Kilos.
Every single person I asked (in this very unscientific research) had the same confession of a big swing to treats, luxury and comfort foods.
We’re talking generous helpings of chocolate, pizzas, ice cream, cookies, fancy cheeses, a steady flow of snack foods, chips, dried fruit, bread and a lot more tasty condiments. Not only has there been an increase in the type of luxury and comfort foods being consumed, but levelling-up on quality was also a common story.
There’s also been a higher frequency of in-between eating and that apparently male habit of the open fridge stare to check what might have moved since they last checked-in.
Adding to the lockdown diet has been a big up-tick in alcohol consumption. Once occasional pleasures of wine, beer, or cocktails have become part of the daily routine.
Cooking habits have slowed down with more time available to bake, slow roast and barbeque. An alignment of home cooking values in sync with a forced time at home.
Apparently during last year’s initial lockdown New Zealanders were shopping to the level of a country of 10 million people in grocery stores. I suspect we’re on the same track this year.
Constantly scrolling through my social feeds (another lockdown habit) tells me that the booze companies have certainly picked up on this need to regularly restock the home with luxury treats. On the other hand, food companies have been significantly absent from this need for treat time.
According to Pricespy data New Zealand has been tooling up for COVID-scale home cooking. Apparently the key drivers of “low effort and delicious” have been paramount. This translates to a huge lift over the past year in fryers (up 285%, especially air fryers), espresso machines (up 99%) and breadmakers (up 74%).
Our survey of lockdown habits asked the big question of how people were feeling about this surge in luxury and comfort calories. Consistently, the feedback was an affirming positive without strong feelings of guilt, or shame.
There are several underlying factors at play that are helping appease the increase in consumption and cost.
It brings sensory pleasure. Food and drinks stimulate our taste buds, sense of smell, our eyes and touch or mouthfeel. The general rule of thumb here is good is good and better is better.
Lockdown is a time of social togetherness. Doing this at home in times of existential threat is comforting and reassuring. We commonly relate to others through sharing food and consequently the more time together the more we share food.
Lockdown at home distorts time. Days melt away and blur into one another. Weekdays feel like weekends. In this time of disruption our routines become unfamiliar and normal mealtimes can easily be renegotiated by fleeting pangs of hunger.
Eating can be an antidote to boredom. Being couped up at home can easily lead to boredom for the unresourceful, or for those who have exhausted everything watchable on Netflix.
From our research there was a clear hint of food entitlement. Part of the cost of lockdown, it seems, can be repaid with treats and luxuries in an informal calorie compensation scheme.
Despite grocery bills bulging it is relatively easy to offset the cost of luxuries and treats with comparative savings made from not dining out, or refuelling the car, or other costs of everyday living.
Lastly, as with tall mountains, lockdown luxuries can be explained with a touch of availability bias: “because they’re there”.
Somewhat flippantly I said: “I have a Onecard, I use it, but I don’t know why. What’s the point, really?”
To which the cashier replied “Oh lots of people use them. I do. I love getting a discount on everything. Why wouldn’t you?”
This got me thinking about cards and what that bulge in my wallet means.
Living half-way between the New World and Countdown, I shop both about equally. I have a Onecard and a Clubcard that I use because they remind me to. But that’s it for me. I don’t check any balances. I don’t value them. And they have no apparent influence on my loyalty or behaviour other than giving over my data with every swipe.
As an agnostic I believe in the idea of supermarket loyalty cards, but I don’t practice. But it seems like a lot of people do.
According to Inside Retail 94 percent of all grown-ups in New Zealand are enrolled with a loyalty programme and an average of 4.8 schemes per person.
Consumer reports that 42% are points chasers who claim that loyalty schemes are very important to them.
On the other hand, there is a growing concern about our digital privacy and the potential risks of data security breaches. As someone once said: “If the product is free, you are the product.”
Out of curiosity I logged on to see what my Onecard and Clubcard experience might be online. Both dished me a big serving of specials, recipe inspiration and things to win. Onecard certainly knew it was me. They referenced my usual store and gave me a bunch of deals on the things I would have bought anyway. In contrast, Clubcard had me shopping somewhere across town and threw a fairly irrelevant range of specials at me.
Loyalty programmes are a powerful way for supermarket operators to measure customer profiles and behaviour. They can sway preference and lure customers across the street off the back of aggressive suppler-funded promotional calendars. They can be a competitive point of difference when leveraged correctly.
But what’s in it for the customer? The obvious answer might be discounts and value. But is it really? According to Consumer it costs a lot to get a little. $2,000 spent at Countdown will earn you a $15 voucher and $2,125 will earn you $15 in New World dollars. Point Hack claims that earning points from day-to-day spending is very low (a 0.0069% rebate with one programme). They suggest that the best way to improve your gain is to opt in for AA Smartfuel vouchers with Onecard and Air New Zealand Airpoints for Clubcard.
Digging deeper, it seems that loyalty programmes can satisfy in more psychologically subtle ways, according to Saasquatch:
- A wee warm fuzzy – Rewards provide a small win that triggers a dose of happiness in the form of dopamine.
- Reinforcement of habits – An adopted ritual that becomes a natural part of the shopping experience.
- Continual investment – The more they are used the more valuable they become emotionally and the ‘cost’ of not using them increases.
- Goal anticipation – People look forward to the reward of points or discounts as a prize for their shopping effort.
- Endowment progress effect – There is an inherent value placed on points that are building to a reward (think coffee card stamps).
- Scarcity & urgency – Loyalty programmes can be managed like a currency to drive behaviour.
- Loss aversion – Some hate to feel like they are missing out without points rewards.
- Social status – Tiered programmes can create a social value in accumulation (ever noticed how some people display their Koru Club tags? Only Gold/Gold Elite seem to do this).
So where does this leave me with my supermarket loyalty cards? I understand how they work, and rationally why I should use them. But they do feel like a weekly Lotto ticket without any of the decent prizes to get excited about.
According to Psychology Professor Albert Mehrabian at the University of California in Los Angeles, when we communicate only 7 percent of meaning is received through spoken word, 38 percent through tone of voice and 55 percent through body language.
It’s a Golden Ratio of communication to which humans are naturally calibrated to whether we like it or not. This concept has been around for 40-odd years and over that time it has been applied by experts to all sorts of communication from advertising, to business deal-making to hostage negotiation. It’s proven.
The reason it works lies with how we humans process the world around us. We take in and respond to an external stimulus using three ‘filters’. The great majority of how we experience things is unconscious and instinctual, our second filter is emotional feelings and a distant third filter is our conscious thought. That means that we are hard-wired to relate to things primarily with unconscious impressions and emotions, rather than rational thinking. Furthermore, due to something called ‘confirmation bias,’ we often don’t apply rational thought all that objectively. Rather, we tend to emphasize evidence that supports our impressions and feelings.
The fundamental implication for the 7-38-55 Rule in marketing is that what we say is way less important than the impression we present. That means shoppers will respond to a product on a shelf mostly by the design impression it creates and less by messages on the pack.
In marketing, some like to think that shoppers read the label on packs earnestly forming decisions based on rational information. But that pales in comparison to the heavy impressionistic and emotional lifting delivered by design. Manufacturers might fret over quality and feature call-outs and on pack information, but the reality is that it is generally more important to themselves than the buyer.
For FMCG marketers, this means your first consideration for attracting shoppers should be how to create a distinctive and seductive visual impression that lures attention. If shoppers have to get up close and read the benefits of your product before seeing its value then your 7-38-55 Rule won’t be adding up.
The right type of impression and emotion for your brand to convey depends on how you manage three factors:
1. Start with the core drivers of the category
Every category has cues that people will relate to at a fundamental, instinctive level that tell people that this product has an inherent ‘rightness’. In baby products, parents are programmed to relate to a baby’s face. Cleaning products need to look bright and fresh. Food needs to look delicious.
2. Add nuance of the positioning you want your brand to have within the category
What is the part of the market you want to occupy? Do you want to look premium or cheap? Are you all about traditional family values? Are you presenting a scientific break-through?
3. Create elements unique to your brand
What is unique to your brand? How do you create a distinction with colour, symbolism, or form to stand out from competitors and not recede into the shelf? Brands like Coca-Cola, Pics, Lewis Rd Creamery, and T2 all benefit from an unmistakable brand identity within the context of their categories.
Applying the 7-38-55 Rule in your brand design is the key to winning shoppers at a distance with the right immediate impressions and feelings. You can’t rely on people to read the details on your pack. It’s not in our nature.
Shopping is not the rational exchange of demand and supply that some would have us believe. No, it is a messy landscape of behavioural quirks and habits that are sometimes tragic, sometimes funny and always insightful expressions of human nature.
Here are some examples that you may have seen in a store near you. Indeed, you may have been there yourself.
Re-shopping: When a customer is served at the supermarket checkout promptly leaves to go and get some other products they have forgotten – thereby holding the queue up.
Dazed & Consumed: When shoppers get overwhelmed by the store environment and lose all sense of self-awareness and social graces. This leads to abandoning their trolley in the middle of the aisle or blocking others in a mindless confusion.
Chat & Cut: (care of Larry David) This is when you’re standing in a shop queue and someone joins the queue ahead of you to chat with someone they know. Before you know it they have also joined the queue, thereby cutting in ahead of you.
Listlessness: A pathological inability to stick to only buying from your shopping list.
Home shrinkage: When you are convinced that clothes or shoes fit you perfectly in-store, but then seem to magically shrink to unbearable proportions when you get home.
Chill me out: Someone opening chiller door and pondering while you wait and wait to get your hands on the item you need.
Invisible in plain sight: Being apparently invisible to store staff while others who approach after you get served.
Mystical shopping: Arriving home with items that have magically been bought without any conscious decision.
Hate shopping: You love it in the store, but hate it when you get it home.
Sleep shopping: When shoppers make their way through the store in a zombie-like state of autopilot. Experiments at Sainsbury’s have been done that show how sleep shoppers can fail to see people dressed up in gorilla suits walking past them in supermarkets.
Trolley Trash: Shoppers who have no ability to park their trolley in a considerate place. They leave them in the middle of an aisle, or in the car park where cars park.
Deaf Parents: Parent shoppers who let their kids run amok with no consideration for other shoppers.
Social shoppers: People who stand around the store talking with other shoppers oblivious to the fact they are blocking the aisle, or worse, the entrance to the store.
Manbags: Poor suffering men who follow women around while they shop. They are often seen sitting in husband seats in women’s fashion stores playing with their phones.
Unmet Needs are like the Holy Grail in marketing. Those two little words spell greenfield opportunities and untapped potential.
The realm of Unmet Needs is certainly desirable, but is difficult and challenging. The reality is that most of us, most of the time, live in a world of met needs, or even saturated needs in a flood of over-supply.
Do we need another coconut water?
Another premium milk?
A new brand of detergent?
There are plenty of examples of marketers persisting with meeting non-needs. Your cellphone probably carries a graveyard of apps that were a moment of curiosity but offer no enduring value. Apparently, about 80% of all apps are used no more than once.
Unmet Needs can be hard to deal with because human nature errs to the known. Behavioural economics tells us that confirmation bias makes us favour information that reinforces our existing perspectives. We are naturally disposed to known assumptions, conventions, priorities and the status quo. This is easier than coming up with new, lateral or better ways to satisfy Unmet Needs. We are creatures of habit.
The satisfaction of Unmet Needs can take different angles.
- New improvements to an existing product. Adding child-proof caps on medicine bottles is a good example.
- New solutions to needs you never thought you had. This was the case when texting was first made available.
- Happy accidents that satisfy an unmet needs by chance. Viagra was the unexpected result of chest pain research. Post-It proved to be a very handy note tool, but a lousy glue.
- Satisfying Unmet Needs by design.
In the early 1980s Swiss designer Walter Düring designed the first toilet cleaner that used packaging as a tool. With its duck-shaped neck Toilet Duck provided a simple solution to kill unseen germs lurking under the rim and hard to reach. This idea elegantly neutralised a deep-seated fear of vulnerability to disease.
There are several different ways to identify Unmet Needs, but you need to be people-centred in your approach.
- Insightful qualitative and quantitative research
- Ethnographic research, or observation of people using your product
- User experience and path to purchase analysis
- Walking in your customers shoes
- Informal voice of the customer research
Whatever methods you use, look for examples where customer satisfaction is compromised by the means of use. These might be known annoyances or unknown inefficiencies that customers experience. Try applying these research techniques to your business and the customers you serve.
Four common symptoms of Unmet Needs to look out for are:
- Inefficiencies – when there is unnecessary effort, time, cost, or steps to take to use your product. The internet and mobile phones have disrupted many industries by redefining efficiency. Think Uber and taxis, or Air BnB and hotels.
- Frustrations – when customers must endure annoyances in using your product. The Dollar Shave Club successfully overcame the frustration of highly priced razor blades.
- Workarounds – when customers are forced to do additional tasks in order to use your product. This is essentially the entire software industry whose products are fraught with over-promised ‘minimum viable products’, diabolical incompatibilities and token support.
- User torture – when the actual use of your product creates negative unintended consequences. Flat-pack furniture is notorious for customer torture, especially when the instructions are obscure or in a foreign language.
Looking for Unmet Needs in your business and with your customers is a double-edged sword. It is a great way to identify opportunities for innovation, but it also provides a glimpse of threats that could bring disruption in the hands of competitors.
The bottom line is to satisfy your customer’s Unmet Needs before someone else does.
From an early age I learned about the social value of food.
My late mum (bless her), committed many horrific food crimes when I was growing up. The arrival of the enormous wood-grained National microwave in the 1970’s sparked her culinary nadir; destroying everything that went inside like some sort of nuclear kitchen holocaust. I still glow a bit under a certain light.
But she did also pull out the odd miracle.
Nothing scored better than a platter of her cheese and herb toasties presented to a ravenous band of teenage drinkers late in the evening. Or the day I stopped the school playground in its tracks with a greaseproof wrapper full of mum’s incredibly exotic cream cheese, lettuce, Marmite and walnut sandwiches.
Clearly, food has the ability to create social currency – both positively and negatively.
Which brings me to the modern phenomenon of Foodstagramming. The basic idea is that no decent meal can go unphotographed and shared.
Apparently, food is the most popular content item on Instagram, with 438,921,588 food hashtagged images. The most popular food hashtags are #food, #foodporn, #instafood and #yummy. According to a study of 100,000 Instagram images by Photoworld.com the top 10 Instagrammed foods internationally are:
So why all the fuss? It seems that ‘gramming our food satisfies us in several significant ways:
The new grace. A shared ritual before we eat that is designed to celebrate and indicate our gratitude for what we are about to eat.
It makes us happier. Studies have shown that taking food photos is a way of verifying our eating experience that increases our sense of pleasure. It can also make the food actually taste better due to the delayed gratification and repeated, episodic and fixed ritual of ‘gramming’.
Look at me. Instagrammed food conveys messages to our friends about ourselves. They can show how good I am, how lucky I am, how naughty I am, how brave I am, how rich I am, or confirm that I am really here experiencing this extraordinary feast.
Mixed food health. In terms of health, Instagram provides mixed messages. On the positive side, it helps the recovery of people with eating disorders by documenting their meals. However, it can also fuel an unhealthy fixation with eating and the wrong sort of foods.
The implications of this are profound for anyone in the food industry. The visual impact and ‘grammagenic value of meals is increasingly the way that consumers frame their satisfaction.
How ‘grammable is your food offering?
Some brands truly understand the power of the ‘user generated’ image. For example, Giapo has turned ice-creams into a visual extravaganza. Top restaurants like Sidart create their meals as works of art. Fashionable food trucks like The Lucky Taco understand the power of content potential for customers. And FMCG brands like Pure Delish understand that it is through the eyes of that people fall in love with food products.
In contrast, those that disregard the smartphone empowered customer do so at their peril. One category that is at significant risk in this respect is the large quick-service restaurants. Who hasn’t taken the bait of a delicious looking menu, only to be bitterly disappointed by the tragic and massively underwhelming food that bears no resemblance to the menu image?
Whatever would my mum say?