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A new science to create in-store shopper action

Earlier this month, we wrote a column for Point-Of-Purchase, a Shopper Marketing Magazine. This article details what we learnt from our recent experiment to halt trespassing deaths while crossing the tracks, and how these can be translated into the retail space. ——————————————————-

“Consumers claim 70% of their final purchase decisions are made at the store shelf, but we don’t know as much as we would like to about how these purchase decisions are really made. So we’re in the process of closing this knowledge and understanding gap” – AG Lafley, P&G

The retail scene in India is starting to churn. It is altering the very way Indians shop today. We’ve come a long way, from our local kirana stores, to the newest hypermart in the neighbourhood. Marketers have taken note of these new dynamics and are starting to vie for a share of this consumer at the final moment of truth – the purchase.

Look around, and you’ll get an idea of what’s going on. We get accosted by nothing but offers!, promotions!, and discounts! Even if some brands do decide to build their brand in-store, branding is nothing but a rehash of the mainline advertising, scaled to fit retail spaces.


Building saliency is currently, the name of the game at retail. And marketers will go to lengths to achieve inordinate levels of awareness. Blanket brand takeover of retail space is a tried and tested method. Even that is not helping much.

With many purchase decisions being taken at shelf, the onus now shifts to the marketer to complete the branding circle. This is where everything is tested. In a fraction of a second, your brand could be one that the shopper only feels good about, but doesn’t buy. That is not a good place to sit. Ultimately, the bigger question is how do we close this loop? Is there a better way your brand can influence and shape new behaviour in line with this imagery?

What will drive your final market share? Is it about making people more aware of your brand, which they already know about and trust, or is it by getting these very people to buy your brand more often?

Lets face it, there is a huge gap between awareness and action. Retail communication has always been treated as a reminder medium. It is now time to shift this perspective and treat it as a conversion medium. There is no other way we can go about bridging that gap.

It is time for a new order and look at things from a more fundamental perspective. Merely creating imagery and influencing opinion will not work. Retail activity is not, and should not, be considered as brand impact. It’s much more than that. To create sustained behaviour change, we have to dig deeper into the human brain and understand things at a more elemental level. This is where all the answers lie.

All said, triggering desired action is a challenging task. Our brain is a treasure trove of information. Every little experience with the brand and products has been stored as a memory by our non-conscious brain; this affects all our purchases, right from the basic essentials to even the classic luxuries. Reconstructing these memories and identifying beneficial contexts to desirably elicit automatic, instant actions is a tall order.

At FinalMile, understanding these fundamental workings of the human brain and how it responds to stimulus, is at the centre of all our assignments. Drawing learnings from cognitive neurology and behavioural economics, we believe that explaining current behaviour is the best way to shape new behaviour, shortcut decisions and nudge people into desirable action.

We applied these learnings to tackle a huge problem facing Mumbai city – deaths on the railway tracks because of trespassing. From the time we implemented our solutions, a stretch of railway tracks at Vadala, which otherwise sees 8-10 trespassing deaths on any given month, has remained accident-free for over forty five days.

These trespassers didn’t see any communication that exhorted them “Do Not Cross Tracks,” but just one visual signboard with zero copy on it, alongwith some yellow lines on the tracks.

This resounding success is the result of new sciences to inspire desired behaviour, contrary to the traditional approach of being rational and logical. If this science can help us achieve a mammoth goal, such as minimizing deaths on the railway track, it might as well help brands to nudge shoppers into desirable action.

There are quite a few parallels that we can draw from how we shaped decisions at the trespass points to how marketers can mould shopper behaviour at store.

The role of context – Target shoppers at point of action: After spending time observing trespassers, we concluded that the best place to target change in trespassing behaviour is where it happens. At the point of action. People were crossing these very tracks that have claimed the lives of many, in a carefree manner. Breaking this overconfidence before they entered the tracks would ensure that they take an extra second to check for oncoming trains, before they crossed.

Similarly, just like the tracks, the store is your final battleground. Communicating to people in their cold state (TV, internet, reading) can only help so much. Procrastination is a huge barrier to overcome. The store is where your consumer turns into your shopper. Shoppers DO things differently than how consumers PLAN for it.

It is at the store that the conscious brain is actively seeking stimulus. It is constantly observing, evaluating and deciding. The stimulus-to-response gap is very short at this point-of-action. The store is the best place to instill new behaviour by providing the right stimulus.

The store has many things going for it that help us in this mission. It is much more multi-dimensional. It allows for real-time action and interactivity. Moreover, it doesn’t segment it’s target audience like TV or Press does. Every walk in is a potential buyer; every vote counts.

Leverage mental shortcuts – Sidestep conventional paradigms of rationality: The entire marketing effort has been built on the idea of classical economics – Economic man makes logical, rational, self-interested decisions. This has given rise to many concepts, including Positioning and USP theory. New sciences have shown us a better way to comprehend how people make decisions. Rational man does not exist. And yet, brands, companies and organizations focus all their marketing effort talking to this rational person.


The trespassing assignment hinged on irrationality. Yellow lines painted on tracks didn’t say anything about trespassing. No one could explain why they were there. Little did the trespassers know that human brain has deficiencies in visual processing, because of which it becomes difficult to correctly estimate the speed of the oncoming train. Many a time, it is too late before the trespasser realizes that the train has already come within hitting distance.

The significance of irrationality in the retail space is immense. We have to rightfully acknowledge it and accept that there are many things that we do, but can’t explain. By understanding how you think, it has a powerful effect on how you act, by means that are far deeper than what you hear and see.

Priming the shopper for purchase in the right way by giving subtle nudges can go a long way in influencing purchase. These nudges take shape in several forms, including visual, non-verbal and sensory interventions.

Identify relevant neural connections – predetermine shopping and usage behaviour: Our non-conscious governs over 95% of what we do and the actions we take. The power that it holds is immense. Eliciting the appropriate emotional memory can make people relate to the intervention at a more basic, uncomplicated level. It also helps in shortcutting decisions.


In the retail space, marketers are only talking to the 5% in their current communications. And in that rush to bag the sale, brands are failing to realize that the way we think about them is a cumulative effect of lifelong interactions we have had with the brand. This is undermined or enriched with every new experience.

Marketers that want to build a stronger connection with shoppers have to acknowledge the fact that the retail outlet will soon become one of the most important mediums of brand interventions. This is where the focus of all your marketing efforts are made tangible.

New sciences of Cognitive Neurology and Behavioural Economics are quite contrary to the traditional approach of rationality. Being fundamental in nature, they can deliver consistent, predictable results for the brand. Giving up the current way of doing things and welcoming this new thought is a tough task for marketers. It not only requires a realization that this new approach is effective and efficient, but also means that marketers need the courage to shed status quo and acknowledge this better way of building brands at retail.

Are you one of the marketers, who is willing to do that?

#Irrationality #pointofaction #emotionalmemory #interventions #trespassing #cognitiveshortcuts #indianrailways #Railways #retail

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