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Are retail marketers becoming too left brained?

Charlotte Wood
Charlotte Wood

The best thing about modern marketing is the numbers. The ability to analyse, quantify and measure the success of every interaction.

The worst thing about modern marketing is the numbers. The ability to analyse, quantify and measure the success of every interaction.

Are retail marketers becoming too left brained? Tim Mason, former marketing impresario at Tesco, certainly seems to think so. Speaking at RBTE 2016, Mason explained how the shift from being terrified of competitors to obsessed by customers was a defining point in the supermarket chain’s pathway to success – and how the Clubcard completely revolutionised its understanding of shopper behaviour.

The bottom line is, consumers don’t care about numbers. They want improvements in their lives, even if it’s just a slightly more pleasant weekly grocery shop. When Tesco launched its Clubcard in 1995 it became one of the early adopters of big data-driven analytics, and the results turned everything they assumed about their advocates on its head. The brand’s most loyal followers weren’t the bigger basket spenders; they were the little and often visitors.

Changing the metrics marketers use from hard line performance to loyalty and satisfaction can reveal some interesting – and profitable – insights.

Mason shared the example of the early 2000s, when Tesco launched its FreeFrom range. Initially, sales missed their targets and looked to be a failure. However, analysis of the shoppers buying products showed that a third were brand new customers to the store, while the other two thirds had increased the frequency with which they shopped at Tesco since the introduction of the new range. Oh, and these new/more frequent customers were generating £300 million in sales across the rest of the store.

Not quite the same story when you look at it in a different light!

But big data analysis can only take retailers so far. Ultimately, true personalisation comes from the staff that interact with shoppers. Another landmark initiative Mason introduced was the ‘living service’ initiative – an early form of cognitive behavioural therapy, designed to educate its workforce from the top down that happy employees meant happy customers.

As we move into an era in which technology will increasingly dominate both decision making and task execution, it’s important not to forget that emotion is the most powerful influence on consumer activity. Consumers act with the right side of the brain, and therefore so should marketers.

So while it’s possible to slice, dice and dissect customer data to a greater level than ever before, science shouldn’t take the human warmth out of retail marketing.

For the latest #RBTE2016 insights follow @Fieldworks on Twitter.  

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