In an ‘Always On’ Landscape, Context is King

In an ‘Always On’ Landscape, Context is King

As part of our new thought leadership theme, we are looking at how fundamental shifts in technology, culture and the channel landscape are reinventing the world of retail.

The combination of these factors is shifting shopping from a ‘moment in time’ journey to more of an ‘always on’ mind-set – because just as we are always ‘on’ – we are always shopping.

Mindsets, not Moments
The conventional approach to customer journeys is to track shopper behaviour back to a single ‘trigger’. But in a world where shoppers are always on, it becomes tricky to put your finger on the precise moment the journey started. And so marketers risk orientating their shopper journey around the wrong thing – focusing on a single moment, instead of mindsets.

Shoppers are constantly absorbing information from the ‘cultural soup’ around them, and this has a significant influence on the purchase decisions they make. Across an enormous trove of research, we consistently find that when an individual decides to make a purchase, much of the filtering of brands and products has already been done prior to the ‘trigger point.’ We call this filtering process ‘Latent Awareness’.

Latent Awareness: Two Levels
Firstly, there are deep-lying influences – all the past experiences and perceptions with a category that shape a consumer’s implicit associations. Much of this is subconscious, and slow to shift. But it acts as a powerful filter nonetheless.

And at the second level, those deep-lying influences are coloured by newer inputs that are closer to the surface – a banner ad, a Facebook post, a throwaway comment – the stuff we call ‘new news’.

We spoke with Nancy Puccinelli, a visiting Marketing scholar at Oxford. Her research really digs into the psychological factors that drive customer behaviour. She recognises the importance that both levels play in a shopper’s final decision – and the fact that latent awareness means the battle can be won or lost before the shopper journey has officially begun.

So how do we influence it?

It’s not just about Reach; it’s about Conversational Currency
It starts by appreciating that our brands don’t exist in a vacuum. Brand owners need to spend more time understanding the cultural context of their audience. The objective for brands should be building conversational currency.

How do they weave themselves into a chat at the pub? Purposely create chatter designed to show up on message boards, reviews, and social media posts? We have found that these overlapping online conversations among a network of friends can do as much to inform a consumer’s consideration set as big, traditional campaigns. This has significant implications for what qualifies as ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ spend.

Targeting Networks, not Segments
Puccinelli talks about the second rung of Latent Awareness as being influenced by relevance, repetition and recency – repeatedly landing a relevant message at the right point in the shopper cycle. This is difficult to do with traditional campaigns that target huge blocks of consumers. This is much easier (and cheaper) to do with targeted media that seeks to influence specific networks of people.
By identifying the key influencers of these networks (for some, that might be prolific Amazon reviewers, for others, Zoella) – and forging a link – brands do a lot to increase their opportunity to achieve relevance.

Overall, a focus on ‘Soft’ Power
We believe context will be a defining element of how we influence shoppers for years to come. The ‘soft influence’ of a casual conversation – the ability to connect to a consumer’s cultural network – the idea of using social media to create positive implicit associations over time, rather than assuming a single promotion will trigger a purchase – these are the battlegrounds where retail battles will be won or lost as we move ahead.