Fast Shopper, Slow Store – Full chapter excerpt

From Best Buy to Borders, retail stores are closing their doors forever: the shop has lost its connection to its shopper. Increasingly consumers are looking to their mobile devices as the primary screen to find best products and the cheapest deals. 

Fast Shopper, Slow Store, the latest book from MEF North America Chairman Gary Schwartz, is about what companies can do to build the mobile tools necessary to re-establish a relationship with their mobile consumer.

In this excerpt, Gary examines how the US political horse race mirrors retail activities in attracting consumers, and how any brand will need to rethink their strategies in the modern digital landscape.

Fast Shopper, Slow Store is available now from all good bookstores for just $0.99!

Chapter 2:

Elephants and Donkeys and Shampoo, Oh My!


Many people in the business of connecting to retail customers are busy reworking their game plan. It may reassure the reader that no one is immune to digital disruption, which has left most industry folk, from brands to broadcasters, from publishers to politicians, questioning the way they engage with their audiences.

The 2012 U.S. presidential election is a perfect example of brands desperately seeking buyers. As the candidates claw for positioning, it is evident that the election process is (surprisingly or not) similar to selling a product in a hugely competitive retail market. Each electoral cycle demonstrates the challenge of courting an increasingly digital public.

The techniques that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney use to market their platform and gather votes are the same as those embraced by brands to manage their market presence, build engagement, and move their audience to a sale. All the challenges of chasing the itinerant mobile public are the same as those facing bewildered shopkeepers.

Soapbox Politics

Products are bought based on their function or the service that they deliver, brand recall, brand loyalty, convenience, and, of course, price. The same holds true for the presidential race. The candidates all have
something to sell:

A product
A service
A price

The product they are marketing is themselves. Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign managers, for instance, are trying to sell Romney the man, the father, the ex-governor, the future president, and the businessman. They do this in a number of ways: by optimizing his camera appeal, wardrobe, personality, and ability to look good in a fifteen-second media sound bite.

The service they are offering is outlined in their platform: their policies, their ideas, and their vision. A campaign, like a retail store, is selling a product with an appealing exterior and the promise of a rewarding interior.

The price is the cost of implementing the service. There is a fine political dance of costs and benefits as politicians attempt to keep various—and often opposing—factions happy.

A candidate stands on a podium; a product sits on a shelf. Their quandary is the same.

In the case of retail there is a science to closing the sale. What shopkeepers and brands call the “path to purchase” explores the shopper’s experience—from the first time we hear a product jingle to the moment we bring the product home—and can involve everything from the $75 billion that is still spent annually on television advertising to recipes on YouTube videos to dog-eared coupons. This is the step-by-step process of moving possible customers to purchase (wherever that purchase may happen).

What are Romney and Obama’s biggest concerns? Of the American public that historically engages in the political debate, many do not end up voting. According to Pew Research Center data (, a week before the 2006 midterm elections, 68 percent of would-be voters said they were registered and planned to vote in the upcoming election; however, on election day only 40 percent of eligible adults actually voted. Any candidate who wants to live in the White House needs to answer this marketing and sales dilemma: why did motivated and engaged citizens not cast a ballot? 2000 was the only year over the past two decades when expressed engagement mirrored actual turnout in the presidential election.

Path to purchase (interrupted?)
Pew Research Center data, June 7–17, 2012
(turnout figures based on voting-eligible population)

Closing a sale is key; it is all that really matters. A campaign team knows that whether it is packaging Romney or a household staple, all is for naught if it cannot move someone into the voting booth (or, in the case of a store, to a cash register). We need to convince the voter/shopper to select one product/candidate over another. We need him or her to make this decision at the ballot box—what brands call the “moment of truth.”

The biggest challenge for a brand trying to court and capture the mobile public is that buyers are no longer captive in stores. This is hugely inconvenient. If shoppers are not orbiting the storefront, where do you find them? If you do not know what path they are on, how can you post effective signs?

Whether in the ballot box or in a store, our attention spans are becoming increasingly deficient. At home, consumers may write out shopping lists and do hours of product research, but in a store, the majority of their basket is made up of products bought on impulse. Billions of dollars are spent to try to influence this public. To create an affinity for a candidate or a shampoo, how can we best encourage mobile consumers to buy our product over another one?

This Seat’s Taken

The path to the White House is challenging. The public is consuming information, signs, and messages on smaller screens—screens that we no longer control or even influence effectively. Digital natives (those born into a nonlinear world, unlike many of us analogue immigrants) are at ease navigating a handheld screen on which there is limited space for traditional signs. Adding complexity, digital natives move through nearly thirty windows on that screen per hour.

Are we building relationships or just posting traffic signs?

What we say, how we say it, and where and by whom are all key factors in our success or failure to connect with mobile consumers. During the midterm election, the Pew Research Center’s The Internet and Campaign 2010 report found that 42 percent of survey respondents said that political information they saw or read online had encouraged them to vote for or against a specific candidate. It may seem encouraging that  mobile traffic has grown from 3 percent to nearly 8 percent over the last year; however, so has traffic to information sites beyond the control of the old guard’s information peddlers.

Gone are the days when candidates could rely exclusively on broadcast media sound bites.

Hot-or-not media culture is still a factor in winning the race; however, we have moved from a 1.0 to a 2.0 campaign, where the winner needs to do more than shout out slogans from the caboose of a train or playing the saxophone on late-night television.

Digital appears to offer a new platform. Obama had 45,000 Twitter followers four years ago; now he has approximately 20 million. However, though this is undoubtedly a powerful distribution channel, most of the dialogue is happening between voters. What role does the candidate play in interpersonal channels? Most voters’ digital conversations take place on social networks that are not directly tied to the candidates’ soapboxes. Though Twitter channels can nudge images and text to followers; beyond this limited broadcast function, the ensuing conversation is out of their control. Ten percent of the public use mobile devices to dialogue with one another during election debates, and 14 percent have told others they voted (

Historically, when we couldn’t control conversations, we invested in messaging platforms and messaging rails. The London Olympics’ Walk A Mile social engagement campaign is a good example. The State Department, along with the President’s Challenge, is supporting a fitness and global engagement engine to reach its target audience.

We have become an “authenticity” culture, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to manufacture community. Everything we consume has to be validated by the blogosphere, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other peer-to-peer media channels. Even the New York Times journalist and self-professed Luddite David Carr acknowledges that “the messages are the media now.”

Elections can no longer be won by selling the candidates in the traditional way. But how are the candidates working outside the retail store model and moving voters into a trusted long-term relationship that will influence their decision at the voting booth?

We are the measure not of our tweets (messages) but rather of our retweets—that is, messages that demonstrate social affirmation and loyalty.

More Than Kissing Babies

So what builds a credible relationship with our audience? In 2012, this is what gets a president and a brand selected. These are the social Cliffs Notes for any aspiring brand:

• Think messaging. According to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of smartphone owners open fewer than six apps per week. (Only .25 percent of voters used a political mobile app during the midterm election.) Do not get caught focusing on building comprehensive websites or applications. Focus on simple, personal channels.

• Think targeting. Attention-challenged small-screen-using consumers need relevant, targeted communication. Know your audience. And, more important, make sure your audience feels you know them. (Rick Santorum was a poster child for this. He enabled each of his state teams to customize local messaging.)

• Think authenticity. Move from politics 1.0 to 2.0 and join the conversation. (Obama’s NCAA basketball bracket challenge to voters will go further than Obama adopting a mobile photo app or Instagram. The former shows authenticity; the latter seems like trying too hard.).

• Think screen. Screens have become the windows to our audience. The television in every living room is now the tablet in the bedroom and the handheld on the train. Each screen demands different messaging.

• Think narrative. Voters are channel-indifferent. Move with them through the Web, various mobile devices, and live media appearances. Create a consistent message and a consistent engagement strategy

• Think frictionless. Count clicks to voter conversion. Our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions—we can’t be sold with layers of complex media, and we are averse to wasting our time filling out forms. Make all messages, surveys, and feedback opportunities actionable with a single click.

The key for politicians is to focus on mobile messaging, mobile engagement, mobile trust, and building a long-term relationship. For the brand this means it needs to get off the shelf and perhaps even leave the mall.

Fast Shopper, Slow Store is available now from allgoodbookstores.


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