Catch them if you can

Today's typical North American consumer could reasonably be likened to a chicken running around with its head cut off.

Today’s typical North American consumer could reasonably be likened to a chicken running around with its head cut off.

They’re too busy for everything – including eating, shopping and dating – and the permeating ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day’ refrain has made them more demanding and less patient. Time is officially more valuable than money, and if you want to stay relevant, you’re going to have to figure out how to get your product out there (consumers are far too busy to come to you,) how to make it a functional timesaver and how to give people exactly what they want NOW. It’s all about instant gratification.

From retail to consumer packaged goods to dating services, marketers are finding new ways to keep pace with their busy targets, and grow their consumer bases through new channels along the way.

‘[The trend] is being driven a lot by young consumers – they’re working, they’ve got kids,’ explains John Torella, senior consultant at Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group. He adds that his research indicates consumers feel today’s busy world creates ‘a great life, but a complex life.’

One of the ways marketers are responding to these new consumer needs is with ‘pop-up retail,’ a term coined by British agency Trend Watching to describe retailers hitting the road and hawking their merch off vehicles in high-traffic areas.

American retail giant Target was one of the first adopters: in the summer of 2004, they loaded up a truck with air conditioners and sold them in downtown Manhattan to hot passersby. Target has also docked a boat at Manhattan’s Chelsea Pier to reach busy urbanites who don’t have time or vehicles to drive out to suburban Target stores. Over in the U.K., hip boutique the Laden Showroom offers the London Fashion Bus, which drives around town selling designer clothes to trendy city folk too busy to browse in shops.

In Canada, even pop-up retail has to multi-task. Since 2000, Toronto-based JamVan, a turnkey mobile retail service, has been busily expanding to keep up with demand from marketers wanting to make retail more convenient for their time-challenged consumers.

‘We’ve had to turn down [clients] because of the lack of availability,’ says Lisa Barrans, marketing director at JamVan. Some of her high-profile customers include Pepsi, Sony, Universal and Trojan.

The company, which started out with one van, now has two in operation and a couple more on the way. The JamVans are out 10-15 hours a day, seven days a week, showing up at busy street corners, events and high schools throughout southern Ontario. The company has arranged cross-country tours for marketers, and eventually hopes to set up bases in other markets across Canada.

The vans are customized for each client, with branded retail environments inside and billboards outside, and appropriate staff to interact with different targets. While Toronto-based Warner Music Canada currently uses the JamVan to target youth, director of marketing Dale Kotyk says there’s potential to go after an older demo by decking the van out with an older-skewing Warner artist like Michael Bublé.

He says JamVan’s conspicuous presence helps him grow his customer base in terms of awareness, and points to its ability to set up shop in areas lacking traditional music retailers, like Wasaga Beach and Toronto’s Beaches, as a timesaver for consumers who would otherwise have to travel to get CDs.

On the packaged goods side, marketers are revamping products and finding new distribution channels to reach people on the run. Kellogg’s and Quaker have both recently introduced snack bar incarnations of traditional breakfast brands like Raisin Bran and Quaker Oatmeal. And, apparently people don’t have time for other meals, either. Campbell’s has responded with the launch of ‘Soup to Go’ – microwaveable soup that consumers can drink, since they no longer have time to sit down with those pesky utensils. ‘Home meal replacements are the fastest-growing food category,’ notes Torella.

Meanwhile, Kraft Canada recently introduced a microwaveable version of its Delissio pizza brand. ‘Convenience in consumer packaged goods is mandatory,’ says Sean Bredt, Kraft Canada’s category business director, frozen foods.

‘[Consumers] demand all the taste, plus they want the convenience.’ He says while the target for the microwaveable incarnation of Delissio remains busy moms, the new product will shoot for different occasions. In other words, the original oven-bake Delissio is positioned as a quick meal for the whole family, but the microwaveable version is positioned as ideal for one or two people to eat quickly – perhaps for a mom and her son before they head to soccer practice, or for mom or dad to take for lunch.

Bredt says the product is already available in 90% of the country’s grocery stores and many convenience stores. ‘The next wave will be to focus on more convenience-based channels,’ he explains. ‘Lives can get incredibly hectic, and that’s not going to change.’

The Toronto-based CPG firm has also just launched Crystal Light Singles, single-serving packets of the popular beverage for people to add flavour to their water bottles on the run. Single packets are available at checkout counters in c-stores, and also in boxes of six alongside the original Crystal Light boxes at grocery stores.

Consumer demand for convenience and quality means constant innovation, and product revamps will have to continue, perhaps at even an accelerated pace. Torella sees no easy solution for marketers to adapt to today’s increasingly complicated consumers.

‘It’s just going to get more and more complex,’ he says. But he reports that consumers are clearly indicating two things: They want their shopping experiences to be pleasant and thus worthy of their limited time, and they want to be able to research product information online to either save them time once they’re in the store, or to skip the retail experience altogether by ordering items online.

So, if you can offer good stuff fast, you’ve got it made.