Why ‘faster, better, cheaper’ isn’t efficient

Evoking emotion in retail is impactful, but the next frontier is responding to it, says Hunter Straker's Lavana Pauk.


By Lavana Pauk

Every marketer has sat in some unimaginative meeting talking about “technology this” and “innovation that.” I can practically hear the rally cry of most businesses these days, as if they were dancing around a fire: “faster, better, cheaper…faster, better, cheaper.”

It absolutely can work, and some have seen success.

We’re in a time of unprecedented efficiencies, ubiquity, and elevated expectations for pretty much everything.

For retail, this means polarization. Either you run a mean price game or you provide an enchanting experience that leaves your customers’ mouths gaping open, as if to catch flies.

So what’s more efficient in the long run?

While the massive-scale price warriors of the world are dancing around that fire, the rest of us have no choice but to differentiate. I don’t mean by doing it faster, better or cheaper than your competitors, but rather going in a completely opposite direction: methodical, maybe a bit messy at times, and by no means cheap.

Creating experiences that arouse emotional, physiological reactions aren’t exactly in line with cost slashing, lean resourcing, cookie cutter business models. But – and it’s a big but – we make decisions based on our emotions. So let me ask you which side of the fence would you rather be on: head to head with global retail giants, or being deeply relevant to a purchase decision?

Still not convinced? The realities are staggering:

Why? Our biological wiring. We are hedonistic, bursting with passion, living, breathing humans that make emotional decisions far more often than rational ones.

So how do we begin to take advantage of this and differentiate?

Yes, arousing emotion is proven to eventually get results, but we generate true value when we take the next step and actually respond to these emotions. So far, the closest we’ve come to this is with emotion sensing technology.

This form of artificial intelligence (AI) uses an algorithm to detect one’s mood or emotional state.

Often a camera detects facial expressions, but a number of different data inputs can be included, such as tone of voice, eye-tracking, and biometric measures (heart and breathing rate, galvanic skin response).

While still in early adoption, the applications of emotional data are near infinite. Industries like healthcare, education, automotive, advertising and market research all stand to benefit.

Consider an obvious use: testing advertising. Kellogg’s, for example, partnered with Affectiva, one of the leading emotion sensing technology and AI companies, to vet three different ads. Through coding and analyzing facial expressions, it became obvious that a joke in one of the ads, offended the audience. While focus groups may not volunteer such information verbally, a brief look of contempt is enough to nix the concept, before it ever fails in market.

It should be no surprise then, that retail use is a natural opportunity. We are just starting to see companies test and learn with displays and even robots.

Hershey’s also partnered with Affectiva, in an attempt to lure shoppers down the grocery aisle.

Using a camera to detect facial movements, gender and age, smiling shoppers triggered the release of an unexpected surprise – a free chocolate bar. Not only did this drive foot traffic to a typically unplanned purchase category, it secured incremental real estate from equally delighted retailers.

Then you have Japanese company, Softbank, which wanted to improve customer interactions store wide. Its solution was to introduce Pepper, the emotionally intelligent robot, to the in-store experience. Pepper scans the environment for facial expressions, vocal tone and prosody, then responds accordingly.  Imagine when a brief look of confusion means Pepper is by your side ready to answer your questions before you even turn around.

Smarter robots may be the next step, but, there’s something much more alluring in the forecast.

Consider the internet of things. Wearables are conversing with smart devices, coalescing into an entire environment that adapts and responds to your every want, and subconscious need. A perfect storm of influence where the most relevant content, at the right time, evokes emotion in the very moment a customer is completely receptive – and receptive customers buy.

There are three resources we possess: our money, our time and our attention. The next economic frontier is all about buying our attention. When we can understand, and respond to the emotions of our customers, we create receptive moments of attention. This is the most valuable resource any business can hope to acquire. Arrest their attention, and they will give you their time and their money.

While it may not be the fast or low cost option, you can decide what’s more efficient in the long run:  a potential price war with some less than enthused customers, or garnering complete attention and affecting the very means of how your customers decide what to buy.

_MG_1005 copy[1]Lavana Pauk is a strategist, retail insights at Hunter Straker.