grow your business

Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved television shows of all time, came to a close this year after six successful and gripping seasons. Viewers finally got to witness Walter White’s unforgettable exit and find out which of the key characters made it out alive.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is set in a post-GFC, recession ravaged America.  The protagonist Walter White is an understated high-school chemistry professor who is forced to take on a second job at a car wash to make ends meet for his young family.  After being diagnosed with lung cancer and realizing that he does not have enough health care to cover his treatment, he puts his expertise in chemistry to use and begins cooking the most pure crystal methamphetamine (meth) on the market. But as this career teacher quickly realizes, starting and learning to grow your business successfully, isn’t as easy as it looks.

But there’s more to Breaking Bad than exciting science, shocking drama and riveting character development – there’s plenty here for you to take and apply to grow your business.  If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Walter White at Heisenberg College.

1. Technical Expertise is Not Enough

When faced with insurmountable medical bills, Walt realizes that he is never going to make enough money working as an employee.  Like so many other entrepreneurs, Walt is passionate about his technical skill (chemistry) and he starts a business that has the potential to maximize the return he can get from that expertise, albeit in this case, an illegal activity.

What he quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business – inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc.  So he does what most entrepreneurs do – he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.

The Lesson: If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly.  Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges.  Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions.

2. Establish a  Premium Brand Then Establish a Premium Price

Walter White was a world class chemist and as a result, he consistently produced the highest quality crystal meth that you could buy.  In fact, his trademark “blue sky” was widely recognized by both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and drug users as “the bomb”.  Walter could easily have cut corners and produced a mediocre range of product that appealed to the mass market at a discount price, but he didn’t.  His pride in his own expertise and his commitment to excellence meant that he owned the upper end of the market.

By creating unprecedented demand for his unique formulation, he could dictate the terms his product was sold under and the price consumers would have to pay.  In Walter’s own words – “Corner the market, then raise the price,” White says. “Simple economics.”

The Lesson: If you insist on competing based on price, you are doomed to failure.  Anyone can cook crystal meth (or make a mediocre version of the product/service that you are currently selling) but only one person can truly be the best in the world at creating the most pure version on the market. To grow your business and succeed, you must be willing to do what it takes to cure the #1 pain that your customer has with buying your product/service.

3. If You’re Good Enough, You Can Get Away With Murder

There is no denying the fact that Walter White was the best in the world at cooking crystal meth.  This fact rendered him virtually untouchable. Walter’s unparalleled cooking skills kept him alive over and over again.  Even Gus Fring (the chicken man and notorious drug lord) could not afford to kill him after it became clear that both Walter and his junkie sidekick Jessie, were loose cannons. When Gus came close to finding a replacement, Walter was quick to eliminate his competition, thus restoring his own unassailable status.

Even Jessie, as flawed and messed up as he was in his personal life, was excellent at distribution and sales, thus making it difficult for Walter or Gus to eliminate him easily.

The Lesson:  If you are without question, the best at what you do, you cannot easily be fired or replaced and you can charge a premium for your expertise.

4. If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed

Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions.  When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie.  Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.

This episode and in fact the one that followed were not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but they illustrate one important point very clearly for you as an entrepreneur –  your success or failure relies solely upon your ability to make quick and good decisions… and then take action immediately, based on those decisions.

The Lesson: In order to be the boss and grow your  business, you have to be willing to make decisions and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.  You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines of your business hoping and praying that things will change.  You need to be the change that you want to see and you need to get good at making decisions today.

5. No One is Ever Successful Without Help

Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The Lesson: If you want to grow your business and build a scalable, robust business that runs without you (or is saleable), you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and learn how to delegate and lead others.

6. If You Can’t Negotiate, You’re Doomed to Fail

Ever wondered why most people don’t say “yes” to your product/service?  Without a doubt, it’s because you have no idea what they need to hear in order to make a decision in your favour.  Walter White started off with absolutely no clue how to run a business or negotiate with suppliers, colleagues or customers.  And more than once, this shortcoming almost cost him his business and his life.  He stumbled upon a universal truth – that if a person’s pain is bad enough and you provide the only solution, they will decide immediately and won’t need “time to think about it”.

The Lesson: The best negotiators know how to persuade others. In order to succeed you need to master the art of identifying, quantifying and curing your customer’s (employee’s or supplier’s) #1 source of pain.  If you do this well, you immediately disqualify your competition and are much more likely to get a “yes” today.

7. Distribution Can Make or Break Your Business

As phenomenal as Walter’s blue sky crystal meth was, he would never have achieved market penetration, leading brand recognition and phenomenal sales without Jessie’s distribution efforts. Jessie’s ability to build relationships, enforce collections and find distributors who were willing to do the hard yards to reach customers, was integral to their commercial success.

Walter didn’t know the first thing about pricing, competitive analysis, money laundering or channel management; he needed to connect with the right people – Jessie, Saul Goodman, Gus Fring et al.

The Lesson:  If you insist on doing everything yourself, then you must be prepared to accept the fact you will never have a scalable, successful and saleable business.

8. First Impressions Are Everything

Gus Fring was by all outward appearances a legitimate, respected member of the Albuquerque business community. He owned a chain of successful fried chicken restaurants and he was a vocal and public supporter of the DEA. He was also the most feared and successful drug lord in the southern states. Even though he was targeted and questioned by the DEA, Gus avoided investigation and culpability by always putting his best foot forward. He was articulate, well-dressed, outwardly legitimate and successful. He made it difficult for anyone to identify and convict him as a drug trafficker. Both Gus and Walter understood that first impressions are everything.

The Lesson:  You only get once chance to make a good first impression. The part of your customer’s brain that decides is highly visual and hasty.  If you don’t appear credible and trustworthy, it will be infinitely more difficult to influence and persuade others to do business with or believe in you. Fail at making a good first impression, and you will never grow your business successfully.

9. It Pays to Manage Your Liabilities

Slowly over the six seasons of the show, Walter and Jessie go from being small time players (much like the typical consultant or start up) to fully fledged business owners of a manufacturing and distribution empire. But there’s just one problem. No matter how much they make, it seems that the overheads (fixed costs of running the business) just keep getting bigger and bigger.  Sound familiar? Not only does Walter have to pay Saul Goodman for legal protection, but there’s also plenty of money going towards collections, enforcement and dealers who “know too much”.

While Walter is initially disgruntled about all these expenses he learns an important point – while it’s important to keep your overall expenses as low as possible, you should never skimp on items that are crucial to your success.  Although you might be frustrated with fixed expenses, you can afford to pay top dollar for the best employees, legal services to keep your business on the right side of the law, or an advisor/coach to help you grow your business profitably.

The Lesson:  If you want to grow your business you cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish.  If someone or something is integral to your success, ensure that you invest your time and money here.  You can always find money in the budget for everything that is worth spending on or investing in.

 

Breaking Bad was poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels.  And the genius of the show is this – despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man.  When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these 9 lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book like the eMyth.

**This blog is taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seductionis in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com

chocolate

Everyone knows there is a huge gap between what customers do and what they say they will do.  This is the single, most important reason why focus groups are inherently unreliable in predicting the commercial success of an ad, idea or product.  And British Airways knows this better than most as this one simple mistake – of believing what customers said they might do – meant they had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of fresh produce.

Several years ago, someone in the marketing department at British Airways had a crazy idea.  He thought it might be a great idea to introduce a private, fully stocked mini-bar in the first class cabin. British Airways of course conducted lots of focus groups to find out what their customers would most likely want when they woke up in the middle of the night craving a snack.  The research was pretty clear – fresh fruit and healthy snacks like salads were the most sought after.

The cabin crew were sceptical when they heard about the health conscious proposal and one experienced stewardess was very vocal in her critique.  So much so, that British Airways agreed to her suggestion that they also add a selection of chocolates and cakes to the mini-fridge.  Perhaps not surprisingly, when the first planes to stock the self-serve mini-bars touched down and were checked and re-stocked by the ground crews, an interesting truth came to light. Without fail, the cakes and chocolates had been devoured but all of the salads and fruit were left untouched.

Do you know why?

The answer lies in the way that our brains are hard-wired.

Neuroscience has proven that there are many distinct parts of the brain and each of them performs a different function.  However, only 1 of them is responsible for decision making and it fires up long before you are consciously aware that you have made a decision.

The biggest part of brain – the neo cortex – is where you think and reason.  So when your customer says “I need to think about it” or “is this the best price I can get?” this part of the brain is firing up and looking for data.  Not surprisingly, this part of the brain reacts slowly and uses up tons of your body’s energy – in order to keep you safe and alive, the body is hard wired not to rely on the thinking part of the brain to assess and evaluate all the data and information.

At the top of your spinal cord, there is a collection of neurons – which are commonly referred to as the old or reptilian brain.  It is your fight or flight brain – and its sole responsibility is to ensure your survival.  It’s the part of the brain that lights up when you DECIDE.

It lights up even before you have conscious awareness that you have made a decision.  Now, while it is very true that this is the most primitive part of your brain, the good news is that it is very predictable.  By understanding how this part of your brain works, you will discover why you should never offer your customers fruit when what they really crave is chocolate.

The old or reptilian brain of your customers is an automatic mechanism – it does not think, it only DECIDES and ACTS.  It is always at work scanning the environment looking for information of value to his survival.

So how does this apply to your customers and your product/service?

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine that you are in the business of selling pizza.  Now, it doesn’t matter whether you are Pizza Hut, Dominos, Eagleboys, or Pizza World…  you’re basically selling a commodity and the market looks fairly price conscious, doesn’t it?  The reason for that is simple – the consumer finds it hard to distinguish between your pizza and the next guy’s.

In your mind, you might think yours is better because your crust is thicker and you provide more toppings and value.  But in the eyes of the consumer, your pizza isn’t really worth much more than your competitor’s.  Why is that?

Even though you think there is a difference, in the eyes of your customer, there isn’t.  95% of what you and the next guy offer are essentially the exact same thing.  And as long as you keep operating in that zone with a marketing message that doesn’t stand out and stake a claim, you will continue to compete on price because your message forces your customer to think too hard and evaluate all the options.

So knowing this, what could you do differently?

In 1973, one company identified a way to stand out and grab market share in this highly competitive market.  It didn’t claim to have the best, the thickest crust or even the cheapest pizza, it just made you a promise that if you ordered from them, you would get it in 30 minutes or your pizza was free.  It was the most successful campaign in the history of the industry – for good reason.

Think about it, when you order a pizza, what is the #1 burning question that you have in the back of your mind? —– “I wonder when the pizza will get here?”

Dominos answered that question for you.  They didn’t offer fruit when all you really wanted was chocolate.  Their offer, which was different from everyone else’s, solved your #1 source of pain, didn’t make you think too hard and it triggered the part of your brain that decides and dials.

This is the power of Sales Seduction – understanding why your customer says YES and helping him to say YES to your product/service.  When you discover “what the chocolate is for your specific customers and prospects”, you will accelerate your sales process, close more business, trigger decisions and be able to charge a premium price for your product/service.

Spend some time today to identify how you might be offering fruit instead of chocolate and therefore, boring or overwhelming your prospects.  The key to offering what they really want, is in identifying the # 1 source of pain and proving that your solution will cure it today!

puppetSnagging more customers doesn’t have to be tedious, expensive and stressful. Amen, right? So, let’s break it down. When you’re hungry, which would you prefer: (1) to run to the fridge and grab a tasty snack; or (2) grab your fishing pole, and head out back to catch your next meal?

Obviously, most entrepreneurs would favour the fridge. Why is that? Simply put, it’s all about convenience. In today’s modern world of technology, we all live for “the now.” From our smartphones to our iPads, we can chat, shop, message, and search with ease.

Ultimately, it’s time to give ‘cold calling’ (the messy, expensive and hard way to do business) the boot, and adopt an easier, more cost-effective way of captivating, engaging and attracting more customers and qualified leads online. So, let’s take a quick look at eight simple ways you can find more leads and more customers for your business online:

SEO

The creative art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves integrating keywords and phrases into your webpages, making them easier to locate for your potential clients who are combing the web right now, looking for products/services to cure their #1 source of pain. It is essential to weave keywords into your web content strategically (without overusing or “keyword stuffing”), in order to optimize your search engine hits and traffic.  Google is currently making updates (known as Penguin and Panda) to their search algorithms, to ensure that the websites that rank the highest, contain the most relevant and valuable content to readers.

Advertising

Reaching more customers is the ultimate goal of advertising. You want to get as much bang for your buck as possible, so research and highly targeted pitches are crucial. It is more important to intimately know your consumer base than it is to stress about which channels to market your message through.  The worst thing you can do is try to appeal to everyone – for you will effectively reach no one.  In fact, 99% of the people who currently see your ads right now, don’t respond.  If you want more customers, you must first create a message that captivates and inspires your ideal prospect.

Webinars

A webinar can be viewed by thousands of potential customers simultaneously from different locations in real-time and it can be recorded and shared/sold at a later date on your website.  This is a great low-risk and low-cost way to share valuable information with your prospects and consumers and build your database up very quickly.

Pay Per Click Ads

Pay per click advertisements are a skilful way to snap up more customers as they search Google (and other portals) for solutions to their pressing problems. These advertisements are easy to spot as they often appear in shaded boxes at the top of search engine results or in display ad slots on high traffic sites, portals, forums and blogs. Using pay per click ads allows you to strategically route targeted traffic direct to a landing page that is designed to convert more customers (who find you) to take up your offer. Since you have to pay for each click on your ad, care must be taken to ensure that your landing page converts a large percentage of the traffic. Bear in mind, that statistics show the average eCommerce site converts only 2.2-4.0% of its pay-per-click traffic.

Blogging and Content Marketing

Blogging and content marketing are both great avenues to deliver insightful and up-to-date information to your prospects and targets via the internet. Blogging is the perfect vehicle to keep visitors coming back on a regular basis and it helps boost your search engine rankings – Google and other search engines give preferential treatment to websites that update their content on a regular basis and have strong social following. It also allows you to post valuable content on other sites, social media platforms and customer forums which can help more customers learn about you, make an informed decision and build backlinks that bring even more traffic to your site.

Mobile Optimization

We live in a technologically mobile world, so it’s time to ensure that your company’s website is “mobile-friendly,” too. In the last 2 years there has literally been an explosion of mobile searches and purchases from smartphones and tablets.  It is estimated that nearly 35% of all web traffic originates from a mobile device which means it is imperative that you have a user-friendly mobile version of your web content.  Not only will you be rewarded with increased website traffic and retention, you will also reap more enquiries and more customers who pay for your solution.

Social Media

Connecting with prospects and customers through various social media platforms is a skilful way to cultivate interest while also creating an open 2-way channel of communication with existing customers. Choose a social network that best suits your business model. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Pinterest, posting up-to-date and informative content is sure to boost your brand awareness, feedback, following and…ultimately sales.

PR

Public relations is the ultimately the steering wheel of your informational boat. Your PR department must eloquently regulate the ebb and flow of company content that is passed along to your targeted consumers. It is imperative to keep your public relations positive, current, and professional, utilizing as many different resourceful tools as possible. The likes, shares and comments also allow your posts and website to rank favourably with the major search engines – which is another great reason to start attracting more customers via PR.

Finding more customers online doesn’t have to be messy, expensive or difficult.  Take your pick from these eight great methods to create your own practical and powerful strategy to find more customers online and avoid the nasty trap of feeling that you have to cold call to find more customers and sales.

 

 

 

Lady Gaga“I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me
Papa, paparazzi
Baby, there’s no other superstar, you know that I’ll be
Your papa, paparazzi”

In today’s challenging business environment, customers demand more from the products and services they buy—they want what they want, when and how they want it.  And if they do not get it from you, they can and will obtain it from one of your competitors. Therefore, creating raving fans—customers who love what you do and are willing to follow, listen and respond to your call(s) to action —can give you a significant strategic advantage and improve your bottom line.

Now some of you may be wondering “what does Lady GaGa have to do with best business and branding tactics?”  She’s never attended business school nor does she have a history of entrepreneurship.  While it is easy to question her outlandish costumes, her repetitive child-like lyrics, and her over-the-top media stunts, it is hard to ignore her obvious musical talent and her ability to be at the right place at the right time with the right tune.  Whether you love or hate her (and 99% of you are definitely in one camp or another), it is difficult to ignore the tremendous achievements (and raving fans) of this branding genius.

Less than a few years ago, she was virtually unknown – and today she has two platinum selling albums and is the envy of artists that have been in the business for decades.

How did she do it? 

Think about it… in an industry cluttered with talented artists and interesting material, somehow SHE has managed to rise above almost everyone else and command our undivided attention.  From her meteoric rise, we can glean 7 simple, yet powerful secrets that any business can use to create raving fans and dominate their market niche.

Secret # 1: Be Memorable

Every newspaper, radio station and TV program in the world reported and talked about the “meat dress” that Lady GaGa wore to the 2010 MTV Music awards.

To be frank, it was so bizarre and scandalous, you could not help but notice her.

Similarly, in business, it’s all about grabbing attention – about creating anticipation, capturing awareness and making customers notice your products and services. The aim is to inspire customers and potential clients stop in their tracks and pay attention to your offer, service, product, or information.  In order to achieve this, you need to ask yourself what it is [exactly] about your offering (tangible or intangible) that will capture attention?

If you’re not truly memorable in business, it means you will have to work harder to get the sale.  And every time you have to work harder, it costs you time and money.

Case in point – does anybody even remember (or care) what Myley Cyrus or Britney Spears wore to the MTV awards?

No.  That is exactly my point – the # 1 secret to creating raving fans is to be memorable.

Secret # 2: Repeat Repeat Repeat

Lady Gaga has got some really interesting songs but when you actually look at the lyrics — they are incredibly child-like and simple.  In fact, she often repeats the same words or sounds over and over again.

“Rah, rah, ah, ah, ah
Roma, roma, ma
Gaga, ooh la la
Want your bad romance

I want your ugly, I want your disease
I want your everything as long as it’s free
I want your love
Love, love, love, I want your love”

Ok Gaga, we get it already, you want our love.  And love [to her] likely means HUGE album sales or — money, money, money!  After all, didn’t ABBA teach us in the 80’s that it’s a rich man’s world?

So we all know that repetition works in music but why is it so powerful in business?

Each and every day, your target audience would be bombarded with hundreds of thousands of marketing messages.  In order to create cut through and present a clear and coherent brand message, your message has to be the same every single time someone experiences it.  To be effective, you cannot afford to be all things to all people.  In this case, you actually want to be a broken record – “ tell them what you are going to tell them; then, tell it them, and finally tell them what you have told them.”

Once you have determined what your unique message is, the key is to repeat it over and over and over again – in your telephone greeting, brochures, business cards, website, Twitter account, Facebook page, Linkedin profile, press releases, thank you cards, customer feedback surveys etc.

Rarely will a customer act on your message the first time he/she sees it.  If you want to earn their love, their business and create raving fans, you need to ask over and over again.

Secret # 3: Cultivate Excellence

If what you do is “just ok”, you might as well forget about being truly successful.  Technical competence is the cornerstone of every thriving business.

Even Lady GaGa – as strange as she may seem – is a technical genius in her area. At the age of 4 she learned to play the piano by ear.  By age 14, she’d written her first ballad and played at open mike nights in various New York clubs.  At the age 20 (long before her own debut album was released) she had already written songs for many other well known artists.

Think about the most successful businesses and brand names in the World – Apple, Microsoft, Toyota, Proctor and Gamble, GE and 3M – they ALL place a huge emphasis on technical expertise and acumen.  When what you do is superior to your competitors in terms of quality, service, aesthetics and durability, customers and raving fans will flock to your business and price will not be the determining factor in their decision to purchase from you.

Secret # 4: Encourage Fanatics

Lady GaGa initially focused on and won over the gay community and turned them into brand evangelists.  Her music has now gained mass appeal with people of all ages and all walks of like.

Her strategy mirrored that of another well known brand icon that most people are very familiar with – Apple.  If you think back a few years, Apple was very specific about who they were targeting –  graphic designers, technical specialists, the music industry etc.  Few people outside this narrow scope even considered owning one because it was thought to be more difficult than a PC to operate (for the average person).  Now with the domination of other Apple products like the iPhone, iTunes, iPad and the iPod, almost every one of us has bought or used something that Apple produces.

If you want your business to be successful and endure the test of time, you will need to choose your demographic wisely and cultivate their fanaticism vigilantly.

Secret # 5: Focus

Are you clear about HOW your product/service makes life better for your customer?

It’s not enough to focus on being the #1 provider of this or that or the largest producer of X or Y.  Success is less about size and more about companies who put the needs of their customers first.  Focus first on what you can be best in the world at doing and then second on how you can deliver that world class product or service to your clients.  There’s no point being bigger if what you do just isn’t that great in the first place.

As strange and outlandish as Lady GaGa is, it’s pretty clear what her focus is – delivering catching dance tunes and simple, memorable melodies.  There is no tricky math here – she’s not trying to deliver deeply profound political statements or become the world’s most prolific artist.  She’s just trying to do one thing – to be memorable and infectious — and she does that one thing very well.

Secret # 6: Package wisely

I have no idea how much time and effort would be spent producing the tracks that Lady GaGa releases but I would hazard a guess that almost as much is invested in developing her elaborate costumes.  We all know that in life, “size matters”:  In business, “packaging matters”.  In fact some brands have such distinctive packaging, that they have changed the way that the entire industry displays its wares.

Think about how McDonald’s switched from Styrofoam boxes to plain wrap paper back in the early 90’s and the rest of the industry followed suit.  What about the clean, vivid, minimalistic and colourful packaging of Apple?  Haven’t many electronics competitors tried to mimic that highly compelling look and feel?

When is the last time that you took a step back and really looked at your packaging?  Does it present your goods and services in the best light possible?  If you changed its fit, shape, size, colour, directness or ease of use, could it make it easier for your customers and lift sales?

Secret # 7: Be Relentless

There are very few one-hit wonders in the music industry.

However, the world is littered with businesses that have had initial success with a product/service and then failed to do much of anything else. The advent of the internet and global trading has meant that competition is fierce in most industries and the market is inundated with new products and innovations. In order to be successful, businesses must constantly improve what they do and move forward, not only to thrive, but also to survive.  To do this, you need to constantly ask yourself “what do we need to do today in order to WOW our customers and maintain their loyalty?”  You need to create raving fans.

Lady GaGa does continuous improvement better than anyone. Just when one of her hits starts to taper off, she is quick to introduce us to another song that we just can’t seem to get out of our heads. In order to keep her name and brand on our minds, she carefully and consistently plans to release a new song every three to four months.

Let’s be frank, I doubt Lady Gaga will ever be invited to lecture at an Ivy League school on business success but these 7 secrets –  that she does better than almost anyone else – apply to any and all businesses looking to create raving fans and be successful in today’s highly challenging and demanding marketplace.

walmartFor those of you who are in the retail industry, you may have noticed a  recent trend to clean up in-store environments – reduce shelf heights, remove  dense ends and dump bins, widen aisles etc. – in order to increase comfort and  make the shopping experience less stressful for customers.

The big question then becomes “does clean make customers keen”? According to  Walmart, arguably the largest and most successful retailer in the world, clean  stores mean fewer beans (on the bottom line).

As reported in the New York Times, Walmart conducted a massive in-store  experiment to improve sight-lines, rationalize the overall number of items  offered, remove warehouse-like merchandising in centre aisles, and increase the  width of core aisles. According to Walmart’s CEO William S. Simon,  “(Customers) loved the experience. They just bought less.”

As a result, Walmart reverted back to its original strategy of offering more  products, with tighter aisles, more clutter and lots of bargain bins in the  hopes that customers would spend more because of a perception “there were  bargains to be had”.

If you do a quick search on the internet, there are dozens of experts who  subscribe to the view that a larger selection, more bargain bins, and sales  signage equates to “better value”. In essence, the more you look like a market  stall, the better it is to generate buzz and sales. They argue that if your  merchandise is neatly presented on the walls and in well organized aisles, with  no point of sale impulse offers and dense ends full of 2-for-1 specials,  customers will tend to think your store is expensive (i.e. overpriced) and they  will not buy from you.

And if you think about it, you can probably name a whole list of retailers  who subscribe to this “clutter is good for business” philosophy and they seem to  be successful. But how can we be sure that clutter makes customers keen? Have we  been too quick and prematurely jumped to a conclusion that clean is a traffic  and transaction turn-off?

Recent empirical evidence from neuroscience and neuromarketing sheds new light on  how we think, and more importantly, how we make decisions. In fact, the decision  making part of your brain responds strongly to certain stimuli only.

Did you know that your brain consumes 25% of your body’s energy? As a result,  you brain wants to conserve energy so you tend to pay attention and be attracted  to things that have sharp contrast, high visual appeal, strong emotional cues  and a clear beginning vs. end message.

Now what does this mean for you in the context of your shopping  environment?

A chaotic, cluttered store is cumbersome for your brain to navigate – you  have to work hard mentally to hunt down and search for bargains. It may create  some emotional appeal but it is likely perceived as having low contrast, low  visual appeal and no clear beginning vs. end.  According to neuromarketing studies, shopping in this environment takes  time and energy and it also forces your brain to go into “thinking” mode. This  is a critical point because thinking is counter-productive to deciding. Thinking  takes place in one part of your brain (the neo-cortex), while deciding happens  much more quickly (and automatically) in your old or “reptilian” brain.

So what does this neuromarketing research mean for the strategy and conclusions reached by  Walmart?

Based on neuroscience, the strongest buying cue that you can give your customers  is this – if your store (or business) has incredible bargains, people will buy  (and even sift through a maze of clutter) because something is in it for them.  The “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) principle is one of the strongest influences on  the part of your brain that decides.

However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that clutter makes your customers  keen.

Walmart and many others have come to a conclusion based on what they THINK  people are doing to reach a buying decision in-store. However, neuromarketing has  produced empirical evidence to support the opposite conclusion is more probable. Clutter  and chaos create an environment where your customers have to think too hard,  which is exhausting for the brain. They will do it if they have to, as long as  the perceived bargains and value are very high.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to find another way to communicate good value and  service without exhausting your customers and causing them to waste their time?

Wouldn’t you be more likely to get more sales and word of mouth referrals from  your delighted customers?

In the end, Walmart may be correct about the fact people buy more in certain circumstances but they are wrong about WHY that is. The best way to  create more excitement and sales is to make it easier for your customers to  decide. You need to show them what’s in it for them, increase the contrast  between your solution and your competitors and communicate a strong, clean  visual message that compels them to say “YES”.


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