BrainTrust Query: Of Habit and Target
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Tenser’s Tirades blog. This column was originally published on the blog TradeInsight CPG Chatter.
The New York Times Magazine made people nervous with its February 19th cover story by author Charles Duhigg. Its chilling headline, How Companies Learn Your Secrets, seems to have compelled readership as a matter of personal protection.
The article described how Target Stores applied data mining techniques to shopping baskets to infer which shoppers were most likely pregnant, then sent them promotional offers for pre- and post-natal products. Motherhood is pretty personal business, so I can’t say I disagree with the folks who were offended.
Focusing on this creepy surveillance was a pretty crafty editorial decision by the editors at NYT Magazine, who used the cover line: Hey! You’re Having A Baby! The analytics behind pregnancy detection was actually just one example from Mr. Duhigg’s just-released book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Having a baby, as it turns out, is one of a handful of predictable moments in life when our consumption habits change big time. For eager marketers that information is, well, mother’s milk.
Even if we look past the intrusiveness of offering coupons for cocoa butter lotion to stretchy young mothers-to-be, Mr. Duhigg’s larger thesis about the enduring nature of habit remains compelling in a different, less sensational way.
It tends to strengthen my own observations of long-lasting retail shopper behaviors, such as trip planning, coupon clipping, list-making and response to promotional cues within the store. In Shoppers’ Perspective, research I helped co-author for CPG manufacturer Henkel USA in 2009, we learned that shoppers could be sorted into fairly stable groups based on these enduring habits. It took the pain of the subsequent economic downturn to disrupt the patterns. As a result, coupon redemption statistics turned upward to what we may hypothesize to be a new norm.
The central example of Mr. Duhigg’s article—Target’s effort to target "new natals" in its promotion marketing—is interesting too, but it offers little, truly new insight about the buying traits of new and soon-to-be parents.
More personalized offers and services may be welcomed by opt-in frequent shoppers, but not when they seem to be the outcome of cyber-stalking.
For us retail pros, divining the nature of repeat behavior is solid stuff—part of our every day thought work. It reminds us that when we try to influence purchase behavior positively, we also take on the challenge of overcoming pre-existing habit.
- Of Habit and Target – TradeInsight CPG Chatter Blog
- How Companies Learn Your Secrets – The New York Times
- Of Habit and Target – TensersTirades
Discussion Questions: Is the power of habit underrated by marketers? How should retailers and brands scope out the right moments to influence shoppers for the long haul? What does this say about the way we go about promoting products and introducing new ones?