The Anthropologist on the sales floor: why CRM is not enough. (PART TWO)

STOP READING – if you have not looked at Part One.


In my first post, we look at how a European beer company used an anthropological approach to increase sales. We also defined a loyal customer relationship as “feeling strongly connected to each other – the customer to your brand and your brand to the customer.” Simple loyalty programs alone really do not cut it. Not even close.

Let’s look at another example from the Harvard Business Review article, Legos. The last standing patent for the Lego bricks expired in 1989. This means that the market was flooded with imitation “building bricks” like Duplo and others that took market share from Lego. Believing they had to diversify and keep up with the times – and increasingly time starved parents and kids – they created simpler sets that were flashier and easier to build. Lego even came out with video games and a whole line of merchandising. Still, interest began to wane – even under the mighty marketing power of “the most popular toy ever.

The CEO of lego made a very smart move. Assuming that the answer wasn’t these new product lines, he embedded researchers with families in the U.S. and Germany to understand how families played with the bricks. After collecting huge loads of data including photo and video diaries of playing and shopping habits, the patterns that emerged surprised them.

Kids use legos as an escape from their busy schedules. Some children even commit large swaths of time to legos to master the skill. The lego marketing machine shifted again. They identified who they really wanted to cater to – their true blue lego fans who love legos for what they are. Now, they are more than a $4 billion company.

Google, Intel, and Microsoft (the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world) all see the writing on the wall. You cannot and will not succeed unless you intimately understand your customers.

So how do you use this info for your business? First, do not ask your customer what they want. Almost all of them will say coupons and discounts and quality and good prices and a host of other things that they think they are supposed to say when asked that question – confirming the researcher’s assumptions.

Instead, and the HBR article has a great explanation of this, you must shift your perspective and approach the customer from the inside out. Each week in my business, three full-time employees/managers complete a department walkthrough for a different part of the store. During this time, we are instructed to see the department “through the customer’s eyes.” Despite our best intentions, it is nearly impossible to shake off the “employee hat” -looking for missing signs or straightening up the aisle.

Take the following 90 second video into account:

This is not news. We’ve known people walk into stores “counter clockwise” for years. I have referred to that distance a customer has to walk before they can see what is in front of them as the “landing strip”. How does your store flow? Without an objective third party (or fancy tracking software from somewhere like RetailNext), you cannot know how customers travel through your store. You need objective observation.

Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell and author of the best selling book Why We Buy, has spent 25 years solving retail problems doing exactly this.

Here is a 3 minute video about his work in grocery stores:

It is time to take a bigger look at store floor plans and customer behaviors to cater to the brand we want to be the brand our customers want.

There is much more to discuss. Ultimately it boils down to two very important factors.

First, with customers becoming more social online each interaction with them becomes magnified. We must connect to our customers where they feel connected. At home, in church, at their favorite charity and sporting event. When your customer sees your support for what they think is important, you become important to them.

Second, you need to have your in store or online experience connect with them in a way that caters to the way people naturally move and interact with the world. Doing so will unlock physiological triggers that allow your customers to see the brand in the way you want them too.

As a parting thought, if you believe that bricks and mortar stores are obsolete, read this quote from Underhill (emphasis mine), “The idea that somehow we are not going to the stores anymore, doesn’t work. We, as a species, have been going to the marketplace forever. The marketplace may change, but the marketplace itself is very much a part of our future.” Whether YOUR marketplace with be a part of your customer’s future will be determined with how well you execute these recommendations.

If you need ideas, message me. With a degree in Anthropology and an MBA in Marketing, I am looking for creative problems to solve.

talk later


dan at tenure awards

2 Replies to “The Anthropologist on the sales floor: why CRM is not enough. (PART TWO)”

    1. Clay, the photo was at the 10 year tenure award ceremony for The Container Store a couple years ago in Dallas at The Ritz.

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