YOU are staring at death for the first time in your life. In the midst of an important meeting you feel a numbing pain in your chest. In no time you have realised that years of smoking, eating junk foods coupled with high stress levels and the lack of daily exercise have at last taken its toll. You are rushed to the nearby hospital’s ICU. Doctors recommend a bypass surgery. Operation successful. Next day when you wake up and as you thank everybody who helped save you from the clutches of death, you will surely take an oath to change your unhealthy lifestyle.

What are the chances of you managing to live up to that oath you took in the most important moment of your life? The answer that comes from a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will startle you. The study shows that only one out of nine people actually change their lifestyle post their bypass surgery.

Yes, even in life and death situations, a high level of awareness of a fact does not translate into any real action based on that fact. This is an important information for any professional who is involved in behavioral change, more so for marketers who spend a lot of money on brand awareness building communication.

While visiting some exclusive outlets of a consumer durables company and a cement manufacturer I was shocked to find the shelf stickers and danglers in the shop with just the company’s name on it. “Why reinforce the company name, inside the company’s exclusive outlet?. “Sir, this is what I get from my headquarters” was the reply I got from the dealer. Despite the fact that most of the leading brands have achieved very high awareness scores, the only mantra many marketers have is to continue spending more and more money on increasing brand saliency, in the hope that increases in brand awareness will lead to actual sales. At the retail outlet, the consumer is standing with your brand in one hand and your competitor’s brand in the other hand. It is the ultimate moment of truth for all the brand building activities you have done for your brand. As a marketer do you have any intervention other than price discounts to influence the consumer at this critical moment of your brand? What communication can be used to make sure that your brand is actually the one that is dropped into the shopping cart?

To improve the ROI on marketing spends, more so of established brands, marketers will have to clearly shift their focus from further increasing awareness to creating action orientation—making sure that the consumer who is well aware of your brand while standing in front of all the other brands in her consideration set, reaches out to your brand and only your brand. Our studies have shown that this is not an easy task. Majority of the shoppers are not brand loyal and much of the brand flirting is happening at the retail outlet in the last few seconds before the purchase. Definitely a shelf sticker with your brand name and the mug shot of the celebrity from the awareness campaign won’t be of much help at this moment.

New knowledge from fields such as neurology and behavioral economics is giving us new handles to this problem. The discovery that human brain many a time does not do elaborate processing of information but instead takes several cognitive short cuts will help the creation of action-oriented communication at the retail outlet. Conscious part of the human cannot do two things at the same time. So the human brain cannot do a good job of watching the cricket match and absorbing the numerous ad messages that prop up between the overs. The only place where the consumer’s conscious brain is actively seeking information on the brand is when she is at the retail outlet. Any memory is not a single point in the brain but connections between millions of neurons and in turn numerous other memories. This knowledge allows the marketer to discard the age-old USP theory in the dustbin outside the retail outlet and communicate multiple selling points(MSP) to the consumer while she is in the retail outlet. With the focus on conversion
marketing, retail outlet will soon become one of the, if not the most important medium of brand communication.

But the biggest change will be that the primary focus of marketing activities will no more be on intangible factors like brand awareness and brand preference scores, but will be on conversion at the retail outlet—actual sales at the retail outlet.

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