Better Business and Behavioral Science

In this edition’s Retail Insight, Anthony Tattum, founder and CEO of award-winning marketing agency Big Cat, discusses how retail and leisure brands and operators can thrive in today’s global and regional climate.

We are almost halfway through 2022. We were promised an end to the post-COVID economic turmoil. But consumers are feeling the cold bite of price increases even as the UK thaws out.

People are swapping their 2021 vacations for beach vacations abroad. They also choose to move as a cheaper alternative to expanding and improving their current home. There is a battle for top talent and loyal customers, which adds further cost and price pressure.

We live in a time of plenty. Consumers have so many choices. Likewise with talent…there are more jobs than brilliant people to fill them. Big tech companies are even vying for the attention and disposable income of our customers with multi-billion dollar film and box set budgets.

What does this mean for the retail and leisure industry and how can we navigate it and thrive?

In an article I wrote for RLI in 2020, I wrote about Survival of the Fastest in relation to adapting business models in response to the global pandemic. I believe now we are back in the good old fashion of survival of the fittest. There will be a thinning of the herd over the next year or two as the perfect storm of price and tax hikes, wage pressure and war
in Ukraine.

With fewer consumers and colleagues to shop around, it’s crucial that brands try to attract more than their fair share. Well, thankfully, marketing and behavioral scientists have given us some amazing tools for attracting attention and interest. But before we get into the details, let’s talk about the purpose.

I believe it is our duty; as brands, entrepreneurs, business owners, senior executives, to make a positive contribution to the planet, to people and to earn a healthy profit. We can and should look for opportunities to emit less carbon, support our local communities and truly care for our employees.

I have researched, written and spoken extensively on purpose and profit. These goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, having a purpose leads to profits for a growing number of successful brands.

Reasons not to buy
Product differentiation is incredibly difficult these days. I have many clients whose main point of difference is their positive impact on society, or the environment, or both. There is an inexorable increase in ethical consumers and talent who will choose to work with brands that do good in the world.

If you want to be a better business, check out the Better Business Act or even become a renowned B Corp marketing scientist, Byron Sharp said “don’t give consumers a reason not to buy or choose your brand” . To avoid this potential goal, make sure your business aligns the long-term interests of people, planet, and profit.

Mass marketing is alive and well
Sharp also says (and proves it through its work and research) that brands should talk to as many potential buyers as possible, all the time. Concretely, this means never stopping your marketing activity, even if it simmers from time to time.

Brands largely compete on mental and physical availability. By this I mean the bun that fights for attention that we talked about earlier. Be more easily mentioned or remembered than your competitors; and then be easy to find, buy or reach. Most of the other things that business owners or senior executives obsess about, like product features, menus, experiences, stores, just aren’t as important.

Influencing consumer behavior
Scarcity and novelty are behavioral biases that brands can leverage to influence and drive customer preferences.

Special events, limited time offers, daily specials, seasonal promotions…in fact, introducing new ideas and events every day, every week, every month will give you a reason to go to market, promote and talk to customers. As stated earlier, you need to reach all of your customers all the time, even light and very occasional users of your product or service.

That’s what’s so great about your website and social media. Even if you don’t have huge marketing budgets, you can share all your rich and varied activities. If you have a budget to advertise and you have a B2C product or experience, social media advertising can be an extremely effective way to raise awareness of your brand and special events. Especially if you use the new platforms or apps like TikTok or Instagram Highlights and Reels.

The truth about social proof
Attracting crowds to special events also has another benefit, again due to our innate behavioral biases. Have you heard the expression “people attract people”? Well, there is truth and science behind it all. There is a well-established behavioral bias called social proof. It’s the idea that popular things become popular again because as humans we are social animals and we trust the things other people do.

A queue of people will often attract others because of the promise of something interesting or tasty to be found up front. If you can fill an event, you’ll attract the attention of passers-by, people who didn’t specifically come to your bar, store, booth, or experience.

We have a tough year ahead, but as Archie Norman, Chairman of Marks & Spencer recently said, the current level of inflation is unlikely to last more than a year. So stay slim, stay fit (fitter than your competition), and use clever marketing and behavioral science to attract more than your fair share of talent and customers.