Saturday, November 17, 2007

I’ll have a large diet soda with that, please.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to see Robyn Waters speak at a conference. You may not know the name, but she’s one of the marketing masterminds that helped put the “Tar-shay” in Target.

Her new book, The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape, is what I’m working on these days while I try to melt off my Quizno’s on the elliptical machine at the gym.

Her message? We have “contracdictory consumers” on our hands today and there’s money to be made for finding the new (and seemingly unlikely) combinations that “click” with the quirky masses.

The primary paradox from Waters’ view is that consumers (all people, really) want to both belong and stand out. They want to be, say, “Sex in the City” and Bono.

With this conflicting algorithym at their core, the stage is set for a multitude of other contradictory drivers to emerge:

1. Consumers want “affordable luxury”. --> Like Z Gallery or Pier 1 Imports

2.They shop at “upscale discounters”. --> Think Target

3. Menus are cranking out revised versions of all your favorite “comfort foods”.

4. Everything old is new again. --> Note the return of the Vespa, the Beetle, and the Mini Cooper.

5. Shoppers continue to demand “mass customization”. --> The 2 poster children: iPod and Tivo.

6.We buy “luxurious commodities”. --> Waters points to some of the designer kitchen appliances and other items from Target as prime examples.

7. When we’re pooped we yearn for “extreme relaxtion”. --> I’m all about Robyn’s suggestion to join TakeBackYourTime ( They suggest that if US workers STOPPED working on Oct 24 for the remainder of the calendar year we would be on par for the number of hours worked in a year by workers throughout the world.

8. And finally, “social capitalism”. Consumers want to exercise “ethical consumption and more and more business want to “do good AND make money.”

So might this mean for college stores?

- Look for the contradictions in your consumers.

- What do these contradictions explain about your consumers’ purchase behavior?

- What might they suggest about their needs for products and services?

- Identify the products and services that you can spotlight or begin to sell that address these contradictory, but powerful, motivations.

I would recommend Robyn’s book. I’m only about half way through, so I can’t spoil the ending for you. But, I can tell you that it’s an easy read (I’ve not stumbled from the elliptical once!) and has some great points to ponder for retailers in this contradictory world we sell in.

Tony Ellis, CAE