Captain Kirk, are you ready to engage?

As a child of the sixties, I grew up in an environment when kids had to make their own entertainment and although my friends and I had the freedom to stay out all day, when back home we had to be seen but not heard. Our one TV set had two then three channels and our one phone was located halfway up the wall in the lounge.

At a time when we saw a man first walk on the moon and Star Trek was on TV (with its cardboard sets, dodgy lighting and unexplainable shadows – Star Trek wasn’t much better!) we had to use our imagination, I read any books or magazines (especially about golf, which I would memorise) that were around the house and like you now reading this, when I compare it to my teenage kids upbringing – it feels like I was not just in a different time but like Captain Kirk on a different planet.

Schooldays (in Scotland) were rather different too, growing up at Castlehead Junior Secondary and growing into my uniform was character building enough and after drifting along with dreams of playing golf for a living I did reasonably well in an exam and found myself being awarded a place at the local Grammar School. Day one amongst this very different group of kids was bad enough but all paled into insignificance when sat in my first maths class, I foolishly was caught talking to a new friend behind me, when the teacher Mr Livingstone, wearing his mortar board and gown, walked in to meet and greet – With one lash of his belt on my desk I was engaged:– 100%!

Long story short, I went on to get a top pass mark in my maths higher grade and a few others too, which (for those of you reading this in England) are comparable to A- Levels.

Okay so I was engaged by the tactics of a teacher who with a mixture of discipline and sarcasm made me push myself to grasp concepts and solve complex mathematical problems which had previously left me cold and uninterested.

When my kids don’t know the answer to something they Google it on their phones and now Google has become the virtual back pages of every schoolbook with the answers to almost everything it seems and while this can be seen as a good thing – like most kids their age they are conjoined to their phones constantly checking to see if they have any messages or someone wants to get in touch via social media.

In reality it’s like getting up every 20 minutes to open the front door to see if anyone is there or pick up the phone to check if anyone is calling every 5 minutes.

Social media is very clever, getting us so engaged that we tell the world (via companies like Facebook) our friends, ages, holiday destinations, hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes to be used for marketing….. for ever, for free, whether we like it or not) if that was in BOLD on the sign up page perhaps people would be a bit more careful about what they say and what pictures they share. I remember Ben Elton saying that McDonalds wouldn’t sell many Big Macs if they tethered a cow in every restaurant….

Perhaps the ultimate for social media sites is to create a world (as in the Tom Cruise film Minority Report) where machines market to us using personalised messages and offers, via downloaded applications in real-time – You may be aware that this has been tested in UK grocery stores – linked to loyalty programmes – so watch this space and your smartphone trying to engage you while you are walking down the aisles.

But what are these Big Brother schemes in Grocery stores really trying to do? Generate profit – of course! But is it in the short term by filling your basket or trolley or are they playing the long game and saving you money and investing in your loyalty or is there more to it?

What makes you choose one brand over another – the big brand battles are still in the washing powder, fizzy drinks, crisps and alcohol sections – where products are positioned, differentiated, advertised, cross-sold, multi-packed and sales promoted to you to the point of saturation – so are the grocery stores just optimising their procurement strategies to maximise their profits – and are we just getting compromised, confused and manipulated?

New market entry is a vital ingredient for keeping markets of all types vibrant and offers sent to smartphones in-store suggests that we will make decisions quickly as we manoeuvre or trolleys around the stores – but what if we have young kids with us!!

Therefore in the war rooms at retailers, marketers are grappling to understand what we bought, why we bought it and when we are likely to buy again – then understand our decision making process. Companies use various tools, like segmentation, demographics and behavioural modelling to filter the high-pressure hoses of purchasing data – as a way of predicting this but there are so many permutations and factors influencing all of this companies (who know our date of birth) might as well use our star signs to tailor messages – perhaps bold and feisty quick decision making, alpha leaders such as Arians or Leos might be new adopters or the indecisive Libras and Gemini’s could be just given the comforting same as last time order?

Maybe this applies to privacy too – maybe the Mailing and Telephone Preferences Schemes – will become redundant – let’s face it – do you really know what you don’t want to be contacted about, both now and in the future?  We have all learned how to regulate, for now anyway. How many households answer their landlines these days for fear of having to tell a salespeople or researcher that they are too busy? When these people find out your mobile number, what will you do then?

We spend, on average a third of our office day sorting, responding to, ignoring, deleting, or checking our emails – again it’s like getting up to check the letterbox every 15 minutes….. But hang on 80% of us are on the Telephone and Mailing preference schemes (mobile and email schemes I’m told will be next) – really?  Surely we enjoy being contacted – why else would people have so many friends on social media or connections on business networks like Linkedin – We want to be communicated with – but it has to be Appropriate, Relevant and Engaging using the right channel at the right time. It’s so obvious but so poorly executed by companies.

Take customer email marketing – no one emails back saying …. “Look if you email me again I’m off….” But in reality companies lose their best and most loyal customers by getting the channel mix, message and frequency wrong.

I like “cold” direct mail – well I’m biased – but if you get the envelope size, shape, colour and my details correct you are half way there – if you “hand” wrote my name and address, I’m opening it before I’ve taken my coat off – but then don’t disappointment me by getting the offer wrong!!

Therefore to keep my loyalty don’t contact me too often using the wrong medium, I have given you my details, please use them and even though I’ve “liked” and trusted you enough to do this,  I will look elsewhere.

I will go on a mission …..to seek out new brands and new retailers …….. and even as a balanced, in-decisive Libran I will go where I haven’t been before…..

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