Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

What You Say vs What Shoppers Hear

Are shoppers hearing what you want them to hear?

How many of you have played the game Cranium?  It’s a fun game.  One of the categories is ‘Star Performer’, where one person has to hum a song and the other team members have to guess what the song is.  All sounds pretty easy, right?  In theory it is, in practice not so much.

The person who is humming thinks they are clearly humming the tune and believe the others can’t get it.  Whilst, the people listening hear a lot of noise, but no tune.  Cue astonishment when time is up and the person who was humming says “how did you not get Wonderwall”?  Which is usually met with a response of “what version of Wonderwall was that?”.

Believe it or not, studies have been done on this – this time with people tapping the tune on a table.  Before starting, each of the tappers thought the listener would have a 50% chance of naming the tune accurately.  But when they actually tapped it out only 2.5% of tunes were guessed correctly.  Why the mismatch?

Well, it’s impossible to hum or tap the rhythm of a tune without hearing that tune in your head.  You are hearing the tune in your head – not the noise you are making.  However, the listeners are hearing the noise you are making, not the tune in your head.   Cue confusion on both sides!

So, why do we think this is interesting?  A similar thing often happens when you have been working on something for a while – whether it is a category or channel strategy, NPD project or a new communication campaign.  You’ve lived and breathed it for weeks, often months.  The tune is crystal clear to you.  However, other people being exposed to it for the first time often hear noise, not the tune.

This is particularly true when we are trying to communicate in retail environments.  Shoppers are faced with lots of different categories and lots of different brands.  Each of these brands is trying to hum it’s own tune.  However, shoppers don’t have the time or energy to stop and properly listen to the tune.  Meaning that what you say and what they hear can be two different things.

So, how do you increase the chances of a shopper hearing what you want them to hear?

Be Clear.  The priority for any communication should be clarity.  To be clear you need to be specific.  For instance, Coke Zero Sugar not just Coke Zero.  Whenever we present this example and say that 50% of shoppers didn’t realise Coke Zero contained Zero Sugar, people look at us with amazement.  How could shoppers not have known?  But, we are in the industry – of course we knew.  But many shoppers didn’t.  And that is what matters.

Clarity is also about visibility.  It still surprises us how often we see packs that have a really important message on them, but that message is tiny or it’s hidden behind the shelf ready packaging.  For an example of going big with your lead message look at Yeo Valley fridge packs.  The 0% fat message is central on the front of pack and covers about two thirds of the surface area.  You can’t miss it.

Be Consistent.  Two weeks into the election campaign and you are probably already bored of the Conservative “strong and stable leadership” message.  But it is effective.  People remember it.  Just like you all remember Trump’s 4 word slogan in the US presidential campaign.  The more we are exposed to a message, the easier it is to process.  Familiar is easy.  Unfamiliar is hard.

This doesn’t mean that you should never change what you say.  Updating or refreshing the words or the supporting communication keeps things relevant.  But you should always link back to your core theme – what your brand or store is all about.  For instance, Graze have 2 key words. “Good” and “exciting”.  They stay consistent, but the supporting words “we make good exciting” or “good just got exciting” can vary.

Be Different.  This is about saying things that other people aren’t saying or can’t say.   Things you can own.  As a retailer, anyone can say low or lower prices.  It is how you say it – in a way that is different and more memorable than competitors – that is key.  The Aldi “Swap & Save” campaign – where they go head to head with brands on value – is a good example of giving a price (and quality) message real cut through.

If you are a brand, how can you do the same?  It could be a functional or performance benefit that only you can claim.  It could be a message based on social proof (8 out of 10 mums recommend) or endorsement (used by more dentists than any other toothpaste) that only you can say.  Or it could be a style of communication – e.g. Innocent, Happy Eggs or even Heinz Beans, who are about to go back to their old “Beanz Meanz Heinz” message.  Does it mean anything?  Not really.  Can competitors say it?  No.  Will shoppers remember it?  Definitely.

In many situations in life there is a communication gap.  A gap between what we say and what other people hear.  And this is most likely to happen in complex environments when we are not paying much attention.  Err…,shoppers in a store.

Let it happen to competitors not to you.

Right, back to Cranium.  They’ve got to get “twinkle, twinkle little star”, surely?

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website…

Watch out for the video, accompanying this article, on our Linked in page, next week.

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.