This lies at the heart of retail failure

business-strategy2In every retail failure, there is a failure of marketing, if we understand that marketing is not what some shysters want us to believe.

Many believe that marketing is about branding, and branding is about this.

The truth is more mundane: a brand is created by demand.

Not the other way ‘round.

Marketing is merely about identifying the need, then finding a path to that need.

That is putting it very simply. And it is not very contentious. The problem emerges when marketing loses sight of that very basic task, because they lose sight of what people really want.

People are motivated by pain. People are attracted to disaster. They watch more movies that are violent, murderous and dark, than art house cinema. They laugh when you fall, and feel nothing when you avoid the fall.

More people will stop to watch a street fight than a kissing couple.

People will watch a sporting contest because it is contest and victory is sweetened by someone’s loss.

More people take medication to make a pain go away, than vitamins that will (supposedly) keep them healthy.

People take their car in for a service because they don’t want to invalidate the warranty or breakdown, not because it is good for the vehicle and may extend its life.

The very essence of human nature is one of selfishness: we are tuned into WIIFM – What’s In It For Me. And the most important thing is my survival. And survival means avoiding pain.

When you place your hand on a hot stove, the pain is the signal that tells you bad things are happening. We are conditioned to avoid it.

If it is that simple, why can’t we get it right? Why do retailers keep failing?

Look at how car dealers sell cars: they promise that we will be able to release our inner-adventurer or the wannabe F1 driver that apparently is in all of us. Or at the very least that we all we young and sexy again.

How do we buy the cars? We kick the tires.

Cars have tons of features that we never use. The simple word processor has hundreds of features we don’t even know existed.

How do we buy clothes? We pick the style that won’t make us look fat. Or old-fashioned and out of touch. And whether it will last. And is easy to iron.

Yet the brand frauds try to sell to us the idea that we all want to run across the dunes and share tequilas at sunset. And that we will be young again, if only…(their brand).

When marketers fall in love with telling stories about lifestyles that people aspire to, they will do well to remember that the one thing we universally aspire to is to not suck, not feel pain, not be embarrassed, not die, not fail and not lose.

Why do so many retailers fail?

For decades, the only ‘pain’ that retailers took away for their customers was the pain of travelling further afield to find their product. Strategically, retailers survived because their competitive difference was their location.

The advent of the internet made geography near irrelevant. It therefore stands to reason that if they don’t solve a customer’s pain in any other way, there is no further reasons for the customer’s patronage.

You may have the only upmarket footwear store in a particular shopping centre, and that will get only so much trade. The reality is that customers carry another hundred stores in their pocket – even as they browse your racks.

The solution is not big data. The solution is not robotics. Or the ‘experience’. The solution is not a better brand. Or more likes on social media. These things may matter, but they are secondary.

The primary solution is to find out what pains the customer and to offer a solution for that.

Dennis Price is co-founder at


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