BrainTrust Query: Men are from Mars, Retailers are from Venus

Jun 13, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Tenser’s Tirades blog.

Last week the planet Venus made its transit across the face of the sun. That’s something like a solar eclipse by the moon, except much rarer and harder to observe.

I saw it at an event guided by The Planetary Science Institute, here in Tucson. They set up specialized telescopes so guests could view the dark dot of Venus creep across the solar disk.

The PSI astronomers explained the transit happens in pairs, eight years apart; pairs then follow alternately by spans of 121½ years and 105½ years. It took centuries for European astronomers, working serially, to recognize and work out the basic facts. Once they did get the transit figured, it yielded insights about big questions, like the distance and size of the sun and whether more distant stars might also have planetary systems.

[Image: Venus Transit]

Since I tend to view our world through the peculiar lens of the retail marketer, I was bound to consider what lessons we might derive from the transit of Venus.

Several came to mind:

You can see a lot just by looking. The transit of Venus is hard to view due to the overwhelming brightness of the sun, but as I learned it’s not that difficult if you have a plan and the right scope. This made me think about the challenges of in-store sensing and of capturing shopper insights in general. Valuable observations don’t happen by accident; they result from carefully planned and executed practices.

Some misses are forever. June 5 marked your last chance to witness a transit of Venus until 2117. How many merchandising opportunities and marketing insights pass us by just like this? What can we do now to be prepared for the next moment of opportunity? In retail merchandising and marketing, it begins with active sensing and collaborative data sharing.

Long cycles are hard to track. An astronomer sees the transit of Venus twice in a lifetime at best. Many never see it once. With such a slow rhythm, it’s tough to discern its pattern. Retailers discover that fast-turning consumable products offer some informational advantages as compared with infrequently purchased, higher consideration products, like cars, TVs and appliances. With many fewer data points and behaviors to draw upon, slow-moving consumer goods engender a less granular picture for marketers.

Sometimes you just need a team. Understanding the transit of Venus has required numerous observations coordinated across time and physical distance. Consumer insights also accumulate from observations collected across many locations and moments in time. You can’t unlock their potential alone. The implications are too vast, and the effort must be shared and sustained over time to reveal actionable insights and best practices.

Discussion Questions: Are there other learnings you can add to the author’s that retailers should take away from the observation of this once-in-a-lifetime event? For example, while merchandising is fundamentally about space, time and revolving cash, shouldn’t elements such as truth and beauty matter too?

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6 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Men are from Mars, Retailers are from Venus"

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Ryan Mathews

The view is always better when you are looking up.

Ugh! Did I just write that?

My sudden optimism must spring from the fact that today is BrainTruster Ben Ball’s birthday!

Happy Birthday Ben … and Jamie … keep focused on those stars … er … planets.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

The environment is never static so you have to keep watching.

W. Frank Dell II

One key takeaway for retailers is to realize that their store, format and industry is just a small part of a larger retail market. Every store, category and product has direct and indirect competition. What the competition does will affect you.

Craig Sundstrom

Notice how many, many, many Venuses it would take to equal the size of the Sun…just like a typical retailer compared to Walmart.

And Happy Birthday Ben!

Ralph Jacobson

If you allow that seeming small shopper transaction to be less than satisfying for the shopper, then their much larger lifetime value will pass you by.

James Tenser

Thanks for adding to my philosophical flight of fancy, dear colleagues.

Here’s hoping none of us lets too many rare opportunities fly by….


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