Secret Marketer: Marketers need to set trends as customers don’t always know what they want

People like to be fashionable; they want to follow the trends and are looking for shortcuts. As marketers, we need to help customers with the right signals  – to set fashions, pre-empt them and encourage people to follow us.

I have been on holiday this week to a beautiful Mediterranean island. Mrs Secret and I were blessed with fine weather and I looked at my BlackBerry only 20 times a day.

Like most resorts, this one was lined with row upon row of bars, cafés and local restaurants – all with a slightly different offer but fundamentally selling the same product: food and alcohol to meet the demands of thirsty and hungry holidaymakers. And no matter how good the sales and marketing of the restaurateur, you were the most important customer in the world for the five seconds you were engaged to consider their proposition, before you moved on  to a competitor next door and the process started all over again.

It was here that I noticed an interesting take on customer decision-making: the sheep-like tendencies of the human race. As I looked along the strip of establishments each evening, there would always be one taverna rammed with people, while the one next door was completely devoid of punters.

The next night was the same but with a different make up – the restaurant that was full was now empty, while the one next door had people queuing out the door. The menu had not changed, the colour scheme and table layout were the same, even the big, smiling mama remained at the door, with the same three teeth still missing.

What had changed was that someone had gone into establishment two and someone else had followed, and with that an army followed. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for everyone else, and before long, it was the happening place of the night.

So what does this mean for us marketers? On the face of it, it doesn’t bode well – product, price, place, promotion, physical evidence and process appeared to have little bearing. The one difference appeared to be the ‘people’ component. People like to be fashionable; they want to follow the trends and are looking for shortcuts. But to complicate matters, they are the first to curse if someone turns up wearing the same dress or tie as them.

As marketers, we need to help customers with the right signals – to set fashions, pre-empt them and encourage people to follow us. At the same time, we need to innovate before they become faddy. Ultimately, we have to accept that what makes human beings unique is that we are not always logical and in many cases, we just want someone else to make the decision for us.

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