My degree is in Geography (I loved it!) and I am used to change happening at glacial pace. Not just in the physical landscape but in human dynamics. Population structures, urban change and rural development were all key themes in Human Geography (by far the superior wing of the subject by the way..….ahem) and you measure change in decades if not centuries.
One of the main theories I remember from my studies was Central Place Theory……(stick with me!) This was invented by a revolutionary Geographer called Walter Christaller who used distance and retail hierarchy to explain the movement of people for shopping and work. Unbeknown to them, many retailers I have worked with over the years (notably Supermarkets) have been ‘Christallerists’ and constantly reinforced this belief by stating that the dominant force in brand choice is ‘location’. I never really bought this, as naturally I believed that if a brand experience is compelling enough it can smash the dynamics and change the way we shop.
But believing is one thing and evidence is another. My belief has often been undermined by hard facts mostly driven by volume and quantitative research which has shown that location rules time and time again. Despite this I am sticking to my guns, it’s just that we have not had sufficiently strong brand experiences to change some of these engrained dynamics, the rules are there to broken and we just need to be more irresistible and, at last, the evidence is mounting that consumer dynamics are….well…..dynamic.
One of the most obvious examples of this comes from the grocery sector. As a brand experience professional I raise a glass to ALDI and Lidl. What they have done is quite remarkable. They have changed the way we buy groceries. Of course they have been helped by The Credit Crunch and our changing lifestyles but nevertheless, they have latched onto a key insight, developed a compelling brand proposition and aligned their experience to it. We now go out of our way to there, we alter trips home and we do more top up shopping so much so that they have eroded the share of the big 4 supermarkets to the extent that they are at a strategic crossroads, not knowing which way to turn. The pace of change has been remarkable and there are no limits to the amount of change they can drive.
The second example comes from Birmingham. I am a big user of trains and passing through New Street has never been a pleasant experience and I have passed through it frequently during the re-development of the station over the past 7 years. Just before Christmas I passed through it after they opened the central area and I have to say the ‘new’ New Street is wonderful! It made me proud to be British, I literally stopped and said ‘wow!’ out loud. I applaud the architects and engineers, the developers and the planners. This is an irresistible customer experience if ever I saw one. Never did I think that I would hear myself say, ‘I will get an earlier train to Birmingham so I can spend some time at the station’. In fact I am writing this blog from a train which involves a change there. I chose to do so even though it takes 30 minutes longer to get to my eventual destination than changing somewhere else. I simply preferred to spend my change time at New Street than Nuneaton and was willing to pay the time penalty.
Both these examples represent consumer change of the highest order. Location, is of course, still high up the consideration variables for consumers and Christaller would be pleased to hear that he is still relevant. However, genuine insight, brilliant brand proposition development and an aligned experience can smash those dynamics and eventually consign him to history.