Big Retailers Push to be Small

Big retail Small

Of the 15 new stores Target plans to open in 2015, the majority will be the smaller format TargetExpress and CityTarget stores. Meanwhile, Walmart, Office Depot and Best Buy are also adding smaller format stores to their fleets.

This makes a lot of sense for retailers that have maxed out their suburban presence and are looking to urban areas to add stores. Expanding into underserved markets is a business basic, even if those opportunities can seem few and far between.

But the challenges of being small are not small. Unlike Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, which can build stores within throwing distances of current locations without cannibalization, these larger retailers face a different “zero sum” marketplace. More locations do not translate to more consumption—or sales.

Sales volume must be obtained from other sources, which can include e-commerce sites, same-day delivery services and even entrenched local retailers.

What to sell

The challenge with smaller stores is getting both the breadth and the depth of the merchandise assortments right. A big-box store’s reason for being is to be a one-stop shop for everything in the category, the classic “category killer”—or in Walmart’s case, a super-center providing virtually everything in abundance.

Downsizing assortments and eliminating categories is messing with the recipe. And it is not a matter of proportionately reducing everything to fit. There is an interdependency of merchandise that can make or break the concept, and some categories that need space because of fast inventory turn can crowd out slower turning but essential categories. Having enough bottled water or printer cartridges can mean too little frozen food or backpacks. The trade-offs can ruin the store’s overall appeal.

Assortment is not the only challenge. There is also the constraint of transportation. The number and size of items a shopper in an urban context will buy are impacted by how much they can carry. Purchases are smaller but visits are more frequent. More footfall is required to see similar sales per square foot performance, which is a dynamic many retailers are not used to managing and can take some experimentation to master.

The brand is a mixed blessing

Often these smaller stores betray the brand expectations, or create new store types that shoppers have difficulty assimilating into their shopping repertoire. Retailers like Aldi and Trader Joe’s, who are inherently smaller, have unique, differentiated propositions and products that shoppers value and know how to fit into their lifestyles. A small Best Buy, however, can be confusing. Is it a great place to shop for a big screen TV, or a convenience store for cables?

For the big stores that want to re-scale to smaller stores, opening under the banner of their larger namesake is a blessing and a curse. While they do offer familiarity and tap into the broader promotion and marketing engine, the risk is over-promising and under-delivering. Communicating the nuance of store size and store promise is a brand naming architecture challenge, with names like “express” or “neighborhood” that are often lost on shoppers in this short-attention-span world.

Tesco’s failed small-format Fresh & Easy experiment in the US is a great example of the challenges faced by even the best retailers. Creating retail concepts derivative of the parent can be a big risk but is a necessity, especially considering the retail saturation in suburbia.

A requirement, however, is starting from scratch with the store idea for the urban environment vs. adjusting the existing recipe. In the end, the best-situated retailers are the drug chains that already reside in the urban landscape. Urban-friendly, innovative stores like Walgreen’s and CVS may never carry big screen TVs, but they will certainly continue to update themselves over time and prove to be formidable competition to urban invaders.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.


Switching Shoppers off Autopilot

Having an Experience Requires Switching off Autopilot

Having an Experience Requires Switching off Autopilot

It’s common today for shoppers to be on autopilot when they are in a store. They resort to their routine of going through the motions of shopping and the list is the flight plan. What puts shoppers in a buying mood? What kills the mood? Will they reward the retailer with more trips? These are critical questions for retail success. With the focus today on Brand experience, shoppers may not even pay attention long enough to know they are having one. Or worse, the experience will be negative.

Getting to Engagement

In order to get the shopper off of autopilot and into “Experience mode” requires waking up their positive emotions and getting engagement. But getting to this state of engagement requires acknowledging their mission and not trying to distract them from it, and then they will naturally partake in value-adding experiences.

To Illustrate, think about the last flight you took. If you are like me, even if you wanted coffee or a snack you probably passed by the Starbucks and a couple news stands to get to your gate and then back-tracked to get coffee and a protein bar. This was because we have a primary mission that dominates our behavior- make sure that Gate C7 is actually the right gate and the plane is on-time. The primary goal of getting home dominates our behavior, so we are oblivious to all other stimuli. Autopilot is getting to the gate. We may be aware that we passed Starbucks, but coffee is a lower priority so we neglect it.

The Importance of Insights

Learning this insight several years ago, we completely re-designed a banking experience so that we could eliminate the customers’ focus on line speed and instead have an experience. Observational research found that customers did not notice promotions, offers, and product merchandising because their attention in line was focused on the tellers. Anxieties like “why is that guy taking so long”, and “which teller will be available for ME next” dominated their thinking. They were consumed by the mini-soap opera going on and certainly not in a mood to process messages or learn. Managing their stress was taxing, and much more important than the marketing messages they were surrounded by. In fact, when interviewed on exiting, most customers couldn’t recall any signs or merchandising existing at all. They were not in a buying mood and not registering any positive Brand associations. The experience was negative.

The unpredictability of the time it would take to do banking made the activity stressful, and the Brand was seen as unsympathetic. The customers’ emotions were active, but negatively. Feelings of anger, and states of frustration and restlessness were dominant because they could not efficiently complete their mission. Not only did they not engage with marketing messaging and merchandising, the tellers had to diffuse stressed, impatient customers at the start of their eventual interaction.

Innovating to Overcome Anxiety

In order to provide a Branded experience and actually engage with waiting customers, the entire process of serving them needed to be overhauled. Autopilot in this case was scanning the teller counter and continuously processing the time it was taking. We innovated the way customers experienced the bank by managing their wait time differently. Customers “checked in” and were given an estimated wait time that was reasonable, which removed their anxiety and eliminated the drama. They were then relaxed and able to browse the communications and service displays, and become engaged in the experience. They were open to learning and buying – switching off the autopilot. The bank opened in a new market with this concept and surpassed all their projected performance goals.

Easy Does It

Getting customers to embrace an experience requires understanding their autopilot and the potential anxieties and negative emotions driving their behavior. Diffusing anxiety unlocks their willingness to engage. In retail this means creating stores that are easy to shop and have the basics right, like being organized and in-stock. Until then everything is turbulence. Help the shopper find what is on their list FIRST, and then they will pay you back with their time and attention. Granted, some retailers like TJ Maxx thrive on the treasure hunt, but shoppers have that expectation when they invest time in a TJ Maxx trip. And even then the racks have consistently marked size ranges within clearly designated departments.

So going through the emotions beats going through the motions. Capturing insights that can clarify where shoppers have stress will provide ways to overcome emotional headwinds. Only then can autopilot be turned off and Brand building experiences come to the forefront. Marketing and merchandising concepts work smarter, not harder to get attention and engagement. Invest first in helping the customer get what they came for, then engagement will follow and experiences will actually happen.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Designing for the hOS – Human Operating System

hOS 1600 x 680

Our Brain Hardware runs on the hOS

I remember as a child being fascinated by documentaries about primitive tribes who survived, even thrived, by being at one with their environment. They seemed to have had a sixth sense when it came to finding food and hunting. The hunters would know the direction their quarry was heading and how far ahead they were, not just by their foot tracks, but also by broken twigs, patches of fur, and other wilderness forensics. The hunter was in tune with the sun and wind and could make quick judgments based on observation and intuition.

We are all potential tribal hunters because all humans share remarkable powers of observation and intuition. It is what perpetuates our species. Primitive man was more directly dependent on these skills for survival than we are today, but we have the same senses, and the same brains. We are born with these capabilities: a shared hOS- Human Operating System. Our hOS learns from our experiences and enables us to fulfill our basic needs and pursue our wants. We are all programmed by our experience and adapted to our contemporary time and circumstance. We are continuously unconsciously sensing and responding to our environment and behaving accordingly.

Where primitive man used these skills to hunt prey and find dry firewood, we use them to do more mundane things like drive cars and, yes, shop and buy. Science tells us that we are not consciously aware of 95% of the decisions we make, an important requirement of living in a complex, potentially over-stimulating world. Our hOS is designed to push routine activities into our basil ganglia; an area of our brains that works quickly and reflexively to address familiar tasks. This frees our conscious mind to handle new things without being overburdened with stimuli, but more importantly, allows our emotional brain, the amygdala, to guide us by how we feel.

We no longer track rabbits in the snow, but when we shop we are utilizing the same skills of observation and intuition. We “know” where things on our lists should be, what should be adjacent to what, and when and how to use store signs and read situations from the behavior of other shoppers. We know what to avoid or ignore and what to engage and embrace.

But confusion leads to stress and makes our system crash. When our environment throws a threat at us, or doesn’t make sense, we get flush with adrenaline and want to run or lash out. According to Daniel Goldman the stress hijacks our amygdala and we act irrationally. In order to proceed we need to restart. This is a bad situation when we are trying to build brands and create successful retail experiences.

The experience design must acknowledge this hOS reality and simultaneously accommodate and seduce… be basil ganglia friendly and amygdala ticklish. It’s like a hit pop song the first time you hear it, with the unconsciously familiar rhythm and melody combined with a surprising “hook” and catchy lyrics that make us smile.

Experience design needs to accommodate the subtle cues that shoppers depend on to feel at ease, like instinctive navigation, intuitive adjacencies, and adequate information so they will not get stressed. Great experience design always needs to begin with the elimination of pain-points, otherwise the experience will be deemed unworthy… bad hunting grounds.

To be hOS-friendly an experience needs to have respect for the momentum that the shopper already has and the feelings that motivate them. What experiences are already cataloged in the basil ganglia that should not be challenged? What are the consistent cues that are shared across the retail landscape that create a perception of good hunting grounds? Don’t obstruct the need to be efficient, effective and unthreatened only to be different. Designing around these known needs will enable the emotional aspects of the experience to be fully felt and the differentiating aspects of the brand to be salient. They will allow the amygdala to trigger the positive feelings and emotions that drive preference and choice.

If our primitive tribal ancestor were along with us as we shop they would be impressed by our ability to hunt in this seemingly overwhelming environment called a store, let alone successfully complete an online order. But, underneath it all is the need to appeal to the same basic code, the same hOS, sensing and reacting, enjoying the hunt enough to return to your hunting grounds.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Strategy and Design- Just Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers


Great duos are rare, but legendary. Abbott and Costello, Lewis and Martin, and of course Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are classic examples from the glory days of Hollywood. But what makes Fred and Ginger different is that they didn’t use the comic and “straight man” formula, where one half uses the other to exaggerate or dramatize their wit. Fred and Ginger amazed us with their extraordinary, complimentary moves and interactions together. They were two but connected as one.

Unfortunately, strategy and design are often not great dance partners, and when they do dance together, they each seem to hear different music.

Design is a way of looking at the world that seeks diverse inputs, but relishes the singular sense of authorship in the outcome – a complex sort of collaborative individualism. Strategy is an input, but can sound like a scratchy old vinyl record. Designers would rather dance to their own music and strategy is something to be fast-forwarded through on the way to creativity; a requirement of the work versus an ingredient.

The scratches come from the collision of two worldviews. Design is concerned with solving problems from a new, enlightened perspective, ideally unburdened by business motives. Strategy is often perceived by designers to be about assigning business tools and motives to limit or constrain, or worse, prescribe solutions.  After all, great design cleans up the mess left by unbridled business practices and “marketing”, right?

The problem is widespread and ongoing in the creative agency/design business. In fact, many leaders in the industry have a hard time defining what “strategy” even is. At one end of the spectrum there are the big “innovation accelerator” firms who charge handsomely for months-long engagements; leaving their clients with beautiful, but vaguely actionable presentations. At the other end is a tidy review of client-provided research with some conjured up “so whats”. There are also firms that get labeled as creative but not strategic, and others strategic but not very creative. How can these two capabilities co-exist and both become strengths? What should strategy deliver, how should it be crafted, and how should clients and creatives digest it?

The irony is that design needs a purpose – a clear problem to solve, and strategy should be embraced as providing that. Most often the disconnection is a clash of personalities and priorities more than content. The goal is a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fit with strategy and design that creates something greater than each alone. This sort of collaboration requires an understanding of the role of strategy, and the role of design, and fostering respect. (And, by the way, creativity is not mutually exclusive.)  Getting it right is challenging, but magical when it happens.

As a separate but needed partner to design, the role of strategy needs to be clear. What should strategy bring to the dance?

  • Strategy distills the key business questions that must be answered; defining the problem and uncovering opportunities with research and analytics.
  • It challenges the myths and lore of an organization by assigning the appropriate role to opinion and fad in order to illuminate what really matters.
  • It makes what is known and what is discovered relatable and remarkable. Great strategy is data in the hands of a storyteller.
  • Strategy defines what success looks like, motivating and aligning the team on a common mission despite their differing perspectives.
  • Strategists identify how business value is to be created by applying Design and Brand Thinking, elevating the understanding of how a sustainable competitive advantage can be achieved.
  • And finally, strategy translates design and creative deliverables into a language that non-designers can comprehend and socialize internally.

Business challenges today are more complex than ever, needing to integrate physical and digital experiences, products and services, brand delivery, and ongoing meaningful innovation.  Strategy is a necessity, otherwise design efforts can be well intended but diffuse and confused- a mere effort in educated guesses and self-justification. To be an effective partner with design, strategy must reframe business challenges and propose solutions in ways that can be a guiding inspiration to designers, not dictated outcomes. Strategy and design need to be dance partners for clients to see value. The choreography is a joint venture, and the performance is unimaginably better together.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Making an Experience Sharable

Link blog format

 Some words that we use frequently and automatically are taken for granted. Recreation is one of those words. I don’t mean the concept I mean the actual word. We think of recreation is an activity, but delve into the language and what emerges is the idea of re-creation. Recreation is activity worthy of remembering, or re-creating in our minds.

The aim of any interaction with a Brand should be recreational. The experience should leave a a positive residue that is worthy of memory, and sharing. We want the audience to re-create the good points out loud… one-on-one or with social media. Naturally when we enjoy something we want to share the experience. Things seem more real, more tangible, when we can see and feel the reaction of others. Enjoyment validated is enjoyment experienced.

We share positive and negative experiences because we are social beings, meant to live in groups and watch each other’s backs. If we could travel in time back to pre-history, I would bet that our ancestors would engage in stories about happening upon a field of berry bushes (positive), or the time they startled a mama-bear (negative). These stories inevitably become exaggerated and embellished as they are retold. The net result is that they teach others what to seek and what to avoid.

Research by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman speaks to the idea that we commit experiences to memory in specific ways. Kahneman’s discovery of our “experiencing selves versus remembering selves” tells us that an overall positive experience can be “ruined” in our memory because of one profoundly negative element. When we are in the moment we are engaged in consuming what is happening with our senses and responding. What Brands and experiences must connect with is the remembering self, that storytelling part of our memory that we can access and share. In Kahneman’s words, “what we get to keep from our experiences is a story”.

The challenge with Brands and experiences is to not only mitigating negatives, but to prime the story and make it’s retelling more likely, and more salient. Much has been written about “storytelling” and it’s role in brand and marketing, but I want to add a different slant. We want our Brand to be a mentor, the customer to be a hero, and a transforming journey, but what storytelling “seeds” are we planting in the customer’s head for them to share. How can the experience provide a memorable landscape, populated with signature events and landmarks that can be re-created and re-told?

These experiential landmarks are key to creating memorable, and therefore sharable experiences. And to be really sticky in the memory, they need to be personal. The trap of many experience designs is that they reach for the “big bang”. They offer an initial value in the ability to be the new cool thing. The first folks who visited a Rainforest Cafe had a story to tell, but it was about the newness of the experience and getting credit for seeing it before others. After that the experience stories became about the food or the prices and a downward spiral ensued. There was no more storytelling fuel as the experience wasn’t personal, it was  “mass”. The signature event didn’t refresh or connect one-on-one with individuals. It was one gigantic landmark; an event.

Effective landmark experiences add up to a story versus explode all at once. And they provide a memorable context for personal experiences to happen. They can be architectural spaces, exciting merchandising and displays, scents and sounds, but the common denominator is that they must be unique to the brand, and play a supporting role to a personalized interaction.

An effective way to to think about a sharable experience design is to test the story-worthless via scripting the story you want told. Work the story back to the design and keep refining. What contexts need to be created and what personal interactions need to be orchestrated? The goal is to get to that pre-historic moment where the delights and amazement of finding the berries crowd out the unfortunate encounters with bears.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Admiring a Brand for the Wrong Reason is the Biggest Branding Mistake

Apple Logo

Do you have Apple Envy?

Several years ago I was put in charge of informing how a giant telecommunications company should rebrand after a major acquisition. The client saw their past as an era of “utility monopolization” and all of the consumer negativity that comes with it. The post-merger future appeared to present an opportunity to start a new chapter, and be an iconic brand that people would love and respect, versus tolerate. The available resources put towards the new brand seemed limitless, so the potential for this big change seemed plausible.

What resulted was what I dubbed “Apple Envy”, and it inspired me to look at brands in a fresh way. Following Apple was a potential trap. Did the audience for telecommunications services want their provider to be like Apple or did emotions and “belonging” not drive their choice?  We did exhaustive research on what does drive choice in this space and concluded that consumers did not. In fact they hated the idea. They certainly didn’t want the current brand, but they did want one that helped them do more and be better connected to the world.

So can a brand be iconic and not be another Apple… not be a rockstar? This client’s brand was an American institution so it seemed destined to make an impact, but how and why?  The answer appeared to lie in how we as humans attach to brands, not how brands project themselves to us. Understanding Brand Attachment was going to provide the answer, and it did.

I won’t disclose the details behind the eventual solution for this client, but I will share what I believe to be an important aspect of how we all should approach Branding, based on how customers engage and attach with Brands.

To begin, we humans are not hardwired to create relationships with corporations; we are wired to relate to each other as fellow humans. We identify each other by name and we categorize each other based on perception and experience: friend versus foe, strong versus weak, supportive versus destructive, etc. We can see this categorization in action when we feel in need. Who do we turn to when we feel lonely, feel depressed, need leadership and wise counsel, or maybe need a ride to the airport? This categorization process is fundamental to our social abilities as humans.

Brands are the personification, or humanization, of corporations. We can’t help it. As humans we automatically evaluate corporations as human entities. We project our human bias onto whatever and whomever we have a relationship with. This can be seen in our behavior towards our pets. Who hasn’t felt like their dog is sad when we leave them alone? We project our human feelings and emotions onto a dog or cat irrationally and expect them to be like us emotionally. In reality the opposite is also at work. Our dogs and cats project their “dogness” and “catness” onto our behaviors. A recent scientific article just proposed that cats see their owners as giant, benevolent felines. We import each other into our respective realities. Likewise we project our human bias onto organizations, and Brand is the manifestation of that projection.

The mistake many Brands make is benchmarking against a homogenous, monolithic notion of a great brand. The reality is that there are myriad ways a brand can be great, or iconic, just as there are many ways a person can be great. We categorize people as great leaders, athletes, entertainers, hard workers, and on and on. We would not expect an Olympic champion to go through a makeover and become a world-class chef.

With brands the first level of categorization is utility. Not basic utility, but a higher order idea of what we need from them as human surrogates. This first division is Affinity or Enabling.

Affinity brands fill our need for identity; to define ourselves to others, project our values, and our basic need to belong. Affinity brands end up on tee shirts and tattoos. Apple is an affinity brand, as is Harley-Davidson, Nike, and Rolex. These brands are iconic in the way celebrities are iconic. These are the friends we want to be associated with. The cool kids who make us feel good that we know them.

Enabling brands fill our need to be more powerful and effective. They give us “Superpowers” to become like comic book heroes. Enabling brands give us extreme capabilities like the ability to get a package from New York to LA overnight, or get a pizza to magically show up in 30 minutes. We don’t wear enabling brands on tee-shirts, but they make us feel secure and empowered on the inside. They make us feel smart.  UPS, Delta, and Verizon are enabling Brands, and iconic. These are the experts we go to when we have a problem. These are our BFFs.

There isn’t a “preferred” place to be with this Affinity/Enabling classification. Both fullfill a need and both have icon potential. It is like male and female; they are different but equally human. I also believe that it is more of a scale than an absolute, but be careful not to try to be both. Take a stand. The point is that a brand should know how its desired audience desires to attach to it and the utility it provides. For existing brands, like my telecom client, it is not impossible, but unnecessary to change from what they were (Enabling) to what they aspired to be with Apple Envy (Affinity) and they fortunately saw the logic.

In today’s customer-centric, brand-experience focused world, an understanding of Brand Attachment is not an option. Resources are too scarce and there is less time to correct mistakes. So start by asking yourself if your brand would pass the tee-shirt test. Would your shirt make you feel like you were really cool or delivering a delicious pizza?

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Learning From Orlando: The Center Store Re-imagined

Disney World

Disney World

Attempts to invigorate the “center store”… that wasteland in the grocery and Supercenter… seem to be in limbo. A few years ago it was the hot topic at retail conferences and trade shows, but it looks like the topics of omni-channel and mobile/digital are now stealing the show.

But the truth is that the center store remains an automatic, list driven experience that doesn’t inspire or excite us. The perimeter of the grocery is still the sensorial star. Mobile coupons, a smattering of department reinventions ala P&G, Kimberly Clark, and Purina that appear to be incongruent, and the occasional curved fixture are cries in the dark. Beyond that, the center store is nothing but gondola runs ad nauseum.

Understandably the perimeter of the supermarket has received the most attention and investment. Grocers saw their expertise in “fresh” as a strategic advantage, and lever, over the Walmart Supercenter onslaught. But the playing field has become more equal now, 20 years later. The center of the store is still untapped potential.

What if? What if the center store was an experience and not a task? I want to take a few moments to jump-start the topic. And I want to be a bit unorthodox. So, let’s talk about how we can learn from Orlando Florida.

In the 1940’s, Orlando was a swampy, humid town in the relative center of a state already known as a tourist destination. The only thing notable about Orlando was that it had an Army base. That was probably the only reason to visit Orlando.

Then, all the attention in Florida was fixated on the coastline. The great beaches, sun and surf fueled the investments in Miami, Daytona, Naples. These were the produce departments, delis, and bakeries of the state. They are sexy. The center of the state was just the leftover land in between the coasts. But look at Orlando today? There are more direct flights to Orlando from points elsewhere in the US than any other city in Florida and is annually the most visited American city.

The reason is vision and investment. Walt Disney had created Disneyland in southern California in 1955. He had an even grander vision for an eastern version that would be closer to the majority of the American population, but coastal property was expensive. The center of the state was economically irrelevant, so it was cheap. But it had traffic and infrastructure. Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971, and since has been a magnet for other development, including Universal Theme Park. The place attracts people, and the people spend.

Orlando is a great analogy for what could happen to the center store with vision and investment. With today’s additional pressure for retailers to stay relevant in the face of Amazon same-day delivery, the center store must create value beyond inventory holding power. Of course it needs to be easy to shop for shoppers on a mission, but with 50,000 items and only 500 in the average household, couldn’t space be re-imagined? What if it wasn’t a sea of gondola shelving, but a collection of themed spaces that flowed into each other, like the “worlds” at Disney? What if you could learn about how the products can fit into your needs best or solve a problem versus check off a list?

With breakthroughs in mobile technology, in-store networks, and especially mobile payment, the grocery may not even need a single entry/exit anymore to funnel shoppers through the checkouts. What could this do for convenience that could shake up the entire center store layout?

Let’s see what we can learn from Orlando as the evolving future of retail demands fresh thinking. The store could be the best of both, with great beaches AND a fun exciting destination in the center, creating a destination experience that no eCommerce retailer could match.

Would You Buy Crackers From This Owl?

Kroger's new entry price-point brand

Kroger’s new entry price-point brand

Have you heard this one? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Moo. Moo wh…INTERRUPTING COW! Well meet Kroger’s new interrupting owl.

In June Kroger launched 3 new private label brands to replace their aging “Value” brand for entry price-point products. The move was more than a facelift; it was a complete re-imagining of the branding strategy for this tier of products. It marks a big shift in the role of the Kroger name in the mix of merchandise by excluding their logo altogether. Two of the new brands are certainly quirky- an owl whispering “P$$T” for food items, and “Check this out” for non-foods. There is also a fresh food solution that used to scream “Value” in red and blue but is now tastefully presented as Heritage Farms. It is the talking owl, however, that is worth examining.

This “talking owl” approach reflects a new consumer proposition around savings grown out of the Great Recession; saving is fashionable, saving is fun, savings are gathered not hunted. (It also shows some bravery on the part of Kroger to embrace an unorthodox new creative direction.)

The past solution utilized the store’s logo as an endorsement and the big Value message was code for “cheap”. I can see the up side of removing the store name from these entry price-point products for Kroger. It’s a potential drag on quality associations when the chain is looking to associate its logo with national brand competing products elsewhere on the shelf. It is also tough for Kroger generally since they go to market under so many different banners (Ralph’s in California, Fred Meyer in the northwest, etc.) Removing their name neutralizes the products across their system.

What is breakthrough about the solution is that the owl character directly engages the shopper in the store. Additionally the brand communicates something positive about the shopper’s decision once at home versus being just a graphic announcement of low price. The packaging, by actually “speaking”, becomes a part of the store experience itself as shoppers scan the shelves. The owl and provocatively bouncy type interrupt with a proposition that is almost anti-brand. Once in the home pantry, it then reinforces that Mom is smart, not a mere penny-pincher.

Here the owl as a spoke-species is the wise purveyor of intelligent choices. In this economy of “good enough” he intervenes in the aisle and alerts shoppers with a direct message; “Psst, check this out…”

Private label merchandise is a powerful means for retailers to manage margin and retain customers with proprietary offerings. Here the new Kroger program creatively becomes part of the store experience itself. The hard part is the art of managing the SKU’s so that they do not trade down shoppers from their higher priced options, but entice them into categories they are buying at dollar stores or avoiding all together.

After a few hundred trips I may get tired of the owl or he may start to lose his interrupting power, but hey, he may start saying other creative and relevant things and become a valuable new brand asset. Knock knock. Who’s there? A great new approach to connecting private label with the store experience.

Honoring the Toaster: The Ultimate Customer Experience Mentor

The humble but indispensable toaster

The humble but indispensable toaster

Being a consumer today is a lot harder than ever. How we do the things we need to do every day is changing at a dizzying pace. Simply interacting with all our devices, our car stereos, the ATM, stores, and even healthcare providers require us to learn and relearn the means by which we get the results we want. This learning requires an investment in time and energy, usually only to have an “upgrade” result in us having to start nearly from scratch. Usually the upgrades have the motive of simplification and/or added functions, but many seem to change for the sake of change… except the toaster.

When is the last time that you needed to relearn how to use a toaster? As an appliance, toasters are perfect in their functional transparency and clarity of purpose. They are comically simple. In fact, we take these wonders of the industrial age for granted.

When I think about approaching a customer experience challenge, I think about how I would “toasterize” it. Toasterizing requires some creative thinking in metaphors, but it can uncover what is providing a great experience versus what is superfluous and driving customers crazy.

Here are the reasons why I believe a toaster represents the ideal experience.

  1. It manages expectations. It says what it is and does what it says. An orange is orange, a fly flies, and a toaster toasts. Enough said.
  1. It cannot be easily substituted. If you don’t have a toaster, you probably will forego toast. Toaster ovens are overkill.
  1. The operation is intuitive. I think I was only shown how to operate a toaster once in my life and I did not have to be shown again.
  1. The inner workings are not mysterious. You can actually see the thing doing its job. The little wires inside get hot and look hot, and the bread turns to toast in front of your eyes.
  1. The process is sensorial. You can actually tell the moment the bread turns into toast by the toasty smell.
  1. The user settings are direct. Toast the bread longer for dark (or burnt) toast, shorter for light toast. If the toast is too light you can push it down for more time. If you burn it its your fault.
  1. The time it takes to do the job is consistent and reasonable. The sub-conscious knowledge of how long the toaster takes allows you to multi-task effectively.
  1. It does one thing and is not insecure about it. The toaster is one of the elite appliances that can set out on the counter full time, so it has a big ego I’m sure.

The toaster’s more modern cousin, the microwave, is indispensible but a horrible experience that is tolerated versus enjoyed. (Bring to mind any service providers you may have?). How does it work? What do the frozen dinner’s instructions require from me? Will this food now burn me when I open it or eat it? Add your other complaints here… Would you rather toast that dinner if it only took 2 minutes?

Improvements on the toaster are barely non-existent. Sure there are some fashion concessions, and I have seen one that burns a Hello Kitty face on the toast, but the inner workings are the same. The toaster has reached appliance nirvana.

For such a humble gadget, the toaster is a master at delivering what we want from it, and therefore has become indispensable. It delivers great value and we give it a place in our collection of must-have objects. I find that the toaster test is a great way to casually evaluate your experience on the 8 points above. Ultimately the toaster is simple and intuitive and a great experience role-model. So the question is… is your customer experience a toaster or a microwave?

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Brand Experience versus Customer Experience: Twins Separated at Birth?

Natural Happy Girls


Is there a difference between Brand Experience and Customer Experience? The answer makes me think of stories about identical twins separated at birth and reunited many years later. Amazingly many have the same hair styles, similar jobs, and they like the same flavors of ice cream even though they never met. Why? Because they share the same DNA, which is more powerful than circumstance or environment.


BX…CX… What’s in a name?  In business today there is a lot of energy put toward managing either Brand Experience or Customer Experience. Based on my involvement with both I want to set the record straight on the key differences. Like identical twins they share the same DNA therefore they look and act similarly. With twins their differences are influenced by the families that raised them and may result from having different cultures and customs. Likewise Brand and Customer Experiences have different upbringing but their common DNA makes them overwhelmingly similar.

Regardless of nomenclature, experience management and innovation is strategically important to growth. What drives the difference between BX and CX are three things:

1. The Brand building versus customer service bias of the organization

2. How the differentiating and value adding aspects of the experience are inspired

3. How success of the experience is measured and tracked.

The initial difference is cultural bias. If the organization has a Brand driven culture, the bias is toward a Brand Experience mindset. If the organization has a customer service driven culture, the bias is toward a Customer Experience mindset. “Brand” is a complex idea that many organizations embrace but is not often codified, so in the absence of a clear Brand idea and proposition, strong customer-centric values are a fine substitute. Here either bias has a noble purpose. My client experience bears out that a great experience design can result from Brand or customer service scenarios.


Design inspiration comes next. Both BX and CX development processes involve journey mapping and seek to define touch-points and create value-adding and differentiating experiences. Both must bridge the digital and physical seamlessly, address a variety of segments, and accommodate different need states and occasions. They also seek to address problem resolution as a key opportunity to shine. Their DNA is the same. The difference is in inspiration. Brand Experiences look to actively and passively embed Brand-building into the experience whereas Customer Experiences do not have the same primary motive.

Brand-centric organizations have defined Brand attributes and an activation strategy (which should be based on data and customer insights). The experience design is an opportunity to leverage the power of the Brand strategy and build positive equity on specific attributes as intentional additions to the customer experience. This Brand building may not pay dividends immediately, but it is a longer-term investment that synchronizes with Brand messages in advertising and other Brand communications to build equity and brand salience. Alternatively, in the absence of a defined and pervasive Brand, Customer Experiences are focused more on delighting customers in the here and now. They must have core-tenants that are linked to strong customer-centric values. These have the net effect of a Brand, but they are not directly inspired by a defined Brand idea. It’s like getting to your destination using a map or by familiar landmarks. The important thing is that you arrived.


Success criteria is the ultimate differentiator of BX versus CX.  Brand Experience adds Brand-derived attribute tracking to the measurement. It all ladders up to the need to correlate attribute performance to business performance and see the effect over time on Brand sentiment. Ultimately both Customer Experience and Brand Experience measurement have “macro” metrics that inform Brand sentiment… like net promoter scores, defection rates, etc., but Customer Experience measurement may not include (or they just “throw in”) Brand related measures.


So the wrap-up is this: if you are asked to manage or execute an experience innovation initiative, don’t get hung up on semantics because the core DNA is the same. All Brand Experiences are inherently Customer Experiences, and all Customer Experiences result in a Brand Experience by default. Both put the customer at the center with insights and empathy as they seek to create proprietary experiences that foster enduring relationships versus mere transactions. The important thing is to be consistent or else the confusion could bog your organization down.