One-to-one-household marketing requires solving the ‘shareability’ problem

‘I’m going to open this column by repeating, verbatim, the opening line from another recent Marketing Land article:

“At a time when technology is enabling marketers to inch ever closer to one-to-one marketing, one of the industry’s most highly respected institutions suggests that this ‘Holy Grail’ may not be all it’s cracked up to be.”

I agree with that highly respected institution, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), and I’d like to add a reason beyond those Robin Kurzer enumerated in her analysis: One-to-one marketing is not an effective approach for purchases that involve more than one decision maker.

I’m not buying what you’re selling (at least not today, and not all by myself)

Think of the last time you bought a car. Did a single prompt from a single channel — display ad, TV commercial, radio spot, magazine ad — inspire you to immediately head to the dealership to purchase a specific make and model?

Of course not. (And it certainly didn’t drive you to go online and click to purchase a new car.)

Major purchases such as cars require major consideration. Our research shows that buyers typically consult anywhere from 10 to 22 sources as part of their due diligence before closing the deal.

But before they even begin the research phase, buyers have what I call the “pre-talk.”

‘We can’t have people over until we get a new couch’

If you’re married, you know how the pre-talk goes. Your spouse focuses your attention on the need for a big-ticket purchase – by saying, for example, that they’re too embarrassed to have people over because of the couch. You might then make the naïve mistake of asking what’s wrong with the couch. That prompts a response like this:

“Are you serious? That grape juice stain never came out! And every time somebody sits down, I’m afraid that bent leg is going to collapse.”

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“OK,” you concede, “so let’s get a new couch…”

From that point on, the purchase process is collaborative. Even if you have no opinion on the couch’s esthetics, you’ll want to weigh in on the budget. You might also argue for a darker color over a lighter one. After all, the grape juice incident probably won’t be the last time your child spills something. (Directly or indirectly, kids play a significant role in a family’s major purchasing decisions. Ignore their influence and their input at your peril.)

R&D (research and discuss)

The research phase of the purchase involves many sources. You search online and read product reviews. (This triggers a lot of retargeting ads, some of which might be marginally useful as reminders but most of which are just annoying.) Mention your quest on a social network, and you’ll receive additional ads, along with opinions from friends — and, like the ads, some of these will be more welcome than others.

The eventual path to purchase involves three steps:

  1. Choosing a product (sectional, loveseat, etc.).
  2. Choosing a brand
  3. Choosing where to buy

At each step, you and your spouse, significant other, roommate and possibly your children, need to reach a consensus. One-to-one marketing is less than ideal for this dynamic. Even traditional ads aren’t optimal if they aren’t shareable. If you’re driving home from work when you hear a radio commercial for the local discount furniture warehouse, for instance, you have to remember to share that information with your spouse later — challenging in a busy day.

Lending new meaning to ‘market share’

Do you know who figured out a solution to the “shareability” problem? Sears, that’s who. Now, it might seem crazy to turn to a legacy retail outlet that is in bankruptcy proceedings for guidance on marketing in the 21st century.

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But long before Sears made a series of catastrophically wrong turns, they built an empire based on an intuitive grasp of the purchasing power of the American family as a unit. Sears mailed catalogs to every home, where spouses and kids gathered to collaborate on decisions regarding household purchases, which they then acquired by mail order.

The world is far more complicated today, of course, with many, many more purchase channels offering so many choices that the process can feel paralyzing at times — especially if you’re trying to navigate it alone.

That’s why it’s not a bad idea for brands to go back to the future (or forward into the past) and revisit old-school tangible, shareable marketing collateral. In a noisy, distracting world, marketing materials modeled along the lines of the classic Sears catalog are a proven way to get family members on the same page for major purchasing decisions.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Lewis Gersh is founder and CEO of PebblePost, guiding corporate strategy and company vision with over 20 years of board and executive management experience.
Prior to PebblePost, Lewis founded Metamorphic Ventures, one of the first seed-stage funds, and built one of the largest portfolios of companies specializing in data-driven marketing and payments/transaction processing. Portfolio companies include leading innovators such as FetchBack, Chango, Tapad, Sailthru, Movable Ink, Mass Relevance, iSocket, Nearbuy Systems, Thinknear, IndustryBrains, Madison Logic, Bombora, Tranvia, Transactis and more.
Lewis received a B.A. from San Diego State University and a J.D. and Masters in Intellectual Property from UNH School of Law. Lewis is an accomplished endurance athlete having competed in many Ironman triathlons, ultra-marathons and parenting.

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