Michael Solomon Interview

Michael Solomon Interview

Photo of Michael Solomon

Michael Solomon’s Biography

Michael “wrote the book” on understanding consumers. Literally. Hundreds of thousands of business students have learned about marketing from his books including Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being — the most widely used book on the subject in the world.

As a professor of marketing (in the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia) and an industry consultant, Michael combines cutting-edge academic theory with actionable real-world strategies. An executive at Subaru said it best: “The man is a scholar who is current and street-wise.”

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B.L. Ochman: Hello, and welcome to beyond social media Show. I’m B.L. Ochman. And I have the honor of being here today with Dr. Michael Solomon, who quite literally wrote the book on understanding consumers. Hundreds of 1000s of business students have learned about marketing from his several books, including Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being – the most widely used book on the subject in the world. He’s a Professor of Marketing in the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and is also an industry consultant.

He combines cutting edge academic theory with actionable real world strategies. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. An executive at Subaru described Michael Solomon saying, the man is a scholar who’s current and streetwise. That’s what we want. We want streetwise. Hi, Michael, thank you so much for making time to join me.my goodness, sorry, my bad.

In your most recent book, which is coming out, or is it already come out?

Michael Solomon: It’ll be it’ll be out in mid February,

Who Are The New Chameleons?

B.L. Ochman: I had the honor of reading it in an advanced so it’s called Chameleons. And you write in it that the whole idea of traditional consumer personas is a thing of the past. They’ve been replaced by chameleon consumers. So what’s the chameleon consumer?

Michael Solomon: I call them the New Chameleons. Because, you know, today, at this time that we’re living in it’s obviously a very interesting time in many ways. People are fundamentally changing in terms of the way that they think about themselves, the way they interact with, with others, and more importantly, the way they interact. So as you know, a chameleon changes its colors periodically to fit into different environments. I think that metaphor really works for us, because we change our identities constantly.

Each of us actually, is more than one person in the sense that we each have a lot of different identities. And so, you know, back in the days of broadcasts, and, of course, my students don’t remember this, but we just had three television networks, and you know, a couple of magazines, whatnot. You know, it made a lot of sense to put people into these large homogeneous groups that we call market segments. And mia culpa, I teach that to my students all the time, you know, that’s the bedrock of marketing.

But today, it really doesn’t make as much sense because we are not monolithic blocks of consumers. And just because you share the same demographic, or in some cases, even graphic characteristics as other people, doesn’t mean that we can necessarily kind of lump you all together.

How Have Consumers Changed?

Michael Solomon: And so what I advocate in the book is, you know, especially, I identify a lot of very convenient classification systems that we all use, really, without thinking about it, that are wrong today. They’re wrong because they’re overly simplistic, and they don’t capture all the nuances of our daily lives. And so each chapter is devoted basically to a certain dichotomies such as producer versus consumer or online versus offline, or even male versus female. Again, most of us just automatically use these these categories constantly. But we have to revisit that and basically say goodbye to those. And when we do, we find lots of interesting opportunities as marketers, because our competition is probably still using those old characteristics. If we can move beyond that we have an enormous leg up, I think.

B.L. Ochman: So if customer labels are a thing of the past, and these personas that we’ve all been taught to create, how do you identify your customers now? Do we still use some type of persona?

Michael Solomon: I think that kind of explosion of interest in personas and to some extend old wine in new bottles. I mean, really, people have been doing this for years and years. I think it’s great. I think it’s great because it fleshes out the details, and especially, the personas that I’ve seen, usually have a strong psychographic elements to them.

So it’s not just that you’re a woman in your 30s or something like that. So I say don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m not advocating that we stop using them, but you can also be a victim of your own persona, because the persona doesn’t necessarily recognize that ideal consumer, actually is not the same person as he, or she makes their way through their day.

So at the least I would advocate maybe generating multiple personas and at a minimum basing it on occasions. You know, some companies like some big snack companies, for example, are moving towards more of an occasion-based segmentation strategy. So, you might have a division, instead of being devoted, let’s say to a candy bar brand, your division might be devoted to tailgating. And so when people are tailgating before a football game, they have a very different kind of identity and a different set of needs, then that same person who, let’s say, is on a first date at a fancy restaurant.

Stages Of Consumer Decision-Making

B.L. Ochman: You are what you buy? Can you define the current stages of consumer decision making and making purchases?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, well, it’s a lot more complicated than it used to be. Because really, for what 60 or 70 years, we’ve had a lot of research that confirms that, under certain circumstances, people go through a very systematic set of steps when they make a decision. And so for example, we start by identifying that there’s a problem. And then we look for options to satisfy that problem, we scan the environment, we do all these things.

Retailers’ Outmoded Ideas

Michael Solomon: The problem is that today, as people are consuming, it’s much more of a 24./7 always on kind of thing. And the other thing is that traditional models tend to look at us as individuals. In other words, it’s only in the later stages of the model that we start to think about how would people feel if I bought this brand.

What’s happening today is that the social aspect has moved up much sooner in the sequence, if there is still a sequence. Google calls this Z Mob, the zero moment of truth. And ironically, you know, the internet was supposed to simplify our lives, it actually makes us work harder, because when you talk to most, especially younger ones, everyday decisions tend to be researched to the max. I wish they spent as much time on their homework! So even if it’s something like what movie to see, or what restaurant to go to, there’s an enormous amount of pre-search that’s going on as people check with their social networks. They check into Yelp, or maybe YouTube to get product reviews, and all of these things.

A lot of retailers especially have this, I think, outmoded idea that when a shopper walks into their store, assuming they’ve opened up again, when a shopper walks into their store, they’re undecided. And that often is not the case. What what’s happening is that, in many cases, when consumers walk in the door, they’ve already researched the options, and now they’re just going to you whether offline or online, they’re going to you just to make the purchase and get the product. So if you think you have until then to really, you know, put on the sales efforts and all that you’re probably missing the boat.

In general, we have what I call in the book, a hive mind. And if any of your viewers who are Star Trek fans will recognize that Borg the hive, you know, but what it means is that, especially for younger people, – but not just for younger people – they’re constantly connected with others, they’re no longer individual decision makers, because they’re constantly tapping into this feed, that tells them I hate this, I love that you’ve got to check this out. And so, this traditional model that we built so many of our strategies on really has to be revisited in this age of consumer chameleons.

How Can Marketers Learn This New Thinking?

B.L. Ochman: What are some of the ways that marketers can get out of the traditional thinking and into this new way of looking at consumers and, and I also wonder, what kind of impact is COVID and the lockdowns and whole situation we’ve been in had on the way people buy?

Michael Solomon: Those are two very important questions. Let me answer the first one first, and I think you know, there’s no one answer in marketing. There’s never one answer. Right, there’s both high tech and high touch answers there. By high touch, I mean, that we’re seeing, at least some companies are returning to the good old days of qualitative research, not necessarily, and I’m not advocating throwing out quantitative research, but doing much more in depth kind of ethnography or online what are called netnographys, that really help us to understand how consumers are really living their daily lives.

So you do hear a lot, and maybe you’ve talked on this show about customer journey mapping for That’s very hot right now along with personas. And that reflects a recognition that the customer, you know, you need to identify longitudinally, the different pain points that the customer encounters, as he or she, goes through the buying process. Traditional surveys or even focus groups, really don’t tend to capture the richness of that. You’ve got that high tech, high touch, you’ve also got high tech, of course, because we have this thing called artificial intelligence and big data.

How Does Privacy Play Into This?

Michael Solomon: What that means is because we’ve become such digital animals, and, of course, there are huge ethical issues around privacy and so on that I don’t want to minimize, but as I’m sure you know, it’s it’s possible today, to talk pretty realistically, rather than about big market segments, to talk literally about markets of one where every consumer becomes their own market segment. And so what we serve up to them is based not, or at least, not just on our assumptions about, you know, what women in their 20s, like, but literally where that individual customer has been on their online journey in the past. And so one of the things we know, in the social sciences, is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Where Does All This Data Come From?

Michael Solomon: Well every time every time you you go to a website, I know you’re setting me up for this, but every time you go to a website, right, there’s a cookie that gets embedded on your machine. And, of course, that’s what I was referring to the ethical issues. The fact is that big companies today, and of course, the government, know almost everything about us. At the at the risk of being paranoid, I think there’s good reason, because they literally, and many people have demonstrated, data scientists have shown, give me a couple of pieces of information about someone and give me about 20 minutes, I’ll give you an in depth profile of that person’s deep, dark secrets. So scary. Very scary. But of course, trade off is much, much more efficient. And, and again, I’m not totally defending it, I want to make that clear, but there is an upside to it, which is that you’re you’re far less likely to even though we all get bombarded by quote junk mail in various forms, that junk mail tends to be more at least relevant to things that we have looked for in the past and therefore are likely to be interested in so it really comes down to a moral dilemma that, you know, we have to each decide on a trade off: how much do we want marketers and other organizations to know about us with the understanding that the more we let them in, the better they’ll be at meeting our needs. But of course, the more they know about us,

What’s The Impact Of COVID On Marketing?

B.L. Ochman: Some of that is generational, in my opinion. Kids don’t care what you know about them. I mean, otherwise, they wouldn’t be putting some stuff they put online. But I think that there’s some paranoia in older generations, and I want to get a little bit into that as well. But, but let’s go back to how has COVID impacted this how is all this lockdown, and, you know, the way we have to live now, how has this changed the way we shop? Right, besides making it happen more often?

Michael Solomon: Yeah, well, there are some obviously some profound changes going on. But for the most part, those changes are not new changes that were originated with the pandemic, rather than except maybe elbow bumps, replacing handshakes or something like that.

But what you see is that most of these fundamental changes were occurring already, before the pandemic, but what a pandemic or something like this does is it tends to exacerbate things that were already happening. So I’ll give you an example :automation in Retail. This is a conversation we’ve been having for a number of years, as it became clear that in the very near future, and in fact, now to a large extent, many jobs can be replaced by robots, you know, whether it’s self driving trucks or whether it’s automatic, you know, check out in stores, sales, bots, and on and on.

But a lot of people were pushing back against that, especially people whose livelihoods would be threatened, you know, by automation. Well, the pandemic hits, what we find now is that the public’s willingness to deal with automated sales people checkout people, etc, is much higher. Because now they have been forced to recognize that, hey, you know, these, these computers don’t catch the same viruses that you and I do. And they do catch viruses. But you know, they’re not contagious in that sense. So there’s an example where attitudes have shifted, it’s not that it started in March of last year, but it it pours fuel on the fire of what was already starting to be a major disruption. And so

I’ve actually written about this, I write for Forbes, I wrote an article about this early after the pandemic started, where, essentially, I talked about three drivers of human behavior that marketers need to be aware of as people make the adjustments. And just very briefly, I actually call this stepping on the gas, gratitude agency, and stability. So gratification means that we want to feel good, but we’re in lockdown. And so we have to find new ways to feel good. You know, whether it’s a bogus zoom, you know, cocktail hour or any of those, whatever it is, we people, people want to find ways to still feel good about the world. Agency means that we have a basic psychological need to be in control of our lives. What the pandemic did was to take away a lot of that feeling that psychologists call agency and compensation, how do we compensate for that? Well, for example, you’ll remember in the early days of the pandemic, it was all about hoarding basic supplies, like suddenly toilet paper became like diamonds, you know? Well, it wasn’t that really, I mean, supply lines were a bit troubled at that time. But I think the real reason was that hoarding allows us to restore to some degree a sense of agency. In other words, I can’t cure the pandemic. But I can at least make sure that my little personal Kingdom here is, is well stocked, and is organized. And I know exactly what my logistical needs are, if you will,

B.L. Ochman: if you told me a year ago that I was going to hoard toilet paper, I’d have laughed at you, but it’s happened.

Michael Solomon: And then the stability, which is I need familiarity and predictability. And so we’re living in a time where every day is literally a new world, you know, for better, hopefully, for better with the vaccine. But still, people don’t quite know what to make of it, when you know, their best friend or their, their spouse can literally be someone who kills them by making them sick. You know, that’s a pretty scary thing psychologically. And so what do we see? Well, we see, you know, certain categories have actually done really well during the pandemic. You know, and you can guess what they are and comfort foods, like baked beans, and you know, can pastas and all that, that we grew up with sales going through the roof, because these are well, that’s why they’re called comfort foods, you know, people like to have soup or something.

B.L. Ochman: Because this led to the COVID 15 as well. The weight gain

Michael Solomon: And at times when they’re feeling really challenged and kind of jumpy about about the world, is that which opens markets for peloton, and others that are doing unbelievably well, to the detriment of gyms and so on. So as we come out of this course, the big question is, how many of these behaviors will stay, basically, and, you know, I think the metaphor I use here is like a block of ice. I didn’t originate this metaphor, but management, people have used it for years to look at changing situations. You can think of society like a big block of ice where people are largely frozen in their ways. And many of your listeners know that it’s awfully hard even if you have a brand new product that is just 10 times better than the current favorite market leader. It’s incredibly hard to get people to change to wake up and say, You know what, I’m going to try it differently. This time we’re gonna try a new brand. Well, what happens is you have an event like this, as well, what we can think of as an unfreezing, where suddenly the everyday, you know, the frozen, things start to actually become more fluid. This creates actually opportunities, because when people are in a state of uncertainty, they’re more willing maybe to try new things.

Is Brand Loyalty A Thing Of The Past?

B.L. Ochman: That was one of my questions, whether you think that brand loyalty is now a thing of the past, I don’t have reason.

Michael Solomon: No, I don’t think it’s a thing of the past. But the brands that were loyal to will not be the same brands coming out of this because the last stage is a refreezing process where now we’ve made certain changes, but being the animals that we are, will eventually get locked into those new ways of being until something else comes along, hopefully nothing like this.

So the issue of brand loyalty is very interesting today, because people are loyal to brands, that are really demonstrating that they understand what we’re going through, and they provide solutions. Now, we have a lot of brands that are talking the talk, but not walking the walk, you know, we’re we’re green, and we’re sustainable. And we’re this and we’re that. But consumers don’t necessarily believe that. And they have good reason to be skeptical, because the almost over 90%, by some estimates, advertising claims, for example, about sustainability are actually inaccurate. But when you have brands that really do it, that not only talk about it, but actually do it, they get back to their community, they show that they’re concerned about their employees during all of this, et cetera, et cetera. These are the ones that are going to come out the big winners, when we emerge at the other end,

Are Influencers The New Gatekeepers?

B.L. Ochman: You say in the book that influencers are the new prophets of commerce? What do you mean by that?

Michael Solomon: Well, you know, one thing I like to talk about is that ironically, even though many people around the world are in a very bad way in terms of poverty and hunger, and all of that. And I don’t mean to minimize that. But in the developed world, in many cases, our biggest problem is not too little choice, but rather too much. We have too many options. And, you know, psychologists refer to this as hyper choice. And there’s research that that demonstrates that, ironically, when you give people too many choices, they make bad decisions, they get overwhelmed, they say, I just can’t deal with this. Now, one of the things that influencers do when they’re doing their job, right, is they become gatekeepers, and they help to narrow down those choices.

B.L. Ochman: That’s an old word

Michael Solomon: Yes, but it still has a lot of value. And so the gatekeepers what a lot of marketers don’t understand is that by the time the end consumer is looking at the various options on the table, most of them have disappeared, because there are gatekeepers along the way that have, what we say today is they’ve curated, I love that they’ve curated the collection, what they’ve done to narrow down the options. So you know, for example, if you’re into music, and you listen to a radio station, while the program director there has already narrowed if you listen to top 40 or something, by definition, you’re not going to hear the top 50, right. You know, if you’re an ISA, who who is overwhelmed by you can sit at home, in your sweatpants, but you can still shop for 1000s of blouses or whatnot, or lipsticks, well the fashion bloggers are the ones, if you could trust them, who are advocating certain collections or certain products. And that’s incredibly efficient, as part of the system as long as we can trust those influencers. And, you know, that’s another conversation about whether they can or should be trusted.

Can Influencers Be Trusted?

B.L. Ochman: That was my next question.

Michael Solomon: Well, unfortunately, a lot of these influencers are poisoning the well for others. Not not too surprisingly, because, for example, they’re getting paid off. And we could say, bribed by certain companies to advocate their products by

B.L. Ochman: Not revealing it

Michael Solomon: Now that’s technically illegal now in the United States, but we still have a lot of that going on. So you know, there I’m definitely not saying that influencers really tell the truth, the way a Prophet would, but they present a version of the truth, And it’s up to the consumer, caveat emptor. It’s up to the consumer to figure out that influencer x is actually somebody that I can trust to narrow down the options in the same way that in the old days when you know, if you were a shopper, and Talbot’s, let’s say, you’ve made the decision for whatever reason that the buyers at Talbots are so much in sync with your personal tastes, that you trust them. When they go out to the shows, and they buy, let’s say to make up a number 1% of all of the the apparel that’s out there gets into Talbots because they have a certain look or persona, What you’re essentially saying is, I believe that I don’t need to see the other 99% because I trust that buyer at Talbots in the same way across fashion blogger,

How Can Companies Help Consumers Filter All The Options?

Michael Solomon: Well, one, one thing that they can do is to enlist various kinds of experts to help them curate the collections. Some of them are doing now. They can reach out to certain bloggers and if they’re transparent about it, they can allow them to make certain choices. Another thing that they can do is is crowdsourcing which is huge. These days, I write a lot about this co creation, we call it where you basically allow your end consumers to suggest new product ideas or or corrections. And, you know, ironically, in a lot of consumer facing businesses, there’s a tremendous amount of reluctance to let consumers take a peek under the kimono, so to speak. And see product before it’s absolutely ready. But ironically, well, this originated I think, in software coding, where you have beta testers who find the errors and codes and save companies like Microsoft millions of dollars every year by finding the errors. Ironically, it’s people in the more kind of boring if you will, area like industrial products and so on, that have known this for 20 or 30 years.

What Are Some Brands That Do That?

Michael Solomon: Routinely, companies like let’s say Boeing have done or chemical companies like DuPont, for example, have known for years that what they call their lead customers, their best customers are actually the go to source for new product ideas. So, in the chemical industry, for example, according to one study, 70% of the ideas for new chemical products came from the customers who bought the chemicals, rather than the companies that made the chemicals. And so if we can take that perspective and bring it over to the b2c world, we can see that your your best customers are your best and most underutilized asset.

What Is Buying Horizontally?

Michael Solomon: Oh, sure. I’ll try. So what I say is that marketers think vertically and consumers think horizontally. And what I mean is that if you’re in business x, whether it’s eyeglasses or frozen foods, or whatever it is, you have what we think of as a vertical, right? You say what’s your industry vertical. And what that means is that you have a fairly narrow definition of your business. And you’re going to benchmark how you’re doing by looking at your main competitors, who pretty much sell exactly what you do or pretty close to it.

Now, the problem with that is that the consumer doesn’t really care whether you have high market share in your vertical. What they care is, do you sell something that’s going to help them to actually express a certain identity or project that they’re working on, if you will? I’ll give you an example. If you’re a lamp manufacturer, then you look at other lamp companies, right? But the consumer, when he or she goes to buy a lamp usually is thinking about how does that lamp harmonize or sync with that couch, or that carpet or that flower arrangement or though you know what, on and on, because what I’m buying is not a lamp I’m buying. I’m buying one component that goes into what I think of as my ideal living room, let’s say.

B.L. Ochman: So if you think horizontally, which is to say from the point of view of the customer, you say to yourself, Well, if the customer has bought let’s say this style of carpet and this style of couch, then that tells me something about the lamp that they’ll be looking for, because they have in their minds and maybe they got it from you know, reading Architectural Digest or something. But they have in their mind an image of a completely furnished room. And that’s the case for many different kinds of businesses like apparel, for example.If you think about it, like Nordstrom is pretty good at this, if you go, I go to the men’s department at Nordstrom, and I buy let’s say I buy a suit, those salespeople are good enough that it’s very likely that at the very least, they’ll walk me over to the shirts and to the ties, right to make an outfit. But even they don’t go far enough, because because what they should be showing me is shoes, they should be showing me a Cologne, they should be showing me a briefcase lifestyle, showing me a watch, even a car, who knows.

Michael Solomon: But my point is that if I’ve just graduated, now I’ve got to buy my interview costume, if you will. Buy a suit, I’m looking to buy a picture of success or confidence. And so there’s tremendous value and especially if you want to identify candidates for cross promotional efforts, don’t look in your vertical look in other verticals, you know, so. So for example, at one point Lexus partnered with Louis Vuitton, you would say, well, they don’t make anything that’s the same. What they did was Louis Vuitton made some bags, some leather bags, that were custom designed to fit in the trunk of one of the Lexus models. With the understanding, obviously, that using traditional segmentation here is no brainer, the same person who buys that expensive Lexus is probably going to be looking for upscale leather goods as well. And so that’s not rocket science. But it tells you that, again, if thinking horizontally, across verticals, you’re able to partner with companies that you wouldn’t have maybe thought of before.

B.L. Ochman: I think that IKEA is good at that, because when you go into in the days, when you could go into an IKEA store, you know, they would show you how all of the things went together. I can think of very few stores that are like that, but a lot of fashion now is like shop the look, they’ll show you how things look together. And, you know, that’s if you’re already there, and you like the brand. That’s that’s definitely helpful. You also talk about social scoring, and the impact that it has on choice. I mean, I see people walking around in the drugstore on their phone going, do you want Tom’s toothpaste? Or should I get the Colgate? I mean, is that social scoring or is that just social shopping,

What Is Social Scoring?

Michael Solomon: That’s just social shopping. But you know, social scoring is when you kind of keep score, about what your decisions are. And people love to post about, the great buy that they got it at store x, et cetera. And it also refers to all of these platforms that rate reviewers, for example. So for a lot of people they want, they’re motivated to get a high score, because it means they have a lot of social capital, because they’ve demonstrated that they not only make recommendations, but that people follow them. So it’s easy for each of us to say you should buy X, Y and Z. But consumers don’t listen, necessarily, to me saying that they might listen to you saying that. So social scoring is about being aware of where you stand. And again, you know, it can get kind of nightmarish and dystopian, where, you know, there have been some sci fi shows like Black Mirror that talk about people who have been disqualified from participating in society, because their score goes down, you know,

B.L. Ochman: that actually exists in China.

Michael Solomon: Yeah, we’re seeing that exactly. In China, where they’re scoring that entire country now. And most Americans aren’t aware of what’s going on there. But, you know, we could be seeing that next. And again, there’s a trade off, because you do get rewarded for being, I guess, an expert in some way. But it’s also going to dictate what’s available to you. And so if you don’t have a good enough score, for example, you can’t go into the Express line, you got to go into the local line at the supermarket, things like that

B.L. Ochman: You can’t apply for certain jobs. You can’t live in certain places. And the Black Mirror episode was horrifying.

Michael Solomon: And you know, that Black Mirror episode, unfortunately, is not just science fiction, like you were saying in China.

What’s The Role Of Advergaming?

B.L. Ochman: So you also talk in the book about gaming and its role in shopping and adver Gaming. I’m not quite sure I can give some examples of that, can you?

Michael Solomon: Well, Advergaming specifically refers to placing advertisements in video games. And that’s become a very, very big deal. If you don’t play video games, I don’t but if you do, you know, in the old days, if say you were racing around the oval track, there would be fake billboards there. You know, we’re like at a ballpark. It would be fun. Perfect, you know, products, but now they’re all going to be real products. And so adver Gaming is part of a broader trend, if you will, if you think about product placement, for example, which has now become a multi million or billion dollar business of placing real brands in Broadway shows and novels and movies and TV, etc. What it means is that we’re being immersed when we think that we, you we’re immersing ourselves in kind of a fantasy experience, like, we’re watching a sitcom, what we’re doing is actually learning about a lot of brands in there.

Reality Vs Branded Reality

Michael Solomon: And that is very effective in many cases, because we let our guard down. In other words, when consumers are watching what they know to be an ad. And in the old days, we knew when it was an ad, we do what’s called counter arguing. In other words, when the model says you should chew this gum because it tastes delicious. You might say, Yeah, but you know, my friend tried it and said it tasted like old. So you’re always you know, my aunt died from smoking cigarettes, how can you say that they’re healthier, you know, whatever it is, but the problem is when you don’t label something specifically as an ad, because it’s blending.

And that’s another dichotomy that I talked about in the book, which is kind of reality versus a branded reality or fantasy, you are accepting that your counter argumentation is not likely to happen, because your red flag hasn’t gone up that says they’re trying to sell me something. And I’ve got to think of reasons why they’re wrong. That’s so interesting. You know, if I see the protagonist in a show that I really admire, the superhero or whatever, and he’s drinking this brand of soda. Well, it’s not an advertisement, per se, but it’s making that connection. And that is extremely powerful. And the problem in our society is, we no longer have those boundaries, that tell us, for example, in a newspaper, or you think you know, that the editorial page is subjective. And the news part of it is supposed to be objective. Now we can argue about fake news.

B.L. Ochman: Yeah! We can argue about that all day.

Michael Solomon: But magazines are the same way. And in fact, there’s literally often in a newspaper, if you have a full page ad, there’s usually a border around it that identifies it as an advertisement. But today, we have approaches, like so called native advertising, where the idea is to obliterate boundaries by embedding news about your product into what seems to be an objective news story,

B.L. Ochman: Branded content. I mean, I’ve thought from the start, that was really an aberration. You know, I mean, identify it for what it is. It’s an ad, but it seems to work for brands, there are some very popular outlets.

Michael Solomon: Right, because the consumers, at least so far, are unsuspecting. And like I said, they’ve let their guard down because they have not labeled that message as a persuasive communication.

B.L. Ochman: Well, remember, what was it that was in ET? It wasn’t m&ms, it was? Reese’s Pieces. Yeah. I mean, and that was really, people were so surprised.

Michael Solomon: Yeah, you know, whoever the m&ms guy was out of a job

What About AR And VR?

B.L. Ochman: blew, it really blew it! So um, let’s go back to gaming a little bit. What What role does augmented reality and virtual reality play now in purchase decisions? And what should brands be thinking about it? I know that a lot of them are not thinking about that at all. But where should they be going with this?

Michael Solomon: You know, I started to work with augmented reality about 10 years ago. And, you know, when it was still in its infancy, and it really it really became the only time people knew about it was a couple years ago during the Pokemon craze, and suddenly, that’s people don’t may not call it AR but that’s what it is.

Again, you know, one of the the boundaries or dichotomies I talk about in the book a lot is online versus offline. And the reality is that today, if you’re a retailer or manufacturer, that boundary is no longer relevant because people want a mixed media experience.. Now what augmented reality does and I think that’s a much better bet, by the way than virtual reality. Virtual Reality is an immersive experience where you need to wear – at least for now – a fairly bulky headset, and it’s great to test drive a car or something like that.

But for augmented reality all you need is a device like your phone or your tablet. The potential for that is so overwhelming to me that it is It makes me nuts that marketers haven’t used it more than they have. Because it can basically take any medium that can be very boring, like, let’s say a print ad, and turn it into a dynamic sales piece. So and if you think about this, you know, think about, let’s say you’re shopping for food, frozen food, you pick up a can of peas. Doesn’t get much more boring than that. But now you hold your phone over it, and a celebrity chef comes up out of your phone, and tells you how to use those peas in a recipe. Or you go to pick up your prescription at the pharmacy. And then you take that little pill bottle, and a doctor comes up out of the bottle and says, Hey, don’t forget, you also have a prescription for this. Don’t take them together. And on and on.

B.L. Ochman: Well, part of that from what I see of the companies that do AR and VR, is that they’re not very good at marketing, you know, they’re more esoteric than they need to be. I mean, what you’re saying is very clear, and high tech companies that have a real serious problem with clarity, and simplicity. And and really, they need help in in marketing in a way that what you said is so much easier to visualize, and they just don’t do that.

Shopping In Groups

Michael Solomon: Yeah, well, look, they’re caught up in what many companies are: do the same thing, which is they don’t practice the marketing concept, which is what I always say is to start at the end, not the beginning. In other words, identify unmet needs, and then develop a solution, don’t develop some great big bang solution, and then, and then go out in search of a buyer. And so the tech companies, and I can’t blame them all, what they think about all day, is how can we improve this interface? But they’re not really thinking about the use cases for that necessarily and explaining them that marketing oriented really,

B.L. Ochman: yeah, well, I think there’s a huge market for helping them. You recommend encouraging customers to shop in groups that you feel promotes social activities, that it’s a reward? How do you do that when it we’re in a pandemic?

Michael Solomon: Well, even if you’re shopping online, you can shop in groups, right. And as we are growing, as we’re seeing more and more technology, sometimes it comes under the rubric of social shopping, that allow you to basically simulate. In the old days, going out with three girlfriends for the afternoon and having lunch at the mall, and doing whatever you do. You can’t do that. Today, on some platforms, let’s say for example, you’re getting a wedding, a bridal gown, and your bridesmaids are all over the world. Well, you know, you can have it, but it may not be as satisfying. But you can do a dreaded zoom call where we share it in that sense.

But looking down the road to when we do go back to physical shopping will look quite different. But basically, whatever you can do to encourage people to be in groups is very positive. There are several reasons. One, is we know from a lot of research in psychology, that people make riskier decisions, when they are with others making that decision. So they they get empowered by other people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. You know, when you go to costume parties, you see when people are in a group, they do crazy things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

B.L. Ochman: That’s applies to shopping?

Michael Solomon: That absolutely applies to shopping because it’s very possible for example, you go with with three girlfriends, and you’re gonna I don’t know, you can tell I’m a clueless guy, I’m going to make this up. There’s a shade of lipstick, you look at like black lipstick, some of my students wear that and you go, “I’m never gonna wear black lipstick.” But if one of your friends is there and kind of egged you on, I’ll come on, you know, I do it, you know. So there’s that kind of thing. And then there’s there’s simple fact that the more people are involved, the more likely it is that they will be more product options put on the table. So it’s it’s as simple as you’re shopping with your girlfriends, and one you’re walking through the mall. And one of them says, “I want to pop into this store here.” And you say, “oh, I’ve never been in there. It never looked that interesting.” She said, “actually, they’ve got some nice things.” Well, you might pop into that store. And you wouldn’t have done that if you were shopping by yourself.

Trends Marketers Need To Know

B.L. Ochman: and you come out $200 later. Well, you know. So let’s let’s talk about a couple of the trends that you think that marketers need to be really sure to follow right now and then I’d like to wrap this up.

Michael Solomon: Okay. Well, well again, just looking at consumers as being far more proactive than we often do, and understanding that they want to be part of the creative process. So personalization is definitely something that goes hand in hand with the markets of one that we started this conversation with. It’s possible today. Yeah, and think something as simple as you know, the m&ms where you can put your picture on the m&ms. I mean, I

B.L. Ochman: love that,

Michael Solomon: you know, a fairly simple thing, but man that turns this basic little candy into something that really means something in your life, right. So the ability to do that, and the ability to customize is really, really important. So that’s one one trend, you know, and another. And this one is, I think, pretty obvious.

Getting back to your question about COVID, one of the one of the things that it’s done is to probably change some of our priorities. So people are looking more toward value. They’re questioning the value of things they’re buying when they’re stuck at home, and they have nowhere to put the stuff they already own. And so you know, again, something that was happening before the pandemic is the shift towards sustainability, away from fast fashion that encourages people to buy cheap stuff, wear it twice and then throw it away. So a move toward investment and quality. We’re seeing this in apparel, we’re seeing it in home, home products, etc. more of a focus on on that. And so consumers are going to be looking for the companies that behaved well during this crisis. And they are going to reward the ones again, not just talked about behaving well, but actually did it. So in terms of trends, you know, ideally, the idea is not to jump on a trend, but to show that you’re quite sincere in a long term way, about giving back to your community and to your stakeholders.

Contact Dr. Solomon

B.L. Ochman: I really appreciate you taking the time to explain all of this. Can you tell us how do people get in touch with you?

Michael Solomon: They can go to my website, which is just MichaelSolomon.com. And they could drop me an email if they like, which is Michael@Michael Solomon.com predictably.

B.L. Ochman: Easy peasy.

Michael Solomon: That’s the best way. I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m on Facebook. Any of those ways you can just probably Google me and you’ll find me as well. Michael R. Solomon.

B.L. Ochman: Thank you so much for taking the time today. Everybody look for Chameleons, which is Michael’s latest book coming out soon.

Michael Solomon: Yeah, the new chameleons and that’s really it. How to connect with consumers who defy categorization?

B.L. Ochman: Okay, I’m going to call it a day.

Michael Solomon: Me too. Thank you.

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