If companies really want to reach consumers, they need to aim for their heads, hearts and stomachs, because in a digital world, consumers long for connection more than ever.
Man becomes media
In the analogue world, things were simple: retail was limited to a single channel, the shop. Apart from a few mail-order catalogues, the physical shop was all their was. All merchants had to do was to guarantee sufficient advertising and visibility through mass media such as newspapers, door-to-door magazines, posters, radio and television, after which consumers came flocking to the shops. The formula for success was effective, unambiguous and standard: open a shop – advertise – sell.
Today, the mass media are outdated and we find ourselves in a new, diverse and fragmented landscape. Moreover, man himself has become media. Indeed, today it is not newspaper ads that pique people’s curiosity about a brand, but John and Mary’s social media posts that convince their network of friends, and usually like-minded ‘peers’/followers, by proudly posing with their new bike/backpack/meal box. The consumer becomes a walking billboard, whose Instagram followers are the passing cars of old.
Head, heart and stomach
If men and women are the medium, how do you reach them as a brand? How do you connect them to your shops? In today’s complex reality, people are more than ever torn between head, heart and stomach. The head is synonymous with digitalisation, reason and data: it guarantees online and repeat purchases, rational selections and classic market segmentation based on socio-demographic data.
It would seem that digitalisation is expanding people’s world, as if they have more power and freedom than ever. However, their world is shrinking as the big technology players have taken over their heads. Indeed, Google, Meta and others are not only tracking them everywhere with cookies and advertising, they are also creating a ‘tunnel vision’: the mind is trapped in a tunnel of personalised information, experiences and ‘tailored’ shopping suggestions. Contrary to popular belief, the consumer has actually lost overview and freedom.
This is precisely why people have such a great need for connection, human engagement and emotions (heart) in this digitalized world. The heart seeks out places to meet and connect, such as sports, cafés, travel and also shops. Like churches, shops play the dual role of meeting places and shop windows, places where people can go at any time and where they can feel and experience the brand. In marketing, the heart represents lifestyles and feelings rather than compartmentalisation.
Underneath the head and heart lies the stomach. It cares little for the tensions of the other body parts, as long there is enough to eat and drink. The stomach stands for impulsiveness and comfort, but it also shows – literally – how food is the basis and driver of buying behaviour. All in all, it is the stomach that pulls the strings.
Gaining heart and stomach share
For retailers, it is particularly important to appeal to the head, heart and stomach of consumers. The head is won with data, ease of use, value and technological efficiency. But perhaps retailers and brands should address the stomach and heart more, since the head is already in the hands of the tech giants. The heart is won with service, a personal connection and an unforgettable experience. This is especially true in a rapidly ageing world where loneliness prevails. People are longing for genuine connection.
It’s no coincidence that blurring is gaining ground in non-food retail: clothing shops are opening coffee corners, furniture shops are becoming restaurants, and appliance shops are offering cooking classes. Clearly, they are aiming their arrows at the stomach, that fundamental motor of the human being. At the same time, sales of non-food products in the food retail sector are slowing down, forcing supermarkets to reinvent themselves. They are also aiming to appeal even more to the stomach by focusing on food service, be it a sushi stand or fresh meals on wheels.
Cities, too, are places of the heart and stomach, where people feel they belong to a community, want to meet other like-minded people and are looking for food in every sense of the word. Cities and towns can take inspiration from Ikea, for example, which has set up real urban farms and neighbourhood markets in Sweden to find talent through hearts and stomachs. Ikea understands only too well that going through the head, heart and stomach provides a unique connection with the ‘consumer’, a connection that can last a lifetime.
Want to know more about people as media, how to win stomach share and how to connect with the new consumer?