What should shopper marketers aim for? Whether they’re dealing with a physical retail environment, e-commerce or m-commerce, the answer is the same. But it might not be the one you think.

Traditionally, the aim of shopper marketing has been stopping power. The idea of stopping power is you want your brand to grab consumers’ attention, and make them stop and consider it on their journey round a store.

But is stopping power really what brands need?

After all, we know it’s our fast, intuitive System 1 mode of thinking which drives decisions, and a shopping environment is a high pressure one in which we’re being asked to make multiple choices – or in the case of single high-ticket purchases, asked to reject multiple alternatives. If people can save time and energy by making a rapid decision, they will. So why try to stop them?

Far better to aim for moving power, not stopping power. A brand has moving power if it encourages people to buy it automatically, without stopping or thinking. It can make itself easier to buy in a variety of ways. Some of them include better packaging, strong use of distinctive brand assets, or by building familiarity and positive feeling via 5-Star advertising.

An experiment by shopper psychologist John Cox demonstrates how aiming for moving power gets closer to how shoppers act and react. Cox created an experiment where he disrupted the usual store layout by placing products in unusual combinations. He put beers in the cereal aisle and chocolate next to pet food.

If stopping power was all-important, Cox’s experiment ought to have confused and delayed shoppers by triggering it. But this didn’t happen at all. Instead, people just bought the items they normally bought – cereal and pet food – and completely ignored the disruptive items. When Cox asked shoppers afterwards if they’d noticed anything unusual, even the ones who had picked items from right next to the interloper brands said no, they hadn’t.

Cox’s experiment turned out the way it did because people’s System 1 minds are pattern recognition machines. They look for regularity in an environment and if hunting for a familiar pattern they tune out background noise. This makes stopping power a risk: people don’t want to pause and think. Far better to go along with this grain, and design for moving power to make a brand faster and easier to buy.

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