A big part of marketing, and of business for that matter, is helping the consumer resolve a want or a need. Yesterday evening I was one such consumer. Let me offer a little background. I live in the outskirts of Minneapolis, where we were recently slammed by Winter Storm “Caesar” (I didn’t realize winter storms had names). I mention this because the storm left things wet, snowy, and cold, full of nearly impassible roads carrying disgruntled commuters. I had just gotten home from work after sitting in traffic for over an hour when my wife pointed out that our cat, Oliver, was out of food. After suggesting a number of homespun alternatives (sauteed chicken breasts, fresh tuna, oat bran cereal, etc.), Oliver’s pleading gaze, coupled with my wife’s furled brow, compelled me to head back out into the cold night in search of a bag of cat food.

Reaching the store minutes later, I was a man on a mission. I was also a living, breathing marketing experiment. I had a specific problem – I needed cat food – and because I had already forgotten which brand my wife told me to buy, I was a clean slate; let the best brand win.

At that point I was focused on three things: convenience, simplicity, and price. I was in a hurry, so I wanted to find a decent cat food at the right price with as little effort as possible. After some time, I located the cat food aisle, where I was met with this:

Faced with innumerable possibilities, my consumer instincts kicked in. Strolling down the length of the aisle, I let my eyes wander from brand to brand. At first, vibrant colors and interesting packaging jumped out. As my brain’s analytical impulse kicked in, discounted pricing offers and compelling brand titles caught my attention. Then I recalled my original intent: convenience, simplicity, and price.

For me at that moment, convenience meant easy. In my disgruntled state, I wanted to find a cat food that seemed light and easy to tote, logic be damned. Because I wanted a clean conscious and a happy wife, simplicity meant finding a “reputable” cat food that would be a healthy choice for Oliver. Remember, simplicity is the avoidance of complication: a guilty conscious and an angry wife are both complicating factors. Finally, I was interested in price. Hey, the economy isn’t getting any better, and writing doesn’t pay what it used to (inside joke to all you writers).

Two broad elements played into my final decision to buy – the tangible and the intangible. For anyone well-versed in elementary math, price was the obvious tangible. Given that I was in a hurry, and there were so many choices, my eyes gravitated to the brands that offered price discounts or coupons. In this case, simplicity was a hybrid of tangible and intangible: I scanned the packaging looking for things that shouted “this is a healthy choice.” Convenience was an even greater intangible: lighter colors and sleek packaging suggested an easy tote.


So what does my cat food journey have to do with marketing in general and integrated digital marketing in particular? Here are a few takeaways:

  • Know Each Segment of Your Target Audience: For the purveyors of cat food, this means recognizing that a part of their demographic is the owner running out at the last minute to purchase some food for his starving cat. Though this may seem like a throwaway, quasi-impulse demographic, it’s not. The informal research I conducted when sitting in the cat aisle is all that I am likely to ever expend analyzing cat food (sorry, Oliver). If my cat likes the brand I choose, and my wife doesn’t hit me over the head with a broomstick, I’m likely to purchase it again and again (once accepted at home, it’s now a simple choice for me). This is relevant, as I do the shopping in our house (roughly) half of the time.
  • Figure out What Motivates Them (i.e. wants and needs), and Provide It: In my cat food experience, I was looking for convenience, simplicity, and price. The brand that resolved all three of these won my business.
  • If You’re Not Happy with the Results, Tweak and Refine: For all I know, any number of the brands I passed over in the cat food aisle may have been focused on winning over the “I need to dash out at the last minute and buy food for my cat” demographic. If sales are down or you feel like you’re just not connecting with your audience, don’t throw in the towel. Go back to the drawing board, meditate on the wants and needs of the likely buyers of your product/service, and refine your message.

To stand out in a sea of products and services, companies need to build an integrated digital marketing strategy that looks something like this: they must establish an online presence over web and social that communicates their unique brand proposition; they need to share relevant content that helps conveys their message; they need to use SEO and targeted ads to attract their audience, and social, local and mobile to form deeper connections that will lead to sales conversions. Finally, regardless of success or failure, businesses should review data analytics and elicit customer and sales team feedback to constantly refine their messaging.

Just one man’s perspective from the cat food aisle…

Read more: 2013: The Year of Integrated Digital Marketing