Observations of the numerous vendors encountered in Mazatlan, Mexico

Tom Cruise is walking quickly through the mall of the future. The 3D avatars on the walls of the shops and signs are saying hello to him personally; they are modeling wares just for him; and they are talking about bargains. It is loud, it is colorful, it is an image of personalized advertising in the future.

Why do we care?

Guy holding goodsAround the world today, companies are attempting to make targeted advertising real. As technology enables us to target individuals based on things like their location, behaviors, likes and dislikes, etc., how do we manage this? As a company, how do we gather the right requirements to assure we implement our solution in a manner that draws customers in rather than alienate them? The image portrayed in the Minority Report is the quintessential image of the future – but do we want it, will people really be moved to buy more by it, and how do we gather requirements for these systems?

Gather requirements by studying similar situations that exist today

Today I walked the beach of Mazatlan, Mexico. On the right is the ocean—beautiful dotted with small islands. On the left are rows of hotels with lounge chairs for people sitting in the sun. The middle becomes the strip—flat smooth wide sand that people and vendors traverse. As I walk the sand looking for shells and rocks I become distracted by the numerous vendors: I am watching mobile gift and craft shops. One man carries 20 baskets hand woven by local artisans up and down his arms; another has many wooden carvings standing up in the sand; many carry hangers in each hand; some with blouses, others with skirts; here is one with caps and towels; several have velvet boxes which when opened reveal displays of Mexican silver jewelry.
As a cautious shopper I watch wondering how they could expect to make any money this way. But they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work, would they? So I started to watch. If I look in their direction they approach me and wave what they are selling before my eyes. As they walk toward people they catch their eye and show their items. Anyone passing is game for approach if they get within a defined “space around my items” almost like the boundaries of the shop: Step into my shop and I have rights to discuss my wares. I see a vendor sitting down with a woman on a chair who is looking through the necklaces. Eye contact is the invitation—stopping to look the message of interest. Turning the head aside, shaking no, putting up hands to stop – a clear message of disinterest. So they made a clean retreat. No one was being harassed. But everyone was being approached who looked.

A month ago I was in Morocco. Morocco is known for its souks—many little shops clustered together in a large square selling all kinds of wares—clothing, pots, jewelry, rugs, produce, dried fruit, spices—anything and everything you can imagine. And in Morocco every price was determined by bargaining. Each shop was about 6’x 6′ but it spilled out into the walkway with wares displayed like living 5th Avenue display windows. Vendors walked into the middle of this wide walkway crowded with people to call you into their shops—again eye contact was the right to invite. Some had toys or product right in the middle of the road like a long arm drawing you in by fun then directing you to the shop. One vendor dressed my husband up in a scarf; one gave us a tour of his leather factory. Crossing the shops boundaries was an invitation to be sold. And interaction was the acceptance of the relationship. Now the pressure to buy was on.

Wherever you walk in Morocco children and adults are there to help—but all help is expected to result in tips. If you look at a map you “show” that you need help and people will approach you from every angle asking if you were trying to get to the tombs or the castle in that location. If you accept any help then you owe a tip.  (It was a problem for us since first we didn’t know the rules and then we could never find enough change!) Once in Marrakesh we were adopted by a young man who spoke good English and directed us to where we were going but because it was far from our location he tagged along and started telling us about the town and other sites.  We were not looking for a guide and repeatedly told him so—but he stayed with us slowly directing us to a spice shop – just along the way he said—where his “brother” pitched spices and herbs.

What can we take away from these examples?

personalized_advertising_2.jpgHow does it work? Marketing must catch the eye with something of interest. Need is evident in the opening of the map, willingness to be sold is an ongoing conversation, the “proposal” stage of the sale shows up like willingness to take a tour inside a shop, walking into a shop, or wear a scarf for fun, ah! but the close—that is in the deal. Sales behavior looks like sales behavior worldwide.

On the beach of Mazatlan I was convinced that I would never buy from a sand vendor. But a fleeting thought—if I go into a hotel store the wares would probably be the same but cost more because of overhead charges. I was walking into a cluster of vendors standing at the allowed spot on the public beach. There were 3 silver vendors hanging about talking to each other with their boxes closed. One must have seen me and approaches with his box open. As I shook my head no, however, I looked at the earrings in front of my eyes—the vendor spoke very good English and pulled out a pair and held it out to me. It was very nice silver—not what I expected; the earrings hook was real silver not flimsy wire—something I’d never get; the pattern was an interesting native Indian; the color was brilliant. So I took it to look closer. He had me—he got my attention, showed something of value – I knew I would buy and I did for a bargained price. After other vendors ran after me to try to sell more but I was walking away.

What made the sale? Was it his English that made him approachable (relationship)? Was it that he caught my eye by being in my personal space? Was it that he caught my eye by the match of the item (quality, color, material) to my taste? Price was not an issue unless it was really too high. How did he know which pair of earrings to pick out—did he see that I was wearing dangly circle earrings with a pattern and wore bright colors? Probably all these things worked. But I was impressed all the same.

Applying the lessons

personalized_advertising_3.jpgMarketing and sales—from the flashing displays of Times Square to the beaches of Mexico; from 5th Avenue to the souks of Marrakesh—IS marketing and sales. If we understand the principles of how it works today we can design something that can work with new technology tomorrow. We don’t want to instead duplicate the experience of the beggars on the streets of Italy clawing at my clothes shouting “belle belle” as they tried to convince me to provide them coin.

Innovation, people say, is something totally new. How can you collect requirements for something never seen before? The base assumption is that something innovative is something that has NEVER existed before and therefore there is no field data to collect to inform it. But new ideas and new products always are a transformation of some existing practice; always respond to some human or business need. Inventing when it is at its best addresses something that people care about, and if people care about it there is something to study to inform that new invention.

Perhaps to create the streets of Minority Report we need to study the beaches of Mazatlan.