Here comes the winter ice storm, so get your milk & bread

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

12 February 2014

Why is it always milk and bread?

Our office in North Carolina is bracing for a pretty bad winter ice storm by North Carolina standards. The latest forecast is calling for almost a foot of snow with some ice on top of that by the time it’s all done.

For an area that it is not really accustomed to that kind winter weather, it actually becomes quite paralyzing when there are not enough plows to clear the roads.

“What are people planning on making? Milk sandwiches? Soggy bread?”

People race to the store to stock up before a winter ice storm, as is the case in most places when there is the threat of weather that may force people inside for a long time. But a funny thing happens in those cases – folks stock up on milk and bread.

winter ice stormSure, they may buy other things (bring on the wine!) but the bread aisle and milk cooler are always bare.

What are people planning on making? Milk sandwiches? Soggy bread?

One thing is certain – this is a predictable behavior that is repeated over and over.

And this is why it is interesting to me. Marketing, branding and persuasion are all about changing human behavior. When we talk about a brand or marketing a product, we are trying to change a consumer’s behavior from a preference of one thing to another. What is lost is that, in reality, we really do not want the customer to act in a new way. Rather, we simply want them to make a different choice within their normal actions.

What the milk and bread phenomena demonstrates is that consumer behavior is predictable.

But observing a predictable behavior is only part of it. Through research, we can understand why the behavior occurs. As marketers, we should not point out the folly in the behavior. Instead, we should understand the underlying reasons for the behavior – emotionally and rationally. And we should adapt our messaging, operations, and product mix to be a reflection of that understanding.

If we knew all of the underlying reasons people go out and clear the shelves of bread and milk before a winter ice storm or snowstorm, we could position almost anything to reflect those reasons.

As it stands now, however, grocery stores will just have to continue running out of bread and milk.

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