Why Amazon’s Dash Button might be the marketing innovation of the decade

amazon dash buttonIn this guest post, Eaon Pritchard argues that getting upstream of the problem means that commodity brands can finally forget about notions of ‘engagement’ and just be happy with selling more stuff more often.

We conducted a small survey on supermarket shopping behaviour using the agency staff as our sample group of around 50.

It was relatively unscientific, however, the aim was to crudely test one particular covert thought. We simply asked our respondents if they used a shopping list when visiting the supermarket.For those who answered ‘yes’ we asked them to provide an example of a typical shopping list.

For those who answered ‘no’ we asked them to jot down what their mental list might typically be, anyway.

This gave us some interesting feedback – scribbled paper lists were by far the most popular, followed by self-text messages – and among this group no one used a list-type app.

For some context, recently I’ve been captivated by Herb Sorensen’s 2009 book ‘Inside the Mind of the Shopper’.

His research that suggests that:
1. Around half of supermarket trips result in baskets of 5 items or less.
2. The most common basket size is just one item.
3. Therefore most supermarkets are designed for shopper behaviour that doesn’t happen that often.



Unsurprisingly then, close to 90 per cent of our responses contained five items or fewer.

The other 10 per cent were six.

Of course our data was obviously slightly skewed as midweek shopping trips will be more likely to be quick trips, but you get the general idea, and our mode was two (pretty close to one). Milk, bread and tissues in case you are wondering.)

All this was interesting but not what I wanted to observe.

What I was looking for was specific brand name mentions.

And among the 86 different product categories listed by our respondents were only two instances of brand names.

Everything else was generic category – bread, milk, fruit, meat, tissues etc.

This seemed to be clear indication that, for supermarket shopping at least, people set out to buy from categories first and brands come second.

In many fmcg categories brand either doesn’t exist or is invisible (meat, fruit, vegetables) might exist but have little or no effect (bread, milk) and in the categories where it does have some influence the brand that gets bought is the one most salient at the point,
and context of purchase.

Familiarity, popularity, habit and availability drive FMCG categories.

Unlike fashion or cars for example there is no ‘display’ or ‘social’ value for consumers.

One’s choice of washing powder does not signal anything to anyone else.

It is simply something to be consumed. Display value is only a marginally stronger pull anyway.

This is the eternal conundrum for commodity type brands.

All of which is the long way round to looking at Amazon Dash.

The mooted Dash Button is a single-use Wi-Fi enabled ordering device for a selected set of Amazon partners including Gillette, Pampers, Tide and Olay. You press it and it orders directly – and frictionless – for you.

Here’s Amazon’s video about the new service:

The promise of, for example, self-replenishing fridges, has long been part of the lore of ‘the internet of things’ and this appears to be Amazon’s play in that area, allowing customers to instantly repeat buy partner brands without thinking about it, more importantly, without being distracted by a competing brand at the shelf.

What’s interesting here is not the idea that push button instant replenishment is anything to do with notions of brand loyalty (active, in an attitudinal sense).

But is everything about enabling ‘loyalty’ in the passive behavioural sense.

Distribution is distribution.

On the one hand, commodity products with no display value can try and create ‘meaning’ by spending on huge emotional advertising – e.g. P&G’s ‘Thank You Mom’ and the like.

Or nonsensical ‘engagement’ tactics, usually around ‘tell us your [insert commodity brand name here] story, as wonderfully curated on the tellusyourstory tumblr.

Being famous and familiar will always be important but the Dash Button is somehow more refreshingly Nietzschean in its acceptance of the kind of emptiness of consumption. In reaching acceptance that it will never be loved. Tide is now happy just to be bought.

Who will press a button to order Tide? Or 5 boxes of Tide?

Well, we’ve already seen that people will trek to the supermarket for less than five items. And most of the time, for just one.

The dash button, in a sense, is all about salience. By which we mean the Byron Sharp definition; being the propensity of a particular brand to come to mind in a particular buying or usage situation.

If the buying situation occurs at the point of usage, i.e. in front of the washing machine then the brand that was last used, and the brand on the button becomes the most salient by default. No other brand is in it.

This is what Dave Trott might describe as ‘getting upstream of the problem’.

People will never love their soap powder brand, but will be inclined to repeat purchase out of habit providing nothing else gets in the way.

So make sure nothing else gets in the way, then.

There’s a statement attributed to Jeff Bezos that we often recall and use.

Bezos says that – given that Amazon are a cutting-edge tech retailer – people are interested in their innovation pipeline and therefore he often fields questions asking about what Jeff thinks might change in business in the next 5-10 years.

His reply is that he is more interested in what will stay the same. Because you can build a business on things that are stable in time.

Which is why every Amazon innovation is based on the simple insight that people will always want things faster and cheaper.

  • Eaon Pritchard is the strategic planning director at Red Jelly Australia.

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