The Power of In-store "Proxemic Marketing"

Published on: 2015-02-05

In doing some research due diligence, I recently ran across a very intriguing white paper by way of the LevelVision folks, the company behind the Intellimat digital floor signs. Entitled "The Psychology of the Floor", it's written by Ph.D. Joseph King of Radford University. Although created in support of the LevelVision floor device, I found some powerful information applicable to Marketing at Retail in general.

In a nutshell, the article talks about the human Orienting Reflex (OR), a physiological mechanism that forces us to redirect our attention to a specific stimulus. The research indicates that when attention is directed upward it is often to expand the focus of our attention in order to take in as much as possible.  However, when our attention is directed downward, we tend to narrow our attention focus and really hone in. This stems from our ancestral roots, when the survival instinct triggered us to pay extra attention when looking downward to avoid safety hazards such as holes, snakes and trip hazards.

Also interesting is the POV shared that although many advertisers rely on being louder, brighter or more intrusive to capture shopper focus, this is not necessary with floor communications that rely on the power of this human orienting reflex. We will simply tend to pay attention regardless of how flashy the stimulus is. If this research holds water, it stands to reason that floor marketing with compelling messaging and creative is an excellent venue to impact the buying behavior of consumers.

There is a potential caveat to relying too heavily on this formula, though: biologists have long known that anything that distracts us is very effective at first, however familiarity erodes the efficacy of what was once novel. But, if our experience is that the interruption always carries with it useful information, reflex gives way to a voluntary, automatic learned behavior to always pay attention to the venue at hand. Thus, to have consistently strong results with any kind of interruption marketing, it must carry with it some benefit to the viewer. I saw this very effect come to pass with online advertising, as anything new and different always garnered gangbuster response but eroded as viewers became accustomed to it (and it all too often didn't offer anything of benefit to the viewer).

All of this comes together to support beneficial proxemic marketing as a must have on the store marketing plan. Ensuring that the messages are consistently valuable will "train" shoppers to continue paying attention by rewarding them. From my viewpoint, this makes perfect sense. However, I do feel that there is a saturation point to respect that retailers must closely guard. In other words, if the floor becomes a cacophony of "visual noise" we might train shoppers to filter all floor messages out. This certainly makes a strong case for the use of digital messages, so I understand why LevelVision has taken the time to share the research. I also think that as an industry we must passionately respect the "efficiecy erosion" issue and be very careful to not use proxemic tools to blast messages as loudly and intrusively as possible. We've already learned that this is a short-term win but I'm not sure everyone in our industry respects this quite yet.


+1 # Bill Gerba 2008-06-12 14:20
Like any other form of in-store marketing, this kind of approach gets its influence from the fact that the marketing event takes place so close to where the purchase decision is made, and typically even closer to where the physical product is located. While useful, though, I'm definitely concerned about the visual clutter aspect. People are remarkably good at "tuning out" information they deem to be irrelevant, and I'd have to guess that lots of competing, annoying -- MOVING -- ads in a retail store would be prime targets to ignore. Making sure the information is actually useful and timely goes a long way towards preventing this from happening, but I still suspect that proxemic marketing proponents will continue to run into "clean store" enthusiasts for some time to come.
0 # ref 2008-12-31 15:37
Really enjoyed your article about proxemics in marketing. How does proxemics fit in with internet marketing? Do you think it's a concept that still applies? Thanks!
-1 # Bill Gerba 2009-01-08 20:02
Hi Ref, When you say "proxemics," do you mean Edward Hall-style proxemics? If so, that's a great question but not something I've ever really thought about before. We know that psychographic and demographic considerations can have a significant impact on the ability for DS content to communicate with a given audience, so I think the concept of cultural specificity carries over well. But I couldn't say whether that impacts or influences the way different shoppers would manage their own personal spaces.
+2 # digital signage software 2010-09-09 21:07
Great article. Very enjoyable to read

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