John Ross | May 27, 2015

Purchase history is an excellent means to predict what a shopper may buy — until they don't. The start of a new diet, the arrival of a baby, the return home of a recent college grad or the adoption of a pet will change the make-up of a shopper's basket, starting with their very next trip to the store.

However, as much as our lives are in constant flux and as unpredictable as we are as a species, we are not entirely enigmatic. Those brands and retailers who actively engage with their customers across channels, who establish a genuine dialogue with them, and who effectively leverage their collective willingness to share information about themselves (and their families) can "map the chaos" to anticipate changes in shopper behavior and respond strategically. (It should be noted here that shoppers' comfort in "opting in" and providing personal information is predicated on the promise that they will be effectively rewarded for doing so.)

In order to attain this competitive advantage and achieve real-time "consumer connectivity," marketers must establish an engagement platform that carries with it three distinct attributes.

First, it has to be interactive. Shoppers must be able to easily and immediately comment, query, shape and then share about the exchange.

Second, the platform must be responsive. Shoppers want assurance that there is someone "on the other end" and that someone is listening. Comments have to be acknowledged. Questions have to be answered. Issues have to be resolved. And, absolutely, as soon as possible.

Finally, the platform must be participatory. Engaging with a retailer or brand must be something that shoppers feel adds value to their lives. Not just once but over time. The content delivered (information, discounts, recipes, etc.) must be timely, relevant and say to shoppers that the provider "knows them."

Establishing this kind of engagement strategy — requiring that marketers actively listen to shoppers — empowers brands and retailers to delineate the factors that sustain true loyalty, "fuels" predictive analytics for accurately anticipating what shoppers want tomorrow and informs delivery of messaging and content that assures shoppers they are part of something that matters. Through this approach, shoppers can be activated and their loyalty earned. And, real loyalty is earned — not bought.

I welcome your thoughts as to how best to establish and maintain real connectivity with shoppers and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

John Ross