Pass the parcel and musical statues are good fun when you are five. However when I was a child my father had us playing a different game at birthday parties. A game which has proved to have far more longer term benefit to me in my life and work than those other games. In fact, I still play it now.
My dad is a retired orthopaedic surgeon so, compared to hip and knee replacements, naming strategies are not up there in his skill set. Hence the game went by the not very punchy “As many different uses of a certain object as possible”. It did not matter how wild or wacky the use, as long as it had at least some rationale. So you were given an object: biro, candle, plant pot, TV ariel and you had to think of as many uses in a minute. I did not realise at the time that this was my introduction to the concepts of (1) always trying to look at things differently and (2) how a single item can have multiple uses or, in the equivalent business and financial terms, the idea of sweating your assets. Hence my new name for the game: Sweaty Object.
I recently read an article about the US clothing retailer, American Apparel, which took me back to my childhood birthday parties.
For a clothes store, understanding when you are going to be busy or less busy is clearly an important thing to know for a variety of reasons. Since staff costs are a significant proportion of a retailer’s costs, optimising the timing of having your staff onsite to serve your customers is crucial.
Previously American Apparel was basing their staffing plans using the sales data from their tills. Their rationale was that when they were taking most sales is when they needed most staff. Not unreasonable. Except they were finding that their staffing was still not matching up to when their potential customers were requiring assistance. So what did they do? They played a game of Sweaty Object (sort of).
They speculated that they should perhaps look for a different, more relevant data source. They, like nearly every other shop, had a series of CCTV cameras at their front doors to spot people walking out of their store with goods. But why not use these same cameras to count the number of customers walking into store with money to pay for clothes, rather than shoplifters walking out with clothes they had not?
With a little bit of smart technology to count the number of people coming in by timeline, American Apparel were able to get a very clear idea of when customers were coming in and, hence when they needed to deploy their staff.
And, I dare say, they have been smart enough to marry this information with their sales data to understand things like how long people spend browsing in store and the proportion of people who come in and don’t spend (who says, online retailers have to have all the advantages of data about their customers?)
It’s the very definition of what we at Lexden term unordinary: looking at a problem differently and using what you already have to find a solution which looks utterly simple in hindsight.
So why not get some of the best people in your business together, buy them some party hats, feed them a chocolate cake and play a game of Sweaty Object? Who knows where it might lead?
So there. A children’s party game with a legitimate application in the business world and beyond. Next time I’ll write about how some of the world’s biggest companies are using ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ to drive their profits. Or maybe I’ll have to think of something else.
Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.
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