Finding a Cowpath in Retail

November 6, 2014
November 6, 2014 Tom Allin

Until recently, I had never heard the phrase “pave the cowpath.” Apparently, though, if my Internet snooping is any indication, the jury is very much out on the idea. So, in the interest of goading the jury along, here’s why I’d vote for paving the cowpath – or at least encouraging more cowpath traffic.

But, first, what does it mean to “pave the cowpath”?

Essentially, it means you should look to what people already do informally – and formalize it. So, considered literally, if a steady stream of people cut across the same stretch of grass to get through Boston Common, the city of Boston may want to consider paving that stretch of grass. Formalize what was informal.

In that vein, Cumberland Farms asked us a few years ago to create a campaign for The Chill Zone, its serve-yourself frozen and fountain drink dispenser wall. But, before our creative teams got to work, we did some research about how our target – tweens – were interacting and engaging with Cumberland Farms and with Chill Zone specifically.

What we learned was really interesting. Tweens weren’t following the script by sticking to one single Chill Zone flavor; they were mixing and sampling and creating their own concoctions. To tie in the metaphor, they were making a cowpath.

So, we paved it.

We created the Mix Up Yours campaign that incorporated almost every media channel but also – and more importantly – encouraged tweens to mix up their own concoctions. You can see more in the video below.

Here’s the thing: A great deal has been made over the past 10 years of the future of retail (523 million Google results) – and there are some very real challenges ahead. That said, the exciting and awesome thing about brick-and-mortar retail is that it involves – simple as it may sound – people. People with personalities, trying to find their way and meet their needs and have fun with one another.

Which is why it’s so important to listen and observe what they do when they interact with your brand. Here at Full Contact, we lead focus groups, monitor real-time consumer conversations in a variety of social channels and do in-store observations to build a solid understanding not of how we want consumers to act but how they actually act (among lots of other things!).

So, whether it’s letting people line up for a new product release or letting tweens be tweens with their frozen concoctions, look for your brand’s cowpaths. If you pave them, they could lead you to a brighter retail future.


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