Movement in the Mercado (Issue 695)

In which we learn marketing from Mercado merchants’ movement.

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The Central Mercado in Cusco, Peru is an under-one-roof warren of ten foot wide by ten foot deep by twelve foot high vendor stalls separated by narrow aisles. The stalls themselves and facing walls are packed full of crafts, giving the feeling of the tight, overhanging high-walled, slightly-darkened streets you might find in the old sections of London or Florence.

Stall after stall of stuff, each with a specialty – jewelry, dolls and figurines, t shirts, pottery, bags, shawls and sweaters, hats – and a few items outside their specialties, just in case, for cross sells.

We arrived at an off-peak time – most of the stall proprietors sat quietly mid-stall or toward the rear, some staring off into space, some sleeping, some knitting or creating new product, some nibbling on snacks, others helping children with homework. A few of the stall proprietors were active OUTSIDE their stalls, engaging passing tourists with narrow-aisled, belly-to-belly toothy smiles and rapid pitches. (These were simply irritating, and we brushed them aside politely).

After a few aisles of wandering, we concluded that, whatever the specialty – jewelry, scarves, whatever, almost all stalls in that specialty carried 80% exactly the same stuff. One could easily navigate the aisles, unable to distinguish one stall from the next until, out of fatigue and frustration, one would buy from the stall in front of which one happened to be at that moment.


We noticed that a very few of the stall merchants were standing up in their stalls and active – folding and refolding scarves or blankets, examining pottery and moving it from one display point to another, sorting or resorting piles of hats or gloves. They weren’t paying much attention to us, they were just up and active.

And we would stop to look… at whatever they were doing…. and admire the colors or patterns or intricacies of their goods. Frequently, we found, we would ask about the item in motion and poke and explore other items in the stall.

Midst a sea of slumping stall staff, just the simple act of movement with quick hints of treasures was enough to attract our attention and engage us.

This is the heart of content marketing. We attract visitors and attention NOT by constantly smiling and pitching specific prospects or customers in the Mercado aisles, but by emulating the Mercado merchants who attracted us – those not paying attention to specific individuals but, rather, flashing bits of highly colorful wares before us, then engaging when we engaged.

On the Web, this means posting bits of “shiny object” content on our web sites, on Twitter, or Facebook, or Linked In and then responding when people “like” or “retweet” or download content.

This is also the heart of web site design. We, searching the Mercado, were like millions of us searching the Web. Most sites we find are passive – we take a few seconds to look, nothing moves or attracts our attention, so we browse on.

Some sites are “in your face;” frequently, we depart as soon as we see the jarring graphics and half dozen “buy now’ offers.

The best sites attract our attention with some bit of movement, a flash of content attractive to us if we are target customers, that calls us to engage, and then draws us in, like the moving merchants in the Mercado.

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