Viewpoint: One size does not fit all
Shopper marketing is essential but misunderstood, says Vivid Brand chairman Andy ScottShopper marketing is a phrase that is becoming hard to avoid at the moment, and for good reason. As the recession bites there is an added appeal for brands in learning more about their customers, and selling more of their product; and as we all move away from a shared consumption of mass media, it is important to learn new ways of communicating with shoppers when we can catch them.
Not surprisingly directors at retailer and brand companies are bombarded by shopper marketing agencies keen to prove their worth at the task. But amid all the smoke and noise, it is easy to lose sight of what such a simple phrase means.
First off, it has to be said that shopper marketing is not just sales promotion with a new name. It is a new discipline which requires all companies taking part to raise their game. One added benefit of this is that as it catches on, agencies are getting better at what they do and clients are the ones who stand to benefit.
Ultimately, shopper marketing is about influencing shopper behaviour. Our primary purpose is to turn shoppers into buyers, and a large element of that challenge will be in interpreting above the line messages inside the store environment. But that interpretation is key - simply repeating an above the line message ad nauseum can turn shoppers off, or mean that a message is lost amid the in-store clutter we all -subconsciously or intentionally - filter out.
I liken this to going on a dinner date with an enormously attractive companion, who makes a bright and perceptive point within the first five minutes - only to go on about it all night like a stuck record. The evening will not be one you remember fondly. A similar effect is achieved by taking a witty line from an above the line campaign and smearing it over every piece of cardboard point of sale, directional signage or shelf wobbler available, until shoppers are bored to tears.
We are all familiar with the claim that 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are made in-store, but this figure is as misleading as it is inaccurate. If it were ever true, it could only pertain to one category, in one type of store, at one particular time. At best the figure is as accurate as a stopped watch that tells the right time twice a day. Understanding that, and learning about how decisions really occur, opens up a new world of opportunity.
The way purchasing decisions are made must surely alter enormously between categories: we are in a different frame of mind when buying toothpaste to when we are selecting a gift; we don't buy a television in the same way we buy chocolate - yet all, these days, might be purchased in the same shop, even on the same visit. It is also essential to recognise that shoppers are changing constantly. We all shop with a different mindset now than we had eighteen months ago; we shop differently when grabbing food to go during a weekday lunchtime than we do at the weekend; differently when in a forecourt store to when we are in a large supermarket. A one size fits all approach to communicating with shoppers does not work. The big problem for many brands is to admit that it never has. Shopper marketing is the science of finding the right message for the moment.
Starting from the point of view of the shopper, a shopper marketing agency must keep coming back to that same place. Research and insight should inform not just the tactics chosen for promotions, but the location and presentation of categories and channels, the very products stocked in particular store environments, the design and positioning of communications materials, packaging design and merchandising techniques.
To become a shopper marketing agency, existing consultancies must do far more than simply add the phrase to their logo. True shopper marketing requires far more deep, upstream thinking than the execution of sales promotions in-store. It may be that sales promotion companies are in a good position to add the layer of rigourous customer analysis that shopper marketing requires, but clients should select their agencies with care.
The shopper marketing agency must consider the shopper's mission in the store - including what the shopper already knows about the retailer in question and the brands on sale. We are all shoppers, and we all have a base of knowledge about products and services, from experience, from above the line advertising campaigns, and from word of mouth.
The fruit of all this knowledge should not be a cardboard display, rather an entire toolbox to help a brand communicate with shoppers. This will help the brand understand what shoppers think and do, what adjacencies should be sought with other products or categories in a store, and, if need be, how the benefits of these changes can be communicated to retailers to ensure they happen.
So communication for Diet Coke, which is drunk mainly by female consumers, will be pitched not only in a different way, but in different places, to Coke Zero, which is favoured far more by young men. The latter might be best highlighted by ads on petrol pumps, which the target audience is likely to visit in the course of their working day, while Diet Coke would find more favour with in-store communication next to the meal deals in a Boots store. Both messages would be different to those used for either product in a supermarket or fast food chain. Real shopper marketing insight not only explains some the motivation of shoppers in each case, and even what other products may be in the same basket, but provides the appropriate tool to communicate with the shopper most effectively.
To work effectively, shopper marketing has to engage with clients at the highest level. Vivid has worked with lighting brand Philips for eight years, and we deal directly with senior directors. This is important, as a shopper marketing programme should reach to the very heart of a company. Data analysis and customer profiling will have a direct impact on product segmentation, and even on the portfolio of products produced. That cannot be done by dealing with individual departments on an ad hoc basis.
So when any consultant claims to be a shopper marketing agency it is important to put that claim to the test. It can soon become apparent that claimed insights are in fact assumptions, and that the expertise on offer is simple operational efficiency. There is far more to prove than the ability to manage implementation of a campaign.
Alongside the real insight and rigourous scientific analysis that are a prerequisite of a shopper marketing agency, it also imperative that they offer top level creativity. Understanding the scientific element of what shoppers want is of no consequence if the knowledge cannot be used in a practical sense. That is why at Vivid we are proud to have evolved from the base of a design agency, which has always offered an informed creative expertise. There can be a direct link from our knowledge about shoppers and the concept we would create for in-store communication strategies or packaging design.
Insight and analysis are essential, but without the experience of converting those into real strategic wisdom the exercise can become a purely academic one. And if there is one thing that the retail industry cannot afford to be, it is academic.
That is just one reason why shopper marketing is exciting, and why it is catching the attention of clients. The whole, vibrant, retail industry is all about action. Effective shopper marketing allows brands to take part in that action with the tools they need. And for those with the will to explore its potential it offers the prospect of great rewards.
Written by Andy Scott, Chairman at Vivid Brand: a design agency 'Influencing shopper behavior'
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