A literal explosion of interest in shopper marketing resulted when the Coca Cola Retailing Research Council of North America introduced the concept in 2004. Although shopper marketing has its routes in co-marketing, emerged from retailer homogeneity partially created by the success of category management, and relies on many decades of research into shoppers, consumers, branding and retailing, a great deal of energy has been spent trying to define shopper marketing. Let’s face it, it’s complex. It’s more than promotion, more than price, more than merchandizing, sales, traditional marketing extended into the store, or a new phrase assigned to an old phenomenon. Every discipline wrestles with defining aspects of its identity. For example, supply chain management has gone through similar definitional battles as it has been confused with being just another name for logistics. But nailing down one precise definition is not where we need to remain mired down. What separates the “men from the boys,” “ladies from the girls” or better yet, the expert from the novice is that the latter thinks shopper marketing is a tactic while the former knows it’s strategic and needs leadership.
We now seem to know that consumers shop with different mindsets or need states, whether we focus on the nine introduced by Coca Cola or the four used by many other firms. We know that finding the overlap between brands’ targeted consumers and retailers’ loyal and profitable shoppers is a key segmentation problem. We also see brands and retailers in an all out battle for the best, most unique “insights” to these mutual target shoppers. We know that manufacturers, retailers, agents and agencies along with data service providers are working together to generate insights, leverage and build equities and create an effective path to purchase with high ROI, i.e., efficiency.
What I spend a lot of my time explaining to my MBA students is that all of this is strategic. Any one small piece for one initiative could be seen as tactical. When my students first walk into a retailer – be it grocery where shopper marketing began or consumer electronics, home improvement, pharmacy or convenience, some of the many channels where shopper marketing has spread – they have to learn to notice the difference between a merchandizing or promotion that is tactical or “old school” and a complex, strategically designed, well-integrated, insight-driven (not merely sales/category data-driven) solution center. I teach them to reverse engineer in-store initiatives and notice whether both a manufacturer’s brand and a specific retailer brand are working together, if initiatives meet the tests of “stop, hold and close” power, if all of the media in store are working together synergistically, if secondary placements are being used intelligently, if events around which initiatives are woven make sense, if solution centers actually overcome shopping barriers and provide a real solution to a realproblem and not some trumped up slow-moving-sku-problem, and if initiatives are integrated with social media, mobile devices, brand and retailer websites, and traditional television and print media. If all of this – or at least most of it – is not in place, it’s hard to call it state-of-the-art shopper marketing. If all of this is in place, it required strategic thinking, planning and execution to pull it off.
When strategic thinking attacks shopper marketing problems, initiatives contribute to long-term loyalty for both brands and retailers. Strategists tie solutions, whether permanent category/display redesigns or time-limited events, together with themes throughout the year. As my friends at Hoyt & Co always explain, they attempt to hit five objectives:
- Make it easy for the mutual shopper to find and buy specific brands
- Leverage the equity built by manufacturers along the entire path to purchase
- Provide a source of differentiation for both the brands and specific retailers participating in the programs
- Activate purchases by delighting, engaging and motivating the mutual shopper, and
- Tailor programs to align with the objectives, strategies, limitations and protocols of different channels, formats and retailers
Strategic leadership is required to achieve these five shopper marketing objectives. When I look closely at great initiatives whether their for Seagate in Best Buy, U brand by Kotex in Kroger, Colgate Palmolive, ConAgra, Cricket Wireless, Gillette and many, many other brands with their retailing partners such as Safeway, Walmart, Target and others, and see integration along the entire path to purchase it’s hard to argue that these did not demand strategic leadership. This is not easy. This is not quick – although I am constantly amazed at just how quickly some of my corporate contacts can pull off major initiatives. But then again, that’s the point isn’t it? One reason some powerful initiatives can be pulled off quickly when an opportunity presents itself is precisely because strategic connections have been made between manufacturers, agencies, retailers, and brokers as well as multiple functions within each organization that enable them to move quickly. Resources are committed quickly and effectively because strategic thinking is behind it.
Shopper marketing leaders need both marketing and sales knowledge. Pulling these two groups together on a common agenda may itself be strategic. But the shopper marketing leader of today must be this and more. She must also understand supply and distribution issues, financial implications, product development and operations. In short, shopper marketing done well requires general management style leadership skills.
The cool thing is that if shopper marketing is driven by strategic leadership, then demand side opportunities can be seized for revenue growth while also integrating with and leveraging supply side capabilities or constraints so that the true ROI is huge as compared to any other form of marketing initiative. It can also potentially do so in a sustainable and socially responsible manner andembrace the involvement of consumers in a co-creative way. But those are topics for future blogs. Shopper marketing is marketing and sales along the entire path to purchase once someone has a predisposition to buy. It leverages and builds brand equities for the benefit of all parties over the long term with the shopper at its center. This may not be a definition and it isn’t intended to be – but it does require strategic leadership. So go forth and connect, collaborate, generate insights, create engaging shopping environments – but for Pete’s sake, lead strategically!
About the author
Dan Flint, Ph.D., Director Shopper Marketing Forum and Proffitt’s, Inc. Professor of Marketing, University of Tennessee
Dan regularly researches, publishes in top marketing journals, teaches and speaks on the topics of developing a proactive customer orientation, business and consumer valuing processes, shopper marketing, branding, sales and marketing linkages with supply chain management. He founded the Shopper Marketing Forum at the University of Tennessee to connect business leaders at leading firms such as Anderson Merchandisers, Bush Bros, CROSSMARK, Mars Advertising, Nestlé, Pepsico/Frito-Lay, and Pilot Flying J, (all sponsors), to faculty and students for research, curriculum design and industry movement. Many additional firms such as Catalina Marketing, Deloitte, Disney, dunhumby, Food City, Kimberly-Clarke, Path-to-Purchase Institute, Meade Johnson, Nielsen, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, POPAI, Saatchi Saatchi X, TraceyLocke, and Walmart, to name only a few have been and continue to be involved the the UT initiative.
Dan Flint, Ph.D., Director Shopper Marketing Forum and Proffitt’s, Inc. Professor of Marketing, University of Tennessee.