Boost Your Brand by Understanding the Path to Purchase

To Win Customers, Create a Shopper-Insight Team and Turn That Research Into Strategy

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Rick Roth
Rick Roth
It doesn't matter much which marketing publication you pick up or which industry trend piece comes across your desk, it is simply impossible to miss the constant attention being paid to shopper marketing these days.

No one should be surprised. With 72% of shoppers deciding what to buy in-store, the marketing world is acutely aware of the importance of the "last mile" and the ultimate moment of truth.

Today, clients and agency folk alike are rushing to shopper marketing, searching for the experts and digging for the insights that will lead to stronger commercial programs and real marketplace advantage.

Marketers are organizing around this need. According to research from Deloitte and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the number of consumer-package-goods manufacturers with dedicated shopper-marketing resources increased 383% from 2007 to 2008.

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It's very clear that there is no one template directing best practices, and that marketers are still trying to figure things out. But they are trying to figure out how to culturally embed them in their organization.

And as the challenge becomes clearer to the CEO, it's quickly finding its way to the desk of the CMO.

Questions to ask
So CMOs need to ask themselves, How do we build a shopper-insights capability? What role should the group play in the organization? What kind of talent and skill base do we need? To whom should the group report? What work should the group influence? How will we evaluate its impact?

In many marketing firms, the CMO is now responsible for strategies that consider the path to purchase and work that begins with shopper knowledge. For many, this is completely new territory. But, if they get it right, big ideas will come, superior talent will be attracted, and the work put in market will be more effective in building sales and brand equity.

So how do you organize a shopper-insights group? First, you need the right talent. Identify experts within your organization or from competitors or shopper-marketing agencies. They must be intimately familiar with channel and category behavior, shopping occasions and needs states, how consumers become shoppers and shoppers become buyers, and what in-store stimuli and activities influence and trigger a purchase.

Then, whether you are starting from scratch or reorganizing an existing group, decide how the team will effectively integrate into your organization.

Traditionally, manufacturers align the shopper-insight practice with sales and customer teams. But insights are paying only partial dividends if they are limited to informing trade initiatives.

If understanding how shoppers ultimately make a brand decision is so critical, shouldn't that knowledge inform the creation of both customer and consumer programs, above the line and below the line (for those still thinking in those terms)?

Kimberly-Clark has taken this philosophy to heart as they drive the development of integrated marketing planning. This process aligns the perspectives and needs of the consumer, shopper and customer, and they have organized to make shopper insights fundamental to the creation of brand communications.

What, not where
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The answer is less about where shopper insight folks are located and far more about which parts of the organization they will truly be charged with influencing. The people responsible for shopper insights need a formal seat at the planning table and an empowered voice in the integrated marketing process.

So with a well-organized group, how do you then effectively bake insights into a marketing plan so they have impact in the shopping aisle?

Translating shopper research into actionable strategy is often difficult and inconsistent. A CMO must reverse the "overload of data, undernourishment of ideas" trend. Insights should influence the development of commercial ideas vs. being left in a silo as a program addendum.

One of the finest examples of this comes from Axe. The brand's success rests in its understanding of its young male target -- how he approaches life and how he approaches shopping. This is a brand that has used insights to build irresistible brand programs that connect with the target as he travels through his day, as he moves along the path to purchase. From buzz-worthy events on a street level to in-store experiential, Axe gets it right.

To ensure that shopper insights influence brand communications, make sure your shopper-insights team is involved from the start. Allow them to plan from the shelf outward rather than presuming program creation begins with paid media.

Get them to assess the brand program before it goes to market. We have all executed plans which we later learned were flawed. Your shopper-insight team understands buying behavior. It can help validate investments upfront, mitigating risk -- and it can recommend program adjustments.

If Tropicana had not underestimated the deep emotional bond that its most loyal customers had with the original Tropicana packaging, it may have avoided the devastating $30 million loss in sales within the first two months of launch. Customers were bewildered and frustrated because many of the visual cues at fixture did not carry over and many mistook the product for private label.

Getting the right fit
A shopper-insight group will understand how purchase decisions vary by channel and category. They should drive point-of-purchase guidelines to ensure that in-store communications are right for the brand, right for the shopping occasion and right for the customer.

Shopper-insight teams should be recommending critical adjustments throughout program implementation. They have the tools and the analytics to track program performance. They have the ability to find meaning in the data and course correct for effectiveness.

Online grocer Fresh Direct surveys its customers weekly on topics ranging from the economy to competition to product and service so they truly understand where customers have problems they can solve. Generating these insights is at the core of their operations and the results are paying off: They have reduced excess packaging by 7.5 million cartons annually, previously a sore spot for shoppers. Because an online shopper cannot "squeeze the product," Fresh Direct introduced a new star system that rates quality daily. At checkout, the Fresh Direct database indexes the shopper's history and displays a list of frequently purchased products they may have forgotten on that particular trip. Finally, a new "You May Also Like" feature has stimulated cross-selling and accounts for significant incremental revenue.

Bottom line: The earlier insights are used in the development of a brand's activity plan, the better the plan because it's more focused and built on realistic objectives. A valuable shopper insight can determine the success of just about anything in the marketing mix -- from overall brand strategy and communications to package design and in-store programming -- if it's paid attention to.

Rick Roth is the global CEO of OgilvyAction, the brand-activation and shopper-marketing network of The Ogilvy Group.
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