The Squeeze on Shopper Marketing

Why You Should Concentrate Your Team's Efforts for the Most Impact

By Published on .

James Black
James Black

Exactly what constitutes shopper marketing has always been a source of confusion. One common shortcut is to define it as marketing created by shopper marketers, typically those working most closely with the manufacturers' sales teams at top retailers (e.g., Walmart, Costco, Kroger, CVS, etc.). However this notion can be somewhat narrow as a lot of marketing the shopper encounters happens outside of these organizations, most notably packaging or other vehicles developed further upstream by global brand and/or initiative teams.

A second shortcut, then, is to consider any marketing that the consumer encounters -- in and out of store -- as shopper marketing. This definition, however, can be too broad. While conceptually attractive because it drives focus on the shopper, it is not that practical in use, as shopper-marketing teams too often lack influence over this broad range of work.

A further source of confusion is all of the trade promotions that happen every year, often out of sight. These, too, are easily lumped into the definition of shopper marketing. Ultimately, traditional consumer marketing (that the shopper encounters), shopper marketing, and trade promotions could be viewed as existing in some sort of continuum. Strong shopper marketing can build off of its interface with both consumer marketing (e.g., by amplifying initiatives in-store) and by combining efforts with trade promotions to deliver stronger results.

The squeeze
While it can appear that shopper marketing operates along a continuum (consumer marketing; shopper marketing; trade promotions) a caution for this is that shopper marketing does not have to play out as a zero-sum game. All too often shopper marketing is getting squeezed between the other two types of work.

Many leading companies have retrenched their shopper-marketing efforts, and attention has often shifted away to today's hot topic: digital marketing. In many instances, dollars and resources associated with shopper marketing get reallocated to increase attention on digital marketing -- not that digital marketing isn't an important enabler to a winning shopper-marketing strategy, as digital cues often provide solutions to help the shopper along the various stages of her path to purchase.

Trade promotions, meanwhile, are often a sacred cow as they are relied on to deliver the base at key customers. Thus trade promotions are generally a consistent priority and not likely to be displaced.

Confounding this problem is the often difficult nature of calculating an ROI on shopper marketing. Sometimes if a manufacturer's marketing mix model identifies a strong ROI for shopper marketing vs. other vehicles (e.g., TV, print, etc.) it may be hard to understand what is contributing to the success. Arriving at a shopper marketing ROI can be more difficult than the media ROI because the number relies on so many more components. Thus, it can be difficult to understand what to do differently next time.

An Ad Age Insights Trend Report
First in a series of quarterly reports in 2011 on Shopper Marketing, this report examines relationships between marketers, retailers and advertising agencies and how to best structure shopper marketing practices. The next report in this series will publish in April.

So what is a shopper marketer to do?
Shopper marketers have two key opportunities to deliver compelling marketing efforts. The first is to amplify the marketing on key product initiatives, brands, and customers. By identifying priorities for shopper marketers and, more broadly, manufacturers, companies can avoid a common trap. Too often, shopper marketing teams try to service all initiatives, brands and customers equally. This can be challenging and frustrating, especially, in a world of limited resources, and ultimately compromise the effort.

In adopting a product initiative focus, simply put, the role for shopper marketing is often simply to "make it bigger." Here the key opportunity is how to drive differentiation for the customer, so that the efforts aren't the same across the top customers. At minimum, this can be done by ensuring that the right size everyday and promotional SKUs are available for the top customers, and that the customers' merchandising plans synchronize with the brand's marketing plans (e.g., the launch of advertising support, etc.). To go further, the shopper marketer can focus on marrying the brand's national marketing message to the customers' marketing efforts to create stronger hooks in the joint marketing plans (for example, by ensuring inclusion of the brand in key customer promotions and leveraging various customer-owned touchpoints).

The ultimate goal is to link the marketing efforts to customer purchase barriers (e.g., Walmart shoppers vs. Costco shoppers vs. Kroger shoppers). This can be done by understanding what is unique about customer X vs. customer Y and understanding her purchase barriers to identify unique solutions. The goal is to not put out competing messaging vs. the brand's national messaging, but rather to more explicitly address the shopper's purchase barrier in a very targeted and meaningful way.

Focusing on key initiatives and/or brands involves making some key prioritization calls about what the shopper marketing organization and the company more broadly will focus on. This can be challenging, but the challenge is generally an internal one for the company to resolve. From what I've observed across a number of companies, this style of focus can be very enabling for shopper marketers to achieve strong results.

The second key opportunity is to develop customized marketing efforts for top customers. For example, the shopper may have a specific purchase barrier that might lead her to choose going to a drug store rather than a mass retailer for a specific item. The skilled shopper marketer will focus on identifying ways to overcome that barrier.

For example, when cough/cold season hits, many households don't always have either any or enough Vicks and Kleenex, etc. at home. Battling a cold, the consumer is probably going to go to the easiest outlet to get the products they need, typically a drug store or convenience store. P&G and Walmart spotted this issue head on several years ago, realizing that even though Walmart was the leader in the cough/cold category, when the time came for cough/cold season, significant numbers of consumers would want to brave the parking lots or wait in long lines for the key products they need. So they built a campaign around theme of "preparedness" to encourage consumers to stock up when they were in store and help consumers avoid the trip and P&G and Walmart avoid lost sales when the consumer shopped elsewhere. This insight was so strong that the resulting campaign was executed for several years.

In focusing on these two strategies, shopper marketing can demonstrate compelling business results, and stay alive and thrive.

James Black is a marketing consultant based in New York. Previously, he was the brand manager in P&G's "first moment of truth" team focusing on in-store and shopper-marketing capabilities.
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