Hello Shopper Marketing!

February 22, 2018

It’s been a whirlwind! 8 months into the world of shopper marketing. 8 years of blogging on hiatus! Here is an attempt to kickstart things and get back at it! 

So what’s new! After more than a year in Texas working as a consultant on some exciting projects for some amazing brands and businesses I got an opportunity to take on a global role with TracyLocke in Chicago. Yup besides experiencing the coldest winter of my life and killing those sub-zero runs Chicago is also where TracyLocke setup shop to service the global shopper marketing account for SC Johnson. I had the good fortune to join the agency at an exciting time as we recently won the Kellogg’s business making the agency one of the leading shopper agencies in the world. Personally for me TracyLocke was a network I was more than familiar with. My first stint with TL was in the Middle East where I was part of the team responsible for setting it up as part of the DDB network there. What I didn’t realize at the time was that of all the major agency networks I had ever been a part of, TracyLocke is the only one with a legacy of over 100 years!

So what is strategy work like for a shopper? To be honest while I certainly got an impression that strategy was something TracyLocke took very seriously I took that with a pinch of salt. After having worked on brand and communication strategies across media for over a decade I wondered how much thinking would really need to go behind a shelf-talker. What we are really talking about is a few inches of real estate. There is only that much that can be communicated. Boy was I wrong! I think with limited space, messaging had to work the hardest. Of course the universe of shopper tactics and tools are far more expansive than a shelf-talker. But the most exciting part of it all was how success is measured. Working on strategies for an ad campaign clients would always ask how the work would translate into sales. Ads plays a role in driving sales but that is not their primary objective. Ads work best to drive salience by engaging our emotions, building associations in our mind so when we are in an aisle subconsciously we would be driven to choose the brand among a plethora of choices screaming right at us. The goal of shopper marketing however is to make sure all the work that has been done before the shopper gets into the aisle pays off and we can actually get them to choose us. Shopper marketing is truly about closing the sale and nothing else. That makes the job that much harder and more challenging. You can create all the fuzzy marketing in the world but in the end if you are not closing the sale it’s all for nothing. And this was something I had truly never done. All my work was to define what a brand stood for, to help businesses have a chance at owning a bit of space in the heart and mind of the consumer. It was never really about closing the sale! 

So how do you close a sale you might wonder? Bring on the BOGO of-course or that $2 price off coupon! How strategic right? Wrong! For one shopper strategy is pretty much like doing strategy for any other channel but there are a few fundamental differences. For one it demands a razor sharp focus. You need to really get into the mindset of the shopper. Sounds clichéd? Hang tight! It’s really about getting into their heart and mind as a shopper NOT as a consumer. What are they thinking as they are planning to buy your category or your brand? Is it something they plan for? Put it on their list? Or is it more impulse? In other words, what kind of trip mission are we talking about. For example a treasure hunt trip is more of an enjoyable trip when shoppers are looking for unexpected treasures when they are likely to browse more, buy on impulse or be open to exploring categories off their list. A big stock-up trip is more a weekly or monthly grocery shopping trip when it’s about getting everything on the list with some categories listed right down to the brand and form. Not something we think about when developing a TV ad right? And this is only the beginning. The second big difference is the retailer perspective. You can’t win the shopper if you can’t win the retailer. Unlike strategic thinking for other channels, shopper work requires a three-way approach – the brand, the shopper and the retailer. Here one needs to understand things from a retailer perspective, how is the category performing? What are the priorities for the retailer? How can we solve their problem and not just our own? This requires digging into data related to the retailer and the category we are solving for. The retailer won’t care if our approach means the brand is going to steal share from other brands in the aisle. That means from an overall category perspective we have simply shifted sales from one brand to another. We didn’t help the retailer increase their revenue from that category. In other words, we would only win with retailers if we are getting more shoppers buying more of everything. To win placements in an out of aisle we have to prove to retailers that what we are offering is not going to steal share from what’s already in their store but is going to get a different set of shoppers to the retailer.  Again not something we think about when we are developing a digital strategy for example. If you don’t win the retailer your brand won’t get listed and all the marketing in the world simply won’t matter. 

Lastly with all the data about the shoppers and the retailer we haven’t got what we need to convert until we can find a compelling reason for them to choose us. In the world we live in, we have long moved on from “building a better mouse trap”. The truth is for many categories there isn’t much to differentiate one brand from the other. Even if there is, it may not be enough to get shoppers to choose us. Therefore what do we here? This is the critical last step which is the cornerstone of all brand and communication strategy work – the insight. However for shopper marketing the journey to the illusive insight starts with the shopper profile. Not just the demographics of a certain generation but really focusing on the shopper of that specific retailer buying that specific category or brand.  This is part art and part science. The science is the data from sources like MRI or Simmons to really understand the shopper in every possible way. But then it goes further – the strategic leap to discover an underlying human truth that would drive all the creative work and eventually get shopper’s attention in and out of store to buy us. Without divulging into anything confidential this could be the wanderlust of a certain shopper that would excite them to choose us through the experience we can create in-store and online to differentiate us from the competition. Or it could be tapping into a passion that drives them to visit a certain retailer and how we can fuel or protect their passion. Or it could be reframing why shoppers do what they do? What may seem like just an outdoor trip with family maybe driven by something much deeper. Can’t say no more. With the nugget of an insight the planner has set the ship on the right course to get the creative team going and eventually setting up the client to win not only the shopper but the all important sell-in meeting with their retailer. And that is shopper marketing in a nutshell! Welcome to my world 🙂 

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