Get to know your customer

The art of shopper marketing, says Andy Scott, lies in knowing how to apply branding messages in different retail environments

Shopper marketing is a phrase that is hard to avoid at the moment, and for good reason. As the recession bites, brands want to know their customers better to sell more products. And as we move away from shared consumption of mass media, brands must learn new ways of communicating with shoppers.

Shopper marketing consultancies are keen to prove their worth in this role. But amid all the smoke and noise, it is easy to lose sight of what such a simple phrase really means.

First off, shopper marketing is not sales promotion with a new name. It is a new discipline that requires companies to raise their game.

Shopper marketing is about influencing shopper behaviour. The purpose is to turn shoppers into buyers, and a large part of that challenge lies in interpreting above-the-line messages in stores. The interpretation is key – simply repeating an above-the-line message ad nauseum can mean a message is lost or filtered out.

I liken this to going on a dinner date with a very attractive companion, who makes a bright and perceptive point within the first five minutes – then goes on about it all night like a stuck record. A similar effect is achieved by taking a witty line from an ad campaign and smearing it over every piece of cardboard available until shoppers are bored stiff.

We are all familiar with the claim that 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are made in-store, but this figure is misleading and inaccurate. If it were ever true, it could only pertain to one category, in one store, at one particular time. Learning how decisions really occur opens up a world of opportunity.

It varies enormously between categories. We use different frames of mind when buying toothpaste, a gift, a television, or chocolate – yet all might be purchased in the same shop, even on the same visit. We shop differently when grabbing food to go at lunchtime than at the weekend; differently if in a forecourt or a large supermarket.

It is essential to recognise that shoppers change constantly. A ‘one size fits all’ communication strategy does not work. The problem for many brands is to admit that it never has. Shopper marketing is the science of finding the right message for the moment.

To become a shopper marketing specialist, existing consultancies must do more than add a phrase to their logo. Shopper marketing requires deep, upstream thinking. A shopper marketing consultancy must consider the shopper’s mission in the store – including what they already know about the retailer in question and the brands on sale. The fruit of this knowledge should not be a cardboard display, but an entire toolbox to help a brand communicate with shoppers.

So communication for Diet Coke, drunk mainly by women, will be pitched in a different way, in different places, to Coke Zero, which is favoured by young men. The latter might be highlighted by ads on petrol pumps, which the target audience might visit in the course of their working day, while Diet Coke could be highlighted more effectively 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.

To work effectively, shopper marketing must involve clients at the highest level, as a shopper marketing programme should reach to the heart of a company. Data analysis and customer profiling has a direct impact on product segmentation, even on the portfolio of products produced. That can’t be done via individual departments on an ad hoc basis.

Alongside the insight and scientific analysis that are prerequisites of a shopper marketing consultancy, it is imperative to offer top-level creativity. Insight and analysis are essential, but if they are not converted into strategic vision, the exercise can become purely academic. If there is one thing retailing 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 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.

Shopper Marketing:

  • A successful shopper marketing consultancy does more than simply add a phrase to a client’s logo
  • Shopper marketing is the science of finding the right message for the moment
  • Insight and analysis are essential
  • Shopper marketing is an often misunderstood concept – it’s not just sales promotions
  • In some impulse categories, 70% of purchase decisions are made in-store, and 80% of these decisions are made within four seconds
  • It is key to understand the shopper journey, and to comprehend how purchasing decisions occur

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