Shopper Marketing: Art Or Science?By Manita Khuller
Is successful shopper marketing an art, or the product of rational, analytical thinking? Art is defined as the process that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions and intellect. Is this what we seek to create in shopper marketing?
Much has already been written about shopper research methodology, psychology and metrics, implying that science is what’s really behind successful shopper marketing. But all the science in the world still hasn’t given us the definitive answer on what ‘great’ shopper marketing looks like. As the buzz around shopper marketing increases, brands, and the agencies providing solutions for them, are still looking for answers.
In an age of 360-degree brand communication, it’s vital that we forge a successful marriage of both art and science.
Unfortunately, this is often taken to mean using integrated ‘media’, rather than integrated ‘communication’. And the ‘key visual’ is often a TV ad – just presented in a different media. Is the shopper really expected to instantly recognise the brand and make a purchase?
Brand guardians often demand that the brand’s message is consistent along the consumer’s path to purchase. But as shopper marketers, how can we separate the medium from the communication?
The reality is that consumers and shoppers are now making different decisions and reacting to different stimuli all along the path to purchase – right up to the last two feet before the checkout. Brand loyalties are fragmenting, and conventional reminders of brand equity don’t always persuade potential buyers to make the purchase.
Which is why a conventional 360-degree approach may no longer work.
Recent studies show that shoppers choose from a whole repertoire of brands, switching easily between them. And the retail space can be used to influence shoppers in multiple ways.
Brands invest millions to create awareness and ‘desire’, but often the reality is that, at the point of purchase – even with high brand awareness – the consumer still doesn’t buy.
Perhaps the brand is ‘invisible’ in-store, or a competing brand is talking to them more directly, or communicating a new promise. Perhaps they’re even influenced by a sales person.
In this example of ready-to-drink beverages from Asia, a key barrier to purchase is that the category is not important or habitual enough to make it to the weekly shopping list. So 70% of shoppers do not visit the supermarket beverage aisle on every trip. This is an issue for both the brand and retailers.
However, armed with the knowledge that when shoppers sample a new product in-store, they are more likely to buy it, the shelves in the beverage aisle were transformed into a ‘human refreshment bar’, where shoppers could taste new flavours. The result was an increase in traffic to the beverage aisle – and greater sales. Happy retailers, satisfied shoppers.
Stores are by far the most challenging environments for effective communication. They’re filled with competing point-of-sale materials and a deluge of messages. Shelf talkers, price tags, category headers, standees, floor stickers, on and off-shelf displays, in-store TVs, digital signage and promoters all distract shoppers. They need to navigate through congested aisles and are often constrained by time and budgets. It’s not surprising, then, that attention spans are limited. Shoppers are confronted by an average of 300 SKUs every five seconds if they browse the aisles at normal speed.
The experience is very different from sitting on a couch watching a TV ad or flicking through a magazine. In-store, a brand has to shout louder than the competition to get the most attention. Many brands simply spend more on retail media to create a voice in-store, but this alone is not sufficient. As trade spends spiral out of control, brand marketers are desperately seeking new, more cost-effective strategies. Just as in traditional advertising, integrating more creative solutions with overall marketing objectives generates better results. Good shopper creative displays the following qualities:
- Shopper navigation: a great creative idea can lead the shopper along the way to purchase. A deep understanding of the store environment and of the relevance of each touchpoint can feed the creativity of the message. Recency, immediacy and relevance play a huge role in the effectiveness of a message and the impact of the creative execution. This is one of the reasons why above-the-line adaptation just doesn’t work in the store: it lacks recency and immediacy.
- Education: shoppers seek information. The more they can learn about a product, the more willing they will be to purchase it – especially if it’s a new product. Here, the creative challenge is to choose which bits of information are the most relevant to the shopper – then convey them simply and effectively.
- Simple, yet inspiring: often, this is the biggest challenge. Once all the constraints of the retail environment have been solved, our creative message needs to be inspiring while also being big, visually impactful, straightforward, informative and engaging – while also making the branding noticeable – all within a matter of seconds.
- Strong and visible design: this has an important role in shopper marketing communications. The single most important brand communicator in-store is product packaging. Use contrast in packaging design and other communications, with large blocks of colour and strong branding to maximise impact. When shelves are filled with ‘screaming’ packages, simpler examples, like Kellogg’s Special K or Coke Zero, work best.
Simple, high impact design, as used by Coke Zero, is an important part of creating standout in-store environments
- Ease of shopping: shoppers are often overwhelmed by choice in a category, so make your product easy to find and, most importantly, easy to understand. Different product variants should be simply segmented to facilitate comparison – by using different colours, for example.
- Intuitive and emotional factors: purchase decisions are not always rational, and the packaging needs to embody or represent key aspects of the brand. Does it convey the brand’s values, whatever they are? Is it more refreshing, healthier, more authentic or more high-tech than the competition? The Coca-Cola Company spends millions to create the ‘magic moments of emotional connect’ at their in-store fixtures – to follow through on their advertising, but tailor it to the shopping environment.
- A single, clear message: consumers don’t spend a lot of time studying the products they toss into their shopping cart, so the package and point-of-sale materials need to convey a clear message. Adding more claims, for example, will not increase the time the shopper spends reading and will dilute the message.
- Drive purchase: good design can promote usage. Packs for different usage – such as fridge packs and on-the-go packs – can help to drive up shopping basket value.
The ultimate criterion to evaluate the effectiveness of any in-store creative execution is impact on sales. P&G, a leading proponent of marketing effectiveness, has implemented ‘innovation centres’, which are artificially created store environments designed to measure the effectiveness of display designs and in-store communication materials. The ‘Store Back’ challenge to agencies is to find holistic creativity that works both inside and outside the store at the core of the ‘big idea’. A significant increase in budget or spend allocation on shopper marketing will not happen until the creative effectiveness of in-store communication can be accurately measured and proven.
So is creative excellence in shopper marketing an art or a science? Probably, a bit of both.
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