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Attention, shoppers: The evolving importance of shopper marketing

Shopper marketing has a different definition no matter who you ask. It’s tangible and intangible, it's behavioural and factual, it’s subconscious, it’s purposeful. Unfortunately for those trying to implement it, it’s all the above. While shopper marketing has no straight definition, it does have a clear goal - to grow brand loyalty and recognition which will eventually convert into sales.

By Courtney Devereux | September 5, 2019 | News

Derek Larsen of Frucor Suntory.

Shopper marketing, in the simplest definition of ‘marketing to shoppers’ is not just one implemented type of marketing. It ranges from the fit-out of your store and knowledge of your staff to digital signage, loyalty programs, shelf level placement of items, marketing campaigns, activations, packaging and the in-store experience. It is, in layman’s terms, the development and communication of your entire brand that influences individual shoppers. 

Shopper marketing focuses on the customer predominantly at the point of purchase. It is an integrated and strategic approach to a customer’s in-store experience which is seen as a driver of both sales and brand equity. Shopper marketing is making sure your brand and in-store experience are not just enticing to consumers but can also convert attraction to engagement. 

When someone is shopping a lot is going on. Consumers may be pressed for time, considering budget, become distracted, or generally just want to get in and out as seamlessly as possible. For Tom Roydhouse, managing partner for marketing agency Raydar, “It’s about understanding that landscape and frame-of-mind and communicating to people accordingly.”

Raydar is an agency which specialises in marketing and shopper marketing campaigns. Throughout its experiencing leading campaigns with some of New Zealand’s biggest brands, it has noticed the growing prevalence of shopper marketing in the fight for brand loyalty. 

“Shopper marketing has traditionally focused on the execution end of the spectrum, and 10 years ago you could have gotten away with that,” Roydhouse says. “Today, we are seeing a need to be cleverer and more creative to succeed. When I first started in agency you could place a product shot on a coloured background with the line from the TVC. That’s not the case anymore.”

Consumers’ attention is fleeting, and brand equity and loyalty are becoming the most important aspects of converting interest into sales. Aaron Taylor, creative director at Raydar says a lot more goes into shopper marketing than what you can see and touch. 

“Our view is that it’s not so much about the channel or the physical store, but more of the different shopper mindset that we are recognising and communicating to.”

Taylor says that although Raydar works mostly towards physical campaigns for their clients, a large majority of what it does comes down to subconscious and influential factors of its marketing. This means a significant focus is put on behavioural drivers and how to manipulate them. 

“We can’t change the innate construct of the human mind, but we can understand behaviour and deep-rooted drivers better. And we can use that knowledge to develop communication approaches that when combined with creativity, become very effective.”

Shopper marketing is starting to focus more around insights, planning and results than it is about the execution. Getting in front of consumers isn’t the hard part - remaining in their mind is. As Roydhouse confirms, execution is just a small slice of the process now for clients. 

Yet he says even execution “can range from packaging to category development to digital development, the process to deliver results is different in every sector for every client.” Roydhouse notes customising shopper marketing for client briefs is an important drawcard for Raydar, and credits it back to the insight steps their team takes before reaching any creative steps. 

“Understanding the brief, the objectives and ‘why’ we are doing this is key. Getting all that information upfront helps ensure we’ve got what we need to develop and craft a campaign we feel is going to the best possible job for the client based on the objectives.”

Taylor, as a creative director, is understandably focused on running those creative ideas. For him, the insights and understanding of individual clients are all part of creating an effective shopper marketing campaign. 

“It sets a solid platform for generating creative ideas, which is an essential part of our approach – the head and the heart working together. For any effective shopper campaign, we feel it’s important to have an emotive idea at the heart of it, something that can communicate irrespective of where it needs to turn up.”

Aaron Taylor and Tom Roydhouse of Raydar.

Driven by digital demand 

For the Raydar team, a physical store is only one aspect, and a growth of demand in digital has brought in the importance of catering to all channels. Roydhouse says digital is becoming bigger in all sectors, and preparation for its growth has been a big drawcard for some of its clients. 

A 2018 American study titled, ‘All you need to know about shopper marketing’, showed interesting insights into the digital demand. It showed almost 50 percent of shoppers searched in-store using digital methods and 20 percent say they changed their mind about a purchase after being influenced by in-store media. 

Alongside the snowballing influence of digital and online channels, Taylor sees more product innovation and diversification happening as markets become busier and more competitive. 

“The retail landscape is becoming more and more consolidated, but people also have so much more choice on offer. The core principals remain truer than ever, effective shopper marketing can convert brand equity and awareness into an actual purchase at the most crucial points of influence.”

Frucor Suntory is an Australian drink company and the market leader in energy drinks in Australia and New Zealand. The company has been working alongside Raydar for years when constructing shopper marketing campaigns towards the New Zealand audience. Derek Larson, head of shopper marketing for the company says campaigns are important to remain in the minds of busy consumers. 

“Awareness is one thing, but mental availability is the goal; being noticed, being remembered and thought of in a buying situation. Building mental availability means shoppers are already primed before they get into the store. The research is pretty clear on the benefits of attracting the most buyers to ensure long term sustainable growth, so we try and sweat our brand assets to turn up ‘big’ at moments when our products are most relevant.” 

He says implementation of shopper marketing for Frucor Suntory is all about commercial delivery, whether through investment or driving long term growth. Yet in a market that’s already familiar with the brands Frucor Suntory supplies, it allows for a broader scope of perception. 

“We may be building on a strong identity but finding new ways to engage with shoppers is enjoyable. Other times you have to be careful that messaging is authentic to the brand.”

Larson says partnering with a strategic agency like Raydar helps with Frucor Suntory’s portfolio of 40 plus brands who, “all require love and attention.” 

“Our core capabilities are complementary, and they work well with our other agency partners and it means we have access to a skill set that is both broad and deep.”

Lizzi Whaley, CEO of Spaceworks.

In it for the aesthetic 

The average human makes around 35,000 decisions per day, with the majority of those being subconscious. Roydhouse says a trend analysis of Raydar’s latest shopper marketing campaigns shows that in a busy market full of noise, the quickest way to stand out is through simplicity. 

“Shoppers tend to deselect before they select. Usually, due to the fact of high volumes and the desire to get in and out, shoppers discard several choices before they make a choice. So one way you can stand out is through simplicity. The same lessons in simplicity reign true on digital channels.”

Taylor agrees that more and more on the creative side, simplicity and minimalism are growing in popularity. However, he also notes it’s not a miracle cure for brands going through a quiet period, saying it still comes down to connecting your brand message to an individual. 

“We still need to communicate with heart and charm. It’s about having a shopper lens on the way we communicate, where the work will be seen and what need and mindset we are communicating to. It has to give someone, somewhere a reason to stop, pick up, and we know that will lead to a purchase.”

Lizzi Whaley, CEO of commercial design and fit-out company Spaceworks, agrees that getting that brand message across is more important than flashy gimmicks and shallow attempts to connect with anyone. For her, shopper marketing is how we communicate with consumers through a multitude of ways.

“It’s how to present value in the product, it’s how the products are shown off and how that all converts to a sale. Shopper marketing is both tangible and intangible and it’s a combination of aspects of engagement to get people to consume… These days more people are leading with customer experience at the forefront. The experience is about a feeling that a person had, not only just what they see.” 

She says that fit-outs are a direct influence for shopper marketing just as much as a campaign or a sale day would be. To her, the store’s fit-out is the physical representation of the brand and must reflect its message. 

“Fit-outs are key because they’re the first impression. The moment a person sees the store from the outside or the moment they walk in, they get that initial impression and a feeling. The fit-out can be directly responsible for how people can shop the store, how they find product and how the product value is represented in the store.”

She says that a common issue with New Zealand shopper marketing in any sector is the lack of communicating the brand message. Instead of taking an opportunity to connect your customer to your journey and remain in their head, businesses are, “basically telling people how to suck eggs.”

“Some people, with shopper marketing, still try to make things so obvious that don’t need to be obvious, so then they miss out on telling the true story. When you’ve got a physical environment, how you’re going to get people back to the store is to create that brand loyalty. Businesses exist with a reason and a purpose, so they need to tell it. Creating that heartfelt connection with why you’re in business, is how to connect to people and make them want to support the business.”

The international advantage 

Whaley spends a chunk of time internationally analysing trends that will most likely trickle down to our market. She says compared to our overseas counterparts, our shopper marketing, “definitely sits behind the eight balls.”

“It can come down to our population which drives the budget. Money can buy you more to reach more people which then justifies sales and the money that you spent. It’s not that our retailers don’t try, but we just won’t be able to meet the international stage.” 

Our size and geographical location have both pros and cons when it comes to shopper marketing. On the downside we are smaller which limits reach and budget. On the flip side, as we often copy international trends, the campaigns we copy have most likely already seen success, resulting in low-risk work.

Whaley says smaller local brands with their shopper marketing will have more luck focusing on the in-store experience, through mechanisms such as digital and aesthetic styling. “Our size affects the ability to spend money in-store which affects how people perceive the brand.”

Roydhouse and Taylor say that even with their shopper marketing campaigns they carry out, there are many best in class international examples that they refer to. 

“We watch the trends that are happening overseas in comparable markets and it can tell us what to expect in our market in the next few years,” says Taylor. “In many cases though, we find that our approaches and understanding are at the forefront with other markets.”

“Our planning department keeps their finger on the pulse in that regard,” Roydhouse agrees. “Constantly searching for trends and campaigns that we see overseas and like. It can be anything from a display to a product format, to a new way of sampling.”

According to Roydhouse, who has worked both in New Zealand and internationally in the agency sector, he says a lot of the time the smartest shopper campaigns go unnoticed. 

“It could be something like the way a category or aisle is set out, the deliberate placement of product somewhere in-store or subtle changes of messaging. It’s that sort of stuff that people don’t even notice and whilst it may not be winning the creative awards, it is certainly driving conversion and commercial returns.” 

In, out, and all around us

Paul Fitzgerald is the CEO of Lumaten, a company which offers a new level of insight into shopper behaviour using virtual reality. Lumaten’s Shopper360 platform tracks movements of a shopper’s subconscious mind while they’re in this virtual reality store. Fitzgerald works closely with the FMCG categories, which rely heavily on how aisles are set out to influence shoppers indirectly to increase basket size. 

“The implementation of shopper marketing can be quite difficult. With a lot of retailers and mostly FMCG, they’re very selective and controlling about the kind of shopper marketing methods they allow brands to implement within the store. Even if a brand has a great idea, getting the retailer on board can be quite difficult.” 

Fitzgerald says in his experience, everyone wants to make money, but gaps fall between good ideas that run the risk and the consistent messaging a lot of larger brands try and stick too. Shopper360’s method is to create a virtual reality version of a store and introduce a test subject shopper. These people then use the devices to show how they’d shop in any given situation. Acting as the middleman between supplier and retailer, they can provide real-life insights into potential shopper marketing executions. 

“Because we can build the store in VR, we’re not constrained by format or policy, so we can test anything. Because we can capture the video and show what happens, we can put the retailer into the environment, it becomes a much more compelling story.” 

“Showing a brand message is easier through visual channels because clients are more inclined to believe what they see. As well as that we provide the data that stems from the study, so when you link the quantified results back to the visual immersion it gets a better response.” 

He says retailers can be justifiably sceptical around research as it often skewed around what people are trying to sell. For Lumaten, real results and insights are important to show a return on investment is possible. 

“What we’re doing is changing the way that research is informing shopper marketing. We don’t consider ourselves niche, and VR is an important part of our platform. We target a broader market because shopper marketing is something that is becoming very critical… There is a massive gap in terms of insights to how shoppers’ shop. Consumers make thousands of decisions, and there is limited availably of information as to why they do what they do.” 

The Shopper360 experience can map out any store with study participants ranging from 50 – 500 in a single study. Normalising the VR experience for everyone involved is a first step before people are allowed into the virtual store, as Fitzgerald says it’s important to get real results that aren’t tampered by the excitement of using VR for the first time. 

“The psychology of shopping is important to us, and that involves how long people spend moving around and looking at things… The VR experience doesn’t disrupt the way stores operate, and it means a lot more shopper marketing can be tested before its executed.” 

Fitzgerald acknowledges that shopper marketing is particularly difficult in FMCG as the sheer number of products increases competition for any supplier who is trying to stand out. 

“When you walk into a supermarket, there is usually about 20,000 products to pick. And if you think that shoppers make rational decisions, 90 percent of those are made up subconsciously… Customers deselect before they select, and they look for characteristics unconsciously too, things like colour, placement, brand and pricing stickers. Those all become critical because they’re the unconscious drivers of our decisions.” 

The visual lesson of Shopper360 by Lumaten reduces the operational risks for a lot of big retailers. Fitzgerald acknowledges quite often though making those changes can be quite risky, the challenge for a lot of big retailers is if they make any changes to their physical environment, they bear all the operational risks.

“Shopping is at the heart of everything we do, and the technology enables us to do what we do with less risk. What it does, in the end, is understand how shoppers’ shop, and how to influence shopper behaviour too drive transactions for our clients, whether that’s a retailer or a supplier.”

Connection over competition 

The heart of shopper marketing sits where people make those unconscious decisions and processes that they don’t often understand themselves. Yet it doesn’t always remain as technical and intangible, sometimes it is as simple as creating an interactive campaign where customers that align with your brand get involved.  

Lew Bentley, owner of shopper marketing solution agency Energi, says it’s about knowing how to create demand for your brand as more competition in the same space requires personal connections to relate to a possible purchaser. 

“You need to understand how you generate demand in your category. Because demand for anything is influenced by different factors, some of them come down to the market, who’s available, and who stands out.”

In Energi’s work as a strategic brand partner, Bentley says in most cases demand is influenced by a large range of contributing factors, but what importance is largely placed on is the human connection that insights and numbers often forget. 

“In the end, data doesn’t buy anything, people do. There is a huge thing in marketing these days about being data-driven, and that is valuable, but you need to be able to translate things into human terms. And what shopper marketing does it is humanising the products. You can take a product which is just an item in a box, and shopper marketing turns it into human value.”

Managing director of Energi, Louise Bentley, says that people want to be involved with brands, and creating real-life campaigns that grow awareness is an easy way to get shoppers to connect and identify with your brand or purpose, especially she says if the campaign is interactive or offers promotional goods. 

“People will get involved with engagement because people like to be included with things that are happening that provide privileges and experiences. It’s all about customer centred experience first.” 

Ultimately, for a brand or product to be a commercial success, it needs to be purchased. Applying shopper marketing principles will give it the best chance. The role of brand is incredibly important and Raydar’s Roydhouse says he believes for the ultimate shot at success they need brand and shopper to be working in unison as marketing becomes more important. 

“We believe that shopper marketing is only going to become more prevalent. Although the world is changing around us, people are still going to make purchase decisions. How these decisions are made may change however some intrinsic human behaviours have remained the same for centuries when it comes to purchasing. Our job is to understand the evolving world we live in and how people shop and combine that with what we know about human behaviour when it comes to purchasing.”

Roydhouse says that for brands looking to start or improve their shopper marketing journey, it’s important to take a “shelf-back approach.” Taking a step back and understanding what barriers and triggers there are in a purchase process and understand the challenges that may appear along the way.

Taylor’s advice is similar, to stop and see the wider opportunities that may come from those challenges. 

“The scope of what you can do maybe bigger than you may first realise. It's indeed all about that crucial moment of purchase, but there is so much more to consider in building an effective shopper campaign that operates effectively throughout the path to purchase.”

Shopper marketing comes down to using strategic capabilities alongside clever thinking and creative work to have an impact on consumers in some way that will lead to influencing their choices. Shopper marketing is understanding who your customers are, what world they’re living in and how you can best connect your brands' purpose to any future needs they might have, in turn growing awareness, equity and loyalty further down the track. 

This story was created with support from Energi and Raydar.

This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 763 August / September 2019.

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