Is Shopper Marketing Dead?

December 11, 2018

By Jonathan Simpson

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Coming from me, a passionate shopper marketer, this question may seem odd. I've specialized in shopper marketing for more than eight years, have spoken at conferences about the need for shopper marketing, and now work globally with clients to help them develop their shopper marketing strategy and capability. So, why am I asking?


Experience-driven growth

I've seen and helped many service businesses adopt experience-led marketing as the core of their approach, resulting in disproportionate sales growth. CPG businesses are increasingly starting to see the benefits, but it's not something that can be done with the existing structures and siloed ways of working. It requires a fundamental change in how an organization goes to market.


What is experience-led marketing?

This implies simply seeing the full experiences of our consumers, shoppers, and other stakeholders to understand how to use each relevant touchpoint along the whole journey. This creates joined-up experiences that move people along the journey more effectively because the brand, or service, speaks to them in relevant ways and times in the right places. But who are we targeting, consumers or shoppers? Well the answer has to be "people." By thinking across the whole journey, companies are able to see where the issues and opportunities are, really invest in those, and work to join up the entire journey.


Don't just do what you've always done

For instance, in 2016 Domino's Pizza was in decline, so it planned to do what it always had to drive sales: more TV ads. However, by looking across the whole experience journey, they found that the issues were the pizza (so it improved the recipe) and the act of ordering, so it developed the "push for pizza" ordering app. Domino's now has more than $2 billion of sales from online each year, showing that focusing on the experience, rather than "doing what you've always done" really works.


A seamless experience journey matters

So, if we're really trying to market along the whole experience journey, thinking of "consumers" and "shoppers," no longer works. Disjointed working practices will lead to a disjointed experience journey, and it's a seamless journey that makes a difference with people. What does that mean for structures and ways of working?


Stage and gate processes no longer work

Often, CPG innovation and activation are developed according to a typical "stage and gate" process, where teams do their bit, and then pass it on to the next team, in exactly the same way Henry Ford built the Model T. This approach will get results, but deliver a formulaic experience.

If we want to deliver a seamless experience, we have to develop it seamlessly too. Teams composed of the people relevant to delivering that experience, not brand teams handing off to shopper teams handing off to sales teams, but brand, sales, and shopper people all working together on the experience, at the same time, in the same room, with the same goals. No silos, no "well I did my job," no finger pointing — just one team, all orientated around the journey, each bringing their special set of skills to the team to deliver one goal.


Fluid teams are the future

It requires much more agility in ways of working. Experience journeys can change quickly, so the old processes need to be significantly accelerated, with fast iterative cycles of test and learn replacing hours of consumer and shopper testing, delivering seamless experiences in real time, not six months later. For some journeys every function will be needed; for others it will only be some functions or skills — quite a change from the set teams we have now. Budgets will need to be more fluid and pointed toward where they're needed, rather than where money has always been allocated.


So, is shopper marketing dead?

As a department, maybe. But the same can be said for brand marketing and pure sales. These old silos, where brand dealt with "above the line" and shopper with "below the line" look outdated now, and will lead to the kind of disjointed experience that make people leave brands.

However, there is still a need for people who really understand how people shop, where they shop, and how behavior might be changed, just like there is still a need for people who understand how and when people consume media, and what messages appeal to them.


We still need to understand shoppers

Retail partners play a key role in the experience journey as our brands will be viewed and bought on their websites or in their stores. We have to ensure that what we are developing works for them and their shoppers, and this is where shopper marketing will still be needed: uncovering those great shopping insights, and developing the platforms that turn those insights into opportunities to change shopper behavior and deliver growth. We'll still need to understand our retailer's categories, and how we might help to grow them. Plus, we'll need to understand where our execution gaps are, and how to plug them in real time.

Shopper marketers will need to up their game to understand the role they play in the whole experience journey rather than being experts in the shopper journey. We will have to adapt as the world changes and answer questions like, what does voice mean for shopping? What does the Internet of Things mean for shopping? If a fridge orders beer itself, how do we influence that behavior? For years the first goal of shopper marketing was to get on the list, but what if there's no list?


So no, shopper marketing isn't dead

This isn't a eulogy for shopper marketing. I'm just as passionate about it as I ever was. It does need to change to play a part in delivering a great experience journey to people, but it's not only shopper that needs to change. Businesses need to understand where they are now, and where they want to get to, and quickly.


Jonathan Simpson is a commercial sales and shopper marketing consultant at OxfordSM.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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