10 Ways Shopper Marketing Can Help to Improve Sales in a Tough Economy

A ten-point plan for leveraging Shopper Marketing in difficult economic times to deliver better returns on marketing investment.

Although Shopper Marketing has only really permeated the marketing mainstream over the last few years, its proponents argue that it is an important move away from the short term and adversarial past of trade marketing and sales promotion tactics to a more strategic marketing discipline that has a key role to play in an integrated marketing approach.

And now we find ourselves in a recession where those very same tactical initiatives are the ones that conventional wisdom suggests we should favor.

So if Shopper Marketing really is a key strategy for driving sales and a different approach to the past, what principles can we draw upon to deliver greater returns?

Here are ten ways that I believe Shopper Marketing can help to improve sales in these challenging times.

1. Sell to the shopper, not the consumer.
Utilizing insight into shopper behaviors and motivations is a key principle of Shopper Marketing and the main differentiator over traditional ‘brand push’ strategies. In times of change, when shoppers will be thinking harder about every item they put in their basket, such understanding is more critical than ever.

Consumers use, shoppers buy. Shopper Marketing complements the ‘passive’ awareness and preference building role of consumer marketing by focusing on the ‘active’ purchase decision making process of the shopper.

Do you understand the barriers to purchase for your brand and category and how they may have changed as a result of economic pressures? Has the consumption occasion changed, what role does price now play versus other factors such as convenience, wellness or sustainability?

Are shoppers’ trips and missions changing in a way that will affect your brand? Are your shoppers making fewer, bigger and more planned trips? Are they shopping different channels in different ways?

2. Know your brand
Every brand marketer commits significant resource to understanding how their brands are perceived by consumers, but do they have the same understanding of the assets and equities that influence shopper choices?

In a recession, non-essentials are hit the hardest – how can you make yourself essential? Price is undoubtedly a major driver of choice but it is not the only one. How important are trust, quality and familiarity?

What opportunities are created by changes in usage or consumption occasion? How can you re-frame value? Consider how you can ‘Up’ the benefit and ‘Down’ the price to remove or minimize the inevitable trade-offs shoppers will have to make.

Kraft is promoting the taste, value and nutritional benefits of its cheese slices when used to make a toasted cheese sandwich. Trading up to a premium laundry detergent to prolong the life of expensive clothes may be a wise financial decision. Remaining loyal to a bottled premium beer may be important if nights on the town are substituted by nights in. Hallmark is stressing the variety of powerful emotions that can be unleashed – by sending a 99c card. Emotional imagery at the point of purchase may dissuade pet owners from compromising on quality or treats for their beloved pets.

3. Offer solutions.
Keep in mind that the final purchase decision is made in favor of the product or selection of products that provides the shopper with the most convenient response to her or his shopping motivation.

What is the purpose of that particular trip and how is it impacted by financial considerations?

Think about themes, co-locations and adjacencies that address shoppers’ needs for value – healthy meal options for the whole family, fun nights in that won’t break the bank, pamper yourself and be kind to your purse, save money and save the planet.

4. Collaborate
If shopper insight is a central pillar of Shopper Marketing, so is retailer collaboration. Recessionary pressures will affect shopper segments in different ways, presenting different challenges and opportunities to each retailer.

Understanding how your retail partners are reacting to these changing times and working with them to meet their own shoppers’ evolved needs will deliver incremental returns for both parties.

What programs will they be developing? How do they relate to your shoppers? How can you bring your knowledge of consumption and usage occasions to the retailer’s knowledge of buying behavior?

Working with Kraft and Wal-Mart, under the ‘Simple Mealtime Ideas’ banner, we provided convenient, affordable and delicious meal solutions for their price conscious shoppers. The program was communicated in-store with POP materials, on in-store screens, sampling and out of store on walmart.com, with email blasts and print ads.

5. All shoppers are not the same.
Just like the general population, shoppers are not one homogenous mass. Exciting demographic changes present segmentation opportunities for focusing tailored offerings and messages whether that be based on ethnicity, age, families or singles. All have distinct needs that will be affected by an economic downturn.

And it’s not just about pure demographics. How does a shopper’s frugal financial mindset relate to other more positive areas of interest like health & wellness and sustainability?

6. Think about the path to purchase.
Whilst the ‘first moment of truth’ is undoubtedly when a shopper selects one brand over another, the decision making process does not take place entirely at the shelf.

If shoppers are planning or combining their trips more or looking for deals, what role do coupons (and coupon websites) play, is on-line a channel for raising awareness, do retailers loyalty programs influence planning decisions, can radio talk to your shoppers while they drive to the store?

7. Align your brand and sales teams
Those organizations that see winning with shoppers as the sole remit of the sales and customer teams will not be as successful as those that realize shoppers’ changing habits need to be addressed by the whole organization.

Recession beating solutions may present NPD opportunities, require new pack formats or equity communication that focuses on relevant attributes. This will require an integrated planning process with brand and sales teams working in unison.

8. Keep it simple
In times of change and uncertainty, clarity is key. Value messages, especially in-store should be simple and to the point. If things get too complex, shoppers will resort to the cheapest price.

Shoppers will also look for familiar cues of trust and re-assurance. Combine relevant value messages with these valuable equities. Be proud and confident and not apologetic. Shoppers are looking for re-assurance that they are making the right choices. Be transparent and don’t sell people what they don’t need – you will lose their trust and loyalty.

9. Innovate wisely
While marketing in a recession is undoubtedly about marketing to the core (brands, consumers and retailers) times of change create new opportunities as consumers and shoppers re-evaluate their needs.

New segments will emerge from changes in consumption and shopping behaviors while digital technologies in and out of store present new engagement opportunities. Whilst all expenditure should be carefully considered, an insight led and integrated planning approach can reveal opportunities for competitive advantage that can last well beyond the current recession.

McDonald’s for example, is currently targeting Starbucks dominance with a value and convenience message that, if successful, may fundamentally change the behavior of certain coffee drinkers. P&G’s cold wash detergents appeal to both a value and environmental mindset.

10. Evaluate constantly
This recession is far from over and none of us knows how things will play out. More change is certain however.

It’s important that we stay close to the consumer and our retail partners ensuring our products and messages are relevant to their needs and remaining flexible as these needs change.

Jonathan Dodd
Director of Strategy
Retail & Shopper Practice Leader

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