Staying ahead of the shopper marketing shift

Simon Tebbutt reviews the current fascination with shopper marketing and reveals the key sticking points of the discipline.


Shopper marketing is on the move again. The shopper train has left the station and is now picking up pace and exploring new and different routes. Like any discipline, it grows with acceptance and application, while improving and reshaping. We need to keep up, or better still, keep ahead of the shifts in shopper marketing.

So what are the key look-outs or shifts in the shopper discipline? Why has it suddenly become more relevant in marketing circles and how can it actually help to better improve both brand and retailer trading relationships?


Shopper marketing is not just about the shopper

While we now have a better understanding of the shopper as well as understand how they behave in-store in each category, we cannot guarantee a successful campaign by simply understanding them alone. A full shopper marketing activity relies on the support of all of stakeholders – including brand, sales/customer team, category and the retailer.


Collaboration is key to success

Seek genuine collaboration with mutual benefit from a common gain. Too often, collaboration can feel like a compromise. There is a massive difference as compromise feels like a loss. In this classic trading relationship, the convention is for stakeholders to come together and battle with pre- prepared plans. This feels like a platform for negotiation, rather than collaboration.

If we agree and work to a process that is inclusive and exploratory from the beginning, genuine collaboration is possible. In working with both brands and retailers, we can successfully unify them with the common goal of ‘growth’. The brand secures exposure and sales, while the retailer grows the category.


Shopper process – talk early and explore

A smart agency will ask the relevant questions of all stakeholder from the outset, to understand objectives and KPIs. Brand KPIs are very different to category KPIs. It’s not uncommon for brand people to be a little blinkered. They see the retailer as a promotional facilitator for their product. If brands took a step back and tried to understand and help the retailer, then there is a greater chance of mutual benefit – this is where the shift is. Brands are now starting to trade with ideas and assets rather than just margin.

Competitor collaboration is a big ‘no, no’ for many brands and many a client meeting has ended at this very suggestion. To be fair to the brands, this behaviour is both culturally odd and counter- intuitive as most aim to steal market share. Think about opportunities for competitor brands to come together to create an incremental event that also helps the category. This is where we reach the utopia of growth for both the brand and the retailer.

Equally, retailers could secure greater brand funding if they approached suppliers earlier – as brand communication planning works on much longer lead times than retailers. This planning misalignment only leads to tactical and commercially-driven activity.


Shoppers are changing

Coming back to the shopper – there is a shift here too, which presents an opportunity. Commonly, and despite comprehending the shopper needs, a promotional element will be introduced to encourage a greater purchase. This could be a lower price or the chance to win something. Both work, but both are tactical – therefore, often expensive. By understanding the shopper, we can better tailor activity beyond the short-term bribes. Get to know the Shopper and their mindset, not just in terms of the products they are looking to buy.

So how can you take charge of the shopper marketing shift?

  1. Seek to understand and solve the needs of all stakeholders – genuine collaboration,
  2. ensure any brand activity has a category benefit and ideally a retailer point of difference,
  3. work with your competitors, particularly if you are a leading brand – better to take the initiative and influence activity than wait and be told,
  4. include shopper marketing as part of your strategic thinking and give it plenty of lead time instead of just looking for a tactical solution to boost sales and eat away category share, and
  5. finally, understand the mindset of the shopper when applying promotional incentives – a price discount or cash is not always the answer.




Simon Tebbutt is head of shopper and retail strategy at ApolloNation.