Is Shopper Marketing Dead?
At my agency this is obviously a question that is never far from mind. Or maybe more accurately if slightly less provocatively, what does the future of shopper marketing look like?
In the last few weeks a few specific pieces have really spurred me on to think about what the future of this 'discipline' is.
The pieces that drove this reflection were made by Peter McGuiness, the CMO of Chobani around demand creation, in particular his statement about seeing creative ‘sitting side by side with sales directors’ in retailer meetings and the great series of articles by Tom Goodwin on the 'bifurcation of shopping.'
It’s to this 'bifurcation of shopping' or the shopping experience I want to focus on first.
So where are the two streams of shopping heading and how have they diverged?
On one side we have the world of seamless buying.
This is a world that is instinctive, system 1, functional and rational. The key driver of which is total and complete ease.
Whether it’s the algorithms of Amazon, limited and curated choice retailers like Thread.com, subscription models such as Nespresso or the automated playlists of Spotify. It is ALL about the simplest choice architecture and the ease of completion of purchase.
Whilst originally, this world was created and dominated by digital businesses we have seen this kind of thinking spread quickly into across the physical world and companies such as Wasteless with the their 'Internet of Groceries' technology are the next wave of this.
So in this world, what, if any, is the role of shopper marketing?
Identify each touch-point and get to a deep understanding of the consumers behaviour in that moment. As it is this deep understanding of the behaviour at each of these touch-points where a new shopper marketing agency needs to prove its value.
Then make EVERYTHING shoppable. Embrace the power of technology to collapse the path to purchase to shortest possible distance at every touch-point.
Traditionally, shopper has focused on barriers to purchase, the new barriers to purchase are not just brand or occasion based but passwords, incumbent technology platforms or registration fields.
To solve these, we need to sit alongside our shoppers and have a deep understanding of their existing digital behaviours at all these touch-points so that that we can carefully retain them in THEIR WORLD of seamless buying.
From this understanding we can then build, adopt, utilise the best technology that connects to purchase. Whether it’s an AR, VR, RFID whatever takes your fancy as long as it is seamless and easy.
As Victoria Young said in her piece - Strategic UX: The Art of Removing friction - “Mastering the art of reducing friction through a combination of design and engineering creates a significant competitive advantage, especially when driving early user adoption and growth. It can be pivotal in the success of a technology company.”
It is also true to say that mastering the art of reducing friction will be pivotal for all brands in activating a successful shopper marketing strategy.
On the other side of the bifurcation divide is a world of “just browsing”.
This state is the opposite of the first in almost every way; this is a world that is deliberate, system 2 and emotional.
In this state we are seeking experiences that add value to us, our lives and to the purchase decisions we are making.
These experiences need to delight us, be memorable and deliver a greater sense of perceived value in the product we are acquiring. These are the shopper experiences that we use to define who we are.
The artisan bakery store selling a £15 loaf, hanging out with mates at Top Shop on a Saturday afternoon, the vinyl record store.
What’s fundamental for brands to realise when they activate in these moments is that the shopper must feel that this is about them, that their need to be informed, entertained and immersed is the primary driver.
This type of experiences requires a great leap for brands. The idea of putting human experience before a brand message is the antithesis of traditional brand activations, these have sought to express the brands values in a clear and consistent manner, to create a tsunami of brand expression so that a person is overwhelmed and immersed.
The new role of shopper here, to is to identify the real problem or tension sitting behind a brands objectives, that once resolved in a meaningful manner, can unleash growth.
Do this right and the outcome is an experience that combines needs of the shopper with the desired outcome of the brand. A perfect harmony of needs.
Work such as the Hungerithm for Snickers really nails this model, there is a clear problem — the anger on twitter between certain times — which has provided a great tension for the brand to solve. They then delivered this through an experience that solves this “problem” in a way that is memorable, emotional and says all the right things for the people experiencing it. In turn driving significant growth.
So what does this all mean for the future life of the shopper marketing industry?
Clearly brands and their agencies need a 'real human' understanding of each end of this axis and a deep understanding the existing behaviour of their shopper in each of these moments.
The industry must no longer see shopper as offline vs online, but as seamless vs experience or ease vs meaning.
If shopper marketing and clients can move from seeing shopper as in-store marketing activities to creating a shoppable layer across all touch-points and to creating memorable experiences rooted in human behaviour then there is a brilliant future for it and it is very much something for the future.
I’m particularly grateful to Tom Goodwin and others for inspiring these musings. Let me know your thoughts.