A Destination for Getting Ahead

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A Destination for Getting Ahead

By Bill Schober - 06/14/2018

“Midway upon the journey of life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”

- Dante Alighieri, “Inferno”

Those famous opening lines from “The Divine Comedy” – which, to be honest, are about all I remember from my college Comp Lit class – somehow sprang to mind the other day while reading, of all things, a LinkedIn group discussion. “Can shopper marketing be saved?” was the provocatively titled essay/report posted by our former colleague and competitor Tim Manners, the driving force behind the late, lamented “The Hub Magazine.”

According to Manners’ recent survey work, there’s a sense out there that, like poor old Dante, shopper marketing has veered off course, “failed to live up to its billing as a third way between sales and marketing,” and perhaps is “falling into the gulf that divides them.”

Now, considering that they seem to be knocking this magazine’s franchise, one might understand if we were a wee bit defensive about all of this. But in truth, this is a good, healthy debate to have and keep having – and one we’ve been having ourselves for a long time already.

For several years, Peter Hoyt and the magazine’s editorial team discussed, deliberated and delayed a name change before finally switching P-O-P Times over to Shopper Marketing in September 2008. We hesitated because we kept getting warned:

“Shopper marketing is a P&G-only fad” ... “Shopper is just an offshoot of CatMan” ... “Shopper was a good idea that’s run its course already.”

Shopper marketing, in short, has been both alive & kicking the bucket for as long as I’ve known it. One of our greatest Shopper Marketing Hall of Famers, Andy Murray, the CMO of Walmart’s UK subsidiary, Asda, recently weighed in on this topic, and said it better than I could: "We are still at the beginning stages of shopper marketing as a marketing discipline. I have no doubt." 

Manners’ article noted that simply defining the term has been problematic: “If you asked 15 people to define shopper you would get 30 different answers,” Manners wrote – a point that’s hard to argue with. But as the saying goes, “There are no problems – just challenges and opportunities.” So let me take this opportunity to share the Path to Purchase Institute’s definition:

SHOPPER MARKETING is a cross-functional discipline designed to improve business performance by using actionable insights to connect with shoppers and influence behavior along their paths to purchase.

Now, a few thoughts to go with it: The Path to Purchase Institute’s definition uses the term “cross-functional” because shopper marketing involves more than a sales/marketing alignment; it requires research, for example, in terms of insights development and program measurement; the account teams in terms of frontline business intelligence; and then there’s internal digital technology, category management, merchandising-support services and all the external digital, advertising and shopper-marketing specialists.

It emphasizes “business performance” because shopper marketing was conceived, in part, to deal with a number of changing marketplace realities, the most prominent of which being:

Traditional advertising/marketing is less and less effective; the shopper is more and more empowered; and strategic power is shifting away from brands to retailers.

The Institute’s definition also highlights “actionable insights.” Upward of 100,000 “new” products are introduced into FDMC channels every year (matrixed into a marketplace of stores already crammed with 30,000-45,000 existing SKUs), so it’s obvious that most products cannot and will not get textbook-definition shopper-marketing support.

You have to pick your spots by identifying relevant shopper needs and uncovering barriers to purchase.  Or as my colleague Steve Frenda likes to say, "Just pause for a moment ... widen the lens a bit ... and think of the discipline as 'effective marketing to shoppers.' A lot of the organizational consternation can be reduced and suddenly, the 'path to purchase' spans many of our brand and retailer silos."

Okay, halt … you may have noticed that our little definition quickly became a deep dive off of CliffsNotes. But that’s my point. Shopper marketing does work, but it requires a commitment to process, an understanding of best practices and, yes, structured training. 

Andy Murray again: "Over the years I’ve heard endless debates about the precise definition of 'shopper marketing' and what's 'in scope' or 'out of scope.' All of which I find a bit unhelpful. ... My point of view, as ill-informed and dated as it may be, is that shopper marketing, reframed as the customer journey, will be THE marketing discipline most relevant to big brands and big retailers for the foreseeable future. The pendulum has swung back to the most basic marketing tasks: Understanding how customers shop, why they shop, the barriers to reduce friction, and the tribal ritual embedded in the shopping cycle.

"It is a great time,” Andy adds, “to be identified as a shopper marketing professional."

And that’s what the Path to Purchase Leadership University (P2PLU) is all about: Professional development for all executives involved in marketing to shoppers, regardless of level of experience, in a way that’s convenient and immediately applicable to their shopper-centric job roles. I recommend a visit to P2PI.org/LeadershipU.

For another deep dive, you really need to give P2PX, the Path to Purchase Expo, a workout (Path2PurchaseExpo.com). The P2PX experience involves 70-plus vetted speakers, 100-plus exhibitors, interactive experiences and a whole lot of networking. 

Do our educational seminars and keynotes delve quite a bit deeper into the subject matter than some others out there these days? Yes; guilty. Nobody’s ever accused us of mounting breezy, skim-the-surface, “see-and-be-seen” events. And remember: "It’s a great time to be a shopper marketing professional."

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