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A new shopper marketing playbook

A new shopper marketing playbook Katie Neil

There is a lot of debate about shopper marketing -- even about its definition. Frankly, it's pretty simple: It's about understanding people. It's about knowing when, where, and why they shop. And most importantly, it's about how marketers can use that knowledge to enlighten themselves about how to connect with shoppers along this journey.

It's a journey that can cross digital or traditional media; that can encompass pre-shop, shop, and post-shop phases; and that can involve private and public engagements by shoppers. These sound like a lot of factors, but they actually help simplify the dynamic shopper universe.

A new shopper marketing playbook


Today, the definition of shopper marketing is expanded by the merging of digital and traditional in-store marketing communications. These media need to be considered in combination as ways of connecting brands, retailers, and shoppers -- and ultimately inspiring purchase. This connection should also build brand equity, develop sustained relationships with shoppers, and drive a positive return on investment. That is the magical power of shopper marketing.

When executed well, shopper marketing creates powerful connections across digital and traditional media along three key phases -- pre-shop, shop, and post-shop. For shopper marketers, these key phases are not new, but it's useful to pull them apart and look specifically at how digital impacts them.


Pre-shop is the phase when we connect with shoppers prior to product selection -- while they are researching and informing their purchase choices. The goal during this phase is to generate demand and to create awareness and desire for the brand and the retailer. Through digital media, often this is done through brand and retailer websites, social media, email, "daily deal" subscriptions, search, apps, and even digital coupons. In contrast, traditional media makes pre-shop connections through direct mail, circulars, print, and television.

Shop is the phase when brands and products connect with shoppers literally while shopping. This can happen at the two places people part with their money -- in-store and online. The goal with this phase is to aid in product selection and navigation, ultimately resulting in purchase. In the store, this is achieved through zone messaging, sampling, couponing, in-store TV, and point-of-sale materials. We see digital intersecting with in-store media through the use of barcode scanners, QR codes, GPS product location, radio-frequency identification, mobile couponing, and even through augmented reality. When we look at the online space, we see some of the same theories as in-store, but the purchase decision is further reinforced through access to product reviews, comparative prices, and product claims.

Post-shop is the phase where we continue the connection with shoppers after they have made their purchase choice. The goal in this phase is to reinforce the shopper's good decision and deepen their relationship with the brand and retailer. Digital can really win here through product ratings, blogs, email, social media, and customer-relationship management.

Shopper marketers could lose themselves in just these three phases -- or in any one of them. But let's add another layer to make it really interesting: the personal and private motivations that can be barriers to shopping. For example, fear of failure is a strong barrier to purchase. "How can I be sure I am choosing the right tile for my bath, lotion for my skin type, or baby food for my toddler?" During the pre-shop, shop, and post-shop phases, when marketers layer in public and private motivations, they get added perspective in creating those connection points. How much are shoppers willing to engage with a brand to exhibit their opinions publically versus private research and the private selection of products? For shopper marketing, it's about connecting the nuances within the shopper's emotional and rational need states and determining what, when, and how it's appropriate for your brand to engage.


The goal of private engagements is to convey the "intimacy" of your brand in communication points the shopper can connect with at home or on personal devices. This allows shoppers to engage on their terms and achieve a level of comfort, knowledge, and confidence before committing to a purchase. It also allows shoppers the time to understand the process of how the brand fits into their lives and the benefits. And just as information can be consumed without public interaction, sometimes results are best tracked that way as well. An example is skincare. When it takes the consumer a week or two to see the results of a new product, it's most effective for a brand to track her satisfaction in a personal way, through post-purchase online engagement versus publically at a store display.

Public engagements more openly reflect the shopper's choices. When the shopper outwardly engages with (or purchases) a product or service -- whether in-store or online through "liking" a product or posting about a purchase, for example -- the choice reflects on the shopper. Public engagement tools generate, require, and encourage shoppers to interact in a dynamic way. They should captivate the shopper, personalize the experience, and allow sharable content to deepen the relationship with the brand.

Once again, shopper marketing is simply and directly about people. It's about studying, motivating, and connecting with them authentically, and it's about seeing through and across media, shopping phases, and engagement types to find compelling insights and inspiration. This gives us a multi-dimensional view of the shopper. When done wisely, creatively, and authentically, shopper marketing can impact where and when a person purchases a product. It can eliminate shopping trips or redefine them. And it can enhance the shopping experience by bringing context to the brand beyond the store -- by making magic happen.

Shopper marketing offers the heart-and-mind connections that create healthy brands, drive ROI, and sustain loyalty far beyond the trip down the aisle. 

Katie Neil is VP account management at Schawk Retail Marketing.

Co-authored by Heidi Schoeneck, SVP executive creative director at Schawk Retail Marketing.

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"Pixeled word Shopper on digital screen 3d render" image via Shutterstock.

With 20+ years of marketing experience with leading consumer product companies and agencies, Katie Neil is Vice President, Account Management, at Anthem, a global creative agency that actively connects brands with people by amplifying...

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