A new shopper marketing playbook

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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.