Why would Blue Bunny ice cream want to partner with the Minnesota Twins for promotions? After all, isn't baseball pretty much a male-oriented sport, and aren't women still making many of the brand-level decisions when it comes to common food purchases like ice cream?
"We found out in the data we collect that women in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market have a particularly strong engagement with the Twins," says Bob Klein, chief strategy officer, Blue Chip, which works with 75 of the top 100 retailers and major consumer brands to develop marketing strategy at retail. According to Klein, understanding shopper behavior requires localized knowledge of how a specific region's shoppers interact with specific retail brands. Attitudes and affinities can vary market to market once you pull together all of the data now available online and off.
In the case of Blue Bunny, you might be able to reach women in Minneapolis via a Twins partnership, but the strategy wouldn't work with the Yankees in New York. "The way a female shopper in our core demographic engages with the NY Yankees is way different from the Minnesota Twins," he says.
Blue Chip aggregates quantitative data at retail with brand-supplied research, MRI research, in-store ethnographic research, and retailer-specific online attitudinal and usage studies in order to connect the right brand to the right shopper in the right venue. "Based on behavioral models, what we try to do here is understand what is the potential, not just by SKUs, but what is the potential to grow the client's brand based on a category and market conditions to see if that is a region or a retailer we should allocate dollars against," says CEO Stanton Kawer.
It is a matter of finding whether the right shoppers for the brand with the right mindsets and affinities are visiting a retailer. Much like online ad targeting, the next generation of in-store research is trying to map brands and their dollars against the most receptive venues, not just the ones with scale, and find the shoppers who will offer the brand the most lifetime value. "We discover sometimes that just because a retailer has market share doesn't mean it is the right retailer for all CPGs," says Kawer. In other words, it's not just reach; it is targeting, but done in the aisles.
In order to understand shopper motivation and determine where their brand clients should invest, Blue Chip is using general research layered with things like loyalty card data to see in detail what is happening at the retail level with certain kinds of shoppers, identifying the venues where their brands have the highest potential for finding the high-value brand loyalists. "We try to determine what is the value of the shopper for that brand," says Kawer. "How many more times are they going to put frozen lasagna in that cart in order to build that category?"
Leveraging retail-level insights requires collaborations among retailers and brands to identify the shoppers with the highest degree of emotional attachment to brands and devise in-store merchandising programs that target them. For instance, once of the most challenging tasks for retail marketing is to disrupt old patterns. A key aspect of in-store shopper behavior is "deselection," understanding why shoppers automatically deselect certain brands or categories.
The frozen fish aisle is a good example of this phenomenon, which Blue Chip had to tackle for Gorton's seafood line. Shoppers tend to see the familiar yellow boxes in the frozen food aisle and turn away because they identify the category with breaded, deep fried and fish sticks. But Gorton's has a grilled fish line that is proving very popular with the people who have tried it. "How do you get the shopper to engage in a different way when they are in the retail environment?" asks Klein. In this case it took a point-of-sale stand-up with grilled food imagery and even a sound chip with the crackle of the grill to disrupt the behavior of those passing by the frozen fish aisle.
And of course the socio-economic environment is another variable that affects shopper behavior. Retailers are rationalizing their SKUs and reducing the number of brands they carry. Often now there is the store brand and one or two others. Despite the slow return to consumer spending, attitudes have shifted considerably, says Klein. "Pre-recession, it was all about how the purchases I make measure my growth and station in life. We discovered there is a complete reorientation. With consumers and shoppers there is now nobility in being able to purchase value-priced products that are still quality. Marketing and merchandising need to shift in order to capture this new attitude."
The new shoppers may not be feeling very rich right now, but they still find ways to align consumption with self-worth. "There is pride that goes on there," says Klein. "Shoppers think they are in the know. ‘I figured it out. I did a smart thing. I am not defined by high-priced consumables but defined by choices I make.' We are going into Recession 2.0 and it is not about save, save, save. We are getting our footing and understand we are saving. But every message doesn't have to be about that. We attach quality messaging to value price, and consumers are looking at that as a good."
We are poorer, but smarter.