Shopper marketing -- what your customer actually encounters at the place of purchase, when she's deciding what to buy -- has gotten plenty of attention in the recession, with national brands fighting harder for every transaction. By some estimates, companies are spending $18 billion on it annually. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association says it will have the highest annual growth of all media -- even the Internet or social media.
But Sharon Love -- CEO of Dallas-based TPN, a shopper agency owned by Omnicom that represents such brands as PepsiCo, Hershey, Clorox and 7-Eleven -- thinks brands need to work even harder. Top of the list? Better insights in the way women think and shop.
Q: Why women? Aren't those "daddy driven" carts important?
A: We keep hearing about men doing more grocery shopping, and how fast that segment is growing. But it really is mom who is still in the driver's seat -- and what's interesting is we find that across the board, and across the globe, women are still making most of the decisions.
Q: When the recession first hit, some marketers dubbed mom as the new CFO, or chief frugality officer -- the spending cop. Is she still on the beat?
A: Yes, and that will be a permanent change. In reality, she always had that role. But what's different is that she knows she can find what she needs at a price she can afford -- and she'll keep shopping until she finds it. You don't replace a successful CFO.
Q: What's made her so sure she can find her price?
A: It's the whole trend toward transparency, authenticity and story-telling. Women have always talked to friends about what they were buying. But with social media and blogs, women can reach out to millions. Marketers who don't understand that are missing lots of opportunities. And channel shifting has helped her do that, too -- she's shopping in stores, but also online, via mobile, in pop-ups. And she's using technology to do her homework. I think women are just more investigative by nature.
Q: Private labels are more successful than ever. How can brands compete?
A: Private-label products have gotten really good. And I think most retailers see them as a way to create more choice and value for shoppers. But the equity some national brands have is powerful, too, so we don't approach it defensively. For a customer who is only focused on price, you can't win, and you shouldn't try. And certain categories -- dishwashing soap, for example -- are low engagement, so consumers care less. But if a mom grew up eating Oreos, she doesn't want Hydrox or a private label -- she wants her kids to have Oreos, too.
Q: Will the competition between private label and brands intensify?
A: Yes and no. There's almost a war against brands right now. You can't pick up a women's magazine, for example, without reading that drugstore beauty creams have the same ingredients as La Mer. There is this constant urging for consumers to look more closely at labels. And the recession pushed people to private label, so that I do think brands took a ding. But we've done some work with PepsiCo, focusing on what exactly the word value means to consumers, and the concept of worth is very important to people. Marketers need to think through that aperture -- there is almost no price a mom won't pay for a product if she believes it is worth it.
Q: What should marketers be rethinking as we move into 2011?
A: First, as much as it's already been discussed, the trends toward digital and mobile are so important. They've started, but they aren't done yet, and marketers need to focus on which shoppers are using which technology. You want to be ahead of the curve -- like Starbucks' customers using mobile phones to pay for coffee -- but you don't want to rush into technology that might not sell more coffee.
Q: What else?
A: Channel blurring. Duane Reade recently opened a beer bar at a store in Brooklyn. That's smart shopper marketing -- someone saw an unmet need and is filling it, based on its audience. (Moms with strollers are probably not flocking to this drugstore.) I expect to see a lot of stores asking similar questions: If customers like me for X, will they also like me for Y? Look at Costco -- you can buy a casket and a brisket.