In A World Of 24/7 Shopping, "Shopper" Doesn't Exist

Shopper Marketing, until relatively recently, was perceived as the arse-end of the marketing mix, and the area no real creative agency wanted to put in their creds. 

But things have changed. The data explosion, savvy retailers and – most importantly in the agency world — the flow of budget, turned things on their head. Shopper has become the discipline du jour. Holding companies acquire and consolidate, agencies hire, develop or rebrand offerings to align with this new paradigm and suddenly the shopper team has the room. 

Sound familiar? Having had a front row seat in the original digital explosion with my own agency, and now riding out the shopper explosion with Momentum, there is a very strong feeling of deja vu about all this. 

And like the digital revolution, agencies are making the same mistake by building vertical shopper marketing disciplines to sit alongside existing practices. Adding another string to the bow because “this is how clients buy us,” and hoping another string adds another revenue stream. 



This is a fallacy. The discipline of shopper marketing is being made redundant by technology. Or to be more precise, it’s being made redundant by the ubiquity of technology, changing the way we shop from behavior defined by a place and time, to one that is defined as always on, always shopping. 

In this world, the concept of shopper vs. consumer – or distinct digital or physical shopper environments – is ridiculous. And to build a discipline in our agencies that treats it as a separate world is simply madness. 

However, this doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on this discipline. In fact, the opposite is true. What we need to do is learn from the evolution of digital – in particular, how it went from being a separate vertical discipline to a horizontal discipline that runs through everything. 

Success will come by seeing that shopper marketing follows the same path as digital and gets out ahead of this curve. Successful agencies will examine the discipline of shopper and apply the principles to everything they do. 

Think of shopper not as a separate discipline, but as a philosophy that captures the way modern consumers buy into brands in this connected world. 

Let’s look at experiential and content through this lens. 

Broadly speaking, experiential tends to be very brand-focused – all about conveying the brand’s message, with little concern about the audience. Sometimes it feels like having a dinner party where the meal is based solely on what the host likes, with no consideration for the guests. This conveys the host’s tastes very well but I’m not sure it gives the guest a night to remember. 

In our new horizontal shopper model, events move to a focus on attendee rather than on the brand – a tough thing to sell to most clients who want to see their values come to life in physical manifestation. However by focusing on our guests and asking about their existing relationship with the brand, what they need, what their barriers are to purchasing product and having a good experience with it, we can exponentially change the role of that experience from one of supposed brand love to one of direct positive action towards that brand from our consumer. 

The same can be said for the world of branded content. I was fortunate enough to serve on this year’s branded content jury at Cannes and having had some time to reflect on it, it seems that a great deal of the branded content work does a great job in developing the brand, but very little in helping me make a decision to purchase. This seems like a real shame, as recent research suggests that video content is one of the most powerful tools in helping people make purchase decisions. 

To develop to the next stage, the brief for branded content needs to be twofold: convey the brand’s values and address the viewer and what barriers they have to making a purchase. For me, the good example in Cannes can be seen in the piece for Nashville, with the show “For the Love of Music.” This piece both conveys the values of the brand / town and at the same time directly addresses the consumers’ / shoppers’ barrier to purchase – that Nashville is all country. 

If more branded content can do this and marry the best of storytelling with the best in shopper marketing philosophy it will truly change the dynamic for brands and agencies. 

So let’s learn from the last 10 or so years. Let’s not build another discipline because that’s how clients buy us and then slowly evolve out of that as the world catches up. Let’s get ahead. Embrace shopper thinking, incorporate it into everything we do and we can create work that truly gives the audience what they want – which is all that really matters.


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