How'd My Shopper Marketing Get So Complicated?

Take all of your brand’s shopper marketing and pin it to a wall. (Go ahead — I’ll wait.) It probably takes up more space than you imagined, and you may be a little shell-shocked by how many elements you have. There are likely items for pre-store, in-store and post-store. Physical and digital media. Versions for different retailers. Activations that change across audiences, seasons or usage occasions. 

Your first instinct is probably to simplify. But the fact that your shopper-marketing plan went from 2 pages to 20, or that your linear purchase journey now looks like a giant spider web, may not be a problem, per se. Shoppers today are influenced by more media, more experiences, in more places than ever before. In fact, we recently conducted research that revealed shoppers regularly use an average of 6 to 23 types of shopper marketing (or digital shopper tools) to accomplish their weekly trips. If shopper decision-making is that complex, I guess complex marketing is the new normal for CPG marketers, too.



But if complexity isn’t the problem, what is? Simply put, it’s making sense of the chaos — ensuring that all of that marketing complexity has a reason for being.

Many of you may be in annual planning season right now, wrestling to streamline your mix and build the right rationale for your shopper marketing choices. If you are, here are a few strategies to make sure your shopper-marketing plan — even if it’s complex — is constructed in a smart way that provides some focus and makes the most of your team’s precious time and marketing budget.

1. Be surgical with your investments. Lots of marketers build plans that check every box on the purchase journey, trying to get shoppers from A to B to C and so on toward purchase. In truth, it’s probably unrealistic to think shoppers will engage with that many touch points, especially on something like a CPG purchase. Instead, know your points of influence and go big there. Capture shoppers when they’re ripe for conversion, then hit them with a message so compelling that they build unwavering commitment to purchase. Remember that it’s not about how many marketing hoops you can get shoppers to jump through. It’s about helping them make the leap to buy.

2. Stitch together elements to create broad coverage. Once you’ve decided the points of influence that are important, pull together multiple sources to get the scale you need. In the digital realm, for example, many really effective tools are still relatively small. You may need to bundle together several coupon apps or display ad resources to create the millions of impressions that translate to millions of dollars in sales. If several elements are doing a similar job, going for “quantity” doesn’t necessarily mean “complexity.”

3. Take a strategic stand with your media choices. Our advertising brethren have long understood the power of continuity, and shopper marketers should also take note. Minimize one-off media participations and instead opt for platforms where you can build solid momentum over time. For instance, if your brand purchase thrives on social conversations, use Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Be present on your own brand sites, but also on the sites of retailers, bloggers and other influencers that your shopper follows. Marketing is cumulative, and brands typically garner their biggest paybacks after they’ve invested in a channel for a while. With time, shopper engagement goes up, and fixed, nonworking dollars (for things like production) go down. Plan for the long haul. 

4. Know when and why to customize. Much of the complexity shopper marketers see within their plans revolves around customization. Sometimes it’s macro, like adapting a program to the objectives of different retailers. Other times it’s micro, like one-to-one personalization of digital messages or offers. The basic reason to customize is sound: Make your marketing more relevant to the audience and you’ll get better results. But to keep all those versions from becoming unwieldy, it’s smart to create a framework for when and why it’s right to make changes. One brand I work with has a checklist of criteria: Is the audience different? Do they make decisions differently? Is our competitive position more vulnerable? Will customization provide better results based on our past history? With customization increasingly becoming something you can do, having a few filters like this will help you determine when it’s something you should do.

Of course, it’s also a given that your shopper media choices have to address your objectives, hit the right audience and deliver the type of content that converts shoppers. But with a plethora of options to consider, these strategies can help ensure that your complexity still makes great sense. 

Because as the world changes, we have to change with it. There’s no need to crave the good old days when one-size-fits-all shopper marketing was the norm. In the words of one philosopher, “As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration.” Embrace the world of the intricate and complex, and be ready for the places it can take your brand. Oh, the places you’ll go!

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