Time and time again brands see their hard-won place in consumer hearts and minds failing.
Nothing exerts so great an influence on shoppers’ choices as brand equity; the way a shopper feels about a brand and his or her existing relationship with it. And yet time and time again brands see their hard-won place in consumer hearts and minds failing to translate into strong sales performance.
The challenge of integrating different elements of marketing activity is consistently listed by CMOs as one of their biggest concerns. And nowhere is the challenge greater than when it comes to bringing brand and shopper marketing together.
Brand and shopper marketing have traditionally existed in silos, with their own techniques, forms of knowledge, objectives and KPIs. One has a natural alignment with sales, leveraging an in-depth understanding of the retail environment and how to activate within it; the other, a full understanding of brands and how to build and maintain them. One gets criticised for not understanding retailers; the other for not understanding consumers. When marketing is set up this way, it’s easy to see why a disconnect so frequently exists between people’s experience of brands as consumers (watching ads, engaging on social media, consuming content) and their experience of them as shoppers, when they actually try to buy their products. This disconnect has become more noticeable as the lines between consumers and shoppers have blurred.
Why shopper marketers need to start talking brand
For a long time, this disconnect didn’t seem to matter – and it certainly didn’t outweigh the value of specialist skills within the brand and shopper marketing teams. Now though, the balance is shifting – and the requirement to connect brand and shopper marketing is becoming increasingly urgent. Saturated categories, economic slowdown, and smaller stores with fewer products on shelves are all far less forgiving of poor execution; and they make it vital to carry brand advantage into the shopper environment. It’s not just about tougher trading conditions. Consumers themselves are tearing up the traditional concept of the purchase journey on which the division between brand and shopper marketing is often based.
Ecommerce today is both a brand engagement and a shopping environment; mobile a potential purchasing tool as well as a marketing channel. Stores themselves are a brand-building space, not just a sales-oriented one. Gone are the days when we could decide whether somebody fell within the remit of the brand or shopper marketing team based solely on which environment they were in.
Divided by a common language
CMOs haven’t ignored this issue – or its urgency. They’ve brought brand and shopper marketing teams together; they’ve asked them to develop shared marketing plans and strategies. However, all of this has limited impact when brand and shopper remain divided by a common language – when they talk about the same objectives but use fundamentally different metrics and measures to manage them. Research may not be responsible for the gap that exists between brand and shopper marketing – but by helping to develop a common, connected view of the journey from consumer to shopper, it can certainly help to bring them together.
The four-point playbook for better integrated marketing
We compiled data from more than 30 studies to provide a unique view of how shopper behaviour is evolving – and how more meaningful integration between brand and shopper can address a fluid and connected shopper journey. In particular, we’ve identified four changes to shopper marketing research that can set any brand on the way to a more effective, integrated approach:
1. Take brand equity more seriously in shopper marketing research
Shopper marketers are trained to think in terms of missions and occasions as the primary drivers of shopping behaviour, but in doing so they are overlooking what our research confirms as the dominant driver of purchase decisions: brand equity. In our recent work we compared the brand equity of 7,400 shoppers across 7 different categories and related this to the purchase decisions they made. The correlation between equity and brands purchased was above 0.8. It doesn’t help that when shopper marketing studies do try to capture the role of brands, they do so using different metrics – and by asking different questions – to brand marketing. Most shopper research will ask what brands a shopper considered – but they won’t explore why they considered them, which brands they have a relationship with or how they feel about them. If we want to integrate shopper marketing more effectively with brand, we need to start measuring brand equity in the same way – and start building models and KPIs around it.
2. Forget the path – focus on the decision point
The concept of a path to purchase, where each individual goes through the same set of stages, is an increasingly misleading one, and marketing strategies built around it are increasingly out of touch with how purchase decisions are made. In reality, the shopper journey is an expanding collection of potential decision points, at any of which a shopper could make a final choice about what they will buy. Around 60-80% of brand decisions are actually made before a shopper has even reached the shelf, and increasing numbers of purchases are being made online, without shoppers setting foot in a store at all.
Shopper marketing’s role is to convert shoppers – and this needs to take place wherever and whenever shopper behaviour shows that point of conversion to be. By focusing on the decision point for a given category or product, we can direct limited marketing and media budgets to where they will actually make a difference to shopper choices. This may well involve shopper marketers sharing touchpoints (and occupying the same media channels) as brand marketers. The focus of integrated strategies should be less about dividing up the media environment between brand and shopper; more about establishing a coherent approach to sharing those channels for a multitude of marketing objectives.
3. Discriminate between touchpoints
It’s tempting for shopper researchers to give equal weight to any touchpoint that a shopper interacts with – or alternatively, to ascribe greater influence to those that occur just before a purchase. This variation of the ‘last click’ distortion comes about because of the difficulties shopper marketing has differentiating between the roles that touchpoints play. Just because a shopper interacts with a touchpoint doesn’t mean that touchpoint exerts any influence over them. And asking shoppers themselves to recall retrospectively which touchpoints had the greatest influence on a particular purchase is problematic.
You cannot hope to understand the influence of touchpoints on a brand purchase without understanding the relationship that the shopper has with the brand to start with. By building the brand relationship into touchpoint impact models you can get a truer picture of the moments that really make a difference to shopper purchase decisions. You can then align these models to the gaps and interruptions that exist within the shopper journey for the brand and reveal those exerting the greatest influence. And when you build models of shopper behaviour on this basis, you have a far more robust means of deciding where to target your investment. Across the studies we have done we have consistently found touchpoints that punch 3-4 times above their weight when compared to reach alone.
4. Identify the barriers for shoppers who have equity for you already
Barrier studies are one of the traditional mainstays of shopper marketing research. However, from a brand equity perspective, it’s clear that not all barriers are equally worth studying. There is little point interrogating shoppers as to why they didn’t buy your products on a particular mission or occasion, if your lack of any brand relationship with them means you did not even enter their consciousness. When trying to understand why you have lower sales in a particular retailer or on a specific occasion, understanding the relationship between equity and conversion will allow you to identify whether you have a brand building task or a shopper conversion task to undertake.
When you know the barriers you need to overcome, linking this to the most motivating shopper needs that exist in your category will ensure the messaging you design to overcome the barriers will hit the mark. As a further build it is also critical to understand the mindset of the shopper you want to target – are you looking to influence shoppers when they are buying on routine or when they are genuinely exploring the category? While the latter may be less frequent, it can also be the time when shoppers are most open to influence.
Insights to bring marketing teams together
It’s impossible to design a truly integrated approach to brand and shopper marketing without data and insights that embody the connected nature of the shopper journey. When decisions can increasingly take place in any environment and at any stage, it’s vitally important to identify the most influential points for spending your marketing budget. And you can only do that by understanding your audience as both consumers and shoppers. Asking brand and shopper marketing teams to work together more closely won’t usually be enough to make that happen. But giving them a common understanding of those with the potential to buy your products will.