Digital does not equal shopper – yet!

A few weeks ago, I chaired the Asia Shopper Marketing and Insights Conference in Singapore and I was struck by the volume of discussion on digital media. What is clear to me is that part of the industry increasingly sees digital and shopper marketing to be the same. They are not – or not yet anyway.

Firstly let’s be clear who is driving this convergence and no it’s not Google, Facebook or Microsoft. It appears to me that these players are pretty clear that the tech they offer has massive potential to enhance the marketing mix and enable marketers to do some truly awesome things. But none are saying that what the vast range of new communications vehicles and devices constitutes ‘marketing’. What they are clearly saying however is ‘look at how important the digital dimension is’ and ‘it’s time to start using this’.

Google’s ZMOT doesn’t propose online media as a new marketing model – it shows that a new marketing model must consider digital as well as traditional and in-store. Microsoft are busy innovating in how to get devices working together so that they can be used throughout the value chain and Facebook are giving us a great space to talk about what we like – even as their stocks disappoint.

The main proponents of tying digital to shopper marketing are the advertising agencies. And it’s here that they may be getting this wrong and where they may ultimately end up being burnt. Looking at some of the cases presented in Singapore and earlier this year in Sydney, it’s pretty clear that some agency-folk confuse parts of the marketing mix for ‘marketing’. It’s as if they are saying advertising is part of the marketing mix therefore advertising is marketing (it’s not!).

Many of the cases that have been submitted clearly show the amazing potential of digital media and the opportunity for great planners and creatives to use  this to create awareness and affinity. Fewer cases demonstrate the potential to increase the consumption of brands by getting people to buy more. For instance Dan Paris at Integer showed a great example of how Nissan used Facebook and Twitter to encourage targeted twenty-somethings to test drive a car whilst conducting a speed-date. This created a twitter buzz, delivered more likes in Facebook and I dare say made for a good showreel at Cannes. But how many cars were sold as a result? The answer was unknown. Sure this is a great case of blending digital communication and brand activation but is it great shopper marketing?

No. Really great shopper marketing changes the purchase behavior of a targeted group of shoppers in order to increase the consumption of a product or service. It’s output is measurable: penetration, frequency of purchase, weight of purchase or a combination of all three must increase amongst shoppers in the target group for it to be effective. So digital campaigns that cannot demonstrate these outcomes in a specific segment cannot be judged as effective shopper marketing. Simply put ‘likes don’t count – sales do!’

It would be a shame if agencies were to continue to tie digital and shopper marketing together in this way, since both may quickly become discounted by the cynical as a fad or fail to meet the financial requirements of the thrifty.

Instead agencies should seek closer partnerships with the tech firms to establish the full range of opportunity to utilize digital’s specificity in a way which demonstrably leads to increased sales. Since the technology now exists to define target segments precisely and lead those segments through integrated activities throughout the path to purchase, it’s time this was used to deliver really effective shopper campaigns.

We see this beginning to happen in cases such as Homeplus’ virtual stores in South Korea or New Balance’s run to the store campaign in New York. But it won’t be until the links between a digital campaign and actual changes in purchase behavior  are consistently drawn that digital will become a true component of shopper marketing. Until then, marketers should beware those who claim that their exciting digital campaigns are ‘shopper marketing’.

In the meantime marketers can and should take more accountability for ensuring campaigns bite. Briefs should clearly state the specific target shopper segment, define the change in purchase behavior required and identify in which channels this is likely to take place. Creative proposals (digital or otherwise) should be judged against these specifications.


6 thoughts on “Digital does not equal shopper – yet!

  1. Toby – at the moment its seems that digital is being used in the same way as ‘below the line’ was for some a few years ago – something that had to be done to show that we were doing it but there was no thought of measurement. The reality is no accountability is being asked for, no ROI. However, if you are not doing digital or not doing social media you are seen as not contemporary. If you say ‘likes don’t count – sales do’ then probably you will find that many of the ‘digital or mobile’ activities being done have no impact. There are a lot of people who believe there’s a bubble waiting to burst and I agree. We have seen the first signs with the Facebook IPO. Eventually I believe digital will settle down as part of the media mix.

    • Hi Kenan – thanks for you comment – I agree! Once the current frothyness has settled down, digital will eventually be seen as just another component of the entire marketing mix. By then however, the world of marketing may be very different.

  2. Toby – Great post, and I agree with you. it’s ironic…digital has so much potential to do exactly what it often claims to be doing (real or not)…influence the shopper through relevant means to toward real, measurable change. A good lesson for us to focus on the fundamentals – understanding our objectives, and what tactics will get us there. If we over-inflate digital, we might risk a worse outcome…customers will grow weary of the fluff and our new channel will be devalued a bit.

  3. Pingback: 3 reasons for getting serious about online retail now! « Shopper Marketing

  4. Pingback: 3 reasons for getting serious about online retail now! - Toby Desforges

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