Shopper Marketing Revolution or Evolution?

Shopper Revolution or EvolutionI blogged a couple of weeks ago about whether shopper marketing meant the end of category management. With thanks to POPAI this turned out to be one of the widest read posts I’d ever written. I was also excited by the level of comment it provoked. Some wholeheartedly rejected the idea that that Shopper marketing was anything more that the logical evolution from category management, whilst others passionately argued that the two were separate and that shopper marketing was an entirely new discipline.

So which is it? Well, as a co-author of an upcoming Shopper Marketing book, I wear my heart on my sleeve. In our book we argue that consumer goods businesses have been challenged to respond to three distinct era’s in their development. The first was the era of the consumer-led manufacturer, when the concepts of contemporary consumer marketing were born. This era lasted from the end of the second world war until the early 80’s and was marked by the dawn of ubiquitous mass media, the creation of consumer brands and the beginning of the consumer culture.

As media fragmented, brands proliferated and retail began to concentrate, the era of the retailer began. Brands found it increasingly difficult to reach their consumers and the idea of marketing at retail came to the fore. Manufacturers created trade marketing functions and embraced category management as vehicle for engaging with retailers.

I think many in the consumer goods industry believe that we are still in this era, and I believe they are wrong. For the last few years we have seen a number of signs that the age of the retailer is fading. We have seen e-commerce put huge pressure on traditional retail models, making shopping at once more global and more personal. Concurrently channels have proliferated in almost every significant market offering more choice and convenience to shopper. Finally the dawn of democratized media (note I don’t mean “a democratic media” but rather the opportunity to access and create media in one’s palm) forces the rules of mass-market communication to change.  I believe we are now entering the age of the shopper where the purchasing power of the individual is such that developments in consumer goods are driven by neither the manufacturer nor the retailer but by a much more empowered shopper. It is in the environment that the concept of shopper marketing has been born.

This is a major change in the environment, in the words of Brian Harris, “There has probably never been in the history of consumer and shopper behavior a bigger change between one generation and the next in terms of the aspirations and the requirements of shoppers and the tools and methods they use to meet their shopping needs.” If this is an accepted fact, the consumer goods industry cannot continue to employ strategies that worked in the 60’s and 70’s, nor can it use approaches that worked in the 90’s and early this century. Hence my earlier suggestion that the traditional core of consumer goods marketing; the idea that brands succeed by creating massive awareness and converting this awareness through massive distribution; cannot survive in this new world.

An evolutionary response, one that says we can adapt and enhance our current behaviors, in my view simply won’t cut it. If the controlling factor in the environment is no longer the retailer, then looking to a retail marketing solution is likely to fail.

In my view this is the fault in arguing that shopper marketing is the ‘new category management’. What shopper marketing asserts is that consumers and shoppers are different in their behavior, so different marketing solutions must apply and that these marketing solutions do not necessarily occur in retail. So getting better ‘in retail’ is paradoxically not the only way to enhance marketing to shoppers.

I see shopper marketing as an entirely new marketing discipline that needs to be conducted in conjunction with consumer marketing and customer management. This is requires a dramatic shift in the entire paradigm of marketing itself because it requires companies to think consumer – shopper – customer. This requires the whole organization to change and those at the heart of this change don’t see this as a gentle evolution but rather a significant revolution.


2 thoughts on “Shopper Marketing Revolution or Evolution?

  1. It is indeed a revolution if the traditional marketer has to devote significantly more A&P to in-store related activities and alternative media channels. The next big question is can organisations persuade their Marketers to be less consumer centric?

    • Hi Lai,

      It is indeed a big ask to expect marketing to change, but I would suggest that the change is not to be less consumer-centric but actually to be more mindful of both the consumer and the shopper behavior they need to create. Consumption is still the key driver of business growth, without it sales collapse (how many packs of milk will you buy if no-one drinks what you already have at home?). The key is to connect the target consumer and the target shopper together so that investments are made in the right channels and on the right activities. Marketers who grasp this concept are more likely to be successful in the future.

      Best Toby

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