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Shopper Marketing vs. the Asteroid

by Mitch McCasland  |  
December 16, 2008

In a tried-and-true genre of disaster movies, there's a dramatic moment when an asteroid is plummeting toward Earth. Amidst a flurry of intense activity and heroics, the asteroid is redirected at the last possible moment... and tragedy is averted. All is saved.

I've always had the same question about this scenario: Shouldn't the scientists be working sooner to change the asteroid's trajectory—like when it is way out by Neptune? After all, that's when little changes can make a big difference in the end.

I think of the relationship between advertising and shopper marketing in terms of that B-movie analogy.

Advertising helps direct shoppers toward a brand selection long before entering the store; then shopper marketing takes over at the point of arrival. And it's the calibration and balance between advertising and in-store marketing that are essential to success in the retail environment.

The Emergence of Shopper Marketing

It's often said that shopper marketing does its work in the "last three-feet of the sale." This "first moment of truth," as Procter & Gamble's CEO and President A.G. Lafley termed it, is the decision-making point when a shopper selects a brand for the person who will consume it.

In the current economy, there is an emerging, albeit regrettable belief that if shopper marketing is done correctly, advertising may not be needed as much, if at all. So how have some marketers found themselves fixated on shopper marketing?

Shopper marketing has risen in prominence in recent years due largely to Wal-Mart, which ignited a trend years ago that has spread across the face of retailing. Among product marketers, Wal-Mart commands tremendous respect with roughly 1 of every 13 retail dollars passing through one of its US divisions. Getting a product on Wal-Mart's shelves has been heralded as both a triumph and a challenge due to the tough negotiators in Bentonville who can make even the most seasoned product managers reach for the antacids.

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Mitch McCasland ( is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners ( and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.

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  • by slashby@intel Tue Dec 16, 2008 via web

    Interesting article but I would like to hear the discussion go beyond the supermarket to bigger ticket items. How do these arguments hold up against CE goods purchased once every few years. My gut says that the branding before the store plays an even bigger role as big ticket price can easily take over inside the store. Thanks for making me think! Keep it up!!!

  • by Deb Eastman Tue Dec 16, 2008 via web

    An interesting topic we can all relate to as consumers. I think it's difficult to generalize this across all categories. One of our clients found that while they had built brand advocacy through their advertising, the consumer was highly influenced by he sales person at the retail store. This person may be influenced by spiffs or sales incentives and while the consumer came in looking for their brand, they could be swayed to purchase another brand based on the perceived expertise of the sales person. Obviously, this differs than a retail store where getting someone to help is hard enough, getting them to know the product is an impossibility.

    As for your comments on NPS, you need to put NPS in context. Yes, Promoters of your brand may defect. However, it's fair to say that companies with a higher NPS in their categories are likely to outsell their competitors as they have more Promoters that will repurchase and refer their friends. The anti-NPS crowd does not understand how companies are using it to get employees to focus on what matters most, creating a customer experience that generated organic word of mouth.

    Deb Eastman
    CMO, Satmetrix

  • by beatriz Wed Dec 17, 2008 via web

    i wish you could come up with a more

  • by Rob Wed Apr 29, 2009 via web

    Good article. Thank you for playing devils advocate :). Not so sure about the asteroid analogy....I think a stronger analogy is 'golf'. Consumer marketing is your 'driver', your 'long game'. With out it - you wont ever get close to your consumer's consideration set (the green). Once you on the green you can use your putter (shopper marketing) to seal the deal. BAM! Thanks Mitch.

  • by Toby Desforges Tue May 19, 2009 via web

    I think you are missing the point here. The term "shopper marketing", like its (thankfully) dying predecessor, Category Management is oft misused. The tone of your article suggests that your conception of shopper marketing is that nebulous bundle of expenditure that companies throw into retail in the hope that immediate returns can be enjoyed. In fact our research shows that as little as 30% of this spend delivers an economic return and further that when poorly directed it can actually undermine the brand and therefore all of the investments made. We at engage advocate an integrated view of shopper marketing where we describe it as being: “The systematic application of elements of the marketing mix to affect positive change in shopper behavior in order to drive consumption of a brand”.
    Our view is that total brand investment is only optimized when companies (regardless of which sector of the consumer goods industry the operate in) create coherent links between the consumer and the trade customer by: identifying consumption priorities; defining the potential to shift shopper behavior to tap these priorities; defining in which outlets these changes can be leveraged and through what in-store mechanics all prior to making specific customer investments.
    It is this more integrated view that’s now gaining traction in the world’s leading manufacturers.
    Toby Desforges
    Global Engagement Director

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