Debate about the size, shape, direction, and even the very existence of a purchase funnel has raged on for a few years now as marketers work hard to figure out how best to get their target customers to think about, talk about, buy, and maybe even love, their brands.
One recent description we liked, for example, came from Jim Lecinski, managing director of U.S. sales and service at Google, who maintains, “the funnel is now more like a neuron, with branches that let shoppers move forward and backward through the process until they’re ready to make a decision.”
Regardless of where they net out on the funnel issue, however, most agree identifying which among the exploding number of opportunities for marketers to influence the purchase decision will produce the highest return on investment has become a both a critical and often frustratingly complex process.
“The reality is marketers have to pull more levers today than they ever had to before. All of us are consuming media in so many different ways—some people are only online, some only watch TV,” Dina Howell, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi’s in-store marketing arm, told the Wall Street Journal this past April.
“The bulk [are] somewhere in the middle, and that’s what’s making it harder to determine what is the correct formula.”
We sat down with Copernicus’ CEO Peter Krieg to get his thoughts and big picture perspectives on how brands can best market themselves to shoppers as they move through the ever-expanding path to purchase.
Here’s what Peter, our resident retail industry expert and a pioneer of shopping occasion segmentation research, had to say:
Marketing Frayers: Can marketers count on customers following a general direction down the path to purchase anymore?
Peter: The general direction remains the same, yes. Something—an event, a situation, a mealtime, seeing friends with a product, reading an article, business expansion, you name it—inspires a decision-maker to explore the different products and services available. He or she considers the options, makes a purchase, feels satisfied, and–it’s hoped–shares experiences with and ultimately influences others.
What’s changed is the sheer number of potential sources of information that might sway the decision-maker toward one brand or another and one channel or distributor or another. Obviously it’s easier and faster than ever for the decision-maker to access the multitudes of information, compare prices, and purchase locations. It’s also easier and faster for decision-makers to share opinions, reviews, and news with other decision-makers.
What’s also amazing to many of us veteran marketers is whether someone is shopping for a car, computer, insurance policies, industrial products, diapers, or even a toothpaste, they’re investing some amount of time in exploring options…sometimes while they’re already in the process of shopping at a store.
There’s a growing sense that ALL marketers now have to consider, not just what our client P&G calls the first and second moments of truth—seeing the product on the shelf and using/experiencing the product or service after purchase—but all the “store back” and “store forward” moments where any other competitor in the category or industry has the potential to move shoppers toward one brand or another, and one purchase channel or another.
Marketing Frayers: How have you seen companies change the way they approach moving customers through the path to purchase towards their brands?
Peter: Pre- the digital and mobile media revolutions, we worked with clients to understand the effect different types of shopping occasions had on their brands. We’d help them assess the profitability of each shopping occasion and often connected people segments to shopper segments.
We could tell a client, for example, your most profitable segment of people spend 50% of their budget for the category on a “weekend ritual” shopping trip, 25% on a “seasonal” shop, 20% on a “spur of the moment” purchase, and 5% on an “emergency” to give, among other things, some macro-level guidance on positioning for their product or services and innovation efforts.
We could also help them profile each retail location by shopper type to direct in-store merchandising, promotions, displays, etc., toward the needs and preferences of the predominant shopper segments.
These days, however, clients have moved shopper marketing way beyond the four walls of a bricks-and-mortar store…and the digital equivalent of four walls of an e-commerce website. I completely agree with what Dina Howell [CEO of Saatchi &Saatchi X] said–that shopper marketing “isn’t just about cardboard displays anymore—you need to accommodate the way shoppers behave now, and that means online and in stores.”
As a result, we now chart a shopper’s complete path to purchase to identify where and why the client is (or isn’t) on this journey … and where and how an increase in a client’s presence will have the greatest effect on sales, loyalty, and advocacy.
For instance, where and how to they begin their search for a product or service in the category? What information are they looking for? If they’re going to the company’s website, where do they go? What are their digital, social, and mobile media habits? How likely are they to advocate for the brand?
Marketing Frayers: At the start of the year, Booz & Co said manufacturer spending on shopper marketing has just about doubled-over the past five years. It currently totals $35 billion with anticipated annual growth of 15%. What would you say are the key opportunities for marketers to make the most from their shopper marketing investments?
Peter: I’m by no means the first to observe that there’s a great deal of convergence going on as more and more shopper marketing campaigns cut across different media and go beyond the online or offline purchase channel. Integration of shopper marketing with overall branding efforts is something we’re reading, hearing about, promoting, and seeing in action on a much more regular basis than ever before.
With that in mind, the biggest opportunity marketers in general have is to get everyone working against the same target group—the customers they’ve identified as the ones with the highest economic and marketing value to the brand.
For shopper marketers specifically, understanding the “mix” of shopping occasions of the key target group, along with what motivates them to purchase the brand; preferences for online and offline channels or retailers; customer experience preferences and needs; interest in new products and services; and the function and possible influence of traditional, digital, and mobile media along the path to purchase, goes a long way towards improving overall effectiveness and efficiency.
Successful shopper marketing—whether through a bricks-and-mortar or e-commerce channel—still comes down to understanding which customers on which shopping occasions hold the most potential profit opportunity and the ability to translate this information into positive interactions and experiences with the brand at key moments in the purchase process.
There’s a huge opportunity for marketers to arm their sales force and/or key account managers with profiles of the shopper mix at the retailer, e-tailer, and even individual store-level. Connect shopper types with merchandising, promotion, in-store display, experiences, etc., and you’ll go a long way towards cinching the purchase of your brand at a particular location.
Likewise on the ecommerce side, there’s a huge opportunity to arm website developers and managers with guidance to enhance experiences and maximize sales through that channel. We worked with Under Armour, for instance, to profile the different types of shoppers on its website to improve sales via that channel.
Marketing Frayers: What do you think are the big trends in shopper marketing?
Peter: I mentioned integration, though I think that’s a longer-term aspiration.
On the tactical level, product marketers increasingly use both traditional in-store tactics, as well as digital tactics on retailer websites. And mobile just keeps getting bigger. I saw Juniper Research’s forecast that spending on mobile retail campaigns in 2012 will hit $15 billion globally—a 50%increase over 2011!
One of the biggest trends I see is getting some strategy behind shopper marketing efforts.
Everyone knows there’s still a chance to influence a sale at the point-of-purchase. It’s the who, when, and how companies have to solve for now in order to create some competitive advantage along the path to purchase, generate the most incremental sales and profits at the point-of-purchase, and foster loyalty and advocacy beyond it.
Another trend along the lines of strategy development I see more of is product marketers investing more time gathering insights about the shopper mix at different points of distribution. Marketers use this knowledge to improve line reviews with key retailers, to become more fact-based in joint ventures and partnerships, and to figure out which products could be sold in new channels of distribution.
Marketing Frayers: If you had the ear of every CMO in the world for five minutes right now, what would you tell them about best practices for marketing to shoppers along the path to purchase?
Peter: Some marketers call them “touch points”, Google calls them “zero moments of truth,” P&G has their terminology. Regardless of whether there’s ever agreement on what to call all the different opportunities marketers have to influence the ultimate purchase decision, it’s clear that in every category and industry marketers are trying to stay one step ahead of each other when it comes to sustainably persuading decision-makers to choose their brand.
There’s a reason why many marketers have a great sense of urgency for getting a sound strategy in place to guide shopper marketing decisions. As companies increase their budgets for shopper marketing, the pressure will build to demonstrate incremental profits on investment.
The marketers that will be in the best position to do that—and do it consistently—are the ones that pinpoint the customers and shopping occasions that have the highest potential profit value in offline and online distribution channels.
They’re the ones who also get a comprehensive understanding of the critical points along their their target customer’s and shopper’s path to purchase. If your brand isn’t tapping an opportunity to influence a decision-maker at a critical point, figure out why and what kind of fix will generate the biggest return.
To learn more about our shopper insights research and consulting services, visit copernicusmarketing.com/services/shopper-insights.