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July, 2016
Shopper marketing: The path to purchase has changed

By Alicia John – Senior Strategist at Mortimer Harvey

If like most marketers, you believe that retail is the centre of the marketing universe then it may come of some surprise to you, to learn that it’s the consumer who is now that ’centre’. Gone are the days when consumers are driven towards brands. Consumers now feel empowered enough to have brands gravitate towards them and nowhere is this more relevant than in shopper marketing.

The misconception is that shopper marketing is glorified in-store promotions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shopper marketing is much broader than that and, to be successful, it needs to be part of an overall integrated marketing approach that considers the opportunities to drive consumption and identifies the shopper that would need to purchase a brand to enable that consumption.

Some marketers define shopper marketing as: understanding how one’s target consumers behave as shoppers in different channels and formats. Others believe shopper marketing is a discipline designed to drive growth by improving the shopping experience for the consumer. I would like to define shopper marketing as: the understanding and application of consumer psychology and insights along the path to purchase that allows you to understand the consumer so intimately that you effect a purchasing behaviour in them before they reach the store.

The consumer is now mobile, both literally and figuratively. Today, luxury shoppers carry digital devices so powerful that the word ‘phone’ barely describes them. Millions of these shoppers now insist on interacting with brands digitally – using their computers, tablets and ‘phones’ – before they decide what to buy, where to buy it or how much they’re willing to pay. We live in an information age where the path to purchase is carefully guided by the information available on various platforms. To me, this is real shopper marketing as it is the journey that affects the purchasing decision and not a mere flashing light in the aisle.

While consumers are actively searching for information, they are also searching for authenticity. The outcry over the closing of Rosebank’s craft market and the success of the Maboneng Precinct are all testaments to a hunger for a more authentically different shopping experience built around a desired lifestyle.

While malls and shopping centres offer more of the same, it is up to marketers to create an authentic experience around their brands in order to ensure the customer keeps coming back for more. One brand that does this well is Starbucks. Starbucks’ brand purpose is ‘serving one cup, to one neighbour at a time’. When Starbucks launched their ‘names on cups’ initiative, it tapped into the knowledge that neighbourhoods, for a great number of people are not about geography, they are about intimacy. Neighbours know each other’s names. This small innovation was free, easy, and empowered the staff in each store to create an environment that felt truly welcoming. Authenticity coupled with personalisation and a good story has allowed this brand to create an admirable following.

Similarly, marketers and media owners need to offer brands a proposition that goes beyond awareness and into engagement. An engagement so authentically different yet personalised that it will effect a desired behaviour.  While digital platforms offer great engagement, it’s always important to complement your digital strategy with a physical component. There was a time when retailers were investing all their energy at store level as they believed online shopping would render brick and mortar obsolete. This has not happened. The lesson here is to marry the digital with the physical and not to believe that we have gone so far into the future that the shopper no longer appreciates the shopping experience.

The ultimate goal of shopper marketing is to understand the power of engagement. Engage your consumer continuously. After all we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.