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India 2015: Brand Building: Shopper Marketing

Shopper marketing will benefit Indian brand owners and the complex retail sector 

Immaculate in-store execution is key to shopper engagement 

Head of Marketing Smollan India

Smollan is an international retail solutions company. Focused on perfecting retail and shopper experiences, we are the pivot point where the retailer, brand owner and shopper intercept. We deliver growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents through leading solutions in field sales and retail execution, activation, and information and technology.

The concept of shopper marketing evolved out of the realization that influencing the shopper at the point of purchase is likely to lead to greater sales for brand owners and retailers.

 Shopper marketing is essentially about understanding how the target shopper behaves in various channels and retail environments, and using these insights to favorably influence purchase decisions by enhancing in-store experience.

The interesting premise here is that the shopper is a different entity from the consumer, and hence merits an extended marketing approach. The shopper and consumer might be different individuals, such as when parents shop for baby-food. Second, the consumer has a brand preference, often built or strengthened by traditional marketing activities, when she is in the moment and actual process of consuming; she moves from brand to brand as her needs and priorities change.

In the store environment, brand preference and affinity is put to test by a host of internal and external factors: the sheer variety of available products, the clutter of competing brand communication, deals and promotions on the shop floor, the need state of the shopper, inertia of habit and comfort, paucity of time. Studies have shown that while brand loyalty plays an important part in the choice of products, in-store elements, such as visual merchandising, in-store advertising, and assisted selling by product advisors, play a key role in helping shoppers choose one brand over others at the point of purchase.

Shopper marketing is all about making the brand find its way into the shopping cart. It is a concerted strategy for integration of brand strategy and communication along the path to purchase, culminating in, and entirely dependent on, flawless in-store execution. Hence, the essential elements are created by a partnership of the marketing team and the retail partner who collaborate to create the 360-degree brand experience on the shop floor, and the activation team that has to ensure perfect execution at the point of purchase.

Shopper engagement: The Indian context In India, the vast complexities of the retail environment present both opportunities and challenges for in-store execution. The benefit for brand owners and retail is potentially limitless; there are over one billion consumers who will need to shop for their daily needs and indulgences.

The challenge, however, is in the vast heterogeneity of the population in taste and preferences, particularly in food and personal care. The opening up of the economy has exposed the shopper to a crowd of competing brands, many of which have realized that in-store marketing is the key that could move brands from the consideration set, where traditional media has placed them, into the purchase basket of the increasingly evolved and discerning shopper.

In-store shopper engagement programs, such as assisted selling, give brand owners and retailers the flexibility of putting the value proposition right there where the shopper is, making the communication focused and meaningful to the target segment. In India, for example, sampling activities for food and grocery would be the most effective way to engage shoppers and generate trials and sales, given the huge diversity and heterogeneity of tastes and preferences across individuals and communities. Empirical data suggests that differential growth and market-share gain of brands in promoted-sales stores could be two-to-five times greater than in non-promoted stores.

The relative affordability of such promoted selling programs, over that of traditional brand-building activities, have also made it possible for new launches or niche categories or brands that lack the wherewithal for large marketing investments to generate awareness and trials. These programs make it feasible to educate the target shopper, effectively on a one-to-one basis, at a significantly lower cost of customer contact and acquisition.

Anecdotal evidence would support the premise that we as Indians are more inclined to “hear” rather than to “see.” Perhaps because we have navigated through life largely unaided by maps or signage, and because there has always been someone at hand to ask, we are unashamedly an aural rather than a visual society.

Also, in India, over 90 percent of retail takes place through traditional general trade outlets, where lack of space, and perhaps of planning, frequently keep the merchandise well out of sight or reach of the shopper. The emergence of modern trade and self-service outlets, as well as the increasing understanding of the general trade of the benefits of shopper engagement programs, have made such programs feasible and desirable on a sustained basis.

Engagement success requires flawless in-store execution

The cornerstone of all shopper engagement activity is flawless in-store execution, the lack of which could well render the entire effort merely a check box item. It is the prowess of execution that translates the brand promise and value proposition into a tangible theme for the shopper to embrace and acknowledge.

The in-store execution entity, in order to deliver immaculate service, needs to possess a deep, organizational capability in creating large, energized and well-trained field forces, and an execution orientation upheld by an end-to-end technology-enabled value chain that supports strong systems and processes geared towards clearly defining, measuring, monitoring, and rewarding key performance parameters.

It requires the ability to recruit, train, energize, motivate continuously and retain vast numbers of promoters and sales advisors who will make that vital final connection between the brand and the shopper, as well as the supervisory field force that will ensure delivery of the required level of service.