What Every Brand Should Know About Shopper Marketing (2023 Update)

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When it comes to developing a social media marketing plan, one of the most important strategies to consider is how to integrate it with your shopper marketing strategy. While many brand marketing campaigns focus on increasing awareness, shopper marketing specifically focuses on tactics that are going to drive in-person, in-store sales — quite often at the last moment before they check out of a store.

Effective shopper marketing is seen everywhere from grocery stores and Walmart to online e-commerce brands.

By understanding key elements of a successful shopper marketing strategy, you can increase sales with a high-impact marketing mix.

What Is Shopper Marketing?

Shopper marketing: Bottles on store shelf

In its essence, shopper marketing is the strategic approach brands employ to influence customers during the actual act of shopping. This spans the complete in-store experience, including product displays, store layout, and the overall ambiance. The term “shopper marketing” is most often linked with consumer packaged goods (CPG), encompassing a range of items such as food, clothing, and cosmetics that one encounters in stores like Target, Walmart, or local grocery outlets.

Adapting to Digital Trends

Traditionally, shopper marketing has been in-store-centric. However, the landscape is changing. Online grocery sales are approximately $24 billion, accounting for approximately 9.5% of the total grocery retail market. This shift, partly propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led marketing teams to integrate digital marketing strategies for creating online touchpoints and gathering more robust shopper insights.

Tracing the Roots: Michael Cullen and the Shopper Marketing Definition

When exploring the history and the shopper marketing definition, the innovations by Michael Cullen are pivotal. His introduction of self-service supermarkets transformed the grocery shopping model and broadened the scope of what is shopper marketing today.

Michael Cullen’s Impact on CPG Shopper Marketing

Cullen’s revolutionary model had a ripple effect on CPG shopper marketing, making it more consumer-centric. His focus on chain marketing, volume dealing, and discount pricing set new standards for how CPG items should be marketed to shoppers.

Modern Advances: Starlite Media and Brand Shopper Behavior

Starlite Media provides a contemporary lens on shopper marketing, showcasing how technology can be utilized to influence brand shopper behavior. Through digital signage, they achieved a 44.9% spike in shampoo sales—a milestone in shopper marketing research.

The Role of Shopper Marketing Research

Starlite Media’s success also emphasizes the necessity of shopper marketing research in optimizing and measuring campaign effectiveness. Their case study is a testament to how research-driven, tech-savvy approaches can have a tangible impact on brand shopper behavior.

Which Marketing Activities Make Up Shopper Marketing?

Couple shopping at grocery store

In today’s world, successful shopper marketing campaigns must account for both in-person and online interactions — especially in a time when the point of sale for many consumer goods takes place on a laptop or smartphone. According to research from McKinsey and Company, between 60-70% of shoppers across all product categories are expected to do their CPG shopping and product research both online and in-store.

As a result, successful shopper marketing doesn’t focus exclusively on in-store merchandising, nor does it fully rely on social media and SEO. It uses all of these resources to ensure that brand marketing messages will reach shoppers no matter where they are.

In-Store Displays

In-store displays have a powerful influence on shopper behavior. Shopping can be time-consuming and stressful, and many shoppers will look at displays at the end of grocery aisles or in the middle of larger areas to streamline their trip with seasonal or sale items.

Just like when browsing through Instagram, shoppers tend to have short attention spans, particularly if they are focused on finishing their list. Displays need to be visually attractive or engaging to grab their attention — like when soda companies have their bottles or cans arranged to look like a jack-o-lantern, basketball hoop, or the American flag.

The right placement can make all the difference in persuading a shopper to add an item to their cart. There’s a reason why “impulse buy” items (like cheap candy) are placed right before the checkout counter! 

Tip: Feature sale items prominently in an in-store display. It’s an easy way to move higher volumes of the products you’re actively promoting.

Product Demonstrations

When most people think of product demonstrations, they likely imagine membership-driven big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. Shoppers will usually be treated to free samples of featured food products as they walk the aisles.

The ability to “try before you buy” can go a long way in reducing a shopper’s perceived risk associated with trying a new product. When shoppers try something they especially like, they are much more likely to add it to their cart, even if it wasn’t originally on their list. One study by The Atlantic found that in some cases, free samples boosted individual product sales by as much as 2,000%.

Online brands are adopting this process as well, particularly for higher-value purchases. For example, many mattress retailers will offer 100-night (or even 1-year) sleep trials, giving shoppers ample time to test out a new mattress, while still having the option to get a full refund if it’s not a good fit.

Tip: Offer accessible demonstrations that are suitable for your product. For example, a donut shop could give out free samples while baking fresh donuts. A furniture maker shouldn’t be afraid to let guests sit on chairs and couches. A sample product or experience will go a long way in shaping shopper perceptions.

Social Media

Influencer campaigns can be a powerful way to promote interest in a brand — but they can also be used to drive direct sales. Sponsored Instagram posts can provide links to take users to an e-commerce site, or they could even allow users to buy a product directly through Instagram.

Social media can also help drive in-store sales. Geo-targeting social media ads can ensure that relevant ads are getting placed in user’s feeds when they are near (or inside) a physical store where they might buy a specific product. If a shopper happens to be scrolling through Instagram before or during their shopping trip, seeing an ad could be enough to influence their in-store behavior.

Tip: Review your current social media campaign, particularly in regards to geo-targeting. Simply changing your ad targeting to focus on ZIP codes where there are stores selling your products can help you better reach shoppers while they are making decisions.

The Shopping Experience

Whether online or in-store, the overall shopping experience can play just as important a role in driving sales as a traditional ad engagement. 

For example, after clicking on an Instagram ad, an individual is much more likely to buy something if they can complete the purchase with as few clicks or taps as possible. A page that loads slowly or has broken links will drive shoppers away, while a fast-loading, attractively designed page that offers secure checkout will gain their trust — and their dollars.

Similarly, the in-store shopping experience can be directly influenced by the building’s ambiance. Lighting, cleanliness, and crowds are just a few of the in-store factors that can define a shopper’s experience for better or worse.

Tip: Conduct a website audit to make sure your site is offering a streamlined experience for shoppers. Google’s PageSpeed Insights runs a quick diagnostic to analyze your site’s performance and highlight any changes you should make.

Using Data to Drive Successful Shopper Marketing Campaigns

Woman compares pie charts on phone to charts on laptop

Understanding shoppers and what drives their purchasing behavior is vital for any of your marketing efforts to be successful.

Fortunately, we live in a time when marketers can more easily obtain insights about shopper behaviors and adjust their campaigns accordingly.

Shopper marketing campaigns seek to understand their customers on an individual level. This is why you see grocery stores send customized coupons to rewards programs members based on their previous shopping habits. Many e-commerce brands have adopted similar habits, using a customer’s previous purchases to guide emails and other marketing outreach.

Because today’s brands need to exist both online and offline, SEO monitoring, content monitoring, and social media monitoring have all begun to play a larger role in helping companies understand what their consumers want. Google Analytics tools for your websites and Instagram’s social media analytics are easy starting points to understand how shoppers engage with your brand online.

Understanding what shoppers are looking for, what content they engage with, and how they interact with your website can unlock powerful insights into the types of messaging and experiences that will be most appealing for them. By understanding shopper behaviors and preferences, brands can tailor their marketing mix to better drive awareness and sales.

For example, by understanding which social media posts get the most engagement, you can adjust your content strategy to produce more of these types of posts in the future. Something as simple as asking a question in a post or using certain types of images could make a big impact on a post’s engagement — something you can learn from your analytics.

Implementing Shopper Marketing in Your Campaigns

Shopper marketing: Person looks at payment details on phone while using credit card

Social media can play a crucial role in influencing shopper behavior. You’d be amazed at how often people are scrolling through Instagram while going through the grocery store. By combining geo-targeted social posts with other retail marketing efforts, you can build your brand equity and get new shoppers to pay attention to your marketing messages.

Challenges and Solutions in Shopper Marketing: Navigating Margin Pressures in CPG

One of the most formidable challenges facing CPG shopper marketing today is the relentless pressure on profit margins. Costs are continuously escalating due to factors like inflation, supply chain disruptions, and increased competition. In such a landscape, the traditional avenues for revenue generation are often not enough, making it imperative for brands to explore alternative income streams.

The Underlying Issues

Rising Costs: From raw materials to distribution, the cost of doing business is increasing.

Intense Competition: The market is saturated with numerous brands vying for consumer attention, often leading to price wars.

Consumer Expectations: With easy access to information, consumers are more informed and demand better quality and pricing, which further squeezes margins.

The Solution: Retail Media Networks

Retail Media Networks are emerging as a viable solution to mitigate the challenges of margin pressure. These networks offer a new paradigm in shopper marketing by transforming retail platforms into advertising channels.

Key Players and Technologies

Companies like Kevel, CitrusAd, and Adobe are at the forefront of this transformation. Through API-based integrations, these tech giants are enabling both large and small retailers to monetize their platforms by offering advertising opportunities.

How it Works

API Integration: The API connects the retailer’s platform with the advertising network, allowing for seamless data exchange.

Targeted Advertising: Brands can advertise directly on the retailer’s platform, targeting consumers based on their shopping behavior.

Revenue Generation: Retailers earn from these advertisements, creating an alternative revenue stream that can help alleviate margin pressures.

Reshaping the Shopper Marketing Landscape

The advent of Retail Media Networks is not just a band-aid solution; it’s a strategic pivot that is reshaping the shopper marketing ecosystem. By offering more targeted advertising opportunities, these networks benefit both retailers and CPG brands. Retailers get a new income stream, while brands can more precisely target their core audience, potentially improving ROI.

Future Trends in Shopper Marketing: Innovations and Transformations

Retail Media Networks: A New Chapter in Shopper Marketing

Small retailers are increasingly becoming part of the shopper marketing landscape by creating focused audiences. This trend is diversifying revenue streams and expanding the definition of what is shopper marketing by including more players in the advertising domain.

Advanced TV: Precision in CPG Shopper Marketing

Advanced TV technology is bringing a new level of specificity to CPG shopper marketing. By targeting particular households, brands can make their advertising spend more efficient, aligning closely with shopper marketing research on audience behavior.

Digital Signage: A Dynamic Turn in Shopper Marketing

Digital signs are transforming the in-store experience, a cornerstone of traditional shopper marketing. These signs offer real-time metrics that can be analyzed for immediate strategy adjustments, making shopper marketing more agile and data-driven.

Digital Circulars: Personalization Meets Brand Shopper Engagement

Replacing paper-based circulars, digital versions are becoming the norm. These digital circulars can be customized based on shopper history, offering a more targeted approach to engaging the brand shopper.

Virtual Reality: An Immersive Future in Shopper Marketing

The introduction of Virtual Reality (VR) experiences in brand campaigns, like Gucci’s virtual handbags, is widening the scope of shopper marketing. It adds an immersive layer that could become a staple in future shopper marketing strategies.

AI and Personalization: The E-Commerce Facet of Shopper Marketing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the online shopping experience, which is an increasingly important aspect of shopper marketing. By tailoring online experiences, AI contributes to more effective CPG shopper marketing strategies.

Payments Media Networks: The Evolution of Discount Strategies

These networks are enabling brand-specific discounts, adding a new layer of personalization to shopper marketing. This innovation could lead to more nuanced strategies based on shopper marketing research.

Conclusion: The Future is Now for Shopper Marketing

As we navigate through the ever-evolving landscape of shopper marketing, one thing is abundantly clear: the future is already here. From the pioneering work of Michael Cullen, who redefined the very concept of what is shopper marketing, to the tech-savvy approaches of companies like Starlite Media, the field is in a constant state of innovation. With challenges like margin pressures in CPG shopper marketing, the industry is finding ingenious solutions such as Retail Media Networks, which offer alternative revenue streams that benefit both brands and retailers.

Moreover, the future holds promising developments that will further revolutionize shopper marketing. Whether it’s the precision targeting capabilities of Advanced TV, the real-time data analysis offered by digital signage, or the immersive experiences made possible through Virtual Reality, the opportunities for brand shopper engagement are limitless. And let’s not overlook the transformative power of AI and personalization, which are set to redefine the e-commerce aspect of shopper marketing.

But what ties all these elements together is shopper marketing research. It serves as the bedrock upon which successful campaigns are built, offering invaluable insights into consumer behavior both online and in-store. Whether you are a brand looking to optimize your social media marketing or a retailer aiming to enhance the in-store experience, understanding the key elements of successful shopper marketing can significantly amplify your marketing impact.

So, whether you’re a seasoned marketing professional or a newcomer to the field, the question isn’t whether you should integrate shopper marketing into your strategy, but how you can do it most effectively. With a blend of traditional in-store tactics, digital touchpoints, and leveraging data-driven insights, the future of shopper marketing is not just an exciting prospect but a present-day reality that offers a high-impact marketing mix for driving sales and consumer engagement.

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