Shopper Marketing Interview: JACK Talks to Rob Holston

Jack Blog

May 11th, 2011 By Jack Morton

Rob Holston is an expert in the field of shopper marketing with almost two decades of experience and shopper marketing leadership at global brands including Deloitte Consulting LLC and The Coca-Cola Company. He’s currently Executive Vice President and leads Symphony Analytics at SymphonyIRI, the global leader in innovative solutions and services for driving revenue and profit growth in CPG, retail and healthcare companies.

I asked Rob to share his point of view in a brief interview for the JACK Blog (conducted 10 May 2011).

How do you define shopper marketing?

At its most essential, shopper marketing is about the conjunction of the right brand, the right price, and the right brand communication, but with the critical addition of the right shopper engagement that uniquely engages me as a shopper in that setting. So if I’m a mom in a grocery store, how does the display connect with me as a shopper who’s trying to make the right decisions for my family, even if I’m not the target for the product?

With all the buzz around shopper marketing these days, do you feel the term gets mis-used?

It’s frustrating when people just do generic mass-market promotions in-store, or retail execution, and call it shopper marketing – it is the equivalent of junk mail or spam. To be true shopper marketing, it has to be based on an understanding of the target and an insight into them as shoppers – how they buy – how they select and deselect brands – what is important in their buyer behavior. Tailoring the message and offer to the shopper segment based on some actionable insight is the critical distinction between creating a purchase and driving that shopper towards greater loyalty, or hoping for a purchase.

What are some of the mistakes brands make around shopper marketing?

Even with all the focus on shopper marketing, there’s still a tendency for brands to try to replicate what they’re doing outside the store in the store—but that doesn’t work. So for example, you might have a television commercial that focuses on functional benefits and think that it’s going to have the same effect in the retail setting. It won’t. The triggers that make people buy in the store are different.

A lot of companies spend a lot of money trying getting their brand messages to consumers through traditional advertising. They’re really great at saying “love me, love me, love me” outside the store. But then inside the store they have to be saying “buy me, buy me, buy me.” Those two things—“love me” and “buy me”—are not identical. They are related.

The brands that are great at shopper marketing think carefully about the distinctions and the connections between those triggers. “Love me” might be driven my an emotive message – “Buy me” might be triggered by package design or a compelling offer.

There’s so much enthusiasm now about new technologies that can influence shoppers. Yet retail staff still interact with and influence shoppers—especially in high consideration sectors like consumer electronics. What do you think about the balance of those two—technology and the human element? Does one get over-emphasized?

You need both. It gets back to the need to have insight into the shopper. People’s receptivity to technology in-store really depends on who the shopper is.

For example, with consumer electronics, men and women buy differently. I’ve led studies that show that men thinking about a consumer electronics purchase would do their research online and then go to store to buy—really to pick up—the product they’ve chosen. Whereas women would go to store as part of their research process.

Again, a brand that excels at shopper marketing would conclude from this that they should really understand who their target is and create the experience that’s right for the target. Pick what you need to be good at based on who your target is and what they respond to. Measure and analyze the drivers of purchase constantly to hone your offer and evolve with your shoppers and consumers. You’ll do a lot better by being good at what you need to be good at than by trying to be good at everything.