The art and science of researching how shoppers decide is at a crossroad. The shopper insights discipline originally developed when retailers began saying to CPG manufacturers that they have a thorough understanding of behavioral data and its findings, but lack a genuine grasp of how their customers and non-customers think and the “why” that drives that behavior.
Many of the more sophisticated manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage from an information standpoint by using custom market research to establish a more strategic relationship with their retail partners. The development of shopper insights as a discipline was further advanced when companies gravitated to the concept of the “first moment of truth.” The core message of the “first moment of truth” was that lots of resources, research and organizational energy is spent doing sophisticated tasks to get products to market and make consumers aware of them, but companies must have a fundamental understanding of how people decide in store and how their brands perform in that environment in order to be successful. The science of how people decide was a cost of entry to successfully compete going forward. Before this concept gained popularity, custom research for the shopper space was a neglected or non-existent information element in most companies’ research portfolio.
Over time, manufacturers who were committed to shopper insights research began to add custom researchers and budget to conduct studies that focused on creating growth in store. As the concept grew, in most companies, shopper insights became a segregated function and concept - a specialized group with a specific shopper mandate. Many research agencies serving the manufacturer community that provide shopper expertise created similar types of entities, separate from their other specialty areas such as brand/communications, package testing or concept/product testing. Companies benefited greatly from the creation of the shopper research discipline through a better understanding of the decision-making process, the development of closer retail partnerships, and ultimately by selling more products. That said, a few companies are beginning to look at their success or failure in-store as the culmination of efforts from several disconnected functions and trying to understand what the holistic view should look like, from both a consumer and shopper vantage point, if they were to engineer their firms from the store perspective looking back.
Why? The reality is that consumer and shopper marketing are incredibly intertwined in-store, which is also where the ROI across many functions is realized. Over the years companies have created separate, specialized functions from an organizational and research standpoint because they have not recognized the importance of where these functions actually close the deal - the store. Advertising touch points, new product development, pricing decisions, consumer promotions, marketing mix decisions, consumer targeting strategies, package design and portfolio management are all typically the domain of consumer marketing, but all have a dominant impact on how shoppers decide in store. Most decisions across the consumer marketing function don’t incorporate learning or metrics from a shopper standpoint. Moreover, the research measures used in these disparate functions are antiquated and inaccurate when viewed through the lens of an integrated consumer and shopper marketing environment. Measuring these marketing-mix elements without the context of an in-store reality, could lead to the wrong conclusions and bad business decisions. For example, it’s important to have an understanding of the level of brand equity (typically a consumer marketing measure) a given shopper has when conducting shopper studies related to in-store brand performance, and how that equity influences in-store decisions. But most companies have not developed a common equity measure that can be applied across consumer and shopper marketing research. Designing packages with an understanding of how your package performs relative to the shopping style of your targets can significantly improve the strategic and tactical view of package design, but few rarely conduct studies in this way. Understanding the in-store equity of your brands and how that relates to traditional brand plans can substantially enhance your consumer marketing strategies and success in store, but few companies develop and incorporate these kinds of measures or thinking. For most firms, from a consumer and shopper marketing standpoint, the information, research, and organizational infrastructure are separated in a way that prevents systematically identifying and creating demand generation opportunities across consumer and shopper marketing. The shopper imperative going forward is not about standardization of metrics but alignment.
In a world where strategies around advertising, new products, price, promotion and shelf placement are quite obvious to competitors, an organization that is well aligned across consumer and shopper marketing inherently makes decisions that create competitive advantage and demand generation as part of their fundamental way of going to market. It’s an ingrained and sustainable competitive advantage that is not obvious to your competitors. Most firms are unfortunately ill-equipped or misaligned to create this kind of advantage.
Sharing this view is Gavan Fitzsimons, R. David Thomas, professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. We connected on these issues last year to discuss how we could help companies grow their shopper insights expertise as well as better connect consumer and shopper marketing and the result was the birth of the The Duke/Synovate Shopper Insights Center for Leadership and Innovation.
The Center’s Board, led by Duke and Synovate, currently consists of seven non-competitive global CPG manufacturers as well as some leading academics from world- class educational institutions. The board members vary in terms of their functional responsibilities including research heads, shopper insights leaders, CMOs and division presidents. This kind of functional diversity helps frame the issues and provides a more holistic perspective on consumer and shopper marketing challenges. Board members help fund the research that the board defines as critical to advancing shopper marketing, and they decide which retailers should be board advisors. Participating retailers will provide a summary of the issues that are most important to them and allow access to their stores for some of the board’s experiments. Guest contributors in the form of other non-competitive CPG companies, technology and research firms and shopper agencies will also be a part of this community. Research projects will include a wide range of topics such as the role of the subconscious in purchase decisions or do brands have a quantifiable “in-store equity” that accelerates or detracts from in-store performance.
This initiative is in the early stages with the first meeting at the Duke/Synovate Center scheduled to take place this summer. Ultimately it is the board’s hope that efforts like the Duke/Synovate Center - that include retail, manufacturer, research agency and academic collaboration - will lead to breakthroughs in thinking that go beyond pure research insights to address the greater shopper imperative of alignment.
Mark Berry is an EVP at Synovate responsible for the company’s CPG and Retail business units in the United States and co-leads Synovate’s Global Shopper Insights practice. For more information on the Duke/Synovate Shopper Insights Center for Leadership and Innovation contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.