Posted: October 12, 2009 by
Matt Egan

Ask any CPG pro and they'll tell you: Manufacturers have caught the Shopper Marketing fever—and many are retooling entire campaigns to take a more "shopper-centric" or "store-centric" approach. As a result, Shopper Marketing and its related disciplines have become a highly visible growth area in the marketing services arena.

But what exactly is Shopper Marketing? And…What brand touch points does it influence? Broadly speaking, Shopper Marketing refers to the use of shopper insights to influence human behavior at retail and achieve a disproportionate share of brand choice in-store. It can influence everything from merchandising and displays, to POS, retail media, promotion, and—yes—packaging.

Beyond traditional merchandising

Indeed, Shopper Marketing has challenged many long-held beliefs about brand management, and it is changing the way many manufacturers approach communications. For example, brand managers now commonly seek a deeper understanding of the specific needs and motivations of shoppers in-store in addition to more traditional consumer insights. Furthermore, brand managers are putting the store at the center of communications development, driving greater alignment between traditional and in-store communications.

Despite these changes, a surprisingly large proportion of packaging briefs are still "consumer in" and "brand out." That is, they are informed by broad consumer insights and the key brand equities that define a brand proposition. That's a problem. While these traditional inputs are key, more sophisticated marketers are seeking richer shopper and channel data to inform their packaging briefs. They know that 70% of purchase decisions are made in-store, and that to win at retail they need better understanding of the specific choice-drivers within the shopping environment.

As more marketers leverage shopper insights to inform their packaging, those who don't may be left out in the cold. And as more retailers adopt "clean store" policies, packaging may be the only in-store media available in certain channels. Let's face it, packaging is the primary in-store media vehicle. And it's a medium that's available and affordable to each and every brand.

As these trends gain momentum, package design practitioners would be wise to gain a better understanding of Shopper Marketing fundamentals. By following a few basic principles, designers can ensure that their work speaks powerfully at the moment of truth when a retail shopper actively considers a purchase.

Understand the shopper

Shoppers are different from consumers. A simple example: The mom who shops for breakfast cereal has a whole series of different desires and needs than her family, who ultimately consume the product. So while Trix's "silly rabbit" entices the kids with fun fruit flavors on television, General Mills' promise of "whole grain goodness" on the box encourages mom (and reduces her guilt) while she selects the product in-store.

Not surprising, shopper-centric packaging begins with a deeper understanding of the shopper and the overall shopping experience. Specifically, practitioners should consider the following:
• What is the target shopper's mindset as she or he enters "active shopping" mode?
• What is the primary mission or trip type for the product?
• Is she buying off list or on impulse?
• What channel is she likely to shop?
• How might usage occasions very by retail channel?
• What are the drivers and barriers to selection in-store?

In addition, development teams may wish to develop "shopper personae"—simple, memorable portraits that define different shopper types and their related biases. The goal is to develop a better picture of a brand's target shoppers, in order to develop powerful concepts that will overcome barriers and encourage selection in-store.

Create flexible systems

As many design agencies would agree, too many of today's packaging briefs are "narrow cast." That is, they call for tactical executions against a specific set of SKUs, and they are evaluated against retail performance in a specific channel. Under these restraints, it can be difficult to develop packaging systems that have the legs to deliver against different shoppers, occasions, and retail formats—and the capacity to evolve over time.

Conversely, more progressive brands are developing powerful packaging systems that successfully stretch across many SKUs and adapt to different retail formats. They are supplementing core brand propositions with shopper-specific messages designed to overcome selection barriers in specific channels and in specific retailers.
In order to achieve this level of sophisticated diversity, manufacturers need to periodically step back from individual packaging executions and address their broader packaging range. They need to create flexible design systems that include a series of visual equities beyond a logo that can flex and stretch, enabling a brand to live powerfully across multiple channels. And they require powerful insight-based messaging that will connect with shoppers at the point of purchase in these varied channels.

As an example, Coca-Cola is masterful in presenting consistent brand equity while finding innovative ways to speak to very different shoppers. A look at Coke's 12-packs at your local Target store reveals familiar brand iconography, supplemented by family mealtime imagery that inspires mom to make Coke part of her family's together moments. Meanwhile, across town at 7-Eleven, a teenager may grab a 20-oz. contour bottle full of Coke that promises instant, plentiful refreshment.

Consider the full 'path-to-purchase'

Too often, packaging is viewed as a starting point. It may be the first creative asset that a team develops, while in fact it is usually the last media touch point a shopper interacts with along a lengthy path-to-purchase.

By the time a shopper considers a product on shelf, she is already beholden to a number of beliefs and associations—conscious or not—that will influence her behavior. As such, a shopper-centric packaging approach must extend back from the shelf and consider the entire consumer journey.

This may be as simple as taking a broader view of the package's role in-aisle and its performance before shoppers engage in "active consideration." To illustrate, many brands are exploiting simple strategies such as color-blocking or billboarding to attract a greater share of eyeballs as shoppers enter the aisle.

Or, the approach may extend back from the aisle to consider the entire retail experience and even pre-store influences. Practitioners should ask themselves: 1) What are the most influential touch points along the path-to-purchase?; and 2) How can I create greater connectivity across touch points so that my pack reinforces and builds upon pre-store messaging?

At minimum, teams should strive for graphic continuity along the path-to-purchase in order to enhance shoppers' brand recall and their association with pre-store messaging. Ideally, teams should engineer message "sequencing"—a series of aligned claims that arouse interest in traditional channels and incite action in-store. As "clean store" policies proliferate, integration of packaging media into this path-to-purchase sequence will become more critical to brand success in-store.

Embrace change - make it your friend

Despite the fast-moving world we live in, many packaging briefs still call for "permanent" solutions. They imagine the package design as a permanent fixture, one that will live on shelf for three, five, 10 years or more (the longer the better!). This mindset is understandable as packaging changes can be fraught with risk. However, by understanding the shopper, and by designing flexible systems, modern brand packaging can adapt to different targets, channels, retailers, and seasons seamlessly—without putting core brand equity at risk.

The wise marketer will embrace constant packaging change and enhancement as a new reality. After all packaging can surprise and delight. It can tell stories and yes, it can campaign for your brand. It is the most powerful in-store media vehicle available to marketers, and one that deserves to be looked at through a new and innovative lens.

Matt Egan is executive director, insight at G2 in New York City. He leads the firm's brand development and design discipline and oversees client strategy across G2's promotional marketing group in North America. He can be reached at 212-616-9057 or