Shopper Marketing: Buzz or Babble?


The first three acronyms are from the lexicon of “shopper marketing,” the last one a humble retailer’s exasperated “what the?” response. What does it all mean? And to use another truncation, is shopper marketing just so much BS from a bunch of (likely) MBA’s?

I’ve been asked that question many times over the last few years. And my answer is that, while “shopper” (as the discipline is popularly known) has its fair share of snake oil salesmen, it does have some genuine remedies for retail.

So let’s start with the impenetrable jargon at the opening of this column. FMOT, SMOT and ZMOT are all “moments of truth” – First, Second and Zero. The idea of “moments of truth” is at the heart of the shopper marketing movement. P&G boss A.G. Lafley popularized the FMOT (commonly called “eff-mot”) to describe that first critical 3-7 second moment when shoppers decide to purchase an item. The SMOT is the second moment of truth, which is the experience of the product. And ZMOT? Well, that’s the Zero Moment Of Truth, a phrase coined by Google to describe the time after an ad is seen, but before a decision to purchase is made. It’s the research phase that takes place online, and often via smartphones in store.

All these “moments of truth” are incorporated into another shopper marketing buzz phrase – the “path to purchase.” The idea is to first map out and then intersect and interact with shoppers at different points as they make their way to a buying decision. After the purchase, marketers need to turn the journey into a virtuous circle where buyers keep coming back. These days, the notion of a path to purchase has further evolved into a “digital path to purchase.”

Ken Barnett, Global CEO of Mars Advertising, a US-based shopper agency, says that “there are only three objectives for path-to-purchase marketing: (to get) on the list, in the cart and in the heart.” To expand upon that quote, how do you ensure that your brand is front-of-mind in the first place for shoppers, that the customer is directed to the right point of purchase, that they actually put your product in their basket (whether it’s in-store or online), and finally feel good about the experience afterwards?

Shopper marketing can take many forms – from store layout, navigation and ambience; to enhancing the presence of a product on a shelf; to good old-fashioned sales promotion. The genesis is widely regarded to be the late 1990’s, when P&G and Walmart worked together to cluster baby products together into one aisle. In doing so, they created a destination that balanced out low-margin essential purchases such as diapers with more profitable items such as baby clothes.

Beyond the buzzwords, really effective shopper marketing is simply about understanding and influencing a shopper’s behavior in order to make a sale and build a relationship. And it’s applying some process and science to what many retailers (certainly the great merchants) have always done intuitively.

So while it’s worth approaching “shopper” with a healthy amount of skepticism, it’s important to bolster instinct with facts and a framework, particularly at a time when the way shoppers behave is less predictable than ever.