Q1: What is the most often overlooked aspect of shopper marketing which should be very basic to all?
Great shopper marketing starts with great shopper insight. Shopper marketing is marketing. Insight drives actions and solutions. Neuroscience proved that 99% of what we do are driven by subconscious behavior or what we usually call habit. People more or less buy the same things most of the time. Shopper marketing is all about influencing buying habits, and you can only do this by understanding what the habit is through shopper insight.
Q2: You became the first global customer marketing director for Ponds in Unilever, then global head for shopper marketing for Philips consumer lifestyle division. After that you joined Nielsen as managing director for shopper research for Asia, Africa and Middle East. What will consumer companies be missing without a good shopper marketing program?
Shaping buying behavior of shoppers in favor of your brand or store.
For retailers, without a good shopper marketing program, you will miss out on knowing shoppers’ evolving buying behavior and preference. For example at Nielsen, we were able to pick up that shoppers these days prefer to shop smaller baskets more frequently. Winning retailers are the ones who are able to pick up on this trend, innovate the smaller format that serves everyday needs of shoppers.
For manufacturers, it’s all about locking your shoppers into autopilot mode of picking your brand whenever they visit your category aisle.
Q3: Unilever was your first employer. You almost didn’t make the cut but something made them accept you. Can you share with our readers this story?
I’ve been turned down twice and only managed to get an interview on my third attempt. There will be moments in your life that you know clearly what you want, if you felt this, be persistent and never give up.
I thank Pong Ejercito and Perry Villa for giving me the chance as UST was not the usual school for Unilever to hire fresh graduates. The only opening then was in sales and in modern trade. Back then, most sales people wanted to be in general trade. The key is to make the most of what is given to you, give your best, work hard, stay humble. Luckily, I managed to find excellent mentors like Joy Isla and Carl Cruz. We were able to build modern trade as the place to be, at the same time, were able to hire and mentor some of the most talented people. I am proud to say they are now senior managers and directors in Unilever and other companies.
Q4: You were then managing some key accounts for Unilever when you made them proud by being part of the first batch of the Mansmith Young Market Masters Award (YMMA) in 2006. You won because while most other entries were merely selling products, you created a unique store layout program for your major retailers, improving overall business for your key accounts. How did you conceive this idea?
Listening to your retailers and their shoppers is the key. I am actually from an industrial engineering background without any FMCG experience. My first assignment was Robinsons. They are a very progressive retailer, and back then, they wanted to promote and lead the category management practice in the Philippines. We partnered on a few categories, and along the way we realized that we can fix the current space which may be over/under allocated to total store space. That’s where the store layout management concept was conceived — it was combining industrial engineering facility design and layout with sales data and how shoppers shop.
The concept further evolved with Carl Cruz (who now heads customer development in Unilever) to develop solution centers, which combines several categories to sell solutions rather than just products.
Creativity is a very interesting phenomenon. I always advise people to squeeze all your ideas in a project, don’t hold back. Because when you give your all, your creativity becomes stronger and next level thinking naturally comes.
Q5: Can you share the most memorable shopper marketing project you have initiated for Unilever, Philips and Nielsen?
In Nielsen, it’s Shopper Lab, the first in the region. Right shopper research is about decoding behavior rather than basing it on interview. The shopper lab is the epitome of this philosophy. It combines leading edge technology like eye tracker to see what shopper sees, touch screen virtual store to observe what they do, and EEG neuroscience technology for what they ‘feel’. This was co-funded by the Singapore government, and the concept is exported out to developed markets like Australia.
For Philips, it was setting up the global shopper marketing organization. To be able to put shopper marketing on the global CEO’s agenda, I had to learn new skills like collaboration and building supporters across the entire organization globally.
For Unilever, it was the global repositioning of Ponds from mass to “masstige”. To support the dramatic change of the entire product range, we had to change 4000+ beauty counters, upgrade the look and skills of 5000 beauty advisers across all priority markets globally within 3 months. We discovered the shopper insight of how to give shoppers a premium experience without intimidating them. We applied this insight across everything we do – hired a French design house to drastically change our counters, worked with a New York based Thai couture house that designed our beauty advisers’ uniforms, and partnered with Singapore airline trainers to ensure our beauty advisers were giving the best service in the industry. Although Ponds already evolved after I left in 2008, I can still see the DNA in-store today.
Q6: Can you briefly share some best and next practices for shopper marketing?
In terms of retailer and manufacturer collaboration, joint shopper project from insight to execution is the big thing. This enabled new kind of activities to the shop floor, retailers are becoming more open to co-branded activities because there is a supporting insight on why we should do things a certain way.
For manufacturers, reverse brand innovation is becoming common. Some new innovations today start from the shopfloor — understanding what the issues are with shoppers, how do we change or reinforce certain behavior, and what innovation we can do to make this happen.
What’s next in the future – category shopper marketing. A lot of shopper projects today are brand based, saturation will happen soon on the retailers end. Retailers have to nominate the best category shopper champion to assist them help grow the total category based on their shoppers’ buying behavior.
Q7: The store used to be the first moment-of-truth (FMOT) for shoppers while product use is known as the second (SMOT). Nowadays, Internet has taken over as the early influencer (known as the ZMOT or the Zero Moment-of-Truth) of consumer’s perception and attitude about a brand. How is shopper marketing expected to change in the light of social media?
ZMOT is dependent on category. For some categories like electronics, plane tickets, hotel reservations, online is very big. For some companies, digital shopping is part of the shopper marketing portfolio. It’s just influencing buying behavior on a different channel. I’ve worked on digital shopper marketing since 2010 in Philips, and in Nielsen, digital shopper insight is part of the shopper research portfolio. The key is all about understanding the search and buy behavior of shoppers in both click and brick channels and how best to influence them.
Q8: In Philippines, we don’t hear shopper marketing much. How do you see the potential of shopper marketing in the future?
Shopper marketing works best on developed markets as growth becomes harder. In the Philippines, grocery retailers are still getting a lot of growth by expansion and acquisition. Once they saturate this, shopper marketing is the key to generate the next level of growth phase. In other categories like luxury goods, where store expansions are limited and retailers are more concentrated, shopper marketing is already an inevitability. Even without a joint working model with retailers, I’ve seen a lot of manufacturers practicing shopper marketing, This is either through channel level shopper plan or shopper insighting works. The future belongs to those who can shape both consumption and buying habits in favor of their brand.
Bestselling author Josiah Go is the Chairman and Chief Marketing Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines), President and CEO of Waters Philippines (the market leader in the direct selling of premium health durable products in the Philippines) and President and CEO of PT Noah Health Indonesia. He is Chairman / Vice Chairman / Director of over a dozen companies.