illustration of a meeting
Written by Roger Jackson,
December 09th, 2019 | Views

Is this the golden rule of shopper insights?

I am generally loath to dumb down anything into oversimplified bullet points, but I am going to make an exception today because I think this matter is so important but so ignored – it needs a little bit of extra focus!

Most shopper insights are driven by suppliers seeking to “influence” retailers. We all know that. Retailers rely on trusted suppliers to give advice to help them achieve growth because they don’t have a) the time or b) the research budget to do this for themselves. But the problem is the dominant culture in any CPG manufacturer is incredibly driven by their brands. Can’t complain about this in general, it’s the brands that give the company its profit, reward shareholders and keep the CEO in his or her job, right?

But here down in the shopper insights corner of the office, we are faced with a dilemma. 

We live in a company that is driven by the brand agenda. Every ounce of budget is interrogated with the question “how will it help us sell more of our stuff”. Zero Based budgeting (can I hear the groans) has just made this already established paradigm worse. So, it’s very tempting for researchers to focus attention on understanding what might be hindering brand sales or what might encourage more brand sales. After all, half the company’s people are focused on succeeding at “the first moment of truth” are they not?

Sales 101 tells us that the very first question a customer asks is WIIFM, i.e. “what’s in it for me”? Salespeople are trained to figure out how to fit the brand agenda into the retailer agenda. In shopper insights, given this is the focus of the outputs of our work, surely this has to be our goal too. So, here is the challenge:

My budget is provided to drive brand performance, but the audience for my data is a retailer who doesn’t care about our brand…

At a very fundamental level, shopper insights professionals live in a conflict zone. They are squaring a circle. Balancing what our company demands with what the customer cares about. Not easy.

That’s where my golden rule comes in: Think first like a retailer.

Retailers genuinely care about shoppers (that after all is their only customer). I know CPG firms talk about the shopper and consumer as different people (maybe) but for a retailer they can’t afford to get fuzzy on that. This is the key point: retailers have to win the footfall (get the basket) and drive basket value.

If your insights don’t play to the agenda of how you can help the retailer (your buyer) “win” then frankly you won’t get much airtime and any positive pay off for your brand won’t actually happen. “Win” means win overall, at a store and category level, not selling more brand A than B unless it’s just a margin play.

You can tell your budget holders that, unfortunately, they won’t get their ROI on shopper research unless that research does more than just explore a branded agenda.

This is such a crucial agenda item its why I designed the entire Shopper Intelligence business as it is. And why I fight on this point. If you are in any doubt, maybe just talk to your customer about it?

Or do you disagree? I am very open to discussion on this point. Is it the most important rule, or is there something else more important?