In recent years, the fight for prominence and placement in-store has become ever more aggressive as customer demand for new product development squeezes available real estate; and empowered, aware and health-conscious shoppers arrive pre-primed to purchase. Thanks to the pandemic, online shopping and Amazon-style auto-renewal subscriptions are becoming increasingly popular, further limiting engagement opportunities for FMCG brands; and all of this is taking place under increased governmental regulation. Moments-of-truth still exist but they are unrecognisable from what they once were—making it ever more difficult for FMCG brands to properly engage with customers who are in a buying mindset.
At The Marketing Store, we see this volatility as an opportunity; an opportunity for FMCG brands to level up their customer engagement by thinking beyond traditional shopper parameters, whilst still being attentive and responsive to retailers’ immediate needs.
This is because we believe, more than ever, the voice of the customer must be prominent at a strategic level within brand marketing teams.
Yet traditional shopper marketing agencies tend to be do-ers, not thinkers. Their “Strategies” are strategies of channel execution, not the big picture customer thinking that can influence decisions further upstream. Instead, FMCG brands need agencies that can look ahead to develop future-facing connected customer strategies that are representative of the always-on, omnichannel world that shoppers now inhabit.
Here are four focus areas for FMCG brands and their agencies as they navigate the new world of customer marketing:
1. Rethink your relationship with ecommerce
Thanks to increased adoption during the pandemic, ecommerce is set to become a more consistent part of shoppers’ repertoire. However, the convenience it offers is turning shopping into a commoditised utility, with brand loyalty taking a back seat in favour of suppliers who can get shoppers their items quickly, or at a lower price point.
To overcome this challenge, FMCG brands need to find new ways to maintain and assert their market position: providing clear reasons for shoppers to buy their items, and enough of a distinctive customer experience to ensure they return.
The difference between ecommerce and bricks & mortar retail isn’t that ecommerce is ‘digital’ —physical retail is becoming ever more tech-dependent — it’s that in ecommerce, shoppers can buy products in the very place they intend to consume them. They can buy their snacks whilst having a coffee, pasta sauces after looking in the cupboard, pet food just as the last tin runs out.
And so, it can be more powerful to question whether a treat tastes good enough, their pet food is healthy enough or their cupboards are stocked well enough closer to the point of consumption than the point of purchase. Ecommerce provides this opportunity.
To win in ecommerce, brands need to ensure the shopper journey doesn’t start with the first click, but that there is a wider strategy that primes and sparks the customer’s ecommerce visit. Bricks & mortar shopping generally needs to be planned, online can be more impulsive. So brands must think about how they kick-start that ecommerce shop, not just the part they play in it.
2. Adapt to new expectations in store
When customers do visit a physical store, they bring with them new expectations and behaviours shaped by their experiences with online retailers.
The increasingly prevalent ‘But Amazon let’s me do it’ mentality means that shoppers don’t care if they are in the physical world or the ecommerce world, they want the same experience.
Investing in digital technology to elevate the in-store experience can help brands and retailers bridge that gap, so the traditional shopper experience can mimic some of the benefits of ecommerce.
3. Use behavioural science to guide your approach.
At the Marketing Store, we believe the best way to build stable long-term engagement strategies that are agile enough to respond to fast-changing customer behaviours, is to root them in behavioural science.
When it comes to engaging shoppers, behavioural science can be applied at all 3 stages of the path to purchase:
Prime: By seeing the context of where and how shoppers use ecommerce to engage with their products (at home, on-the-go etc), brands can spot contextual opportunities to question existing purchasing behaviours and prime the shoppers’ mindset: “why buy X when Y is better for your needs?”
Nudge: Distinctive brand assets are vital to nudge customers to purchase. Yet, for market leaders it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay distinctive: packaging and NPDs get plagiarised; colourways get copied. So, brands need to be more than just distinctive. They need to lead the category by challenging conventions and creating new innovations that nudge customers to purchase.
Confirm: Our research found that 41% of shoppers are now more conscious about the products they buy. Only brands that offer real value to their lives will make it into baskets. If brand meaning shines through at the point-of-purchase it provides emotional confirmation that the shopper has made the right choice (and in doing so increases repurchase and advocacy).
4. Invest in analytics to find new ways to demonstrate value
The economic shockwaves of Covid-19 will be felt for many years, driving up demand for even greater value and for branded goods to prove their price point. Creating both distinction at point of purchase and intrinsic value in shopper minds will be key to success.
One of the most effective ways to identify new value streams is to invest in advanced analytics platforms that leverage data from across the entire omnichannel shopper journey to predict shopper behaviours, drive efficiencies of scale, and create optimised decision-making across an entire organisation.
From descriptive analytics that tell brands how products or campaigns are performing; to predictive analytics that tell them what customers will prefer in future; and prescriptive analytics which help optimise those products or campaigns for future success, full-stack data platforms are a game-changer for FMCG brands. Why? Because they offer decision makers the agility to meet changing shopper behaviours, at the speed that they are changing, in the places they are changing.
At The Marketing Store, we have a well-respected heritage in FMCG, but we are not a traditional shopper agency. In fact, we’ve been away from the sector for a few years now creating the world’s biggest digital transformation of retail space for McDonald’s, closing the loop to retail for adidas and reimagining loyalty for O2 Priority.
This work may not be traditionally ‘shopper’ but it has given us a deep understanding of customer behaviour and the channels and strategies most likely to engage them.
Because it’s not the past that counts, it’s the future. A future in which new moments-of-truth and brand building opportunities will emerge. A future in which the voice of the customer must have parity with the power of brand. A future in which FMCG brands need more than just shopper agencies; and instead need agencies that can truly build brands in the age of the customer.