This month, along with the announcement of our retail alliance with AOL, Mediabrands unveiled of a new shopper market agency called Shopper Sciences. Retail veteran and Mediabrands EVP, John Ross will head the agency which will focus on the key influence factors in shoppersâ€™ journey from undecided to decided.
Utilizing a range of tools from across Mediabrands, and relying heavily on the Lab, the new shopper marketing agency will have the ability to pinpoint the media sources that move a shopper from indecision to decision, evaluate the barriers to purchase at different points within the purchase cycle.Â Â The agency will use influence research to reveal points where the shopping process fails to meet consumersâ€™ needs.Â By also partnering with Geomentum it will provide clients with location-based insights and customer traffic to retail locations.
The Lab sat down with John Ross to discuss the future of the Shopper Sciences Agency.
What is ShopperÂ Sciences and how does it differ from the recent craze of agencies all chasing “Shopper Marketing” as the next big thing?
What fascinates me about the all the buzz around shopper marketing in the last few years is actually how little “shopper” there is in most shopper marketing programs. TheÂ CPG shopper programs often have the customer (e.g., the grocer, bottler, distributor, etc.) as the real target for their shopper initiatives. And the retailers themselves struggle even more – their shopperÂ initiatives are often more aboutÂ extracting moreÂ slotting fees and co-op than really improving theÂ shopping experience in their stores. Very little “shopper marketing” is focused on helpingÂ harried shoppers make smarter decisions, helping themÂ improve their selection processÂ orÂ simplifying the buying process.
That’s whereÂ Shopper Sciences comes in.Â Every project we do starts with our unique approach to shopper insights – we literally heat map the shopping process, identifying what consumers need, how well different information sources support their decision making process and what can drive real preference – andÂ ultimatelyÂ conversion for the retailers and brands.
We have always known that word of mouth is at the top of the list for influence in how shoppers make choices. In the past, much of that word of mouth (peer to peer) influence was impossible to document, and very expensive to sample. But today, withÂ the rapidÂ expansion of social media, weÂ canÂ eavesdrop on the globalÂ conversationÂ around the shopping journey.
It amazes me how much of the social web is dedicated to conversations about shopping. With parents in particular, our research shows that as much as 70 percent of mom-to-mom online conversation centers around shopping advice, product reviews and purchase recommendations. And the humble product review rating button on many retailersâ€™Â websites often tests as one of the most influential drivers of shopper choice, stronger than their traditional (and very expensive) promotional campaigns.
Amazon,Â eBay and other online retailers have set the bar higher for shopping in general. Consumers increasingly expect more information, with links to product reviews, health andÂ nutritional information, previous purchaser recommendations and more.Â They want access to that information both online, in-store, andÂ although mobile shopping numbers are still small, we see a massive influence curve on the roleÂ that mobileÂ marketing will increasingly play in the shopping process.
The combination of these trends demands a smarter agency model – oneÂ thatÂ can connect to your existing agency roster to reveal the shopper mindset and veryÂ specific shopper needs toÂ help inform all the touch-points.
What is your relationship with theÂ IPG Media lab?
Although theÂ IPG Shopper Sciences agency is new, it builtÂ outÂ ofÂ the great work thatÂ IPG’s MediaÂ Lab has been doing in the field of shopper research. The Lab has been constantly testing andÂ validatingÂ consumer trends, looking for ways to build new methods of connecting marketers with consumers.Â ShopperÂ Sciences’ tool setÂ was incubated in the Lab; now it is ready to scale.
And what is your connection with Momentum?
Chris Weil, CEO ofÂ Momentum, has been talking about the blend betweenÂ physical shopping and the digital space for years. He calls it the â€œPhygital Future.â€ I have been so impressed by the work they are doing to integrate online andÂ traditional marketing withÂ experiential marketing worldwide. Shopper Sciences helps bring this really robust tool set to Chris’ team; he brings great creative, smart in-store strategists and a true field executionÂ experience to our new agency.
It is exactly the kind of emerging agency model that this new media marketplace demands. Itâ€™s a great example of howÂ an agency holding company can buildÂ synergy across units, adjusting talent andÂ combining teams across agencies to adjust to rapidly changing media landscapes.
What is an example of the kind of integration yourâ€™re are talking about?
Well, we are doing a lot of work in the fashion clothing space today. When you look at the path to purchase for young consumers – young teens to early twenties – for clothing and fashion accessories you see a growing trend toward social shopping.
Retailers know this – they seeÂ young women moving into the stores as a group, often all trying onÂ the same items, and advising each other on what looks great and what doesn’t. The fact is that that same social phenomenon you can observe in-store is also happening in the pre-shopping phase. Shoppers in this category crave peer validation thatÂ they are making good choices, andÂ emerging technology helps facilitate these shopping conversationsÂ online and in social media.
I think it is amazing that mostÂ retailers still have formal policies that prohibit taking photographs in their stores! As much as 40 percent of these young,Â savvy shoppers report taking a photograph of an item to ask their friends for advice. And theirÂ friends’Â opinion ranks as the number one source of influence in theirÂ purchasing decision matrix.Â Instead of prohibiting in-store photography, retailers should beÂ facilitating it – promoting it!
What have you learned as a retailer?
I have spent my entire career in retail: in operations, merchandising and marketing. What makes building a new kind of advertising agency so fun is that it lets me use new tools to solveÂ problems that I as a retailer justÂ couldn’t solve on my own.
Frankly, great shopper marketing is often amazingly simple. TheÂ shopper is out there, screaming at us to makeÂ purchasing faster, easier, smarter.Â Shopper Science gives brandsÂ a practical tool set to listen intently to those voices at retail speed and scale. And in the end, figuring outÂ how to give shoppers what they wantÂ always generatesÂ improvements in the metrics we want. Â And that will always drive sales.