Media Clutter: how to cut through and connect with shoppers?

The world of the shopper is changing rapidly, and that means that the playing field shopper marketers compete on is changing rapidly too. Shopper marketing forums, web pages and events buzz with the latest technology, heralding yet more ways for marketers to communicate with their targets. But whilst all of this new technology offers new shopper communication opportunities, experience suggests that there is a downside to every opportunity. So how should shopper marketers plan their shopper communication to cut through media clutter and maximize the impact on shopping behavior?
16 maart 2021

The new world of shopper communication is full of opportunities… but

From the shopper marketer’s point of view this new world could be seen as nirvana. No longer constrained by the traditional limitations of in-store media, marketers are liberated in a number of ways. The mobile phone cuts through the retailers’ “firewall” and enables shopper marketers to share anything they like with shoppers whilst they shop. The realization (much delayed) that shoppers start shopping before they enter a store loosens the shackles of an over-dependence on the point of purchase. Localization and beacons enable the prospect of delivering messages right there and then – at the entrance, at the fixture, at the checkout. Compared to the situation just a few years ago, the shopper marketer has so many weapons in their arsenal. Surely we are about to enter a golden age of shopper communication. What could possibly go wrong?

To understand this, we need to look at this new world from the point of view of the shopper. A store can be overwhelming to shoppers at the best of times – potentially tens of thousands of products; signs, displays, announcements and videos. Pestering children, time running out: sometimes a shopper has a lot to contend with! Within this complex environment packed with thousands of messages, the shopper needs to navigate the store, then find, select and purchase a few products –  often a tiny segment of the full range. And all of this while keeping the kids happy!

Shopper communication faces a massive threat – shopper media clutter

And on top of this the shopper marketer is going to add – more! More messages via more media. How will shoppers cope with more? As they do now. They will either filter out unwanted messages, or switch off. It isn’t possible for a shopper to process all of the messages they are sent – so much is filtered out. And as the volume of messages increases, those filters will get more stringent. A couple of messages on my phone I can ignore – too many and I switch off my phone!

The idea that shoppers are walking every aisle, checking everything on their phone, scanning every QR code, reading every message simply doesn’t stand up to even the most simplistic scrutiny. You just don’t see shoppers engaging with all of the messages and media clutter. Just spend an hour in a store, watching shoppers and you’ll see! What does this mean for the shopper marketer? Unless they are very careful, most of that expensive media investment will be wasted.

Turning back the clock on technology isn’t possible, so faced with masses of media clutter in the shopper’s world, the shopper marketer has simply one choice, and that is to ensure that their messages cut through. So how should a shopper marketer create really good cut through in their shopper marketing communication?

Really effective targeting is the first step in creating cut-through shopper communication

The heart of any great marketing is targeting, and this is true for shopper marketing. Try to appeal to everyone and genericism rules. To cut through shopper marketing media clutter, shopper marketers need to consider: In this store, or at this point on the purchase journey, who specifically are we targeting? The more targeted, the more likely that message is to be relevant. The more relevant it is, the more likely it is to cut through.

Choose the right point on the path to purchase to deliver the message

As discussed before, the modern purchase journey is far more complex. It is unlikely that a brand is going to be able to get it perfect for every shopper at every point in the path to purchase. Identifying which nodes on the path to purchase are most critical for your target shoppers and make these the must win battles.

Choose the right channel to deliver the message

And let’s not forget that many purchase journey are multi-channel. Just because the final purchase is in a Tesco supermarket, for example, doesn’t mean that Tesco is the only place where that shopper can be influenced. Understanding which channels the shopper might engage with, and where best to engage, is a critical shopper marketing skill in an omnichannel world.

Focus on the right media at the right location

Shoppers change through the path to purchase, as do their communication needs. Once the target shopper has been identified, the marketer should consider which media is most likely to be noticed and attract a specific shopper at this point of the purchase journey. Just because you’ve read an article which states that 84% of shoppers use their mobile phone whilst shopping doesn’t mean that this is true for your shoppers, at this point on this purchase journey. Sense check these statistics (often they are deliberately misleading), and more importantly, check if it is true for your shopper, at this point on this purchase journey.

Focus on the key message at THAT point in the journey

As marketers we love our brands, and have lots to say about them. But rarely does the shopper have the time to listen to the whole brand story, particularly when they are in the middle of shopping! And when they do have time (for example during the research phase of a shopping journey) they rarely have the patience, flitting rapidly from one site to another. Shoppers want what they need to know, nothing more and nothing less, and they want it now. Make sure you don’t make the most common shopper communication mistakes. Focusing on specific shoppers and specific communication needs will improve relevance, improve cut through, and improve shopper satisfaction with your brand and its communication channels.

Differentiate your shopper communication

As with all communication the winners of the shopper communication battle are those that are both relevant and differentiated. As the shopper communication world becomes more crowded standing out from the crowd becomes critical. Engage your creatives with a great brief, share insight about the shopper with them, and don’t stand for generics.

Don’t forget packaging

The forgotten hero of shopper communication, the humble pack deserves a section all to itself. It is there on the shelf, and when designed correctly can work wonders with shoppers, and connect with consumers after the purchase as well. Never underestimate the pack, and if your shopper marketers don’t get an input into pack design then you are missing a big opportunity to deliver shopper communication for free.

As shopper marketers we have an unprecedented set of tools available to communicate with shoppers – a list of possibilities which will undoubtedly grow. There are huge opportunities to engage shoppers in new ways; but there is challenge too – cutting through will become harder and harder – and achieving cut through requires discipline and focus. Understand your target market; make your message and media relevant and different; and be discerning and focused about what you say, where and when on the purchase journey