Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Feb. 2013 Shopper Marketing Magazine article on Social Buying and CPGs Feb. 2013

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In the spring of 2011, Shopper Marketing took notice as General Mills became the first major consumer packaged goods company to run an offer through Groupon. A couple of months later, Supervalu became the first national grocery retailer to test a vendor-funded offer for loyalty cardholders (with Unilever) through the collective purchasing website.
Later that year, Facebook executive Carolyn Everson, in an exclusive interview withShopper Marketing and then speaking at the Shopper Marketing Expo, talked about how shopping is inherently social, which creates "a great opportunity for both retailers and CPG companies." Everson spoke of the "social graph" that Facebook has built, connecting people, places and brands.

It was easy to assume that we were just scratching the surface – that a "social buying" trend was to follow. But two years later, the question remains whether CPG marketers can effectively use social websites to spur visits to the store. If nothing else, the relationship has been awkward.

"So far, CPG use of social networks for shopping and buying have been disappointing – too much couponing to Facebook and requests to 'Like' pages in low-engagement categories," says Nick Jones, executive vice president, retail practice lead, at Arc Worldwide, a Leo Burnett subsidiary. "Smart brands will work out what the underlying shopping need is – validation, information, inspiration – and use social media to answer that need."

In an effort to understand the relationship between CPGs and social buying, we asked multiple sources how they define "social buying." Most of the answers referred in some way to recommendations and opinions from social media friends or online reviews. One source suggested that "social shopping" is the more interesting and more relevant term in the CPG world, and that "social buying" is limited to crowd-source platforms such as Groupon and LivingSocial.

"Social buying to me would be specifically buying a product on a social site," says Meg Way-Edgin, director, digital strategy and planning, Kimberly-Clark. "And that's something we do very sparingly – and not for the purpose of getting sales, but more for making somebody feel like they're getting an exclusive offer, or for helping get more engagement with our pages."

There have been a substantial number of CPG deals on Groupon and LivingSocial, but mainly for online purchase. And retailers typically only dangle offers such as double the value of the purchase regardless of what's bought, not promoting any particular brand on its shelves.

"It's an interesting model, just because you better make sure that financially it makes sense for both sides," Groupon director of communication Julie Mossler says of CPG-focused offers. "There's not a lot of margin to work with. There's a lot of coordination required."

"The Groupon and LivingSocial model is not feasible unless it's for bulk," Way-Edgin says. "The margins are too low. It doesn't pay out."

Plenty of Room to Grow

That's not to say CPG and social buying sites can't be friends; CatapultRPM helped Kellogg Co. with its "Share Your Breakfast" program during National Breakfast Week in March 2012. When consumers either commented and shared what they had for breakfast on various social media sites or bought a "families" deal through LivingSocial, Kellogg donated the cost of a breakfast to the nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids. Still, the initiative was more image enhancement than purchase.

Jennifer Romano, director of digital shopper marketing at CatapultRPM, says price and availability are not barriers to purchase for CPG companies, and those are two hurdles that sites like LivingSocial help most with. Romano believes online reviews (e.g., are the most powerful of the social path-to-purchase tools. And she recommends practices that stretch the definition of social shopping tools, such as email marketing and online coupons.

"They're so important because you know they work," she says. "Sometimes it's not always the newest and the shiniest. If you're a CPG and you're looking where to put your digital dollars, personally I'd recommend a mix, that you do what you know works and keep a bucket of money for test and learn. Mobile coupons or Pinterest or some sort of in-store kiosk might be worth your testing dollars."

Jason Katz, senior vice president, digital, for Acosta Marketing Group, says the return on investment in social media for brands doesn't come with one-time offers.

"Social buying and social shopping are long-term initiatives," he says. "If you look at straight ROI and start getting into that one-off model within traditional shopper marketing or trade programs, you're missing the bigger opportunities. What is our long-term approach to engaging? One of the challenges that Groupon has, the payout [for merchants] is not there from an initial transaction, but how does that impact long-term buying behavior, and how do we measure that?"

Erin Hunter, head of global CPG marketing at Facebook, says that CPGs have a lot of room to grow in social media, and that there is much promise due to mobile's interaction with social. She says that 51% of smartphone users have searched for a recipe while grocery shopping, and 79% use their phone to help with shopping.

"E-commerce for CPG is a small space right now, and I don't think this will change right away; bricks-and-mortar stores aren't going anywhere. With Facebook reaching some 600 million people a month on their mobile device, we're seeing the ability of marketers to influence consumers at the point of purchase skyrocket."

One retailer successfully utilizing social media as a spur to not only action but repeat action is Walgreens. Social media manager Zach West says his company isn't interested in recreating its website on Facebook for online purchases because it wants people to visit its stores. Walgreens has demonstrated a close relationship with visit-intensive Foursquare, and the retailer's photo application on Facebook allows users to send their Facebook photos to Walgreens for printing and pickup.

"It builds on something that is already a core fundamental to what you do on Facebook, which is exchanging photos, keeping up with people, memories – which really plays well into our photo-printing business," West says. "It drives store business; typically you pick up more than just your photos when you walk in the door."

Opportunity Ahead

Acosta's Katz would like to see the ability to send a list of ingredients and coupons related to online cooking videos to a viewer's phone for a shopping trip. Matt Whitaker, vice president of strategy for Dallas-based agency MEplusYOU, thinks that it's time retail locations begin to recreate the online experience that shoppers are accustomed to by providing adjacent products complementary to a main purchase, and also terminals for search capabilities and reviews.

"Replicate what we love about e-commerce," he says. "These are experiences I can't [yet] have in the store."

And Pinterest has been on the minds of most involved with social media marketing for at least a year now. Marketers regard it as a "shopping list" site, effective for gathering and sharing users' interests. But for now, there's no commerce engine to complete the cycle.

Richard Rizzo, vice president, consumer, shopper and retail insights, at market research agency Vision Critical, says a March 2012 study of 500 Pinterest users his company conducted with Emily Carr University revealed that 12% purchased something they had pinned online, while 16% bought something offline.

Overall, one in five users bought items they had pinned. "In my world, that's a good conversion rate," Rizzo says of Pinterest. "It's an addition to the path to purchase and a change that we're looking at a lot harder."
Source: Path to Purchase Institute/Shopper Marketing

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Freelance resume updated March 13, 2013


Warrenville, IL | (C) 630-388-8976

Twenty-four years writing general business, trade news, sports, and human interest
Covered petroleum, convenience store, shopper marketing, recreation management, and payment industries


Ÿ  Twelve years full-time sportswriter at Daily Herald, covering preps, college and pro
Ÿ  Three years full-time writing at industry leader CSP Information Group (petroleum/convenience store industry)
Ÿ  Ten years of freelance sports writing for Baseball America, USA Today,
Ÿ  Three years freelance writing for online magazine of Arizona State University’s business school
Ÿ  Freelance business writing for several publications steadily since 2009


      Baseball America                                                                                                   2000 – 2005
Minor league, college and high-school features, for magazine and website
      ESPN/Rise                                                                                                               2008 - 2010      
            Articles for ESPN high-school sports site

      USA Today Sports Weekly                                                                                      2005 - 2008
            College Football Rivalries special section
College Football Season Preview issues
College Basketball Season Preview section

      Knowledge@W.P.Carey                                                                                           2005 - 2008
Arizona State University business school online publication
      NACS Magazine                                                                                                         2009 - 2011       The publication of the National Association of Convenience Stores

      Convenience Store Decisions                                                                                 2010 - 2012
Trade magazine for convenience stores

      Shopper Marketing Magazine                                                                                 2010 - Present
The publication of The Path to Purchase Institute

      Rebel Magazine                                                                                                      March 2011
            Men’s magazine focused on charitable causes

      Athletic Business                                                                                                   May - Aug. 2011
            Magazine for athletic and recreational professionals

      Oil Price Information Service (OPIS)                                                                      2011 - Present
                Weekly oil marketing newsletter Oil Express
      Source Media                                                                                                         Jan.’12-Jan.’13
            Daily payments industry stories for PaymentsSource/American Banker

      USA Today’s Green Living Magazine                                                                      Jan.’13–Present
            Feature on major retailers’ sustainable practices
       Recreation Management Magazine                                                                         Dec.’12-Present
            Feature stories


References on request; clips at the site listed at top.

Pet industry shopper marketing from Shopper Marketing Magazine

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Fido, Kitty, Buddy and Garfield can all answer to a new name: "Recession-proof." According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), even in the worst of the economic downturn of 2007-09, pet products sales rose. Americans spent more than $48 billion on their animal companions in 2010, and the forecast calls for $51 billion this year (to be continued after Institute POV).

Why do we buy like this? When it comes to pet products, the answer is simple: love.

"It's almost like a societal shift is occurring where it's become more socially acceptable for pet owners to really pamper their pets," says David Lummis, a senior pet analyst for Rockville, Md.-based Market Research Group's Packaged Facts. "And it's not just about frivolous products. It's about the health of the pet and increasing the nutritional profile so that prices can also go up."

Lummis says that the widespread and highly publicized pet food recalls of 2007 (largely centered around Chinese animal feed with melamine) placed a harsh spotlight on the industry's safety standards. Shoppers began to pay closer attention to pet-product quality, boosting business in the natural/organic pet-product niche.

With almost two-thirds of American households (72.9 million homes) having pets, this represented an irresistible opportunity for the $19 billion pet-food industry. Global CPGs like Procter & Gamble began to snap up niche players such as Natura Pet Products, adding the holistic pet-food brands Innova, Evo, California Naturals, Healthwise and Karma to its Iams and Eukanuba portfolio.

"The industry," Lummis says, "is converting pet owners to higher-priced foods based on the affection that they feel for their animals and the belief that good nutrition – just like human foods – will be important to their overall health."

Jeff Metzner, Iams brand manager at P&G, says that today's health-conscious pet-product shoppers fall into two categories:

"In general, Iams' core consumers consider their pet to be part of the family and think first about health when choosing their pet food. This consumer wants to understand the nutritional technology in their pet food and is very interested in their veterinarian's opinion. The second approach is through natural ingredients. This consumer is seeking a healthy food but believes that natural ingredients are the key. For this consumer, the ingredients in the food are most important."

A Fragmented Path

A few decades ago, pet food was a fairly straightforward business with 95% of sales coming through supermarkets. Today, the grocery channel's share hovers around a mere 50% as sales shifted to big boxes like Walmart (on the price-value side) as well as specialized retailers like Petco, PetSmart and Pet Supplies Plus.

Dustin Lehner, vice president of shopper marketing at Catapult Marketing, Westport, Conn., says that as a result, the path to purchase for pet lovers is no longer one lane. Catapult, which counts Mars Inc.'s Pedigree brand as a client, changes its approach when focusing on a shopper at Southeastern U.S. grocery chain Publix or one at any Walmart. It's all about shopper research, Lehner says.

"What we've started to hone in on is this whole idea of these varying levels and types of relationships pet owners have with their pet – it's really starting to be, from the shopper's perspective, one of the key drivers of what we say and how we say it," Lehner says. "At a Publix for example, where I've got a little bit older shopper, typically an empty-nester, their pet has basically kind of filled that void of the child that's no longer in the home.

"Their level of looking at the ingredient, really looking at accessories, things like that, to basically treat that pet like their child, is much more prevalent than it would be at a Walmart, let's say. At Walmart, you tend to over-skew toward outdoor dogs, they're a busy, dual-income household, so there's a lot of things happening. Their moments with their pets are extremely limited: on the way to the car in the morning or coming home from work and get dinner started, fill the dog bowl and rub them on their head, and that's basically the interaction.

"So with Walmart, it was more about giving (the dog) the best you can, because when we started doing the research what we found was that Walmart shoppers, the food that they give their pet is one of the few things they really do for them – 'I would never buy him private label food because the food, for me, is kind of like treating him. I'm willing to spend the three dollars more because that's all I really do for him, buy him food.' If you look at Walmart, it was really much less about the relationship and more about, this is going to make you feel good because you're feeding him good food."

Tug at the Heartstrings

As the pet-products path to purchase has become more complex, marketers have created a variety of social awareness platforms and social media campaigns that play off consumers' deep feelings for (and some might say anthropomorphizing of) pets. One of the most successful is Iams' annual "Home 4 the Holidays" platform, which began a decade ago through an animal shelter network on the West Coast. The campaign has since gone global, serving more than 3,500 animal organizations.

The latest iteration of "Home 4 the Holidays" (Oct. 1, 2010, to Jan. 4, 2011) leaned heavily on heartstrings-tugging social media and in-store displays to help get more than 1.1 million animals adopted. In the U.S., Iams added a food-donation program named "Bags 4 Bowls." Two million meals were donated online through pet blogger sites, the Iams Facebook page and Iams' Twitter account. Another 3 million meals were donated at grocery, big-box and pet specialty chains using more traditional tactics – specially marked Iams bags of dog and cat food and at-shelf signage.

Given the highly social context of pet ownership, it's no surprise that smartphone tools have now begun to figure more prominently in petcare shopper marketing. Iams launched a fairly basic mobile site in April 2011. Sean Lee, Iams assistant brand manager, says the main goals of the site are to "educate consumers on the go, help them locate Iams products, allow them to connect with our communities [like Facebook], and provide access to user reviews."

Nestlé Purina was somewhat more ambitious when it launched its mobile app, named "The Petometer," in June 2011. The Petometer is designed to help consumers care for and monitor their pets. Sherry Smith, senior vice president of advertiser sales at Tampa, Fla.-based Triad Retail Media, says that once her company's work on the Nestlé Purina microsite on was established, Nestlé Purina asked for interaction away from the store and PCs.

"They came to us and said, 'We want to make sure we're reaching them while they're at home and drive overall brand awareness,'" says Smith, who works at Triad's Bentonville, Ark., branch. "We recommended an app that could track the history of your walks with your dog because it is linked to Google maps. You can set reminders for yourself, what times to walk your dog. There's a list of recommended exercises you can do with your dog. There's a calendar feature for tracking vet visits or grooming appointments." The app is available at Nestlé Purina's Walmart microsite, the iPhone app store or Android app store. Users can upload photos of their dog and share the routes and details of the walk (date, time, distance and pace) with friends on Facebook.

Soft Sells

Smith says that Nestlé Purina doesn't try to "hard sell" anything inside the app; users are instead referred to the brand's microsite on for shopping tools like coupons, locational pricing or product availability by location.

"It is definitely seen as a sponsorship by Purina," Smith said of the app's value. "The brand specifics are not number one. Instead, it's really about giving consumers a tool that they can use to take better care of their pets. Who knows, as the app continues to develop and we make changes to it, we may include more on product information. But right now, it's about getting it into consumers' hands, letting them interact with it and seeing what they think."

Triad's relationship with Nestlé Purina and Walmart may be unique in the pet industry, says Smith, as it encompasses the brand showcase (i.e., a microsite) inside The site has several functions: Direct visitors back to Nestlé Purina's main site for more information; share games (currently "The Fast and The Furriest" and "Yarn Ball Blocker"); offer articles on pets (such as "Puppy Necessities" and "Functions of Fiber"); and most recently, show episodes of a Triad-produced series named "Real Pet Stories" that chronicles the lives of pets at Tampa-area shelters. There's also a tab at to help visitors find pets for adoption in their areas.

"What's nice about it is that it has a co-branded URL that Purina can leverage in their marketing campaigns and on their packaging," Smith says. "It is live all year. We're updating information at least monthly, working with Purina to make sure they've got the most up-to-date content and commerce information available."

Smith says what consumers see at the brand showcase will be consistent with what they see in-store:

"For example, last April, Purina promoted a puppy pack as 'Buy Puppy Chow, go to the website to enter a code, and get a free puppy pack to try.' It was a 360-degree approach that reached shoppers in the store and drove them back online, reaching them before they shopped again, driving them to the store, and giving them a nice giveaway based off their purchase of Purina products."

Nestlé Purina is involved with another campaign, this time in the grocery channel, that targets pet owners' human feelings for animals. "Tales For The Pet Lover's Heart" is sponsored by Nestlé Purina and grocery giant Kroger. It is also dependent on a website (, where visitors can tell a story about a pet to have Kroger donate $1 up to $25,000 to welfare organizations across the U.S.

The site also links to Nestlé Purina's Facebook page, offers downloadable projects owners can do with their pets, relates the two companies' donations (not tied to pet stories) to animal welfare organizations and informs visitors of discounts at Kroger locations if they shop in late July and early August

Social media monitoring for shopper marketers in Shopper Marketing Magazine

Not long ago, PepsiCo discovered that 70% of online conversations about Gatorade had absolutely nothing to do with its marketing focus, sports nutrition. Following the launch of a 2010 Gatorade TV ad, Internet chatter became fixated on an annoying voiceover. And if the buzz was to be believed, Gatorade was well positioned – as a hangover cure (story continues after Institute POV).
Brands have learned the value of being able to read, in real time, what consumers are discussing on multiple online platforms. The basic way brands monitor social media is by searching select Internet entities (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums) for specific keywords. They are able to read what targeted audiences are saying and also produce analyses and reports.

Social media monitoring provides a means of gathering information that can aid in the design of a product or the planning of a campaign. And after launch, monitoring or "listening" can confirm or determine a need to alter the direction of a campaign.

"Engagement is becoming more and more important to brands [and] especially retailers, who want to be able to provide the same great customer service that they do in person, on the telephone or by e-mail," says Rob Begg, senior director for product marketing at social media monitoring agency Radian6, Fredericton, New Brunswick.

The new tools out there to monitor social media are already invaluable, says Meg Way, director of digital strategy and planning at Kimberly-Clark:

"What's important to us is that we can get real-time data at our fingertips and have the pulse of what's going on so that we are not behind in anything. We are taking advantage of opportunities, managing risk, inserting ourselves in the right conversations. We know that the majority of word of mouth still happens offline, but 'recommended' brands win, and brands who are talked about win more."

PepsiCo on a 'Mission'

Radian6 has 3,000 clients in North America, and its website claims that half the Fortune 100 use it to "listen" to social media. But Radian6 and its competitors, such as Toronto-based Sysomos, don't just help companies listen; they provide platforms to dialogue with consumers in real time as well.

"The ability to respond back on Twitter, on a posting forum, on a blog post, on a YouTube video, and do it in a way that ties into the listening platform, is super important," says Begg. "Maybe they want to talk to you on Twitter, maybe they want to talk to you via a blog. They are not talking on your terms anymore. Being able to engage with them from a platform where they actually can find a post is critical for businesses that are making that step beyond listening."

At its headquarters in Chicago, Gatorade operates "Mission Control," a room with large screens containing Radian6 feeds and dashboards that are monitored by a staff of five. StruckAxiom, Salt Lake City, designed data visualizations that pull in the feeds and help explain the results for reporting; other agencies assisting include Gatorade's lead digital agency, VML, Kansas City, Mo.; social media and communications partner Fleishman-Hillard, New York; and media strategy agency OMD, New York.

"It's really about using the data from social to drive 'real-time' action from the brand," says Josh Karpf, digital and social media manager at PepsiCo. "Before we began this concerted effort around engagement, about 70% of online conversations referencing Gatorade were irrelevant to the brand's focus on sports nutrition: for example, Gatorade as a 'hangover cure.' Since we've implemented this real-time engagement and analytics hub, we've seen a shift in conversations. Now 60% of Gatorade mentions are relevant and focused on sports nutrition and performance."

Karpf says Gatorade is focused on engaging with its "athlete" consumers, those customers who are very serious about fitness and competition. Discussions include diet and training regimens as well as performance. Gatorade also uses Mission Control as a podium for special social media events. Last summer, in the days before the U.S. women's soccer team played in the Women's World Cup final, U.S. player Abby Wambach sat in Mission Control for a "Twitter Takeover." Karpf says the event generated record-high participation on Gatorade's digital channels.

Sometimes, however, the conversation is simply distracted. In late 2010, Gatorade launched an ad campaign with a voiceover that not only generated negative sentiment but also became the focus of 90% of the online chatter.

"Mission Control quickly identified the consumer sentiment and addressed the feedback to rework the ad," Karpf says. "As a result, an almost immediate shift in conversations was tracked as audiences began responding favorably to the spot online. We have also taken this approach in how we create media plans. Based on feedback provided via interactions and social media conversations, media buys are constantly evaluated and adjusted to optimize media dollars in response to consumers. If something isn't working, the team can quickly assess how to better allocate the dollars."

ConAgra Counts Calories

In 2010, a ConAgra Foods social audit discovered that many consumers of its Egg Beaters product were concerned with calories. What's more, the conversations took place not on Twitter or Facebook but on a Weight Watchers forum. Egg Beaters advertising focused on other health messages, like cholesterol.

"What we were able to do, by monitoring, by listening, by identifying this information, was to put in place a strategy to communicate to consumers around low calories through a partnership with Weight Watchers," says Stephanie Moritz, senior director public relations and social media, ConAgra. That included a sponsorship page on the Weight Watchers website.

"'Do a live focus group' is not the default anymore," says Brett Groom, senior vice president of content integration and activation at ConAgra. "Broader social monitoring might very well raise new issues, particularly if you're [only] doing a focus group with 12 people. It might never have come up, or you never would have appreciated the significance of 10 people out of 12 talking about calories.

"When we [listen to] 10,000 conversations and realize that 800 people are talking about calories, and then we follow that thread and see that 30% of calorie conversations are talking about Egg Beaters, all of a sudden you strike gold in these broader social monitoring things. You'd never find that in a focus group."

Confirming K-C's Direction

Kimberly-Clark used social media monitoring in 2010 to gauge reaction to the launch of Huggies Jeans Diapers.

"We were really interested to see how consumers reacted to a fashion diaper – everything from specific reactions to our media, to the general concept," says Way. "We pre-launched some stuff to YouTube and Facebook to get some reaction. We continued to watch how the community discussed the innovation, and used that as input to how we managed that program, both during that campaign, and for the duration."

K-C's monitoring team includes agency partners OgilvyOne, New York; Organic Inc., San Francisco; Studiocomm, Atlanta; and Biggs Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich. As a result, Kimberly-Clark decided to run almost the same TV spot for Huggies Jeans Diapers in 2011.

"The TV commercial that aired in 2010 was extremely successful, very well received by consumers," says Marc Rosenstock, director of consumer relationship marketing for Kimberly-Clark. "Because the consumer feedback was so positive, we didn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel on that."

Beyond Keyword Monitoring

With approximately 5,500 stores in the United States and 7,500 worldwide, General Nutrition Centers (GNC) is understandably interested in location-based monitoring (e.g., searching Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp). GNC has a mobile site, an iPhone app, and a strong Foursquare presence to go with its Facebook and Twitter activity.

According to director of social media Chris James, the company is committed to a stronger digital and social integration, having hired former Dick's Sporting Goods chief marketing officer Jeff Hennion to that same post. Both started at GNC in the past year, and have increased GNC content on Facebook and Twitter.
In partnership with Radian6 and Pittsburgh-based Branding Brand, GNC used social media monitoring to help launch six new flavors of a coconut water product.

Over the course of 90 days last spring, GNC monitored what flavors were talked about most, how much was positive or negative, and whether the marketing message was getting through. One insight among many stood out: GNC learned that yogis are coconut water fans, so they should be targeted as influencers.

"We learned a lot really quickly, certainly a lot more than we would have if the product was on the shelves for six months and then done surveys," James says. "We said, 'Whoa, this has got some pretty interesting impacts,' and so we took that learning and we're going back to the drawing board and looking at how we can refresh that product. That's kind of exciting."

Getting Started

Companies must figure out how to divide the monitoring work. Some buy a license and hand it to an agency; some have several agencies for different duties, such as monitoring, engaging and analysis; others do as much in-house as possible.

"The pro for a corporation taking it in-house is that they then own it," says Nygel Weishar, social media and community relations specialist for Sysomos, Radian6's largest competitor. "They have internal staff that actually understands what's going on, as opposed to before, when you'd just look at a social media report and say, 'So? What does this mean?'

"Now that we have the actual stakeholders understanding it, they know what they're looking for," says Weishar. "I definitely see a positive in that, and I think it makes the agencies on top of that strive for a higher standard. We're at the point now where a lot of our agencies are calling [us] to get more in-depth training sessions to make them all experts on the tool, as opposed to just having one or two stakeholders."

Shopper marketing for major appliances in Shopper Marketing Magazine

Product specifications and reviews are the Holy Grail for shoppers of major home appliances. Consequently, delivering that information to shoppers on the path to purchase is a priority for product manufacturers such as LG Electronics and retailers such as Best Buy (story continues after Institute POV).
Whether or not they're wielding smartphones, shoppers want help.

"One of the things we know with retail research, and how people are researching products today, is that word of mouth is more important than ever," says Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom, a shelf-edge solution company based in Little Rock, Ark. "Word of mouth used to be neighbors talking over the mythical back fence; today, word of mouth is all about Facebook, [and] reviews posted on Epinions, on

"If you can bring that to the shelf edge, then you provide the information to the shopper while he or she is in the store looking at the different products, which is even more valuable. The retailers who are doing that and making information more easily available to their shoppers are the ones shoppers are more likely to return to when they make another purchase in the future."

In August 2010, Best Buy began bringing information to shoppers via QR codes that are carried on every shelf tag in stores. Shoppers who scan the code are taken to the retailer's mobile site to view product information provided by manufacturers.

"We did it for a very logical reason," says Best Buy spokesperson Kelly Groehler. "We sell the technology that makes this possible, so we know consumers are going to be using the very technology we help them adopt to compare, shop and get more information to make better decisions about their technology investments, including appliances."

A Brand or a Retailer Experience?

Best Buy admirably controls its space and message by sending consumers to its own mobile site, but this can limit options for brands such as LG, which launched its own mobile site in 2009.

LG's mobile site – called "Mobile Shopping Assistant" and created by digital agency Publicis Modem, New York – features short videos, specs and reviews, and also identifies the nearest retailer that sells LG products. LG knows how many hits the site gets, and how many visitors are watching videos, reading reviews or reading specs.

VanderWaal says "Over 20% of our overall hits to our website is coming from the mobile site. That's a pretty enormous figure."

Despite its success, LG has the daunting task of competing with Best Buy's mobile site on the electronics retailer's own turf. While LG's P-O-P does carry the manufacturer's own QR codes that link shoppers to LG's mobile site, thanks to partner agency North Forty, Hiawatha, Iowa, those codes are just not as obvious as Best Buy's coded shelf tags.

"That has been a challenge to integrate; why would I want a brand mobile experience activated with QR codes when I've got a Best Buy experience?" VanderWaal says. "We've tried to work through that with [Best Buy], but at this point it's still a work in progress."

VanderWaal says it depends on what LG is delivering vs. what Best Buy is delivering, because incrementally they're always looking for the sum of the part being greater.

"They can have experiences for Best Buy shoppers that include brand experiences, and if the sum of the parts is greater than what they do on their own, they're all for it. But I don't think we've hit that formula with them yet. In essence, their default position is always going to be, these are Best Buy shoppers first, so we want it to be a Best Buy experience."

Best Buy's Groehler says the retailer typically brings the shopper back to a Best Buy page (via the QR code), but "we do work closely with our manufacturer partners for the information that's provided. We come at things in terms of where the technology's going in people's lives. I think we look at it in terms of how do we help you get the most out of all the technology in your life, whether that is in your hand, on the go, in your home, in your car."

Working With the Retailer

Best Buy by no means works alone. Manufacturers and agencies provide content for the Best Buy site and collaborate with the retailer on in-store displays and media. Working with LG and Best Buy, North Forty designed a laundry endcap that featured two LG washers, rather than a washer and a dryer, to show the difference between top-loading and front-loading units.

In the most recent iteration, the endcap includes interactive LCD monitors with short videos of how each type works, a must for such appliances since they would require water and are not usually powered in-store. North Forty and LG scripted continual-loop videos while Best Buy put together the introduction featuring its "blue shirts," as store associates are called.

LG wants to highlight the top-loading unit, as it has led the front-loading market for four years, says North Forty director of creative content Muna Matthews. The agency recently made several pieces of P-O-P for each LG appliance SKU with a QR code to fill the gaps left by retailer information tags.

"Those little retailer fact tags really don't do a good job of helping you say, 'OK, what's different about this model, why is this one $100 more, what do I get, what features do I get, what colors are available?'" she says.

For the shopper who's on an unassisted sales floor or is not looking for a sales associate, she is going in and looking for information that wasn't always readily available or really clear, says Matthews.

"We've created pieces that actually have a strategy. If there are five washers on the floor, here are the core features, here are some advanced features. This one has a 3.7 cubic foot capacity, this one has 4, this one has 4.5."

Further Assisting the Shopper

In its own shopper marketing, LG considers consumers who do not use mobile devices as well as those who are in an unmanned area and/or would rather not speak with a store associate.

With the help of partners – East Rutherford, N.J.-based TransWorld Marketing and Publicis Modem – LG created its "Personal Shopping Assistant," an interactive kiosk that appears in 1,000-plus HHGregg, Home Depot, Fry's and Best Buy stores.

Shoppers using the kiosks can sort products several ways – by color, price, type and size – and take a short lifestyle questionnaire to get started. The kiosk gives model recommendations and detailed model information.

"It's based on the insight that shoppers are overwhelmed by all these choices and technology and they have trouble just forming initial consideration sets," VanderWaal says.

Because of the unique status of appliances in shoppers' minds – high expense, low frequency – shopper marketers need to consider how to balance information sources. Digital, supported by personal, or vice versa? All digital? Only personal? How informed is the shopper, given all the information at his fingertips outside the store?

"As a retailer you have to review all of those and say, 'What's a differentiator, what are we going to do different and better than anybody else?'" Vestcom's Weidauer says. "Are we going to try to compete on price, on service, on after the purchase relationship?"

Says VanderWaal: "Personal touch in a digital age sounds opposite, but customized solutions without a personal touch are still not going to work because there is, especially for something like an appliance, a high-risk, high-financial implication. People want to feel like they're being heard. Digitally, that's hard to do unless you invest big time in back-end infrastructure-type things, and that's where a sales associate and the retailer can hit home runs."