Shopper Marketing as an Innovation Agent

“Ready – set – repeat!”…that seems to be the mantra of many shopper marketing teams as they methodically award funding to retail accounts with grandfathered budgets and “anniversaried” programs.
While running the same predictable programs may have sufficed in the past, as private labels saturate the shelves and technology revolutionizes retail, brands must deliver programs that surprise and delight the consumer at every path to purchase touch point.

Executing internal change in any organization is difficult though. Shrinking budgets and legacy systems, coupled by staff members resistant to new ways, make it difficult to execute new, innovative programming. That’s where Shopper Marketing Optimization (SMO) technology comes in — software that makes transitioning from systematic to strategic simple by delivering the tools shopper marketers need to shift to a more innovative framework.

The five tools fundamental to assembling an SMO system that empowers teams with the time, flexibility and insights needed to innovate include:

1. Digital Content Management

In using offline systems, program creative often gets lost in emails and made unavailable to other teams who may be able to re-purpose it for future campaigns. According to our 2018 Shopper Marketing Optimization Report, 58% of the several hundred consumer goods professionals surveyed feel digital content management is most essential to driving SMO.

With digital content management software that allows for organization of brand creative by program, tactic, category, brand, theme, and more, account managers can easily discover unused creative to spark new campaign development. They can also instantly access the brand or retailer asset they need, from logos to recipes to pack shots, accelerating the creative process while reducing agency dependency.

Not only does digital content management optimize usage of existing assets though, it also optimizes the creation of new creative. A high-performance content management system should allow for on-the-fly customization of artwork for different retail customers and audience segments. This is made possible through the software’s ability to create standard artwork templates sized to each in-store and digital program tactic, and programme these templates to be driven by menus of variable content and graphic elements options that users can select from. In doing so, the creative re-work process is as as simple as “select – proof – submit!”

By automating the creative re-work process, shopper marketers and their agency partners are able to to spend less time on routine tasks and more time developing new and compelling program creative that builds on past successes.

2. Standardized Program Planning System

While most CPG business facets have moved to cloud architecture, shopper marketing remains one of the last automation frontiers. In fact, our 2018 Shopper Marketing Optimization Report found that 46% believe replacing spreadsheets with digital tools is most essential to SMO. With programs being planned and managed in a multitude of different ways and using offline methods, nearly half of shopper marketers’ time is spent simply trying to find, aggregate and format data for stakeholder consumption. Naturally, this leaves shopper marketers with little time to measure and evaluate, never mind innovate. It also leaves the majority of shopper marketing undocumented.

An automated program planning system that allows team members to view available brand programs, enter essential scheduling details, and auto-generate artwork can save shopper marketers major hours and overhead dollars, granting them the time and resource to unleash their true talents. Not only does automated planning overcome the productivity barriers that plague the shopper discipline though, it also makes every activity 100% traceable by tracking all executed and in-progress activities in a 24/7 accessible environment. In being able to know, in an instant, what programs have been activated across what customers – and when, sales impact is more easily measured and a more strategic planning mindset is fostered that incorporates post-event analysis.

It is only through transparency into past activity that growth can be revealed and brands’ evolving retail stories can be understood. Cloud-based planning environments that get everyone working off the same workflow makes this level of transparency possible, allowing shopper marketers to not only plan more efficiently, but more intelligently.

3. Zero-Based Budgeting

When you hear the term zero-based budgeting (ZBB), thoughts of months spent building a budget from the ground up and justifying each new line item to management might come to mind, but with modern automation, reaping the benefits of ZBB doesn’t have to be anywhere near that difficult. In fact, according to the Path to Purchase Institute’s 2018 Shopper Marketing Trends Report, 50% of shopper marketers are now budgeting based on a zero-based scheme and 17.6% are moving in that direction, as it proves its ability to look at programs in alignment with strategy, objectives and return.

A high-performance SMO system should feature automated budgeting tools that are designed to support a zero-based scheme. Budgeting tools should work to build granular transparency into cost, as that is the foundation of zero-based budgeting. This cost transparency can be achieved by integrating a standardized expense approval process into the program planing workflow. By requiring a cost estimate be submitted for every program plan, expenses are made fully traceable, and can even be automatically reflected into the rolling budget upon approval. This gives managers a direct line of sight into the levers of cost so waste can be identified and a better budget can be built. Digital cost governance also works to drive real-time budget reporting and the development of a cost archive that can be leveraged as a critical procurement tool.

Another essential component of zero-based shopper budget is goal integration. Modern shopper budgeting tools should not only make it easier to set target budgets, but to assign them to strategic goals and measure achievement. By requiring team members assign spending to budget goals, a cost-conscious planning mindset is fostered that aligns every dollar with strategy. In essence, this is what zero-based budgeting is all about, and how shopper marketers are able to shift from programmatic commercial investing to performance-based.

4. Data Visualization Dashboard

Innovation cannot occur without a deep understanding of your retail customers and the effectiveness of past and active programs, which explains why 36% of CPGs say they are making customer insights and promotional effectiveness their top areas of analytics focus. Presently, most shopper marketers plan with limited insight into the performance and ROI of past programs. They also have limited insight into their customers, including how each execution is impacting sales lift and basket size at the store level. With program calendars housed in offline Excel files and insights contained in PowerPoint presentations, data-driven planning and future forecasting is near-impossible.

A data virtualization dashboard removes these limitations by streaming all budget, program and tactical analytics into a visually dynamic environment of charts and graphs that update in real-time. Having access to real-time financial and performance data, viewable at the customer-level, allows for rapid responses to market change and customer demands. It also delivers a heightened understanding of what programs work best where, and when, to give program innovation and spending a targeted focus.

With 68% of CPGs planning to invest in data visualization dashboards in order to advance their analytics, it is clear that data virtualization is key to not only centralizing analytics, but translating them into actionable insights that can help drive innovation.

5. Sales Center of Excellence (CoE)

With field representatives and account teams planning programs using Excel-based calendars that they often self-create and self-manage without managerial sign-off, activations are not always in alignment with brand or retailer goals. A digital sales Center of Excellence (CoE) can help to aggregate best-practices and educate sales on the most optimal tactic mixes for given programs and customers. It can work to train reps on how to assemble a winning pre- to post-sale program that effectively merges digital touches with in-store marketing to deliver a seamless, omnichannel brand experience.

In addition to illustrating examples of high-equity program plans, a sales CoE can also store detailed customer profiles and program insights, including the objectives of each program, key demographics, available tactic creative, and downloadable customer sell-in materials. It can also provide shopper marketing guidelines for program creative and a playbook of how to properly conduct post-event analysis.

Innovation can only occur through a shifting in internal organization mentality. By getting field members to think more strategically about how each and every brand activation is working to drive both customer and brand objectives, forward-thinking ideas are able to formulated and effectively sold-in through access to all the right supporting tools and insights.


As CPG’s struggle to reverse sluggish sales trends and reinvigorate their brands, shopper marketing holds the greatest promise of building success. The companies that are able to eliminate the productivity barriers that have long plagued the shopper discipline and truly unleash the power of the practice will be the ones to re-gain shopper loyalty and secure shelf space among the private labels.

To learn how Cierant’s SMO Solutions Suite can reset your shopper marketing for innovation, visit or call 203-731-3555 to speak with a solutions representative directly.