Rewriting the rules on successful merchandising and display

CHICAGO — Being safe can make one sorry. Because it’s the unconventional that captures a consumer’s attention, and that’s just as true for designers of display units as it is for anything else. Indeed, it’s often the displays that deviate most from the norm that have the greatest impact and the greatest potential to get a shopper to stop, shop and buy.

That was the key message Leslie Clifford, executive director strategic planning at Geometry Global, and Nick Patterson, associate director of shopper marketing for Procter & Gamble, had for Shopper Marketing Expo attendees, during an Oct. 10 breakout session, “Breaking the Rules the Right Way.”

“Today’s shoppers are feeling very empowered. And they don’t view shopping as a mere transaction — one price to get a product. It’s really an experience that they feel they’re entitled to — customized solutions and trial and experimenting,” Clifford said.

Delivering on the customer experience is key. The challenge is delivering that customer experience while also satisfying performance measures both from the retailer’s perspective as well as the manufacturer’s needs.

The basic rules retailers commonly associate with promotional display include:

  • The display must align with the retailer’s broader corporate strategies;
  • It must drive sufficient sales;
  • It must fall within the seasonal calendar; and
  • It must be unique.

But manufacturers have rules of their own, and sometimes those rules don’t perfectly mesh with the retailer’s rules. In addition to aligning with a retailer’s corporate strategies, a display unit also has to live up to the manufacturer’s strategies.

Displays need to drive sufficient sales for the retailers, and at the same time, they need to clear time and shipment hurdles at the manufacturer.

For retailers, displays need to comply with the season; for manufacturers, displays need to be up and seen against a promotional calendar.

While the retailer wants exclusive programs, creating individual promotions retailer by retailer only adds to the cost of doing business for the manufacturer.

Even rules that should seem to be in alignment often are not. For instance, retailers want resources allocated against support for shopper marketing, and manufacturers want to dedicate those resources. But, for a retailer, it’s more efficient to have those dollars applied against a category; for the manufacturer, those funds are supposed to be applied to lifting the prominence of their brands exclusively.

Leslie Clifford, executive director strategic planning at Geometry Global, and Nick Patterson, associate director of shopper marketing for Procter & Gamble

The solution? There’s no need to actually break any of the rules, suggested Patterson; but, rather bend or rewrite them so that they meet three needs: the retailer’s needs, the manufacturer’s needs and the customer’s needs.

One way to do that is to identify the personal priorities of the retail decision-maker; in other words, find an internal stakeholder and align your initiatives against their pet projects. “Find out what their motivations and their interests are,” Patterson suggested. “If you can [convince] that internal stakeholder to be a champion of yours for a particular program, it often makes things a lot easier.”

Patterson shared a personal anecdote involving Walmart and Procter & Gamble’s desire to breathe some life into the liquid detergent category with the use of shelf-talkers and in-store signage. “Walmart had — and still does — a very strong policy on ‘clean store,’” he said. “It happened to be at that time that Walmart had a strong desire to drive sustainability,” he said. “We looked at our laundry care compaction project, which was taking our laundry business and taking half the plastic and half the water out of [it] — huge sustainability win on multiple fronts from product supply to the consumer to manufacturer.”

Instead of approaching Walmart with an in-store signage program that would run counter to Walmart’s clean store initiative, Patterson said, P&G highlighted its sustainability effort. “We’ve got a great story to tell in one of your biggest categories around sustainability. Let’s use [in-store signage] as a way to talk to your shoppers,” he said. “The idea was we had combined messaging on sustainability along with product messaging, and that allowed us to bend some rules and understand the actual lift from doing something like this in the category. It turned out to be a great initiative.”

It’s also important to look beyond the rule itself, and focus on goals and needs — for instance, how each stakeholder is incentivized, Patterson said.

Finally, communication and transparency are also crucial elements of a display program’s success. Manufacturers and retailers should write a program brief around any promotion so that expectations become a known quantity before the display is shipped, Patterson suggested.

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