The shortest distance between true retailer-supplier collaboration — the shopper

CHICAGO — Retailers and manufacturers may understand that strategic alignment and a shopper-centric focus is imperative for successful collaboration, but what does the path to success look like? How do brands and retailers get from point to A to point B?

To help retailers and consumer packaged goods marketers get a better understanding of the critical factors needed to build a mutually beneficial business relationship, a powerful panel of shopper marketing visionaries were tasked to focus on the most important common ground retailers and manufacturers share: the shopper.

That was the key message of the Oct. 10 keynote session, “Building Trust: Using a Shopper-Centric Focus to Strengthen Collaboration at Retail,” in Chicago at the Shopper Marketing Expo last week.

Participating in the robust dialogue was April Carlisle, SVP and director of strategy for global shopper marketing at Arc Worldwide; Kim Feil, EVP and chief marketing strategy officer at OfficeMax; and Lisa Klauser, president of consumer and shopper marketing at IN Marketing Services.

Teeing up the discussion, keynote moderator Patrick Fitzmaurice, principal of The Capre Group, told attendees: “This whole collaborative partnership has to be aligned with pervasive insights so we all understand what the barriers to conversion are, through breakthrough retail strategy, through really high-impact shopper marketing, [and] executing through superior go-to market, all done through a suite of optimized capabilities on both the manufacturer and the retailer side.”

But recognizing that outdated methods of conducting business, common misconceptions about each other’s objectives and contrasting viewpoints often get in the way of true collaboration, panelists spent the hour examining the most common stumbling blocks to joint business planning; defining a “wish list” of information and support to ensure effective collaboration; and highlighting methods of establishing real transparency and fostering deeper understanding and greater success.

Cowboys of the new frontier
Carlisle, the former leader of P&G’s shopper marketing center of excellence, talked about the importance of measurement and the evolution of consumer touchpoints.

“The challenge for us in the world of shopper marketing is to pick which [touchpoints] you are going to engage in, but, more importantly, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it,” Carlisle said. “Anything that you choose to do, you have to be able to measure. So there’s this whole new practice of digital shopper marketers.”

These digital shopper marketers, which Carlisle referred to as the “cowboys” of the new digital frontier, have indicated that a key driver of their digital efforts is improving customer brand engagement. Research also indicated that Facebook is the dominant playing field, while digital couponing took the lead as the No. 1 activity within the digital shopper marketing space.

Providers of digital coupons may be cheering, but Carlisle argued that there’s more — much more — that can be done with digital shopper marketing with solid retailer collaboration.

Regardless of which digital touchpoints marketers choose to engage in to connect with shoppers along their path to purchase, what is important is that it can be measured. “No tactic is a good tactic if you can’t measure it,” Carlisle said.

Step it up
It’s time for brand marketers and retailers to “get out of the tactical rut” that stands in the way of true collaboration, noted Klauser, who drew extensively from her 20-year career at Unilever, most notably as the former VP of consumer and customer solutions and marketing operations for the CPG giant. Her advice: Step it up.

“As I look at it, you all have an opportunity to step it up in terms of how we work together with our manufacturer and retailer relationships,” Klauser said. “I think, for the most part, there’s still a lot of tactical, annual planning that is going on. … Shopper marketing is still very much being done in a silo in the absence of broader, more strategic conversations.”

Klauser stressed the importance of evolving the retailer-manufacturer relationship and argued that the new model hinges on bringing cross-functional teams and perspectives to the table.

“Some of the best shopper marketing programs that I’ve done have had supply chain intimately and R&D intimately involved,” Klauser said. “So co-creation and partnership, again, versus coming to the table with an idea that you are trying to sell the customer.”

To help marketers get out of their tactical rut, Klauser offered the following tips:

  • Identify a mutual growth opportunity;
  • Gain internal alignment;
  • Get customer alignment;
  • Build a cross-functional team;
  • Project kick-off and discovery;
  • Collaboration on solutions; and
  • Test, roll out and optimize.

Shared goals
Within the past 10 years or so, retailers have become quite astute in how to target and define the targets of their customer base. But it’s the manufacturers who often hold the key to shopper psychographics. The real question is how can brands and retailers work together to share those insights and create big ideas?

To help attendees connect the dots and gain insights into how co-creation is playing out within OfficeMax, Feil discussed the recent launch of the new OfficeMax Services Center.

Kim Feil, EVP and chief marketing strategy officer at OfficeMax

“We’ve been trying to understand how to get into a meaningful space with our business customers,” she said. “We know they’ll buy supplies, and we give them a good price on that. … But we also know that these people care about [their] businesses, and we wanted to move into new spaces that would be meaningful to supporting small business.”

Earlier this month, the company introduced the new OfficeMax Services Center. The in-store Services Center offers a portfolio of more than 40 services designed to relieve the administrative burden on small business owners, and offer such technical support as web design and maintenance, 24/7 On-Call Tech Support, printing and document management, marketing materials, shipping, credit card and payroll processing, human resource services and legal assistance.

OfficeMax collaborated with its top vendor partners to develop the program. “We worked with [vendors] to shape our messaging, to shape all of our offerings, shape the deals, shape the kick-off announcements, and they were involved in every single part of this,” Feil said.

A lynchpin of the program is the introduction of the retailer’s first magazine for small businesses, which also was developed in collaboration with vendor partners.

“What we wanted to do was present to our customers all that content and rich expert knowledge in an objective magazine that also included offers and tips and information that they could use,” Feil said. “This is important because it also allowed us to shape a different perception of OfficeMax as a knowledgeable and credible source for these things.”

What is it about? “Breakthrough ideas; and I feel like this one, in particular, is a great example of that,” Feil added. “Don’t be afraid to talk transparently with your retailers. There’s nothing worse than someone coming in with their deck and trying to get to the point instead of just talking to us.”

For more DSN coverage from the Shopper Marketing Expo, visit


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