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10 Rookie Shopper Marketer Mistakes - Part 2

Rookie Shopper Marketers' Mistakes Part 2

In our last post, we listed the first five common mistakes inexperienced shopper marketers tend to make. Today, we are continuing the list with the next five:

6. Waiting for the Brand Plans to Finalize

“In a perfect world, brands release their marketing plans to the field early in order to enable effective program sell-in. I was a young, (read naïve) newly appointed shopper marketing team lead, and I had the ambition to make this dream a reality. I went about it by insisting that the integrated marketing planning process started sooner and the timelines were compressed. I quickly learned the process was complex for a reason; that this monstrous machine could not be sped up (at least not with my level of authority), therefore my demands were not accommodated. For many months, I felt resentful and victimized until one day I had the proverbial light bulb moment.  I was meeting with a consultant who suggested that instead of demanding the information, I should proactively share it. His theory was that by initiating the conversation in a giving way, I was in a better position to build trust and influence the brand plans. His wisdom completely shifted how I thought about my role in enacting change.

I tasked my account-facing teams to develop a short list of high-level, strategic customer insights and recommendations to each priority brand, which we then presented prior to the planning season. We had incredibly fulfilling, strategic conversations with the brands because we didn’t come asking for money. Turned out, they craved this early input about key customer strategies and partnership opportunities. We were able to convince at least a couple of big brands not to wait till plans were final to share “work in progress” with us and our customers. That year, plans were finalized no sooner than in the past, but they brought no surprises, and we could see our own and our customers’ fingerprints all over them. Some call it ‘store-back planning,’ I call it ‘trust and common sense.’”


7. Not Addressing Brand Over-Reach

“One of the mistakes I made (and I see my industry peers repeating) is operating not like a strategic function, but rather like a tactical extension of the brand in retail, thus allowing my team to be micromanaged to death. Instead of relying on the customer experts and empowering my team to make investment decisions on the fly, based on the quickly changing retail landscape, I watched headquarter-based brand and finance teams approve every small investment decision. Need to move a promotion from Q1 to Q2 because customer merchandising plans moved? Good luck explaining a bunch of people in the headquarters why it must be done! Changed your mind and decided to try a new digital tactic instead of a print ad? Go through fifteen emails and three conference calls to get a “go-ahead” from the brand manager. Brands behave this way because they don’t know any better, and because they “don’t see the forest for the trees.” Our problem was that there was a high degree of opacity and mistrust that drove all this unnecessary process. To end this madness, we officially cut the cord from the brand P&L by establishing a shopper marketing “tax” and pooling all funds into one large bucket for each key customer team. In return, we established:

  1. a strong briefing process where brands informed us of the strategic imperatives, goals and new product plans
  2. a culture of extreme transparency by sharing program results with brands, both successes and especially failures;
  3. a rigorous ROI measurement process to demonstrate tangible contributions that our team made to the bottomline

When you consistently deliver better ROI than traditional Media or Trade, it’s easy to insist your team is not micromanaged.”


8. Mis-aligning KPIs with Key Constituents

“When the shopper marketing function was first established, we wanted to create a set of metrics that were unique to shopper marketing, to help illustrate the results only we could claim. We considered household panel data, shopper card data, as well as softer, relationship-oriented metrics that were intended to capture the degree of strategic collaboration with our retail customers. However, due to small household panel sample sizes, we couldn’t measure individual program impact across all customers. Due to the the subjective nature of the relationship-based metrics, we abandoned them as well. We also noticed that our desire to set up a new set of metrics met with resistance from brands and sales who expected us to help them drive their agenda. In the end, we borrowed some metrics from brands (account-specific market share and brand equity scores) and some from Sales (account-specific net sales, points of distribution and profitability) and aligned our performance measurement structure accordingly. The change in the tone of the conversations between our teams was almost palpable, we knew we were winning our key partners’ hearts and minds when we showed them how our shopper marketing agenda complements theirs. We had to learn to speak their language for us to be successful.”


9. Failing to Set Clear Spending Principles

“My biggest challenge to overcome as a shopper marketer had been to manage internal expectations about what our budgets should, and even more so, should NOT be spent on. There was a lot of ambiguity around what shopper marketing really was, and how the budgets should be allocated across our marketing mix. There was a lot perceived overlap with Traditional Media and Trade, and the lack of clear shopper marketing spending principles forced us to spend countless hours either arguing with Sales about not using shopper marketing funds as a Trade “slush fund” or with central Media Planning team about the need to buy retailer-specific media independently. We were able to overcome this challenge only after senior sales, marketing and shopper marketing leaders aligned and documented formal “spending principles” that regulated overlapping grey areas. This document helped manage expectations and gave the shopper team “air cover” to continue focusing on the execution and less on turf protection and finger-pointing. I only wish we did it sooner.”


10. Not Standardizing Shopper Marketing Operations

“I found myself promoted and leading a geographically-dispersed shopper marketing team that was really good at what they did. I had a lot of respect for them and didn’t intend to micromanage. However, I quickly realized that, as a middle-manager, I was expected to know a lot about their work. My meetings with Brands and Finance were always very frustrating because I felt unprepared, uninformed and had to “get back to them” with the answers. Later, these follow-up questions would distract my team from their main jobs, and made me feel terrible about wasting their time. A senior manager demanded a “Playbook” to keep him informed, and that request triggered a new workstream to create a large PPT deck that someone had to update regularly. This is not what I had in mind when I signed up to lead the shopper marketing function, so I had to find a better solution. I realized that my team had all the answers in their offline trackers, and because they were very experienced, they ran their business units independently and came up with own ways of tracking budgets and plans. Unfortunately, all of these tools looked different and were completely non-standard. After a thorough audit of the essential operational data and standardization exercise, we were able to come up with one common way of planning and tracking our activities that rolled into a unified report.  We needed a centralized dashboard that gave both me and my peers in headquarters the ability to monitor real time data. Do not repeat my mistake by being a ‘hands-off’ manager. Accountability and transparency should be mandated, and there are ways to achieve them while empowering the team to make decisions and without micromanaging them.”





After more than 15 years in Consumer Packaged Goods industry, I became a software entrepreneur. Today, I design and sell Shopperations, a web-based, collaborative planning software for Marketers on both CPG and Retail sides, to enable transparency, accountability and stronger Shopper Marketing promotional analytics. I am passionate about all things Retail and Shopper Marketing, love reading about Neuroscience progress as it relates to shopper research, and care about process improvement and marketing automation technology.
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