Finally the key to what turns shoppers on?

Media research company Millward Brown last week launched a tool which it claims offers clients and agencies a new way of examining how consumers build perceptions of brands, as well as what motivates them to spend money. But the jury is still out on whether such systems actually work, or if trying to figure out shoppers’ mentality merely turns marketers into basket cases.

According to Millward Brown group account director David Chantry, the Demand & Activation (D&A) service will help advertisers spend the right amount of money through the most effective media channels. “We can build a picture of what communications predispose people to a brand, and then what motivates them to buy it,” he says. “For example, we can assess what is going on at point of sale, from special offers to helpfulness of staff.”

Simon Rothon, senior vice-president of marketing services at Unilever, a client of Millward Brown, says: “Substantial shifts in our budgets are being made in line with new media consumption habits. New approaches to marketing mix modelling, such as this breakdown of the effects of demand creation and activation, are of great interest.”

Dunnhumby, the data company in which Tesco has a 53 per cent stake, runs a UK panel of 12 million UK Clubcard-using households. Director of consumer strategy and futures Martin Hayward says the company can identify what stimuli people have responded to, by analysing which promotions were sent to them and what media was being used at the time of purchasing, as well as in-store pricing and promotion strategies. He adds: “We can even ascertain media consumption outside stores by what magazines and newspapers they buy.”

Hayward says the days of “clunky” category management and expensive customer relationship management projects to attract shoppers, or retain their interest, are coming to a close. He believes number-crunchers may finally be close to unearthing the “holy grail” of predicting consumer buying patterns – not just of existing brands, but of future products, too.

“We’re in the midst of a step-change from dealing with small samples that have to be glued together, to finding the holy grail of integrated cause-and-effect data.”

But other experts are sceptical about how useful the shopper data will be. Simon Goodall, director at Saatchi & Saatchi X, the worldwide group’s shopper marketing network, says: “You have to ask whether shoppers really want retailers to make decisions for them. Technology and data will only be successful if rooted in the needs of the shoppers, not those of retailers and brands.”

Tim Denison, director of knowledge management at customer tracking specialist SPSL, says: “Many models exist, but they only generate partial causal links, because there are so many factors that can affect the results of a campaign.

“Various frameworks can be used to assess the impact of marketing on product sales. But I don’t believe the holy grail is attainable.”

For his part, Chantry admits that owners of data have to get its use spot on, or they risk alienating consumers. “Without data,” he says, “you are shooting in the dark when choosing media. But companies should be careful about the ways in which that data is used – some companies are drowning in it.”

Ian McCawley

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