Experiences are the key to building brands
Progressive consumer experiences are what make a brand stand out from the crowd, and point-of-purchase needs to be part of that strategy. By James Haggas, Valley
How do we stimulate the reaction that leads to a purchase? In the past, this was a question that the point-of purchase (POP) industry asked in isolation from, or even in competition with other promotional tactics. This inevitably led to a hitand- miss approach towards the achievement of a brand’s promotional objectives.
In recent years, however, we have woken up to the needs of our customers and have learnt to appreciate the rest of their promotional mix by “integrating” POP with the rest of their communication plan.
In the coming year and beyond, the market will demand POP execution that enhances the desired customer experience. Why focus on the customer experience? Because in the modern world, characterised by the commoditisation of products and disloyal consumers, brands are having to work harder than ever to differentiate themselves. Developing progressive and stand-out experiences, rather than product or service improvements, is becoming a more effective way for brands to set themselves apart. Taking control and designing the ideal customer experience reveals the opportunities to achieve this. Whether we like it or not, POP is part of that experience and we have to meet the challenge of enhancing and progressing it further.
The issue for POP suppliers is one of change: no longer are they basic manufacturers, as they are now required to deliver a retail experience, a whole new alchemy, requiring additional skills and a fresh approach.
The journey to understanding
Successful POP companies of the future will have a very different mindset, where dry-process engineering will be replaced by customer-journey understanding, leading to improved creative results. This understanding will be imperative in developing a retail experience that evokes the right emotions.
We need to understand these emotions because they are at the heart of the experience. Ask a consumer “Which product do you prefer?” and you get an answer. Ask “Why?” and you get confusion. Consumer preference is the delivery of positive emotions: find these, optimise them and preference grows. 65% of communication is non verbal, so there is little point in simply asking a consumer which they prefer, as the answer may not be valid.
An event is what happened. An experience is how you felt. POP enables brands to potentially interact with all the senses. What an opportunity for everyone concerned.
An emotional experience
At Valley, we have developed research techniques that permit us to explore a whole raft of emotions, both conscious and unconscious, making up the entirety of the experience. We convert this into a narrative to identify the customer journey at an emotional level, detailing how the various stimuli are received by the consumer at each stage, highlighting both the present important touchpoints and the future necessary ones.
Combine this with an understanding of the role the retail experience is playing in the customer journey and brands improve their chance of success on both a promotional and equity level.
The focus of the retail experience we design will differ depending upon the communication tactics of our customer. For example, if there is no above-the-line campaign, the brand awareness and understanding of objectives may be achieved by the retail experience. A different creative output from designers will be necessary – output that can only be achieved by understanding the customer journey in the first place.
In understanding the market we are competing in (the delivery of retail experiences, not just POP manufacturing), we have highlighted what we need to provide for our customers. Instore staff training, on-line guides and mysteryshopper checks are some of the initiatives we have implemented over the past 12 months – initiatives that are now expected by our customers.
By constantly appraising the customer experiences that are truly loved through the eyes of the consumer, breaking down why we love them, the importance of the individual details become apparent. The future winners in the “retail experience market” will orchestrate all of this detail to help brands achieve their goals. Those that don’t will clearly be the losers.
James Haggas, Sales and Marketing Director, Valley
Dialogue pays dividends
Retailers must engage in dialogue not propaganda if PoP is to build relationships with an audience that is increasingly green. By Jo-Anne Flack
It seems many of the issues that currently occupy the Government and general public will also feature in the point of purchase (PoP) sector throughout 2008.
The relentless and necessary pursuit of a solution to environmental damage is beginning to impact an industry that uses masses of materials. Retailers will continue to force PoP brands to help them meet their own green targets, but consumers are also putting pressure on PoP.
Managing director at Live & Breathe, Nick Gray, says the industry will have to respond to demands from consumers. “Consumers are increasingly demanding greener PoP and packaging and changes are sweeping quickly through the industry. Although suppliers are keen to improve their environmental image by swapping to green marketing materials, they can still balk at the costs involved – but this is changing month by month.
“We carried out research recently on behalf of a large client which showed that becoming greener might have an effect on lead times and cost of about 12%. The most progressive agencies are already operating with the environment in mind and are taking the consumer-driven changes in their stride. Before we know it all PoP will need to be greener and greener.”
Greener policies are also being driven by the continued restriction that stores are imposing through their clean store policies. As stores continue to exert a stranglehold over what appears in-store and how, managing director of WARL Kerry Bateman says brands are and will have to continue to seek greater share of voice instore “through a closer alliance with the corporate initiatives of retail partners”.
Age discrimination legislation
Another consequence of clear floor policies is that generic branding in-store is in decline as retailers sell in-store media. “Retailer-led PoP is big business,” says associate director at KLP, Corrina Sa Feio. “But it is extremely restrictive in getting any sort of brand message across in a vital decision-making environment. This means brands will become reliant on price promotion to drive volume.”
The other issue that has occupied other marketing disciplines for a while, targeted messages rather than a blanket approach, will also top the agenda in PoP.
Managing director at 141 Worldwide, Chris Dry, says: “Dialogue not propaganda is required if retailers are to build a relationship with consumers. It’s all about making the message more discriminating and personalised, whether it be in a grocery store or a pub. Remember that consumers are used to the increasingly personalised approach of the Internet. Therefore retailers need to edit their messages to their audiences so that they don’t overload them with unwanted content.”
Gray at Live & Breathe adds: “PoP is becoming smarter, helping customers make the right choices quickly. Women no longer need rely on partners to ask the question ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ because QinetiQ’s 3D cameras help analyse the customer’s body shape and gives advice on the clothes they should try on.”
Forward-thinking PoP agencies are also scouting around for assistance as the discipline grows in importance and 2008 could see experiential marketing agencies linking up more frequently with PoP to deliver a coherent and targeted message, both in-store and near the retail outlet.
Managing director of CRC, John Savage, explains: “Retail agencies have an innate understandingof the shopper journey, shopper experience and retail possibilities. They have always used this information to deliver exceptional PoP and in-store theatre. Now is the time to up our game by involving experiential agencies, people who know how to deploy the field staff, engage shoppers through face-to-face live marketing.”
Coming full circle, this dependence on experiential or external teams will also be driven by low compliance levels, either through a lack of interest or a strict adherence to clear floor policies.
Finally, a look ahead at 2008 would not be complete without acknowledging the role of technology in PoP. The expected use, and usefulness, of in-store technology has been over-stated in the past and it is still questionable whether, certainly in terms of grocery shopping – very often a distress activity, shoppers will be inclined to stop at a promotion and check, after punching in some numbers, whether they have been texted a special deal via their mobiles.
Nevertheless, the combination of the green imperative and clear-store policy means that technology is becoming increasingly useful.
Dry at 141 comments: “Interactivity is set to be a growing trend in store. For example, supermarkets giving consumers the opportunity to swipe a bar code off a CD and listen to some of the tracks. It’s likely that we will see more and more of this.”
Some predict that 2008 will definitely see more interactive PoP, perhaps with digital link up and mobile messaging coming into effect towards the end of the year.
Again, any technological innovations will have to be driven by consumer demand. Gray says: “The coolest PoP we ever spotted was in New York. We walked past a minimal window where all that could be seen was a funky bull’s eye asking us to point our PDA at it. In a few seconds a message was received revealing that the space in front of us was an art gallery.
“Retailers need to rethink how best to engage with customers who are technologically literate and used to networked communication. The customer experience could begin long before they reach the store and use viral techniques to generate hype.”