by Jeffrey Gottheil

We all know how important brand-building advertising is to our marketing strategies. But share of voice seldom correlates with share of SKU’s. The retailer is the “Keeper of All Brands”, but agencies often do not satisfy the retailer’s need to maintain the store’s brand integrity, while still maintaining their client’s. The message of the national campaign often disappears in the store. Co-op advertising is popular, but pleases neither party; I’ve often seen expensive POP material stacked behind the store manager’s office door. Is this conflict resolvable? And is it worth the effort to resolve?

I would argue that not only is it worth it, but it is imperative because of the critical role that in-store marketing communications plays in the overall success of any consumer product campaign. We come to this realisation when we recognise consumers as purchasers, not merely as lifestyle segments. If you believe, as I do, “that it isn’t creative unless it sells”, than you must also believe that “unless you close the sale, it isn’t sold”, and there is only one place to close a sale: “Inside the Box” (bricks and mortar or computer).

If 66% of all purchase decisions are made in-store, then why are clients and agencies not doing more to directly influence that decision? I’m puzzled when agencies and clients spend millions of dollars on media advertising, trying to convince a consumer to purchase a particular brand and don’t follow it through to the store level. The consumer enters the store convinced that he knows what he wants … but leaves with another brand! This happens all the time because most agencies don’t know how to use retail as a medium to communicate their message.

After 25 years in the business, I still can’t understand why agencies regard retail advertising with fear and loathing. Why do agencies think that the slightest whiff of retail is enough to contaminate any national campaign? (Starbursts aren’t mandatory, after all.) Is it a battle that agencies just don’t want to fight with retailers, or is it that agencies just don’t understand the importance of thinking “Inside the Box”?

“Thinking inside the Box” © is exactly that: thinking! It isn’t taking Moulin Rouge imagery from a national campaign and shoving it into a retail store. That’s like translating copy to French and thinking you’ve addressed the francophone market. Adapting a brand for retail requires understanding of (a) the brand’s personality, (b) the store’s personality, and (c) the influences shaping consumer behavior in the retail environment.

Making this adaptation is difficult and strategic. To get your product in the bag and out the door, you must drive consumer response in the store. The premise behind this type of Response-Driven Advertising © is that it is designed to influence and direct every step of this process. It does not begin with national brand creative or media. It begins with the consumer and the process they go through in making their purchase decision. It is at this level that we discover which key elements will help motivate the purchase.

Today, even your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) must go further than it has before. Your USP must not only address the key attributes of your product, but it must also out-sell your competitors. They key is to know what your competitors are saying and what your customers want to hear. Don’t establish your own USP, let your customers do it for you.

We all know that the core of any good advertising campaign is consistency and continuity. But each element, even though part of a greater picture, must work on its own. You cannot hope the consumer will put the puzzle together. Keep the message simple, respect the medium you’re in and support every step that influences the purchase decision. Understand which steps sow the seed, and which sell the plant.

Response-Driven Advertising is not lifting a frame from a 30-second TV spot and making it into a poster; the retail store should not be used as a vehicle to further develop your brand. When a consumer is in the store and ready to purchase your product, you don’t want to sow more seeds: you want to sell the damn plant!

The biggest complaint I hear from manufacturers is that there is a constant battle trying to get their POP into stores. Frankly, I’ve never found this to be a problem. It involves respecting the store as a brand and working closely with retailers.

Although a retail store contains all of the brands, they are also a brand in themselves. We must frequently ask ourselves, “which brand did the consumer really buy, the store’s or the product’s?” You will often hear someone say, “Great Tie, where did you get it?” – not “What brand was it?” Simply put, retail stores don’t mind supporting your brand – I don’t know one retailer who isn’t interested in selling more of your product – they just don’t want your brand to erode theirs.

Think about it: a consumer walks into the store and is ready to make a purchase. They know what they want, and usually there is no salesperson available to support that decision, so they find the department themselves and in plain sight they are exposed to a multitude of competitive products. Were your advertising efforts strong enough not only to convince them to seek out your product, but also to combat all external influences, like competitive products?

Ted Turner was once asked, “Is it better to advertise at the game or on a commercial during the game?” He said, “At the game, because you have a captive audience. Who takes a beer or bathroom break during the game?”

The retail store is where the game is played.

When you think “inside the box” you realise that core advertising has competitive messages influencing consumer preference, and the store has competitive products influencing consumer behaviour. The difference is, in the store the consumer has cash in hand and has decided to make a purchase. If you have to influence only one step along the way, shouldn’t it be at the retail level?