The Digital Signage Insider

Who are the best shopper marketing companies?

Published on: 2008-06-20

Ever since we started writing about shopper marketing in 2006 we've received a lot of emails and phone calls asking for information, case studies and advice about how to make shopper marketing work. Unfortunately, we're not really experts in the subject -- we just watch it from the periphery to make sure that our customers' digital signage and kiosk projects are following best practices (to whatever extent those even exist today). So when people ask us about it beyond the context of digital merchandising, we usually try to figure out what kind of help they're looking for and refer them to a suitable expert in the field. This is easier said than done, since shopper marketing has only recently become secksy, and it's often hard to figure out who these people should be talking to. Apparently we weren't the only ones having this problem, as the HUB Magazine, in partnership with Hoyt & Company, put together a research study to determine what makes a good shopper marketing firm and identify the top companies in the business. They released the results of their study a few days ago, and were generous enough to share their results with those of us who participated.

As the report's introduction notes, the shopper marketing sector has more money pouring into it than ever before, and continues to grow rapidly. Based on a recent Deloitte/GMA study, shopper marketing budgets are growing in excess of 21% per year, versus the industry-leading Internet, which is managing a "mere" 15% annual growth rate these days. At this rate, shopper marketing expenditures might reach 8% of total marketing budgets by 2010, which as the report notes, is over half of what the industry currently spends on consumer promotion. So what is shopper marketing, you ask? Like virtually everything else in the marketing world, there are some disagreements about how to define it. However, the HUB settled on a fairly concise definition:
Understanding how one's target consumers behave as shoppers in different channels and formats and leveraging this intelligence to the benefit of all stakeholders -- brands, target consumers, retailers and mutual shoppers.
When asked, the survey's respondents primarily suggested things like promotional strategy, in-store POS, marketing strategy and display design. Self-service kiosks, digital signs and all of the newfangled stuff that we deal with on a day-to-day basis were not mentioned. Why? Because shopper marketing is about the message, not the medium. Whether the work done on the communication strategy is executed on a static poster or an LCD display makes no difference to the pool of advertisers, brands and retailers tapped by the study. This makes more sense today than ever, given the ever-increasing number of media that you can deliver a message on.

What are the goals of those executing shopper marketing strategies? Not surprisingly, the number one response was "improved sales" (something brands and retailers can actually agree on!), followed by "softer" benefits like improved loyalty, improved ROA, etc. My favorite part of the report (and if you're new to shopper marketing and need to get up-to-speed fast, it's the part that probably makes the whole thing worth the price of admission) defines a set of best practices, objectives and organizational implications for reaching your shopper marketing objectives. I wouldn't feel right about spilling the beans entirely, given that this is supposed to be a paid report, but I will say this: the woes of the shopper marketing manager sound a lot like those of the digital signage manager. It seems that we're not the only industry plagued by projects not being driven from the top-down, not getting the proper buy-in from all of the different departments and agencies that will need to touch it in order to make it a success, and not having enough guaranteed funds over enough time to make sure that the project not only gets off the ground, but actually is given a chance to thrive.

But back to the beginning of this post: presumably there are agencies out there that know all of this stuff already. These select few have learned how to navigate around a lot of the obvious pitfalls when undertaking a new project. Who are they? Well, according to the roughly 750 respondents in the HUB survey, the top ten shopper marketing agencies are:
  1. Mars Advertising
  2. Saatchi & Saatchi X
  3. TracyLocke
  4. Ryan Partnership
  5. Catapult Marketing
  6. Malone Advertising
  7. Alcone Marketing Group
  8. Marketing Drive
  9. The Integer Group
  10. DraftFCB
I've been in touch with a few of these guys over the years regarding digital signage projects (many of which never got past the early stages, but that's fairly typical of our industry and not usually the agency's fault.) From what I've seen, these agencies can tell you more about what goes on inside a typical grocery store, big box retailer or specialty chain than you can probably imagine. If you're serious about owning the First Moment of Truth and getting your message across to shoppers in a retail environment, you could certainly do worse than to tap one of these groups for their expertise.

So is the HUB study worth buying? At $400 (at press time), it's certainly a lot cheaper than many other reports that pertain to our industry, so it's a fairly small investment. However, unless you feel that shopper marketing strategy is something you need to understand to make your project successful, there's probably not a whole lot that you'll find to be useful. In fact, the report might best be used as a jumping off point for companies just starting out with a new retail marketing project, especially if they don't have a huge amount of expertise in that area to begin with. Of course, if you're shopping around for a shopper marketing agency, it offers a good overview of the relative strengths and weaknesses of some of the top agencies in the biz, according to a lot of people who are (more or less) in the know.

To learn more about shopper marketing, you can start by reading the synopsis of the HUB survey (or of course you can purchase their full report if you like). You might also be interested in our other articles on this topic, including how to use shopper marketing to improve the store experience, best practices for leveraging shopper insights to drive retail success, and why you should run shopper marketing experiments. Finally, if you need help integrating digital signs and kiosks into a shopper marketing strategy, feel free to contact us to discuss your project.

Have you worked with any of the "top" companies listed in the HUB survey? If so, what was the most surprising or insightful thing you learned from that relationship? Leave a comment and let me know.


+1 # Candy 2009-09-21 18:20
Hi...Please do include me in your mailers for latest trends in visual merchandising solutions Thanks
0 # Michael Bense 2010-10-14 15:29
Worth checking out for digital advertising. SteriVision Hand Sanitizing - Digital Media Kiosk ( Opportunities exist to place advertising and marketing messages on thousands of SteriVision locations across the country. They will be located in some of the largest retailers in the country (including the largest), as well as, over 125 airports, supermarkets, convenience stores, over 6,000 pharmacies (including all Rite Aid), over 2,000 hospitals, colleges/universities, along with over 1,000 travel/truck centers in the USA and Canada. Michael Bense COO Street Smart Marketing 72 Grant Drive, Suite 101 Holland, PA 18966 215-407-9095 215-860-0720 (fax)
0 # Dave Wohlner 2011-01-11 20:46
Another thought for the larger, national brands is to adjust regional overlays and allow local agencies participation. These agencies understand local audience needs better than an account team that resides across the country. --- For over 20 years we've been eating, sleeping and breathing, sales activities for our clients. Call it "Shopper Marketing" or "Below The Line", our agency has a fluency in the brand building process that allows us to administer to marketing and sales needs for most any demand. Innovative in-home, out-of-home and in-store activities: POS programs, direct mail, multicultural, merchandising support, online, tie-in partnerships and much more. Dave Wohlner 510-297-6160 x107
0 # mark 2011-09-20 15:01
There is also a smart and claever appassionated shopper marketing agency in Italy. The name is SAVE AS - Ideas from store to life. Take a look at the website and be involved. Have a nice time wherever you are :-) Mark
+1 # shoppernewsblog 2012-04-22 23:56
Dear everybody, For more information on shopper marketing - from the basics to recent trends - please visit Looking forward hearing from you! shoppernewsblog
+2 # PowerPro Live 2012-11-05 01:50
Some good information. Thanks for sharing. PowerPro Live 510-297-6160
0 # Reverse Hearing Loss 2015-12-14 06:27
Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this
post and also the rest of the site is also really good.

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