Making the case for custom point-of-purchase content

In a consumer's home, the advertiser competes with everything; there is nothing endemic about a TV program, a magazine, or the Internet. A mid-inning break of a recent baseball game saw the following ads: Nextel (wireless), Taco Bell (food), Zantac (medicine), Progressive (insurance), and Ford (auto). Each advertiser thinks you need their product more than anything else.

Something about the proposition will be sacrificed for the greater good of brand awareness due to factors like broadcast running times and lack of actual products or services. You can only drive a car when you get to the dealership. You can only experience a wireless device by actually using the wireless device. Lifestyle benefits are a core proposition of broadcast advertising; it's easier to show how your life will be with the product because you can't actually use the product...yet.

Terrific creative, as well as understanding the audience and the environment, are crucial in winning a viewer's attention.

But retail is different — very different.

At retail, the competition narrows down to the category. When Nike competes with Budweiser at home, it's only a matter of who likes what. But when Nike competes with Adidas and Reebok and K Swiss and Puma (to mention a few) on a wall of footwear, the category focus by both the customer and the advertiser at the point of purchase is paramount. This is where the last 10 feet of the path to purchase are won.

So why do advertisers and venues accept external advertising for the retail environment? Why do so many brands and manufacturers just repurpose their 30-second awareness ads to run on the shelf?

The simple answer is that there are not enough data to support the theory that custom content does any better at selling a product than regular broadcast advertising. Numbers get thrown around all too easily: 70 percent of shopper decisions are made in-store. Or is that 50 percent? I recently read that POPAI's MARI project claims that only "...three percent of in-store marketing communications is currently passed and seen by shoppers..." So that means that 97 percent is ignored? Or is it missed completely? How does this affect the 50-70 percent of shoppers who make the purchase decisions? In a 2008 study from IMI Consumer Track, North Americans were asked what influenced them to purchase brands they don't normally purchase. The respondents said they were influenced by an ad they saw on television 24 percent of the time.

Ugh.

Statistics, almost always subjective and sometimes misleading, should compel an argument, not decide it. They should not stand in the way of engaging the customer. Instead of believing in one side of the statistic, look at the other side: 50 percent may be influenced, but 50 percent are not.

Why should retail marketing push brands and advertisers to create custom content?

You have to stand out. The amount of stimuli waging a war for the customer's attention is close to immeasurable. Repurposing advertising does two things: It tells the customer what they already know, and it tells them you don't have anything to add to your proposition. Result: The customer deselects you because there are other, newer things to look at.

The customer's mindset is different in the store. Marketers must stop believing that "purchase decisions" and "unplanned decisions" are the same thing. A purchase decision usually starts outside the store. I need a bar of soap. Where do I get soap? At the store. I'm going to the store. I'm at the store. I'm here for soap. There's the soap. External advertising starts the path to purchase by compelling the viewer to decide whether or not she needs what you're selling.

In-store advertising must guide the customer along the path, not simply reiterate what she already knows. Purchase decisions often lead to unplanned decisions. An unplanned decision is based on impulse. "Oh...I need shampoo, too. While I'm here..." Where the two types of decisions mix is in the shopper's mindset at the point of purchase. Therefore, the approach to the customer should be different.

Advertising is part of the equation, not the solution; it must work in tandem with everything else. Steven Keith Platt wrote a fascinating article on the origin of the "70 percent Shopper Purchase" statistic, uncovering that it's more like 50 percent. He also notes that the purchase decision process is influenced by several factors, including how a shopper navigates the store, the displays and all their components, and a shopper's motivation. Collectively, these factors paint a better picture of how a product gets into a customer's hands.

The marketing team must collaborate with merchandising team to create that holistic experience. Merchant teams will negotiate massive deals with brands for product placement with little regard for how the product is actually presented to the customer. A big victory for the brand is a prominent location, but the surrounding presentation materials may not complete the entire experience. Marketing must sit at the table and be a part of the deal so that proper attention can be given to the messaging that accompanies the product.

To this end, the need for extra money to create custom content will diminish. The content will be part of the negotiated deal for the product life-cycle in the store. It will not be an afterthought tapping into someone else's budget. Further, because of its separation from any other kind of advertising, it will give marketers the ability to better measure impact.

While statistics may support some of the arguments, they should never make a case. Knowing that the customer and the environment are completely different in a store than in a home should warrant the argument for custom creative at the point of purchase.

Paul Flanigan, formerly of Best Buy, now consults clients on all aspects of digital signage and retail communication. With Best Buy he managed the entire in-store network business, helping internal Best Buy partners like Geek Squad and Insignia, as well as major brands like Sony, Panasonic, ABC and Warner Brothers, to understand the value of customer engagement.

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