Expo Panel: Best Practices for Engaging Today's Shoppers

Patrycja Malinowska
Director, Member Content, P2PI
Patrycja Malinowska profile picture

Brand marketers have had to think on their toes to continue engaging shoppers in the face of drastic changes in shopper behavior and disruption of shopper operations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are having to change quickly, replan and learn new tools,” said Stacy Jackson, Coca-Cola Co.'s assistant vice president, shopper marketing for Kroger.

“Many of the events over the past month have raised the standards and made it even more important that we make an authentic connection with the shopper when and where they’re receptive. Importantly, it’s put the onus on us to always be evaluating our work and ensure that the messaging and that connection plan both when and where it’s placed is appropriate, and if it’s not then we have to make a change,” said Jackson, speaking as part of panel of marketers at a Path to Purchase Institute “Community Gathering” on Aug. 19. The virtual event is part of the newly reimagined Path to Purchase Digital Expo.

Yolanda Angulo, Mondelez International's customer director, shopper marketing, described the pivot necessary when the 2020 Olympics were postponed. Mondelez and partners Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Hershey Co. had to completely overhaul a related campaign that was all set to run at select Ahold Delhaize chains. Not wanting to completely abandon programming that had been in the works for over a year, the partners quickly shifted funding to a food bank donation program readily embraced by the respective retail partners, one even matching total donations and promoting the effort during its own summer program.

Facing many unknowns, marketers have had to stay nimble to remain relevant. As shoppers were clearing shelves during the initial panic-buying phase of the pandemic, the focus on keeping products in stock and minimizing shopper frustration came at the expense of some traditional shopper marketing levers. Many retailers temporarily turned away from secondary merchandising, circulars and in-store events, and amplification through digital became more important than ever for breaking through the clutter.

Coca-Cola was set to launch its first brand in over a decade, AHA, in March, but the campaign’s “Expect the Unexpected” marketing message was no longer the right sentiment in light of the pandemic. Jackson detailed how the brand team quickly set to developing new creative while the shopper team reevaluated the media mix to reach consumers at the right place and time. At Kroger, the execution was focused on boosted search, digital coupons overlayed with targeted onsite ads, coupon listing ads and product listing ads, plus shoppable social activation. Despite delaying the marketing plan and shelf reset timing by about a month, the launch is on track to deliver initiative goals.

Several panelists said they are shifting marketing dollars to a more digital-first approach encompassing touchpoints such as search, retailer websites and/or social media to ensure brands are visible where the shopper is today even as the future remains uncertain.

LALA U.S. had been ready to promote new packaging launching in April via a retailtainment effort at Walmart, but revised those plans to shift to print and digital activation. LALA's senior shopper marketing manager, Laura Dickey, said the brand instead partnered with Ibotta and SKUlocal to execute a direct mail campaign with an influencer overlay. The effort was restructured to drive trial via a rebate offer and a bonus offer reaching in-store and online thanks to Ibotta’s recent integration with Walmart’s online grocery platform. The activation included scan-to-card barcodes that added the product directly to the online grocery shopping cart. Influencers amplified the effort via social media and their blogs while a search campaign with Walmart Media Group was already happening in the background.

Even though LALA was one of the first vendors to test Walmart’s Ibotta integration, 12% of redemptions ended up being online, supporting the shift in shopper behavior, and 7% were new buyers to the yogurt category. The overhauled campaign resulted in a 28% lift.

“Shopper behavior is changing almost daily … and we’re really trying to reach that shopper at any point of purchase which can be anywhere now, whether they’re online or in store or searching for recipes or looking for savings or just looking to indulge to take their minds off the pandemic,” Dickey said. “Not everyone shops the same way, then and now, so the key is to build our plans in a way that helps us reach that shopper at the right moment when they’re ready to make that [purchase] decision and cover all bases.”

Today’s playbook is an interesting mix of new digital levers, older tactics like meal solutions, QR codes and TV advertising, and — as retailers and shoppers return to some level of normalcy — reimagined P-O-P activations. “Things like retailtainment and displays will both take on a more well-rounded, 360-degree approach, reimagining the current with the new …[by] layering in new digital tactics and tools and targeting,” Angulo said.

Shoppers continue to want to be inspired and engaged, and even sampling can still be relevant. While live sampling remains off the table, there are contactless ways to drive trial. Tasked with cultural and specialty marketing at Albertsons Cos.' Jewel-Osco, Tracy Galindo of GT Universe detailed several programs that were first delayed, then reimagined in a virtual realm and are now tentatively turning into a hybrid of in-store and online activation. One example kicking off this week is a program for college kids that involves bussing them to stores – in a socially distanced and masked way – to offer pre-packaged freebies and build those lasting relationships.

“Purchases are still going to be made in store, shoppers are still going to use their mobile devices … and innovation is still going to happen. New items are still going to launch and brands are going to need that shopper marketing support to help drive trial and conversion. So as long as we’re structuring those campaigns to reach that shopper at any point of the shopper journey, the discipline and these brands are going to thrive through this time,” Dickey said.

Registered Expo attendees can listen to the panel discussion on demand. The next Community Gathering, to be held Sept. 9, will examine best practices for Converting Shoppers. The discussion will feature Stuart Vass of Pernod-Ricard USA, Greg Kearns of Kimberly-Clark, Peri Mendelson of The Promotion In Motion Companies and Alysia Ross of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida.

For more information about the Path to Purchase Digital Expo and to register for the event, visit