Blog Series

Flattening the Funnel

Peter Breen
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I am writing this Editor’s Note just after concluding the all-new, all-virtual Path to Purchase Digital Expo. When you participate in a three-day marketing conference as both a speaker and attendee and you wear sweatpants the entire time (even when dressed in formal attire from the waist up), your thoughts can tend toward the surreal.

But I hope the idea that shopper marketing is poised for a great leap forward isn’t a mere flight of fancy as I consider the conversations that took place during P2PX, where the virtual stage was dominated by two topics that may, in some serendipitous way, reveal “the truth” about shopper marketing: that it can build brands just as well as brand marketing does while also doing a great job of driving sales. 

The first topic was, of course, our industry’s response to the pandemic, which involved dramatic shifts in marketing activity and funding to the digital arena in response to changes in both shopper behavior and retailer priorities. The second not-wholly-unrelated topic was the continued emergence of retailers as bona fide media companies, legitimate options for national media dollars looking to reach consumers with brand-building messages. 

In theory, the marketing function has long been segmented into functions defined by their broad area of responsibility across the purchase funnel. But over time, the distinctions have become more about the media being used and/or the budgets being utilized, the lingering result of organizational structures and longstanding conceptions – even industry politics, to some extent. So brand marketing used mass media to work the top of the purchase funnel, shopper closed the sale at the bottom, and never the twain (or budget) shall meet. That’s a quaint notion from an age when consumers learned about brands through mass media and then had to make time in their lives to visit a store and become shoppers.

Discussions taking place around retail media networks have made this abundantly clear. A branded promotional endcap in Kroger supermarkets is shopper marketing. A display ad on communicating the same promotion is also shopper marketing. But a display ad communicating the same promotion that the retailer syndicates across various consumer media on behalf of the brand is … national media? 

That’s what retailers are telling brands these days. Truth be told, they largely are financially motivated to say that – national media budgets being much larger than shopper coffers, after all. But they’re not wrong in asserting that media advertising which can directly attract viewers and then immediately lead them to purchase is a more effective way for brands to spend their marketing dollars than having one budget start the process and another budget finish the job. And it seems silly to maintain the distinction because of archaic internal structures.

“We challenge ourselves to make every moment shoppable, and that means incorporating retail media into the full funnel of media planning,” said Lindsey McGowan, shopper marketing senior manager for General Mills, during a P2PX session hosted (and sponsored) by Kroger Precision Marketing. “We kind of just said, ‘No more funnels. It should just be a connected commerce experience,’” added April Carlisle, Coca-Cola’s vice president of shopper marketing. 

Over the years at the Institute, we’ve occasionally suggested that all marketing should be “shopper marketing” because the ultimate goal of influencing purchase should always be considered. Based on what’s been happening lately, I’m starting to think we’ve been right. 

But then again, what do I know? I’m wearing sweatpants.

More Blog Posts In This Series

  • History in the Remaking

    I remember my path to purchase history fairly well, so I don’t have to worry about repeating it. But, because I remember, I do have to worry about being the eternally grumpy cynic in the room, the one trying hard not to rain on the parade of all the optimistic folks talking excitedly about the newest industry game-changer.
  • Empowered Women Empower Women

    2020 was a strange year: frightening, chaotic and full of disruption, both professionally and personally. At times, just making it through the day felt like a tremendous victory. Yet the industry did more than just make it through.
  • Keeping Up With the Times

    If there is a single image that, for me, aptly illustrates the seismic changes currently taking place in our industry, it’s a shelf talker I noticed at Stop & Shop in early September.