Profile: Patti Conti, President and CEO, HMT Associates

Photo by Tony Gray

Patti Conti has been at the helm of HMT Associates for nearly two decades. She founded the agency in 2002 based on her passion for connecting consumers to brands. While doing so, she was determined to make HMT an indispensable partner to its clients.

“From day one, our mission has been to make our clients’ brands the hero by delivering unparalleled brand engagement,” says Conti, HMT president and CEO. She’s built the company from only three people to a team of more than 50 located across the U.S. working with clients ranging from Kraft-Heinz and Nabisco to Jeep and Barefoot Wine.

Conti’s experience in the QSR industry prior to launching HMT taught her a great deal about what was important to consumers at the point of purchase. The concept of shopper marketing was just emerging when she began the agency. “I was fortunate,” she says, “to be able to work with marketing, sales and retailers to define shopper marketing and their approach to market through collaborative programming.”

Leveraging insights to understand what factors will influence consumer and shopper behavior, and implementing strategies that will convert their decision along their purchase journey is how HMT defines shopper marketing. By integrating the goals of the brand, retailer, shopper and sales, “we ultimately connect shoppers’ hands, hearts and minds to our brands in such a way as to positively impact purchase,” Conti says.

HMT teams work on specific client business and are structured to align with that client’s organization. Centers of excellence – strategy and insights, concepts, experiential, digital, social and content – support and are integrated with client teams. “This gives our clients the benefit of a fully integrated agency,” Conti says, “without the complication of getting to know too many faces.”

Establishing an insights team and enhancing the agency’s strategic talent led to the creation of HMT’s proprietary “FOURmula,” a four-step process that Conti says takes the team from “humanizing data to creating eye-opening insights and spot-on strategies, and ultimately developing award-winning big ideas that engage consumers anywhere along their purchase journey.”

Other investments have included doubling the concept/content team and evolving the digital center. Looking ahead, Conti says the focus for HMT will be in three key areas: Personalization 2.0 and the need to anticipate the shopper’s next move; e-tail or e-commerce and the opportunity to make the experience more shopper-friendly; and the store of the future where the focus shifts from navigation and purchase to experience, discovery and community. 

As the industry continues its evolution, she’s paying attention to all devices and technology that can create a personalized experience – even leveraging scent and voice – plus offer convenience and speed. “AI and bot technology,” Conti says, are also shaping shopper marketing. She cites the BreadBot, an AI-powered bread-making machine featured at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show.

Meeting these changes and opportunities drives Conti and so does the chance to work with young talent – growing their expertise in shopper marketing and helping to develop their careers.

“It was so rewarding for me to see Erika Kothman, who joined HMT right out of college, receive last year’s Women of Excellence Award (for Rising Star),” Conti says of the Path to Purchase Institute’s recognition. “This really shows how our dedicated training and mentorship program is making an impact on the careers of our team.”

As shoppers and consumers increasingly wield more power and buy on their own terms, Conti notes that those in the industry will need to maintain a dedicated focus on insights while incorporating the latest technology and data.

“Future generations of shoppers are going to gravitate toward brands they have a lasting connection with, and ones that hold similar values to what they hold themselves,” Conti says.