An Interview with Dina Howell
Path to Purchase and the Evolution of Shopper Marketing
Our next installment of interviews with our advisors features Dina Howell. Dina is the retired Worldwide Chief Executive Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi X. Dina is a pioneer, architect and well-known inter
national authority in Shopper Marketing. As an industry expert, she is often quoted in business and trade publications. A coveted speaker, Dina has delivered keynote presentations at numerous events such as the World Retail Congress and Shopper Insights in Action.
Dina joined Saatchi & Saatchi X in 2010 after retiring from Procter & Gamble. She began her P&G career in 1988 in Brand Management with increasing responsibilities, ultimately retiring as Vice President Global Media and Brand Operations. During her P&G career, she led the establishment of shopper and retailer marketing within the company; and is often cited as the catalyst to the Shopper Marketing Industry.
SpotRight: Dina, you have a wealth of experience in CPG and retail marketing. How have you seen the path to purchase evolve in recent years?
Dina: The joy of working in the same industry space for the past 30 years is that I have watched the industry reinvent itself a number of times. I can see that in many ways the path to purchase has fundamentally changed, and in some ways, it hasn’t. Let me explain.
What has remained the same is this: Understanding consumer or shopper behavior — and building programs based upon that understanding — yields better results. That hasn’t changed in 30 years. Those companies that manage to do that well and spend the time up front to really understand the consumer or shopper are generally rewarded with far better business results.
“Understanding consumer or shopper behavior — and building programs based upon that understanding — yields better results.”
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of being present where the consumer or shopper is seeking information. If you accomplish this, then generally you’ll service her or him better, and again, be rewarded with better results. Something that I learned a long time ago is if you can manage to be present where and when the consumer is most receptive, you’ll get her to notice. If you’re trying to sell a shopper a skin care product, you have a number of ways to get that information to her. You can get that information in beauty blogs, or beauty magazines, or places that the consumer gets information on beauty. You can provide that information to the consumer when she happens to be shopping and perhaps cause her to pause in her shopping environment.
Perhaps she won’t buy the exact same product that she purchased last time, because she could be compelled with claims, information, or promotions to try something different. Perhaps she could enjoy a better experience if she tried something new. Again, she is most receptive when she is in the shopper mode, whether it’s online or a physical building. It’s when she is out looking for a product. That has never changed.
What has changed, and is very apparent, is the multitude of tactics and expectations that the consumer now has, thanks to technology. When we began to test early Shopper Marketing with retailers in 1993, television was still the primary vehicle for engagement. Direct mail was often used by retailers. The internet was still new and limited. Smart phones did not exist. So the tactics have changed very dramatically. Today the amount of information available is limitless. In 2014, we knew that 90% of the world’s data had been created in the two years prior. It’s so much more now.
Today 77% of people in the US are walking around with a smart phone in their pocket. In the early days of shopper marketing, we would put up a lot of information on the shelf to help educate consumers because, especially on smaller packages, there’s just not that much room to provide pertinent information. We also didn’t have the opportunity to send shoppers to a website to learn more. So we had to actually provide that information at the store. Shoppers use all kinds of information to inform their decisions. There is no hiding price. There is no hiding reviews. There is no shortage of information. So there is a real shift in power to the shopper. There was a lot of discussion in the early days of shopper marketing about who had the power. Was it the manufacturer, or the retailer? I would say that both are influencers today. The real power is with the shopper due to the information in the smart phones in our pockets.
SpotRight: You said before that understanding the shopping behavior of your target consumer is the foundation of shopper marketing. How can you do that? What is the role of social in this?
Dina: How can you understand shoppers? Really, the big shift is towards transparency, and the shopper is in charge. Fundamentally, shopping behavior can be studied any number of ways.
My favorite has always been to start with in-store shop-a-longs. Observe the shopper and about halfway through the trip, I begin to ask questions. It is advisable to always carry a tablet on shop-a-longs so questions can also be asked about websites searched during the shopping trip. Once a hypothesis is developed, many companies choose to quantitatively validate if the findings are consistent across the target audience. Frankly, good, strong insights just make good, logical sense. However, finding these insights is like digging for gold. It takes time, but once you find it, you know it is gold.
The role of social in this is transparency. You can ask shoppers anything. It is critically important to look at blogs and ensure there is proper social listening. What are people saying? What do reviews say? At Procter & Gamble, an important component of our brand management training involved listening to consumer feedback. In 1988, that involved reading consumer letters and listening to callers on the 1-800 feedback line. Reading or listening to the consumer provided immediate feedback. That was and is so critical to building a great brand. With the advent of Shopper Marketing, we evolved our consumer research to incorporate shopper understanding, and began spending significant time in stores with shoppers. Fast forward 30 years, feedback is instantaneous. Immediacy is now required for brands to thrive.
“How can you understand consumers? Really, the big shift is towards transparency, and the consumer is in charge.”
SpotRight: Are there opportunities to apply lessons learned in the early days of shopper marketing to today marketplace? How?
Dina: The main lesson from the early days of shopper marketing is you’ve got to base your program on shopper understanding and insights as we just discussed.
Over time, another truth that shopper marketers across industries have learned is that it really helps if you put emotion into whatever tactic you’re using. Enough research has been done to prove that if you want to drive behavior, people are most often convinced to purchase through emotions as opposed to just facts. It’s a combination, but emotion is what spurs us to action. It’s the whole concept of need versus want. It’s the whole concept of emotion driving decisions.
There are a lot of studies about this. One is Lovemarks, which is from Saatchi & Saatchi. There is a lot of research behind Lovemarks, and it is very clear that emotion drives action, and there’s a lot more than just that in this important book and study.
SpotRight: What advice would you give a young marketer trying to get ahead?
Dina: The first advice I give anyone is be innovative. Regardless of what has been created so far, nothing stays still. The people that you know about and that you read about, likely were innovators. If you want to be outstanding, you need to be innovative. Sticking with the status quo, doing things the way they’ve always been done is, at best, going to keep you treading water, but most likely other companies or other people are going to advance and you’re going to be left behind. So that’s the very first thing that I would say.
The next piece of advice that I’d give a young marketer is to read and understand the industry. Read periodicals. Read blogs. Understand who is an influencer, who are thought leaders, as well as what’s happening in the industry. I’m shocked sometimes when I sit down with people and they’re not aware of key trends in the industry, because they say there’s just so much to read they can’t keep up. You’ve got to find a way to curate information, so you can stay current. And there isn’t any one place to do that.
You’ve got to build a portfolio of important information. Personally, I use Twitter and LinkedIn to curate information. I’m able to follow thought leaders. I’m able to follow periodicals in a very efficient and timely way. For me, the first and last thing that I look at everyday on my phone is my Twitter feed.
Then, the third thing I would say is that there’s no substitute for hard work. You find your preferred tools that help, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to work hard. Nothing meaningful ever happens without significant effort.