Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Unilever Scores with ‘In the Moment’ Research To Understand the Shopper Journey

To better influence shoppers, it’s necessary to know why they make decisions along the path to purchase ending at the shelf. Unilever believes that such an understanding of the shopper journey requires a shift from traditional recall studies to research “in-the-moment,” says Aske van der Werff, the company’s global shopper insights director.

When they are queried after the purchase, she says the results are likely to be flawed or wrong.  When asked “why” they made a selection, “they post-rationalize. They don’t know or can’t articulate. They are just human beings.” 

Some in-store analysts say using shopper intercepts and mobile technology at the time of purchase will yield more accurate results. 

“Recall research has its purpose, but if you really want to dig into what happens in a certain moment, it’s flawed at best. It can give you generalizations in recall, and that can be very helpful,” Van der Werff says, but may not reveal what they were actually thinking. For example, when a recall survey asked about a beer purchase, shoppers mentioned an average of 3.8 influences per respondent, such as price, a special offer, a well-known brand or friends.

“This shows that people post-rationalize afterward and add many more elements than what actually happened because human beings like to build a larger story,” she says. “They want to please the interviewer, or they can’t articulate the influences.”

Van der Werff and Barry Lemmon of Kantar Retail spoke at the recent 14th Annual Shopper Insights in Action Conference in Chicago in a session titled, “What Shoppers Can’t Tell You: The Role of ‘In the Moment’ Research and the Implications for Shopper Marketing.”

Using mobile technology to ask the same question “in the moment,” shoppers mentioned 1.4 influences per respondent with “well-known brand” cited most often. “The price and special offers are much less influential in reality than a big brand name. Awareness and reminders are much more effective than the results from the recall research indicate. This is one example why in the moment research can give you massively different answers,” she explains. 

Van der Werff cited three elements in building the connected shopper journey:
  • Trigger: The motivation behind the shopper needing to make a purchase
  • Touchpoint: Something that had an influence during a step in the journey
  • Purchase: The final part of the journey where an actual purchase is made.

“Even though we all know that the process of getting from trigger to touchpoint to purchase is much more complex than we always thought that it was,” she says, “there still is a pattern that you can derive from different types of shoppers. Looking at these patterns will help you understand where to focus, how to develop your categories, and what messages you need to give to what shoppers in what channels in what medium.” 

Don’t look at the touchpoints in isolation, she cautions. “This is something that we used to do in the past. We looked at print ads, we looked at point-of-sale materials, we looked at everything in isolation. But if you really want to understand how to get from need to the purchase, you need to look at them in relation to each other. When you look at them in isolation, you can miss the interaction and the patterns.” 

Using an example from hair treatment, an important category at Unilever, she notes that there are three types of triggers. The first one is when a consumer is running low on a product. “The second one is when you look in the mirror and think: ‘I have to do something about my hair — now.’” The third is a more specific problem, like frizzy hair.

Barry Lemmon, global head of shopper insights at Kantar, told the session that contrary to common wisdom that 75% of shoppers make decisions at the shelf, 60-80% of shoppers have decided on a product or brand before they get to the shelf.

Hair treatment is one of the more “open” categories, where 59% of shoppers are not decided before they get to the shelf, “which is rare,” van der Werff adds. “That opens a lot of different avenues for influencing shoppers.”

When asked what touchpoints they encountered pre-store, 16% said they went online for more information; 8% went to their hairdresser, and 6% spoke to family and friends. Touchpoints encountered in-store included: checked packaging for ingredients and product, by 17%; checked the end-caps for deals, by 17%; smelled the product, by 14%, and visited the store to browse before purchasing, by 10%.

“There is a lot of in-store information-seeking in this category. Checking packaging for ingredients is not very common in many categories, but it is in hair treatments,” van der Werff says.

She lists three principles must be considered to understand shopper journeys:
1) “First you have to be in the moment — not too far away from the actual occasion to prevent post-rationalization and stories 
that just aren’t the real deal.”
2) People have a better and a more accurate memory for what they did rather than why they did it. “So focus on the ‘what’, 
not on the ‘why.’”
3) “Then use modeling to understand some of the whys by looking at the sequence of whats, and what interactions led to a
purchase, or a change in the purchase.”

“Shopper behavior is changing, but our understanding of shopping behavior is changing more rapidly than the behavior itself,” Lemmon says. “To influence shoppers effectively we need to understand their entire shopper journey.” 

He lists some questions to ask, including:
  • What are the main shopper journeys? 
  • Where along the journey does the shopper make a brand choice? 
  • What are the most impactful touchpoints?

For shoppers to purchase, a product must be both mentally and physically available to them. “Brands grow by improving both mental availability and physical availability,” Lemmon says.

“Mental availability is improved by offering the shopper solutions to more situations. Thinking about a shopper’s repertoire, they are always shopping for different occasions,” he notes.

Physical availability is about more than just being there. This includes “being available at the right pack/price and for the right mission. But also facilitating that choice, being visible, having great packaging, standing out on the shelf with a good shelf layout and merchandising. Finally you must inspire that choice, giving people compelling reasons to believe by having great communications,” Lemmon says.

“If we are looking at influencing shoppers, we need to bring together this extended shopper journey, have a much broader view of the shopper than just what is going on in the store, and think about the mental availability and physical availability,” he notes.

Van der Werff concludes: “If you want to influence shoppers, think about the journeys they take. Think about whether they are decided or open, and how you differ your strategies depending on what your category characteristics are. Think about repertoires, and where you are in your shoppers’ repertoires. Focus on touchpoints that matter, and start adopting the language of touchpoints, rather than looking at individual activities.”


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