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Finger in the Wind

By Peter Hoyt

While the winds of change are always blowing in business, the trick is to separate the “hot air” from trends that actually have headwinds behind them. One barometer I keep an eye on for the overall shopper marketing discipline* is tracking the number and types of companies that exhibit in the global Shopper Marketing Conference & Expo every year.

Five years ago almost every exhibitor in our 2009 event was showing some form of traditional marketing vehicle meant for use on a store sales floor: P-O-P displays, signs, fixtures, neon, floor graphics and the like. If something was described as “high-tech,” it usually meant an interactive kiosk, or an in-store TV network, or some sort of special effect using holography or 3-D light projections.

It was a different world then. We created a “wordle” out of all the 2009 Conference’s seminar blurbs and it’s hard to believe in retrospect, the word “mobile” doesn’t appear once.  Given the reality on the ground (we were in the deepest recesses of the “Great Recession,” and the iPhone itself was barely two years old) it’s really no surprise that virtually everything demoed that year was designed to engage and convert shoppers at Procter & Gamble’s “First Moment of Truth” —  in-store, at or near the product.

Fast forward to what will be presented at the 2014 Shopper Marketing Expo floor this fall in Minneapolis, and we find that fully half of the exhibiting firms represent state-of-the-art digital touchpoints: digital incentives, mobile platforms, retail media, beacon technology, hyper-local targeting capabilities and several other effective means of engaging shoppers at the “Zero Moment of Truth,” as they say at Google.

None of this means that the traditional methods no longer deliver. On the contrary, there seems to be a surge in interest in “old school” techniques. Why? One reason may be data we’ve presented in the pages of our flagship publication, Shopper Marketing magazine, that shows shopping app adoption levels are leveling off a bit as users’ expectations collide with their actual utility. These increasingly “always-on” shoppers still want to use their mobile phones, tablets and even smart-watches all right, but they want functionality that matters: Beacons with useful offers; location-based messaging that’s relevant; shopping lists that reflect actual in-stock positions; AR (augmented reality) that’s more than a gimmick; incentives that incentivize.

We also know that answers to all these digital challenges are in development because our editors help “curate” our Expo floor presentation and can see what’s coming over the horizon.

There’s another reason that interest in some “old school” marketing techniques remain high. The retailers and marketers who attend our shows are getting better at marketing to an increasingly omnichannel shopping public, and that means shaping each offer to each environment: desktop, laptop, phone, tablet, experiential, sales floor, out-of-home, at the shelf, and on and on.

In short, what we interpret from observing all of this evolution is… hey, it’s turbulent out there, folks!

The 2014 edition of the Shopper Marketing Conference & Expo is going to be held in Minneapolis this year — October 22 & 23 — and you are more than welcome to head over with your own barometer for what’s on trend and who’s blowing smoke. There will be docent-guided technology tours; seminar tracks on everything from online-to-offline sales attribution to insights activation to in-store innovation; special sessions on where venture capitalists are placing their next bets; coffee, keynotes, demos and even digital networking opportunities.

I don’t claim our show has all the answers, but give it a few hours of your time and I guarantee you’ll come away with better questions.

*For us, the shopper marketing discipline encompasses just about every digital or traditional marketing and retailing effort along the shoppers’path to purchase, at home, in transit or in store.

Peter Hoyt is the CEO of the Path to Purchase Institute. The Path to Purchase Institute is a global association serving the needs of retailers, brands and the entire ecosystem of solution providers along the path to purchase. Peter can be reached at phoyt@p2pi.org

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