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why the shelf is more important than advertising

Brand marketers spend SO much time talking about advertising. Digital media, social media, broadcast, cable, cinema, radio, print, direct mail, blah blah blah.

Ok not blah blah blah - those all have a critical role to play in growing your brand. But honestly, how often are brand teams investing significant time and resources on advertising yet investing NO TIME thinking and talking about the shelf?

I'll tell you - way too often! #cray

Do you know why is the shelf so important?

Whether or not your consumer is a switching light user or a loyal heavy user, your brand is on their shopping list or it's an impulse buy, or they have known your brand all their lives or are discovering it on the shelf, there are three reasons you want to get your shelf game right.


It is estimated that Walmart sees 100 million people on a weekly basis. There is no other media vehicle that can give you that much reach at one time. Period. Of course, this number will vary by retailer, category, store location etc, but whatever the parameters, the reach you will get on shelf FAR out numbers the reach of almost any other media vehicle. If you qualify the media with targeted and relevant placement, well, there is no competition to the shelf. Not to mention that you're already on the shelf!

So step off product integration campaigns and flow charts -- it's shelf talker time!

The Decision Mindset

Where else can you get right into the consumer's decision mindset? When it comes to advertising, you are required to spend a lot of time talking about targeted and relevant placement. However, nothing is as relevant as the point of purchase! At the shelf, they are primed and ready to make a decision.

Now, we can argue that there is a lot to be done in advance of this to make sure you're the one they pick up, but all your hard work up to this point could have missed her. Or your competitor's shelf strategy is kicking your butt and -- poof! You lose.

This is true even for impulse purchases - there is always a need state behind a purchase even if they are not planning on it when they walk in or walk by. This is your chance! Everything else you do assumes the consumer will REMEMBER your message and take action in some (hopeful) future moment.

Um, what percent of the information YOU get on a daily basis do you actually remember?

The Last Chance

This is your last chance to build a relationship -- to gain their trust, tell your story, be compelling! Let's say they have seen your ad or social media post or your PR pick up on the local news. Great! But your exchange on the shelf is the final shot to bring them into your branded promise. A consumer can engage with your brand on FB all day, and yes, there is a lot of value in shares, but if in the end they do not vote with the dollar you've done nothing. No matter how altruistic your business model, the consumer's purchase is your brand's reward for delivering on what matters to them. If the shelf is not sealing this brand-to-consumer pact, then what will?

When we talk about the shelf, we can be talking about three different things: permanent shelf placement, secondary shelf placement, and temporary shelf placement. Depending on your category, life stage, investment levels, sales organization effectiveness, and other factors, your brand will have one our more of these placements. They each play an important yet different role, which we'll cover another time.

For now, what's important is that somewhere on a shelf in your target retail channel, your product is sitting, waiting for a consumer. The question is - are you ready?

So, what do you need to do to get it right?

1 Location location location

The consumer is in the perfect mindset, ready to engage with the right brand -- but are you in the exact right place to be the chosen one? Your placement can cue new users to your product category. It can inspire consideration when adjacent to complementary products. But most of all it puts your product top of mind right when a consumer is making a decision.

So, is your primary placement optimized? Are you sitting within the category set? If your primary placement is actually a secondary placement for this category -- will a consumer know how to find you? Is your primary placement standard across retailers? I'm a big fan of Nature Nate's Honey, but I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have to remember where to find honey whether I'm in Target, Kroger or Sprouts.

Have you leveraged a secondary location? Many, if not most, product categories have just one location in a store, but some lucky products (impulse products like single-serve beverages and snacks being some of the luckiest) have multiple opportunities for permanent placement in the store. Then, there is temporary distribution points -- these are instrumental in disrupting the shopper and gaining you new opportunities to engage with a consumer. These can be expensive and complicated to execute, however, deliver an incredible return when done right.

2 Packaging

As the single greatest media vehicle, the package has long been understood as a brand's most valuable resource. Many have written about package design, both structural and graphic, and its rewards and pitfalls. In this context, however, the package has 2 jobs: first, stand out. If they don't see you then you've lost. Second, share the most important information to convince them your brand is the best choice.

Have you evaluated your package against the competition to ensure the consumer will notice it? Do you understand your consumer's decision tree and are you speaking to their needs and striking an emotional connection? The package has to do A LOT of hard work and, while many spend countless hours trying to get it right at the beginning, not many go back to the package later to ensure they are still delivering on the consumer's needs. Evaluating against competition and staying close the consumer will help you maintain relevancy on the shelf.

3 Price

Finally, there is the matter of price. This is a not a comment on value - I will assume your consumer assessments, positioning work and competitive benchmarking have settled the issue of value. Price is about playing a game on shelf with the competitors and the retailer as the other players.

Price can be sliced and diced in a number of ways. From base price to promoted price, trade investment to shopper marketing tactics, and coupons to sampling, there is a lot more to price than a dollar sign. Leveraging this handful of digits to influence not only the consumer but sometimes the retailer or competitors, can have a gigantic impact on shelf.

Be sure to understand how your value proposition is aligned with prices across retailers and competitors. You don't want to lose simply because you did not understand the trade strategies of your competitors!

Easy, right?

The truth is that getting the shelf just right is tough. Even some of my largest clients - Fortune 500 companies - still have a lot of work to do to get it right. However, ignoring the shelf for things you have more control over (like advertising) is no excuse. And, in the end, will hurt you more than you think.

You don't want to be the only one left on the shelf, now do you?

What are your thoughts about the shelf vs. advertising? How are you succeeding at the shelf?

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