Playing a New Tune on the Path to Purchase
The proliferation of new and increasingly digital touchpoints on the path to purchase has transformed how retailers and brands inspire, engage and activate shoppers. Even the definition of shopper marketing, once largely relegated to in-store marketing efforts, has expanded considerably and now factors very prominently in the overall marketing mix.
For nearly three decades, Peter Hoyt witnessed and influenced this transformation first hand as founder of the Path to Purchase Institute, which he still leads, in addition to his new role as CEO of the Institute's parent company, EnsembleIQ, which also includes Retail Leader. We spoke recently with Hoyt about the accelerating pace of change, new retailer/supplier dynamics and the evolution of shopper marketing in advance of the Institute's Path to Purchase Expo scheduled for Sept. 20-22.
Peter Hoyt, founder of the Path to Purchase Institute, is now CEO of EnsembleIQ.
Retail Leader: You've been in the industry a long time and seen plenty of change. Put things in perspective about the disruption we are seeing, especially in the world of marketing?
Peter Hoyt: The amount of change that retailers and manufacturers of consumer goods and services have seen over the past 20 years or so has been seismic. Going forward, I agree with technology visionary Gordon Moore who said, "change has never happened this fast before and it will never happen this slow again." The changes that are on the horizon and the attendant opportunities and risks that will accompany these changes will be astounding.
RL: What does the future look like to you?
PH: We are in for massive disruption and a massive redefinition of retail formats and what constitutes a superior shopping experience. We will continue to see fundamental shifts in how people get information and how we communicate with each other. Tried and true strategies, tactics and org charts will be abandoned, and we will be forced to venture ever further into uncharted waters when it comes to how to inspire loyalty, traffic and sales.
Obviously mass media doesn't cut it anymore. The juggernaut that is Amazon continues to gain steam. How many more share points can traditional brick-and-mortar afford to relinquish to e-commerce before things start getting really hairy? Not much. So the fundamental challenge facing all companies in this environment is how to find success.
RL: What are you hearing from Institute members about how they are coping with change? It seems they are faced with the challenge of balancing familiar and still effective strategies with new and unproven methods that may not offer a return.
PH: The folks who get the most out of their membership in the Institute are those who have embraced the fact that mass media and traditional retail marketing techniques no longer cut it. Finding new, inventive ways to collaborate between retailers and manufacturers—ways to drive traffic, to drive sales, to build brands for both retail and manufacturer—is essential and, thankfully, extraordinarily effective. Members of the Institute, those who lean into the relationship, gain perspective on all of this.
RL: How are you dealing with change? The Institute was acquired earlier this year, you became CEO of the parent company and with the new EnsembleIQ corporate identity, you are facing some of the same brand awareness and communication challenges as Institute members.
PH: Change is invigorating and necessary, and our new company EnsembleIQ has an amazing opportunity ahead of it. Fortunately, when it comes to promoting awareness and understanding of EnsembleIQ's value proposition, we will be able to rely on the same collection of resources our customers use to grow their business.
RL: What is the value proposition?
PH: We exist to help people do their jobs better. And we only succeed in proportion to our ability to help our audience of members, readers and customers accomplish this. It's why it made sense for the Path to Purchase Institute to join forces with Stagnito Business Information, Edgell Communications and Carbonview Research earlier this year. Being part of the larger EnsembleIQ organization will help us collectively help our audience do their jobs better. Whether it is through the efforts of the Institute, or one of EnsembleIQ's portfolio companies—including Retail Leader—we fulfill our mission by providing our members, and the market at large, access to business intelligence that can take many forms, such as print products, websites, newsletters, databases, research and a wide range of events.
RL: Given there is so much turmoil and uncertainty around how brands and retailers will drive future sales, how does an organization like the Path to Purchase Institute stay relevant?
PH: Well, for starters, pretty much every week of every year my colleagues and I interact with executives at almost every level of leading retailers, manufacturers, marketing agencies, research companies, display and design firms, consultants, technology companies, printers, and others in the path-to-purchase ecosystem. It is a unique perspective, and on top of that we continuously launch share groups, forums and councils which are geared to get folks to share their concerns and challenges with each other. Facilitating these confidential gatherings allows us to understand what matters most to our constituents and stay relevant.
RL: Another change this year, maybe a subtle one, involved the name of the fall conference. It changed to Path to Purchase Expo from Shopper Marketing Conference & Expo. Why was that necessary?
PH: The change made sense because the Institute is now part of EnsembleIQ with its portfolio of retail-oriented brands and events. Shopper marketing until very recently has been led by branded suppliers, and retailers were not as well versed in the nuances. Many felt they had been engaged in shopper marketing with circulars and various promotions. The name Path to Purchase has broader appeal in that retailers and suppliers agree that there are now far more touchpoints at which one needs to intersect with shoppers on the path to purchase. The message is resonating in the market, and retailers understand they need to be doing more to leverage the shopper-centric approach to selling consumer goods.
Most retailers are not leveraging the incredible energy that is so willingly being offered to them.
RL: How so?
PH: Most retailers are not leveraging the incredible energy that is so willingly being offered to them. The main culprits for this are entrenched silo behavior, buyers and merchants who are rewarded for driving down prices at all costs, and long-ingrained habits of trying to maximize trade spend without transparency or accountability. If more retailers were to challenge their vendor partners to collaborate on enhancing the shopping experience while driving traffic and sales—and were willing to be 100 percent transparent about how vendor funds are invested and what return was accomplished, as any responsible medium should—a tsunami of investment would follow. There are billions of TV dollars looking for a better place to be invested. But that money will not make its way to retail unless or until retail decides to be worthy of investment. Retailers have to address the current shortcoming of how business is conducted.
RL: One of the ways dollars are being invested is digital, and it's clear the Expo has a greater digital, e-commerce flavor this year.
PH: Absolutely! That evolution has been in the works for several years. Once upon a time this event was known as The P-O-P Show and it was wall-to-wall merchandising. Six or seven years ago we began a conscious effort to become the Shopper Marketing Expo, and ever since then the show has been transforming. Now more than half of the show floor presents digital solution providers that represent the full spectrum of how modern marketers communicate with shoppers, at home or pre-shop, on the go, inside the store and post-purchase.
RL: You referenced Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's thoughts on change earlier. What quote would you like to be remembered for?
PH: I'll borrow from master Yoda and say, "the Force is strong in this one." By that I mean what we are creating with EnsembleIQ is powerful and exciting and will enable us to serve the industry in unprecedented ways.