Shopper Marketing Strategy: A Guide for CPG Brands

What is Shopper Marketing?

The best way to define shopper marketing is to understand it in comparison to retail marketing.

The two terms are often used interchangeably, and for good reason. Both methodologies seek to motivate consumer purchase at store-level (i.e. generate sales). But by comparing them in the context of something familiar – a sales funnel – we will identify the fundamental difference between the two.

Retail marketing is the process of engaging consumers while they are in-store. It focuses on the final stage of the buyer’s journey.

Shopper marketing is the process of engaging consumers along their path-to-purchase. It focuses on the entire buyer’s journey, from awareness, to consideration, and conversion.  

Shopper Marketing Funnel

About This Guide 

Within this guide, we explore shopper marketing through the lens of a B2C sales funnel, providing content primarily relevant for Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) operating in the grocery industry.

Our goal is to equip brands with the knowledge to create an effective shopper marketing strategy designed to grow their business at retail.

As you read, keep in mind that today’s dominant path-to-purchase is an online process. This reality was made clear by COVID-19, which has fundamentally shifted the way we shop for the foreseeable future.

Table of Contents:

Relevance at Retail 

How does shopper marketing enable growth? The short answer is competitive advantage. For you visual learners, consider this recent photo featuring the barbecue aisle at a local St. Louis grocery store.

A couple quick things to point out:

  • This photo represents about 2/3 of the entire barbecue sauce aisle
  • In total, there are 20+ individual sauce brands and around 60-70 SKUs
  • The eye-level shelf space (highlighted) is a store brand

From a retail marketing standpoint, most of these brands lack a clear competitive advantage. In the eyes of the consumer, those bottles are basically all the same.

Let’s compare value using the 4 Ps of traditional marketing:

  1. Product: Each of the sauces have similar bottles, labels, ingredients, and brand messaging.
  2. Price: The private label brand has the best price point across the board.
  3. Promotion: Of the 45 SKUs shown, 36 of them are running a price promotion (yellow tags).
  4. Place: Sweet Baby Ray’s and the private label brand dominate the space.

In other words, only two of the 20+ brands clearly stand apart at shelf-level. The remaining 18 look the same, are priced the same, run the same promotions, and occupy the same space.

Here’s the point: CPG brands must look beyond the four walls of retail to gain a competitive edge. This is especially true for smaller brands that cannot compete against private label pricing or national brand notoriety. And now more than ever, smaller brands must reassess their strategy as consumers increasingly shift to private label brands in the wake of COVID-19.

How to Create a Shopper Marketing Strategy

Gaining a competitive edge means understanding and engaging consumers at key points along their path-to-purchase.

While the approach may vary for different categories in retail, the focus should remain the same: create value that will resonate with your target customer. 

Develop your approach by answering these 4 questions:

1. What does your brand represent?

In other words, what is the “heart and soul” of your brand? Does that messaging resonate with consumers beyond price or product features?

Your story matters. Storytelling encompasses more than referring to the features of your product, like how it is 100% all-natural or made without artificial sweeteners. Countless brands make similar claims. Traditional retail thinking will do little to set you apart.  

Make these features become part of your story, not the crux of your message, to enhance your identity overall.

2. What is important to your target audience?

It is all too common for brands to create self-serving content or make boastful claims about their products. But do consumers care? The hard-to-swallow pill remains – consumers do not care unless they understand what is in it for them.

Aim your attention at creating value within your specific category. Recipes, tips and techniques, anything that positions you as a lifestyle resource within that space.

Lean into your analytics tools (i.e. Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, etc.) to reveal who interacts with your brand, where, and how often. That way, you can focus on engaging consumers with valuable content and helpful resources where it matters most.

3. What are your goals?

If you strip away all the pomp and circumstance, the primary objective of any shopper marketing program is to drive more sales, whether in-store or online.

But in order to support a sustainable shopper marketing strategy, think beyond the transaction. Determine your goals for each phase of the sales funnel, not just conversion, and make it a priority to measure results along the way. 

Consider these tips for creating goals using the SMART method:
  • Specific – What exactly do you want to achieve?
  • Measurable – How will you measure progress?
  • Attainable – Do you have the proper tools/skills/people to complete the objective?
  • Realistic – Are you sure you can achieve this goal?
  • Time-Based – What is the time-frame?

As you evaluate your efforts early on, website traffic is one valuable metric for success that allows you to:

  • Generate proprietary data
  • Tell your unique story 
  • Provide added value to users (think FAQs, recipes, contests, etc.) 
  • Direct consumers to your online store 

4. What is your budget?

Successful shopper marketing is, among other things, a product of consistency. Allocate dollars to provide ongoing support in the form of audience acquisition, digital ad creation, content production, and in some cases, agency services.

With all of this considered, how much should you spend? We subscribe to the traditional benchmark that 10% of your total revenue should be spent on marketing and advertising. Make a strong enough impact without adversely affecting your bottom line.

Keep in mind that shopper marketing is a long-term brand building strategy. Make sure to plan for a 6-12 month campaign before reassessing your efforts. 

3 Key Points of Consumer Engagement  

As much of shopper marketing takes place online, the process can feel cumbersome and overwhelming. Getting wrapped up in the fine-tuning of your online presence can easily distract you from your goals. We suggest distilling the process into 3 easy-to-understand touchpoints


Ensure your target audience knows who you are and where your products are sold. Visibility today means strategic ad placement paired with compelling creative. And social media, your brand’s window to the world, acts as a useful tool for generating awareness, growing your audience, and funneling traffic to your website.

However, you do not own your fans and followers on these platforms, making it imperative to utilize social media as a means for building your own proprietary audience base. But keep in mind that organic growth on social media has become a thing of the past. You must pay to play; otherwise, you’re virtually invisible.

Build your audience in target markets and around target retailers. Create ads that support your physical footprint, actively grow your database, and drive website traffic.

How to Grow Your Social Media Audience


While conversion is the goal, the consideration phase is where you identify your value proposition. This part of the process is arguably the most important as it gives your consumers a reason to keep coming back.

Authenticity matters. Across your entire footprint, focus on the consumer as a human being, not just a transaction. Otherwise, you risk missing sales opportunities with consumers who want to connect with something more.

Visuals matter. As the old adage goes, shoppers eat with their eyes. Would you buy a product off the shelf that was dented or had a torn label? The same principle applies with your content online. 

The benefit matters. Remember, you’re selling to real people who want real solutions. Useful content resonates with consumer interests or provides answers to their questions. For CPGs, that can mean learning how to use the product in recipes or aligning with a charity.


Give them one more reason to buy. Imagine conducting your online efforts the same way you would if you owned a brick-and-mortar store. Conversion primarily means 3 things: 

  1. Simplicity: Make it easy for consumers to purchase everywhere you engage them. On your website for instance, that means clear, user-friendly navigation. It should only take 1 click to purchase. 
  2. Incentives: Reward consumers for participating with your brand. In exchange for their personal information such as an email, provide them with unique value in return (i.e. promo codes, contests, etc.).
  3. Customer service: Offer an exceptional experience through the sale and beyond. This may come as no surprise, but the service offered (or lack thereof) can make or break your brand.

The Strategy Summed Up

  1. Awareness – make your brand top of mind in target markets to help get noticed on the shelf.
  2. Consideration – offer real value to real people that engages them and keeps them coming back.
  3. Conversion – provide shoppers with simplicity, purchasing incentives, and superior service to drive sales. Consistency is key. 

Whether you are creating a shopper marketing strategy for the first time or looking to refine the process, keep it simple, create an action plan, measure your results, and try again. Consider this an investment in the long-term success of your brand!