Shopping for Shopper Insights Services

The 12th annual Shopper Insights in Action conference sponsored by IIR USA was a huge hit last week in Chicago. It featured a terrific line-up of keynote speakers, all of whom did very well on stage, and literally dozens of practical, real-world sessions across five different tracks. Each session focused on how insights drive activation at retail. I have a few global CPG clients who need to be doing more in-store and should consider attending… en masse.

Another aspect of the conference is often overlooked: the sponsors and exhibitors. Besides the economic value for conference producers, exhibitors offer another form of value for attendees who may be in the market for services and offerings for their business. And this year’s list of sponsors, exhibitors and media partners were top notch.

Now, all of these exhibitors provide services in some aspect of marketing or marketing research or shopper marketing or data analytics; services CPGs use to differentiate and market their products to millions of consumers. So, one would expect them to also be experts in marketing themselves. Just for fun, I decided to put them to the test (a spur of the moment, very poorly constructed test lacking experimental design of any sort).

I asked several of these exhibitors who help companies differentiate and win in the marketplace how they differentiate from their competitors. Many answers were compelling, all were articulate, some were obscure (which I attributed to my own naivete). Once you got into a dialogue with any of these vendors, they could communicate their value proposition clearly and point out key points of difference from competitors. Every exhibitor I talked with passed with flying colors.

But then I began to wonder. How do the exhibitors go about attracting their “shoppers” to get them into a conversation so they could explain their value proposition and point of difference? Have they put eye tracking glasses on attendees to see what draws them into their exhibit? Segmented the attendees into hunters and browsers? Well, I don’t know the answers to any of that but if I imagine wearing eye-tracking glasses as I walked through Innovation Hall, I suspect my eye-track would have gone something like this:

  • Giveaways. The impulsive kind. The kind you want whether you’re interested in buying something or not. Someone had a big plate of chocolate chip cookies that I’m sure my eyes landed on for much longer than the 0.3 seconds typical of consumers in the grocery store.
  • People. Eye contact accompanied by a pleasant “I’d-be-glad-to-talk-with-you” smile. You know what I mean. They didn’t check my badge first to see if I’m someone they could sell to. Just genuine, authentic helpfulness and human interest.
  • Brands. My eye-track seemed to go first to tables to scan giveaways, then to people for positive human connection and if that all went well, I’d look to see the brand. Some value for me now, authentic personal connection, then I look to see what brand just delivered those two key elements.
  • Information. If an exhibitor delivered on the first three stops on my eye-track path, then I’d be interested in further information. Conversational first, then some tangible print or digital info I could take away from the conversation. Oh, and a business card or two that signals “hey let’s connect again sometime”.

I’m happy to say there were winners on many of these four elements in the Innovation Hall at the conference. A few hit on all four (there were also a few of you who skimped on the giveaways so we never talked. You know who you are…). I made new connections with potential partners and I’m sure all the exhibitors made great connections with the attendees. That’s additional value for attending an already hugely value-added conference!