How Many Shoppers Are Actually Up For Grabs?

woman window shopping

By Clayton Southerly, Alter Agents

Competition for shoppers’ attention is fierce, and the competition for their dollars is fiercer. When working with finite marketing budgets, businesses need to be sure they’re focusing on getting the right message to the right people at the right time. But who are the right people exactly, and what do they need to hear?

It isn’t enough anymore to target advertising to “everyone interested in buying cereal” or “all Gen Z in key markets.” Within those segments are shoppers with wildly different behaviors and waning levels of brand loyalty, and effective advertising takes that into account. When we’re crafting our messaging, we need to do it with a sharp understanding of which shoppers in our vertical need to hear our stories, and which versions of our story need telling. It’s about reaching people who can be won over.

Alter Agents conducted a nationwide study into shopper behavior this spring. We surveyed 6,000 recent purchasers who made purchases in six categories, including fitness equipment, home furniture, CPG items, and educational courses. The results gave us a valuable look at how U.S. consumers approach their shopping, allowing us to understand just which segments are winnable for brands that want to expand their market share.


The Shopper DIAL

We sort shoppers into four categories according to their stated past behavior: The Defectors, Impulsives, Ambivalents and Loyalists. Together, these make up what we call the “Shopper DIAL”. Understanding where a campaign’s target audience sits on the DIAL is a big step in crafting a winning strategy.

The Defectors are shoppers who had a particular brand in mind when they began their purchase journey but were swayed somewhere along the way into buying a competing brand. These shoppers are somewhat persuadable and can be poached from the competition.

The Impulsives bought a product on incredibly short notice, giving advertisers little time to make their case. But as I’ve written previously, the Impulsives won’t always act this way, so they’re important to monitor and speak to in order to influence future behavior.

The Ambivalents are the advertiser’s key target. These shoppers go into their purchase journey without having a specific brand in mind, so they’re up for grabs! There might be some background brand awareness playing into the decision, but no one has to change the Abivalent’s mind away from one brand and for another.

The Loyalists are the Ambivalents’ foil. These shoppers went into the purchase journey with a specific brand in mind, and they bought that brand. This isn’t to say that they didn’t consider other options; just that they stuck with the plan.

How Advertisers Leverage Insights to Win

Each of these shopper archetypes starts the purchase journey in a different place. That particular place comes with specific messaging needs that advertisers need to meet in order to be successful. Advertisers can use the DIAL framework to inform a lot of their messaging decisions. For example:

  • Consider how variations of your messaging can be tailored to the different parts of the DIAL. What works on the Ambivalents may not on the Defectors.
  • Play offense and defense. Your Loyalists may be viewed by someone else as potential Defectors, so sound marketing should both preserve and expand market share.
  • Do the research to understand where your shoppers in your category get their information and develop messaging based on the channel and which parts of the DIAL are most likely to consume it.

The DIAL fits into each product category differently. Some categories see a lot more Loyalists, and some are full of Ambivalents. Thinking about your category’s shoppers in this way, and doing the research to understand exactly what the real world looks like, can give you the tools to sharpen your target messages to win over more shoppers.

Author bio:

Clayton Southerly is the Marketing Communications Manager at Alter Agents, a strategic market research consultancy based in Los Angeles. He asks the big questions, using custom research and executive-level information products to build brands better. He loves fostering relationships, and his empathic approach helps him make these partnerships stronger. When he’s not driving comms strategy and building content, Clayton enjoys sitting on the beach, food, and traveling.