The Disconnect Between Branding and Shopper Marketing

How many of you use or have heard of the old ad world terms; “above-the-line creative” and “below-the-line creative?”

Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe you haven’t.

Here’s a quick explanation:

Above-the-line typically refers to the big projects – the type of work you dream of doing when you’re in art or marketing school. These are the assignments that make careers and grace the pages of PRINT, HOW, CA, and other prominent publications on design and marketing. Below-the-line work refers to the utility work, the day-to-day collateral such as coupons, POS, shippers, and many other in-store or social tactics that drive to retail. In most cases, below-the-line work has been required to closely follow the conceptual and visual mandates derived from the brand and image-focused above-the-line efforts.

However, the delineation described, while still adopted, is far outdated. The result is a significant rift in the effectiveness of retail, CPG, and shopper marketing.

Our industry can do better.

A number of retail brands have lulled themselves into believing that the above-the-line work, the development of a brand guideline full of brand assets, cultural studies, sharply stated consumer entry points, and the outlines for social media engagement is the only DNA that is needed to effectively extrapolate into a shopper marketing plan.

They’re wrong.

Brand considerations are, of course, important, but it’s not the full scope of thinking that should be leveraged in order to market a brand that must win at retail in order to succeed and stay alive.

Brand marketing is not shopper marketing. They are two relevant but separate tasks and they need to be treated as such. While both brand and shopper strategies are important, maybe our industry needs to flip the sequence of development. Rather than the brand guideline driving shopper strategies, maybe shopper strategies should drive brand marketing and ultimately the brand itself.

In the age of fluid content marketing, it makes little sense to continue to design CPG messaging from the static structure of a brand guideline. Brands would benefit from starting from ground zero, where the rubber meets the road. It would be best if the heart of every CPG brand formed around the ever-evolving realities of how humans interact with retail environments—whether physical, social, or e-commerce. Doing so doesn’t distract from the tenants of branding such as building a tribe, culturing loyal brand advocates, or building brand reputation, it improves upon all by focusing on how and why the shopper will engage with the product at the point of purchase.

The instances where it’s made sense for Phoenix Creative to encourage brands to break free from their brand-exclusive thinking and begin to develop shopper efforts as uniquely considered, messaged, and deployed tactics have seen great success.

I believe our industry needs to flip the sequence of branding more. Start with the channels in which the product is purchased, figure out how to be relevant to the shopper, and focus on the product. In other words, allow the below-the-line learning to drive the above-the-line brand. By allowing branding to be shaped by what happens at retail, CPGs can better speak to shoppers, also known as people, in a way that brand messaging alone simply can’t do within physical or digital retail environments.

Judging the 2018 Effies

As I reflect on the past year, I can’t help but focus on a trip I took to Chicago in December to be a judge for the 2018 Effie Awards – one of the most prestigious awards you can win within the Shopper Marketing industry. PHX has submitted programs to the Effie Awards in the past, but I’ve never been a judge so this was something completely new for our agency as well as myself.

When I originally submitted my application to become a judge, I didn’t know what to expect. There were several questions spinning in my mind; How would I fit in? Were there going to be 50 judges from top agencies? Or the most daunting question for me; How would Phoenix Creative compare to the larger, global Shopper Marketing agencies in the room—those agencies that submitted for the same top awards that Phoenix was competing for?

After going through the experience of being a judge, I knew in my heart that Phoenix was right where we needed to be and that we deserved a seat at the judge’s table.

So, how did I know? It’s simple: as the day progressed, it became clear through judging entries and talking with fellow judges that the brand experiences I’ve had at Phoenix provided me with valid first-hand experience and insights that contribute to the larger conversation about Shopper Marketing. Another belief was reinforced while I judged; opportunity matters—and I’m thankful to the many brands that have given me the experiences necessary to put new thinking in retail to use for them.

In reviewing the entries I was given to judge, I witnessed how important it is that PHX has begun to fully know and understand how retailers think and market just as much as the brands we support. At the end of the day, our job is to help sell more products for our customers, but we can’t do it without a superior relationship and understanding of the retailers.

As we drove back through downtown Chicago to O’Hare, I began to process the very quick, but highly beneficial day—I couldn’t help but be so thankful to the clients that asked me to consider becoming a judge and the opportunities that experience has provided—and of course held hope that our agency had some finalists in the mix for Effie Awards!

9 Questions with Abbey Ash

abby ash

Phoenix is home to some hard-working people who do some amazing things! Abbey Ash, partner, and Director of Shopper Marketing has been working hard with Phoenix for years. She started at Phoenix as an intern. Since those days of filing and coffee runs, she has become an authority in the Shopper Marketing arena. Her work ethic and passion are evident as we sit down with her and pick her brain about her journey.


What was your first job in Marketing?
My first job in marketing was at Phoenix Creative Co. as an intern focusing on cross-merchandising. I honestly believe that I’m the only person that started at one agency and solidified that I will never leave.


I remember having my initial phone interview and my potential boss asking, “Do you know what cross-merchandising is?” and my response was no. He said “That’s o.k. We have plenty of time to educate you about it.” Little did I know, my mentor would quit a month after my internship started so I quickly learned what it was and the rest is history for me.


Who was your role model when you were younger?
My role model growing up was always my dad. I knew how hard he worked and how it paid off for him. It made me believe that starting as an intern was just the beginning for me. It was up to me to make the possibilities a reality.


What’s the best compliment you’ve ever been given?
The best compliment that I’ve probably ever been given is just that I would go to any extreme for my clients and that they can always count on me and my team. From day one, I knew I wanted to have clients counting on me.


What is your favorite/most rewarding part of your career?
It’s every day. I’m a partner at a company that I love watching grow and I love being part of a team that is constantly helping our clients in any way that we can. We treat their brands as if we were the client because we believe in them and our customers. I love taking an assignment from a client, building a concept around it, and strategically determining the right tactics to increase our results and the brand’s awareness.


What advice do you have for people starting out in this industry?
WORK HARD. No one is going to hand everything to you. Be passionate about what you’re focusing on. Admitting you don’t understand something isn’t a sign of weakness.


What are you reading right now?
You should be asking me what am I not reading right now…My main focus right now is on Agency: Starting a Creative Firm in the Age of Digital Marketing and I’m reading Leaders Open Doors, I think, for the third or fourth time! Both books are completely different but very valid with what I’m working on right now. As a partner at Phoenix Creative Co., I want to continue to make sure I’m helping our partners in continuing to build our company and as a lead on the Mondelēz International account, I want to make sure that I’m leading in a way that I’d want others to. Since starting at PHX, I’ve had tremendous leadership in front of me and I want to follow in those same footsteps. I want to have a team that trusts in me to help build and further their careers just as my boss did for me.


What’s something about yourself that would surprise people?
Probably that I’m an emotional person. My team knows it, but for the most part, people would say that I’m a no-nonsense person. But in my mind, I’m extremely passionate and that is where my emotions come through.


What has been your most successful or favorite marketing effort? Why do you think it was successful/a favorite?
SOUR PATCH Watermelon SLURPEE of course! Honestly, it is just one of the many favorites I have. It definitely felt nice to win awards for this program and to show that a small retail marketing company like Phoenix Creative Co. was here to bring something new to the big agency mix. We’ve built our retail business in a way that not a lot of agencies can say that they have. We were definitely part of a large agency mix for this program, but I know the dedication that my team and I put into this program and it made all of it worth it.


What should people expect from you in 2017?
The possibilities are endless for me and my team in 2017. Phoenix Creative Co. is here to work with existing and new clients and help them bring their brands to retail in a variety of ways.

Phoenix Creative Co.