BrainTrust Query: How to Create Brand-Led Shopping

Dec 16, 2010
Joel Rubinson

Commentary by Joel Rubinson, president, Rubinson Partners Inc.

Through a special
arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article
from the Joel Rubinson on the Marketing Research Consulting blog.

When someone
starts shopping, that is, when the desire to buy something awakens, it could
happen in one of three ways: needs-led, shopping-led, or brand-led.  Needs-led
shopping occurs when you are running out of something or find yourself having
an episodic need.  It is more functional as the need comes before the
brand and you probably won’t make a brand decision until you get to the

purchasing is when you are in a store for another purpose and you discover
something that creates an urge or are reminded to buy. This is where a retailer
can really differentiate themselves via shopping experience that leads to greater

Brand-led shopping is when interest in a brand is the initiator.

should want their bought, owned, and earned media to do four things:

1. Create
brand-led shopping so you are not only in the consideration set, you start
in the pole position.

2. Guide people through the pre-shopping process to reinforce
your pole position as they move from pre-shopping to shopping.

3. Seal the deal
through smart shopper marketing (which now includes mobile) because most shoppers
are still considering options at point of purchase.

4. Reinforce and help shape
brand experience.

Here is a personal example of how advertising can create brand-led
shopping that will illustrate the concept.  

I don’t NEED a new car. Then
I started seeing ads for the Lincoln MKX and, well, I got the itch. What
did I do next? I googled Lincoln to go to their website, and then went to
to compare Lincoln MKX to Cadillac and, of course, BMW, since I still love
my X5. Behavioral Economists will be happy to note that I did NOT bother
to check out the other 10 or so brands that MSN told me were comparable.

advertising did not make this a done deal. If I don’t like the
driving experience, or if it just doesn’t feel like me, I will probably
buy something else.

But this view of media enables advertising to integrate
the shopper and consumer purpose. Touchpoints must be used strategically
as they are unlikely to be interchangeable. The special contribution of a mass
medium like TV is probably to create brand-led shopping while digital display,
search, and owned media probably influence the pre-shopping stage more. Shopper
marketing, including mobile, becomes essential to win the purchase irrespective
of how the shopping process got initiated. Social media create a post-purchase

Finally, the measurement guy inside me notes it really is time for
a new set of shopper-based brand metrics that reflect today’s shopping

Discussion Questions: How do marketers create brand-led shopping? What
changes does the traditional process driving brand-led shopping face with
the arrival of new media such as mobile, social media, search and other internet-based

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9 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How to Create Brand-Led Shopping"

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Dick Seesel
10 years 4 months ago

The best thing CPG and retail brand managers can do is to ensure that the elements of their strategy are consistent. In the case of retailers, this involves making sure that the merchandise assortments, pricing policies, customer service and store atmosphere (among other attributes) work together instead of fighting each other. Start with consistency — and execute well — and it becomes easier to push your brand to top-of-mind relevance.

There is no doubt that brand managers face a rising challenge executing this task because of the growth of social networking. External communication like Facebook and Twitter can shape brand perceptions in viral ways beyond the control of marketers…unless those managers figure out how to turn these tools to the advantage of the brand image. Not an easy task!

Bob Phibbs
10 years 4 months ago

I think there is a fourth that is not mentioned here. Most of us buy to feel better about ourselves. So many marketers believe we are all coupon-clipping, deal searching research addicts that all that is left is price.

Premium brands cannot create brand-led shopping unless someone has to pay a premium for it. Sadly many brands don’t seem to get this and are still stuck in the discount as “new paradigm.” Who besides Apple is willing to hold the line? Especially in retail?

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
10 years 4 months ago

Bob is right on the money here. Great marketing strategies can certainly accelerate the growth and dominance of a good brand that enjoys a strong emotional connection with their customers. It is not, however, a substitute for the hard work, consistency, and customer focus necessary to create a strong brand. As the old saying goes “nothing sinks a bad product faster than effective advertising.”

Anne Howe
10 years 4 months ago

This is a very relevant framework. I agree that good ads can create the itch, but so can random social media mentions that articulate shopper satisfaction with brands. Case in point: my recent purchase of a MacBookPro and iPhone all in one day really came from an itch created by word of mouth, both in real life and on Twitter. I love Apple ads but they didn’t create the itch. I got to the point of wanting to be “in the cool club of Apple” so badly that I walked right into the store one day and said “I’m oh-so ready.” In an hour I was out the door and am now a participant in the word-of-mouth evangelizing to others!

Funny thing is that for two years prior to buying I was active in trading the stock without even owning the products! It was less about the business results and more about participating in the cool plus productive “aura” of the brand itself.

Ralph Jacobson
10 years 4 months ago

The author mentioned automobile manufacturers and the brands they represent. There are at least two types of brand-led marketing employed in that example. Lincoln is an age-old brand that most consumers would struggle to identify a differentiating aspect or unique-to-that-brand message. BMW, also an age-old brand, has penetrated the marketplace with a 30+ year drumbeat with the perennial mantra, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” They have a following unmatched by their peers (Mercedes, Audi, etc.), and only approached by the likes of Ferrari.

What can retailers do to emulate that success? PLENTY! Take the aspects of the marketing plan EXECUTION and transfer them to what works in retail. Word of mouth recommendations work well for cars, for example, so how can you optimize the retailer presence in social media and other channels? There are excellent case studies of retailers who are making this work.

Phil Rubin
10 years 4 months ago

Brand-led shopping is such a great discussion topic, particularly as so much discussion today is around price comparisons via mobile apps and companies like Walmart making news with their decision to pull back on their latest slashing of toy prices for Holiday.

A brand by definition is about emotion and distinction which, in Joel’s example, awakens desire. The challenge that Lincoln has as a brand is that it’s not adequately distinct enough to get Joel to view it beyond the context of price. Brand-led shopping here refers to the beginning and not the end, i.e., the purchase.

Which brings us back to the power of a brand, which is not only at the beginning of the purchase experience but the end as well. The stronger the brand the less price is part of that equation and the greater the value, all things equal.

Jerry Gelsomino
10 years 4 months ago

My idea of brand-led marketing is, first the brand builds expectation of what the brand stands for; quality, value, precision, price, etc., then does everything in the same voice to live that brand promise. This is most important at the point of sale. If the Lincoln dealer started talking high-end performance or trophy winning success roots, you’d laugh. If the BMW dealer started off first by showing you have gas stingy their new model was, you’d look for another dealer.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 4 months ago
I always thought I was locked in on brands. In the sixth decade of my life, my jeans will always be Levis, my wristwatch will always have a teeny little crown, my electronics will always be Sony, and my cars will always be bimmers (it’s not “beamers,” and the current one is only 14 years old – come to think of it, some of my Levis are even older than that). Makes for easy decision-making. In some categories, you are probably like me regarding brand loyalty. But I’ve learned that I can be swayed if the product is, as Anne Howe mentioned, able to make me part of the “cool club.” I’m an AT&T customer and could go with an iPhone, but the performance reviews are just terrible. Not a member of the cool club there. But, that Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner is cooler than cool. As an ad guy I was impressed by the ads, but it was the Dyson technology that finally got me. Hoover out, Dyson in. Works great, highly recommended. Dyson… Read more »
Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
10 years 4 months ago

I’m struck that this survey PRESUMES that new media will have the biggest impact. Hence, it is really judging nothing.

Despite the media induced hype about new media and all the fun marketers are having with new media, traditional media will continue to be the mot powerful opportunity for causing consumer actions.

In a recent blog, I noted that if we consider traditional TV to carry a power of 100, new media brings a power of 1 to 5 to your marketing. And of concern, new media seems to require organizational energy of 50 to deliver that power of merely 1 to 5.

But don’t get me wrong: all media are important. New media has an important minority role in mass marketing. And its very important to have a clear- eyed perception of each media’s relative power.


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