Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

Shopper Marketing – The Fear Factor

with 8 comments

Marketers of every type spend a lot of money creating conditions so that, really, people should really love to buy our brands.

Consumer marketers create awesome products which consumers tell us are just perfect for their needs

Shopper marketers analyze the intricacies of the path to purchase, consider all of the touch points, and then spend lots of money making everything just so at the point of purchase.

Key account managers negotiate their hearts out to make it happen in the store.

But it doesn’t.  For some reason sometimes those shoppers don’t buy.

Understanding why is arguably the biggest question in shopper marketing, and the one that has the biggest repercussions for marketing in general, and the consumer goods industry.

Unpicking the barriers to purchase open up revenue and profit; create the opportunity for new shopping and consumption habits.

We’ve tried so hard. What went wrong?

Putting aside compliance (discussed at length before) there are many barriers that will prevent a purchase. One that we’ve started to uncover more and more in some of the projects we have been running around the world is fear.

Fear – If love of a product is the holy grail of consumer marketers, then it should be no surprise that fear is the biggest obstacle. Fear comes in many forms, and heightens proportionately to the actual and perceived risk. Brands are all about allaying risk, but if we don’t overcome the key elements of fear then it is not a surprise when shoppers don’t buy. Whilst fear occurs in lots of places on the path to purchase it is at the point of purchase that the fear is most heightened: as this is where risk becomes real.

Monetary risk – Perhaps most obviously, monetary risk is a large player here. When a shopper reaches that point of decision, the bigger the price, the bigger the risk, the more important moentary risk is. But for many situations, particularly in the world of grocery, the monetary risk is quite small. The chance of the money being completely wasted is quite small too. Even if (for example) a new variant of coffee doesn’t really deliver its taste promise, the chances are it will still get used. A second jar may not be bought, but the money isn’t actually wasted.

Which leads us to fear number two:

Fear of disappointment – Disappointment has many guises, but its most common is that the danger the product simply doesn’t deliver. We’ve all tried new products and all had that experience where it simply didn’t live up to our expectations. As a shopper stands at the fixture, the point of consumption is, strangely, brought to life in the shopper’s mind. If there is doubt that this brand will deliver what is promised at the point of consumption, the sale may not be made.

Closely related to the fear of disappointment, is Fear of being gullible – The fear that we might be taken for a ride, be sucked in by a marketing promise and end up buying something we really never should have done. As a shopper when faced with a deal that feels to good to be true, there is sometimes a doubting voice that recalls previous errors of judgement with brands that promised so much and let us down.

Fear of loss of face – The final fear is often the biggest:  Not surprising in this socially connected world, shoppers care what others think. If a brand may not meet with the approval of our peers or our partners,  then any emotional promise the brand has is weakened. In particular where the brand benefits depend on the response of peers (a successful meal, or a new pair of sneakers) then doubt at this point can scupper an otherwise perfect deal.

Whilst fear is by no means the only barrier to purchase, shopper marketing campaigns should consider the fear factor, and develop an understanding of what these fears are – and then to create stimulus which will in some way allay these. Consumer goods marketing can learn from the broader world of marketing. If fear is at the heart of why shoppers aren’t buying, then once we know which type of fear it is, we can respond appropriately:

  • If the fear is genuinely monetary in nature, then a money back guarantee may be effective.
  • If the fear is product functionality, then sampling or trial can work.
  • If the shoppers cares little about the community a social based message may be less effective than if the shopper really cares about the opinion of others in this category.
  • If the fear is “community face” – then is there anything that could be done with social (x % of your friends “like” this)? Different tools, for different barriers.

Unpicking the barriers, unpicking the root causes of the fears that prevent a purchase. Is fear preventing your brands from flying?


Written by Mike Anthony

September 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Good morning. Can you recommend any online webinar certifications for someone desiring a refresher on most recent shopper insights and/or shopper research methods.

    Thanks for your reco.

    Vivian VivianMarafine@Yahoo.com


    September 17, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    • Hi Vivian,

      Thanks for reading and for your question. Unfortunately there is no online certification I can recommend at this stage. We are looking to develop something of this nature at engage but as yet we haven’t finalized it.

      There are I believe some products available but I’m not in a position to vouch for their quality.

      Once we have the engage offer complete I’ll get back in touch, in case you are still interested.

      In the meantime please check the rest of this blog: read this blog , and of course follow @mikeanthony6000 and @shopperexperts on Twitter.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful at this stage, and please let me know if you have any further questions.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      September 19, 2012 at 7:31 am

  2. Hey Mike! As always! You never fail to provide a good read!:) Stupid question though, if all fear types are present, is it possible or wise to overcome all fears at the same time?

    Sunshine Leyble - Arcilla

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 am

    • Hi Shine,

      Thanks very much!

      Not a stupid question at all, but unfortunately it does lead to perhaps a stupid answer “it depends!” There is plenty of evidence that multiple barriers can be removed at the same time, but it does depend on the involvement level of the category. Breaking down fears may require complex messaging and that may take a lengthy intervention, which, in a high involvement category, may be difficult to execute.

      However, in this world of multiple touchpoints, this is perhaps where a fully integrated approach might work: addressing different concerns at different touchpoints.

      Lastly, a thorough analysis and segmentation would typically reveal that whilst some shoppers have multiple fears, many have only one (though perhaps different ones). The challenge then is one of segmentation and targeting: using the right activity against the right segment. Only if the “multiple fear” segment is by far the largest opportunity, should you even consider tackling it.

      Hope this helps, and thanks again!


      Mike Anthony

      September 19, 2012 at 7:26 am

  3. Interesting article, but really only covers barriers to that initial purchase of an item. In commodity categories where NPD is limited and rare, shopper marketing is more about getting shoppers to buy more per trip, and more often. The barriers to purchase here are very different.

    Caroline Davies

    September 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    • HI Caroline,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. You are quite right – fear is not always present – I hope the blog makes it clear that I am in no way saying that it always present. The post was in no way an attempt to cover off all of the possible barriers to purchase (quite a task in 600 words). However, fear crops up quite frequently however in our work and yet we rarely see it referenced in other research reports, or in marketing plans – hence the decision to write it.

      As you say, different categories have different situations, and within those categories, different brands have different situations. Switching brands within some categories can also be governed by fear.

      Thanks for replying because I think it is useful to remember that every category is different, and different models work in different situations. There is no single way of segmenting or modeling shopping behavior that works in every situation: it depends on who the shopper is, what they do now, and what you want them to do. Understanding this, and what prevents that from happening is key. Fear is sometimes, but not always, one of the key factors.

      Many thanks


      Mike Anthony

      September 19, 2012 at 7:21 am

  4. Hi Mike,
    Attended a couple of fascinating behavioural economics and heuristics presentations recently, esp one by Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy. As you point out often someone has a ‘gut feel’ in store that at the time they can’t justify rationally that simply says to them that something is too good to be true. As their reptilian System 1 brain kicks in to keep them safe, they strive to avoid the unfamiliar and move toward consistent behavioural patterns to avoid strife and danger. Certainly goes some way to explaining the high levels of shopper ‘loyalty’ and NPD failure!

    Helen Bennie

    September 21, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    • Hi Helen,
      Thanks for this – spot on.

      As marketers we love our new products, and we nurture them for ages, so it is easy to forget that they are new and somewhat strange to our shoppers when they are first encountered. Cues which wow shoppers with ‘new’ but don’t overcome this natural aversion to change may miss the mark.

      Thanks again,


      Mike Anthony

      September 22, 2012 at 8:04 am

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