Shopper marketing: A to B to C business

One of the highlights of my trip to the US this year was catching up, over dinner as well as more formally, with shopper marketing legend, Ken Barnett, owner and CEO of MARS advertising.

The best way to describe Ken, in parlance for this readership, is as an infectiously quick witted and incredibly talented marketer. His mind never stops turning. He is not an overtly wild and wacky creative, just an incredibly gifted marketer who has chosen to hone and focus his skills within the retail environment. As an example of his team’s creativity, and if you have an iPhone, download the shopview app – it’s free.

Ken understands that when we are in the shower shampooing our hair we are a consumer loving the shampoo brand that we are using. But, as soon as the shampoo bottle gets light we become a shopper thinking of our next visit to a retail store (a retail brand that we are loyal to), so we can buy our preferred shampoo brand. And more importantly, Ken and his team understand how the shopper behaves before they get into store, while they are in the store and when they have left. That is significant because the shopping journey is an iterative cycle, not a single purchase action in the store.

Here’s an example of what Ken and his team does for its clients; in the simple but cluttered water filter category, MARS worked with a retailer and four manufacturers to analyse shopper behaviour in-store. Based on what they found, the group then reshaped the entire water category based on how shoppers shop. The solution, which I won’t share with you, simply and elegantly mirrored the way shoppers walk the aisle. It mirrored the start point at which shopper’s eyes begin their search and the direction their eyes and hands touched the categories and brands. It’s no surprise that total category sales grew because the shopping experience was dramatically improved.

Ken talks about shopper marketing managers and agencies as being in the “A to B to C business”. His description represents the three interlinked relationships of a (A) shopper buying a consumer brand (B) inside a retail store (C). Over 36 years, Ken has built a team from eight staff in a small office in Detroit, Michigan to a world-class and world scale expert company employing 500 people. MARS now has offices in every city in North America where there is a major retailer and an office in London which looks after Western Europe. Notable, MARS is also the Shopping Marketing agency of record for the largest retailer in the world, Walmart.

All of that is very impressive. I have met many people who are firstly experts in their area, secondly who became inspiring leaders and then thirdly become successful business people. Importantly, they only ever follow those three steps in that order. Ken has achieved that sort of success over 36 years. If you speak to his team of creative, innovative and passionate people they will say that they love working at MARS. They talk about being “on the MARS bus, on a great journey, with great people”.

It’s no wonder that in 2012 MARS was ranked the number one shopper marketing agency in the US for the fifth consecutive year.

In his role as CEO of CROSSMARK, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia, NZ, the US and Europe. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for business in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands.

CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.


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