GETTING THE MESSAGE ACROSS

A successful in-store media campaign runs deeper than just what's out on the floor. Retailers want more communication between headquarters and stores in order to use in-store marketing tactics more effectively. They include signage on the shelf and on the floor, point-of-purchase displays, sampling, audio and video systems, and electronic loyalty programs, among others.Another goal is improved coordination.

A successful in-store media campaign runs deeper than just what's out on the floor. Retailers want more communication between headquarters and stores in order to use in-store marketing tactics more effectively. They include signage on the shelf and on the floor, point-of-purchase displays, sampling, audio and video systems, and electronic loyalty programs, among others.

Another goal is improved coordination. Sometimes, media can be orchestrated to present a unified message to shoppers about, say, a new private-label program. Other times, manufacturers can work with retailers to spread the word about a product introduction or brand extension. For example, a manufacturer may want to promote a new brand with POP displays, a sampling and in-store coupons -- all timed to coincide with a TV ad campaign. "It's one thing for the chain's corporate officers to undertake a plan, and it's another thing entirely to implement it at the store level," said Dick Blatt, president of Point of Purchase Advertising International, Washington. "That is the dirty little secret that people are challenged to openly address. What is the working relationship and communication within the chain between headquarters and the store-level manager? It's as much of a challenge today as it's ever been."

How are retailers responding?

Many are developing special procedures and creating new positions to address these issues. For example, Giant Eagle recently appointed a director of creative services to oversee the in-store environment with regards to signage.

"We shouldn't just send a couple hundred signs and say, 'Good luck!,"' said Kevin Srigley, vice president of advertising and corporate brand marketing for the Pittsburgh-based chain. "We really need to provide the stores with direction -- what should go up, when it should go up, what should come down, when it should come down, along with the quantity and spacing, so that you get more of an in-store merchandising approach. We're still in the process of developing programs, procedures and processes for both planning and communication that will help us continue to get better and better at it."

In addition, Giant Eagle is now trying to be more strategic about planning and executing complex programs, according to Srigley. The chain is looking at programs on a quarterly basis and starting to do month-by-month plans to manage in-store presence more effectively.

"It certainly varies by program," he admitted. "But we are prioritizing more effectively about what are the key messages that we want people to be viewing in-store. We're having the appropriate discussions ahead of time so [programs] can be managed strategically more than tactically."

Advance planning is also key at Tidyman's, a 23-store chain in Spokane, Wash., that conducts multifaceted programs 27 weeks out of the year. The campaigns include TV, radio and newspaper coverage, all coordinated with in-store marketing tactics such as displays and signage.

"The degree that a store director can manage and influence his people and how well each store delivers is really individual," said Mike Racine, vice president of sales and marketing. "I put together a 52-week calendar of these major events. We know them well in advance so we can execute them, not only by having the POS materials, but with the products and everything else aligned in the departments."

In addition, Tidyman's offers the S&H greenpoints loyalty card program in its stores. In-store signage, which promotes the rewards program, complements the advertising the program receives via traditional media.

Racine and other retailers report that communication, timing and follow-through are needed to coordinate in-store media effectively. But timing may be the most important element, said James Maskulka, associate professor of marketing at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. "If the POP medium is not reaching the shoppers when they are ready to buy, the impact of communication and execution is essentially negated," he explained.

All of these elements came together earlier this year when Sudbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets launched Weis Canyon River Chili as part of its store-brand program. Available in Texas Steak and Vegetarian versions in 32-ounce pails, the product is sold in the deli and offered at the soup and salad bar. The campaign had a Western theme in radio, TV and print advertising. A cowboy image was used on the retailer's Web site and on signage and via audio-messages in stores.

"We were pleased with our in-store campaign and store-level execution. It was a carefully planned effort involving a strong deli category management team and senior merchandising and advertising staff," reported Dennis Curtin, spokesman for Weis, which operates 162 stores in six Northeastern states under the Weis, Mr. Z's and Weis/King's banners.

Teamwork throughout Giant Eagle stores 18 months ago was key to the media coordination that accompanied the launch of a new marketing campaign and tag line -- "Make Every Day Taste Better." The in-store program included window signs, shelf talkers, signage, messages on receipts, PA announcements, and employee buttons and T-shirts. Outside the store, there were billboards as well as TV, radio and newspaper coverage. Elements of the eight-week introductory campaign carried over throughout the year.

The purpose was "to maximize the overall communication so that you get a one-plus-one-equals-three result," said Srigley.

Meanwhile, the goal at Caputo's Fresh Markets, Addison, Ill., is to provide "a unique and complete shopping experience," according to Robertino Presta, vice president.

The retailer strives to incorporate audio, visual, sampling and product displays to maximize sales opportunities.

Caputo's is currently using a new video system that informs shoppers about weekly specials and new items while they shop. Video monitors installed in the deli and butcher shop communicate with shoppers while they are being serviced. In addition, there is one monitor at each checkout lane so customers can see "commercials" while they wait on line.

"This advertising vehicle 'talks' to our customers via color pictures and a scroll bar that denotes the item, sale prices and sale dates," explained Presta. "Our customers have commented that they love our in-store marketing, and our vendors are very happy to partner with us in support of these programs."

While such coordination will call for additional work, retailers agree that it's worth it.

"The obvious payout is increased sales and profits," said Presta.

"The impression that customers receive from well-coordinated presentations is that our stores are easy to shop. We assist our customers in their purchasing decisions and assist them by constantly reinforcing our specials and values that they can take advantage of while shopping in our stores." Srigley of Giant Eagle said the payout is a more powerful and communicative store environment.

"And I mean that from a cleanliness perspective," he hastened to add. "You want to have a place that people feel is open, clean and enjoyable to shop in. Obviously, the more clutter you have, the less you are going to make that impression. You can communicate more effectively with your customers on the things that are truly important during a given season or period of time."

WHAT'S IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE

James Maskulka, associate professor of marketing at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., believes that managing the physical and information flows needed for the timely deployment of POP media will be changing. He predicts that decision tools and performance metrics used in supply chain management will be applied to in-store media. "Today, most POP programs are managed only from the front end or the execution phase," he explained. "Was the display erected? Did the program generate sales? In the future, a more system-wide thinking will come to dominate the POP function. Was the brand message appropriate for the promotion? Who should erect the display -- the store or the brand employee? Were displays removed in a timely manner?

"Benchmarks for these and other POP performance measures will be established to assess effective performance," he said. "The result will be improved coordination between corporate headquarters, the individual store, and POP designers and suppliers. Systemwide service quality standards will be disseminated and continuously monitored, resulting in improved POP communications performance."