NEW YORK: Diageo, the spirits group, is heightening its focus on shopper marketing as it tries to engage American consumers in new ways.

The owner of Johnnie Walker and Guinness has been exploring this area for three years, developing a rigorous model attuned to the preferences of both retail customers and the public.

In reflecting a greater commitment to the discipline, Diageo appointed Jonathan Nell as director of shopper marketing two years ago.

"It's a lot about getting aligned behind what you're trying to achieve, and sometimes even at the senior level we hadn't really worked through, internally, what that meant," he told CPG Matters.

Another key component of its strategy is guaranteeing the activity across such an emerging format is coordinated with wider communications efforts.

"We needed to make sure it connects with what we're doing in consumer marketing, and maximising investments," Nell added.

Securing support from retailers also holds an essential status, meaning acquiring a clear understanding of the whole path to purchase, and executing simultaneous trials in multiple outlets.

"It has been critical to work with those customers because they have the data that can really validate the performance of the exercise," Nell said.

The firm draws on statistics concerning demographics, purchase events and usage occasions, and reported sales growth topping 10% in branches where programmes have been fully implemented.

Indeed, in a demonstration of the potential impact offered by this approach, Diageo has uncovered several pieces of vital information.

"Our shoppers are - more so than anybody had thought - the typical shopping moms," Shawn Fitzgerald, Diageo's shopper planning director.

"It's women who are making the purchasing decisions in our category and going on the shopping trips."

"It helped us produce a model that we used to really change people's way of thinking about who we should be talking to - and why females are important."

Similarly, in-depth investigations revealed chances for sales Diageo had previously missed, as its brands are integral to many comparatively everyday gatherings.

"We had a tendency to focus on the big events - big parties where spirits in particular play a prominent role," Fitzgerald said.

"There are a lot of other, more frequent occasions that happen throughout the year, and tapping into shoppers for those occasions is a bigger opportunity.

"We reframed our thinking about how to focus on more year-round events," he added. "It sounds simple after the fact, but it's actually a very powerful change and transformation in our thinking."

Recent campaigns include the "Simply Cocktails" merchandising schemes aimed at irregular buyers keen on mixing drinks, but generally lacking confidence, and thus appreciating guidance.

This platform is divided into three separate levels of complexity, to ensure consumers and retailers can fulfil their individual requirements.

Given the target audience increasingly look online before buying items in store, Diageo adopted an integrated stance, suggesting cocktail recipes and food pairings for its drinks on retailers' websites.

"This is a journey. We've got some really large-scale tests in place right now," Fitzgerald said.

"All of the test results we've gotten are directionally consistent not only with growing our brands, but also growing the entire category."

He added: "The bottom line is that our customers gain from the insights behind the tests, and we're fulfilling shopper needs."

Data sourced from CPGMatters; additional content by Warc staff