How not to fail at retail marketing.

how to not fail at retail marketing

By Paul Mills-Hicks, Chairman at Sense

Over my 25 years in retail, I’ve experienced more sales pitches than most. They ranged from the inspirational to the downright ugly and everything in between!  Now, as Chairman of the new retail marketing division at global brand experience agency, Sense, I’m trying to help brands understand how to inspire retailers, so that together they can win the consumer over.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

The first step, of course, will often be getting listed. That means converting the retailer’s buyers to your cause. And they are only really interested in a few things – passion and commitment, a strong category story based on incrementality, the mix effect on their profit and whether or not it’s going to help commitments already made (such as plastic reduction).

Buyers see hundreds of products and brands a year so being authentically committed is key.  But don’t over promise – there is nothing worse than being listed and then exited quickly because consumers don’t agree that the product is worth buying.  It’s really hard to get a re-list so sometimes that can spell the end of the road for the brand. 

Any data can help ground a discussion in reality and reinforce your brand story with key proof points. If you’re already running DTC operations then you should know your repeat rate, know the profile of your most loyal, and least loyal, customer.  If you can access market data, then know your category and respect your existing competitors for what they are doing well.  If you can’t afford it, then at least make sure you’ve read the free category guides from the Grocer!  

Focus on full-format activation

When presenting don’t forget that all grocery shopping is not equal.  Convenience shops enjoy very different shopping patterns to supermarkets. And geography can radically change consumption. 

Also don’t forget about online shopping – a bigger and less frequent shop. What’s the right pack size and how will that brilliant in-store activation actually work online?  Something as simple as photography can radically change a brand’s appeal.

Plans therefore should include smaller convenience formats and, so as to not miss out on every opportunity available.

Clear in-store communication

Shoppers are constantly faced with endless choice, so retailers want to see clear communication. The simpler the better. The more distinctive the better. And remember that communication means all forms of visual prompts, not just clever words.

Successful brands are the ones that recognize the consumer is both time-poor and overloaded with visual ‘clutter’. Customers ‘see’ everything, but their unconscious brain decides what’s useful to ‘recollect’. Make sure you tap into those existing memory structures as unless you have a very large budget, you’re not going to change them soon!

Buyers know all of this, so your brand story shouldn’t need a ten-page PowerPoint deck to explain it. One page and no more is all that should be needed. It’s then carried into the brand packaging, SRP, around store communication and activation. 

Finally, when you’re planning your pitch always leave time to have a conversation. Ultimately, the best pitch is where you’re co-creating solutions with your retail partner to serve the consumer. No one likes being told what the answer is!


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Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Futures Lab


5th Floor Century House
100 Oxford Street

New York

243 E 14th
#2 C/O SQ
New York
NY 10003


Discover our latest guides to help brighten your brand experience strategy here at The Future Lab

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Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.