As we speak to more and more clients about shopper marketing, one thing that comes up over and over is the assumption that if you’re not a big manufacturer you really can’t do much. Certainly not strategic, collaborative shopper marketing.

Of course it’s true, big companies have much deeper pockets. It’s also true that they likely have bigger influence with the retailer. Together these can lead to the kind of big ticket, marquis shopper marketing programs that we’ve seen win awards. But it is absolutely UNTRUE that smaller manufacturers can’t plan and execute effective, collaborative shopper market programs in their own right. It’s really a matter of corporate will and a bit of know-how.

So what can “smaller” manufacturers do to effectively get in game? Here’s the short list:

Create a dedicated shopper marketing budget. Consider shopper as important to your marketing plans as digital, social, consumer promotion and general brand advertising. If necessary (and I know this is heresy to some), to move a little over from the trade budget. A small piece of those trade dollars can go a long way in shopper marketing. While a small shopper budget won’t cover all accounts, smart planning can make it work hard.

Develop a holistic year-long approach. Rather than execute a series of random retailer requested tactics because the sales force is getting pressure from the buyer, develop an annual plan for each account.  It will likely include some of those tactics and possibly participation in a retailer-driven “pay to play” program. That goes with the territory of ensuring good relations with the account and those programs can be effective. The plan should be strategically orchestrated to hit themes and time frames that are important for the brand and also include proactive, brand-driven ideas that deliver against retailer objectives and can be brought to them.

Invest in access to shopper-oriented insights. Insights about general shopping behavior, the category shopper, the brand shopper and the retailer’s shopper provide a wealth of valuable and actionable information. Subscription services such as Kantar Retail can provide this information but it’s an area many smaller manufacturers neglect. Not only will insights impact the development of effective shopper marketing programs (and maybe even brand advertising), they can go a long way toward helping the manufacturer be viewed as a valued partner by the retailer. When you share information about category shopping behavior, what that category shopper is looking for from the retailer and how to get that shopper to increase their basket ring and/or loyalty to the account, the retailer is getting information they might not have access to otherwise. When it’s delivered in conjunction with a program proposal that is designed to deliver on those retailer objectives while driving brand sales, it’s much more likely to get executed.

No you don’t have to be Kraft, General Mills or Coke to do effective shopper marketing. But it helps if you think like they do.