How Consumers Can Strengthen The Manufacturer-Retailer Relationship Featured

  • Written by  Allisha Watkins, Mars

1allishawatkinsIn this exclusive report, Allisha Watkins, Shopper Marketing COE Team Lead, Mars shares details highlighting an 11.3% increase in sales from the "Big Night In" campaign, which also garnered millions of #GameNightIn social media shares.

The candy brand partnered with consumers and Hasbro to encourage families to spend time together playing games at home (while eating candy).


  • M&M/Mars boosted candy sales by 11.3% from the "Big Night In" campaign.

  • The #GameNightIn hashtag drew millions of social media shares.

  • Stakeholders worked together on the strategy during innovation workshops with C Space.

Much has been written of the rapidly changing behaviors of the modern-day shopper, continuously bombarded with marketing messages throughout the path to purchase: at the store, at home, on the phone, even right on the packaging.

Consequently, be it in the physical or virtual aisle, shoppers have been conditioned to filter out the meaningless and irrelevant “stuff,” no matter how prominent the signage or flashy the banner ad. If the product doesn’t “do it” for them, it’s on to the next one.

Even the most beloved brands can’t rely on legacy alone. They have to continuously find new ways to excite and delight in a competitive marketplace with limited shelf space. But always-shifting consumer behaviors and preferences complicate consumer packaged goods (CPG) innovation — especially in retail environments. Yet, innovation becomes all the more essential in order to meet consumer demands — which are always evolving.

At Mars Chocolate, we faced this exact scenario with the world’s largest chocolate brand at the world’s largest retailer. It started with a challenge: continuing to grow consumer demand for M&M’S – and the broader chocolate category. Growing faster meant completely rethinking the chocolate category. Our objectives were aggressive. And we had just four months to develop a winning strategy.

We knew the solution had to elicit shoppers’ emotions and connect them to the M&M’S brand in a way that was real and relevant to their lives — and fun. But we couldn’t do it alone. Innovating the retail experience meant pulling in a variety of partners, including the retailer, to succeed. Our most important partner at the table: consumers themselves.

Consumers are the glue that binds retailers and manufacturers together. Achieving a fundamental understanding of their lives — not just the moments where our brand intersects with them — inspires everyone to think and act in entirely new ways. In our case, consumers would bring fresh perspectives to our strategy, and get our partners on the same page.

Discovering Successful Solutions, Together

1MMsOn the surface, working with consumers may appear easy — just find a sample set and survey away. However, our strategy demanded a collaborative approach.

In co-creation and innovation workshops with C Space, we assembled consumers, Mars product and marketing leaders, agency partners, and the retailer stakeholders together in one place to learn from each other. We partnered with consumers to think not as shoppers but as brand consultants, giving them defined parameters within which to ideate, strategize, and design solutions to increase M&M’S visibility.

Work culminated in “Shark Tank” pitches, where consumers presented their ideas to senior leaders. One pitch in particular revealed an important truth: people, moms in particular, wanted to spend more time at home together as a family. Pairing M&M’S with a social form of family entertainment, like board games, could be a fun and affordable way for families to connect with each other away from their screens and electronic gadgets.

This insight became the anchor for our strategy. In partnership with game maker Hasbro, we launched a multi-channel campaign dubbed the “Big Night In.” It encouraged families to stay home for a low-cost, low-tech, fun-filled night together, complete with Monopoly and Jenga to play and, of course, M&M’S to treat themselves with.

The themes of saving money while spending quality time with family really hit home with shoppers. They shared ideas and #GameNightIn experiences across social media to the tune of millions of impressions.

Inspiring The Aisle Of The Future

As a result of our work with consumers, M&M’S sales quickly grew. The “Big Night In” campaign led to an overall candy category lift of 11.3%, showcasing the power this sort of collaboration not only has on the lead brand, but also the broader category. As a result, the campaign is being launched three times in 2016, in March, May and November.

However, more important than the sales metrics? Successfully strengthening the relationship between Mars and our biggest retailer. (Editor's note: Watkins was not able to release information on which retailer is the biggest seller of Mars products.) And that strength was completely founded on consumer inspiration.

Consumers, and their creativity, create a shared purpose between manufacturers and retailers. What’s more, consumers are more than willing to lend their expertise to brands that can effectively offer better products and experiences in return. Consumer inspiration won’t only come from a 20-page research report on “Shopping Behaviors of Millennial Moms.” No, it’s going to come from consumers themselves — and from making them the centerpiece of the manufacturer-retailer relationship.

As the Shopper Marketing Team Lead at MARS Chocolate for Walmart and Sam’s Club, Allisha Watkins is focused on working cross-functionally with key customers, internal stakeholders and strategic partners to align on overall business objectives and priorities, delivering the best for her shoppers. Through collaborative planning, she consistently leverages deep, meaningful insights — truly bringing the voice of the shopper to life within all touch points along the path to purchase. Watkins brings more than 13 years of marketing, market research, strategic planning and customer management experience to MARS Incorporated. She is highly skilled in using consumer and shopper insights to define and solve strategic business problems to ultimately uncover that next big idea!

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