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KNOXVILLE — A group of top executives from some of the nation’s leading companies — including PepsiCo Americas Foods, Wal-Mart, Nestlé, Kimberly-Clark and The Walt Disney Co. — are gathering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to help the College of Business Administration launch its Shopper Marketing Forum.

The meetings — which are not open to the public — will take place today and tomorrow.

“‘Shopper marketing’ is understanding how one’s target consumers behave as shoppers and leveraging this intelligence to benefit the company or brand, consumers, retailers and shoppers,” said forum organizer Dan Flint, UT’s Proffitt’s Inc. Professor of Marketing. “The way shoppers are influenced by signage, coupons, packaging, in-store radio, promotions, etc. — all of this is shopper marketing. It is the strategy of engaging consumers while they are in the ‘shopping mode’ to build brand equity and persuade them to make purchases.”

The economic downturn, coupled with changes in shoppers’ behavior and attitudes, has forced companies to think about new ways to entice customers to buy their products, Flint said. For instance, he said, research shows that, 70 percent of the time, shoppers choose what brand to buy while they are shopping; 8 percent of buying decisions are unplanned; and only 5 percent of customers are loyal to the brand of one product group.

“It is the hottest issue in retail and consumer package goods,” Flint continued. “And few other universities are paying serious attention to it — so far.”

Some of the issues Flint expects a Shopper Marketing Forum to explore: collaboration among supply chain partners in retail; improved metrics and return on investment (ROI) for marketing initiatives; gaining deeper insights into shopper thinking, behavior and value perceptions; and enhancing shopper experiences through state-of-the-art technology such as social networking and virtual simulations and displays.

UT already has two forums: the Supply Chain Strategy & Management Forum and the Sales Forecasting Management Forum, both under the umbrella brand of Demand Supply Integration Forums. The forums are research-based think tanks that bring UT faculty together with company executives to address key industry issues. Member companies pay a fee to belong to the forums and attend the twice-yearly meetings.

Through forum discussions, faculty members — and sometimes doctoral and MBA students — learn about the types of research that can be done on campus to help businesses. Business members, who sometimes choose to fund particular areas of research, then get “first dibs” on findings. Business executives also get to know UT students who might then be recruited for employment.

“UT Knoxville is a leader in establishing and running these forums. And niche programs are our strength,” Flint said.

Flint said he hopes that some of the participants in this inaugural Shopper Marketing Forum kick-off event will become annual sponsors of the forum.

Sponsors of the kick-off meeting are CROSSMARK, a consumer package goods broker; Deloitte, a consulting firm; and the Nielsen Co., a data company. Participants include retailers (Pilot Corp., Pilot Travel Center, Wal-Mart), manufacturers (Bush Bros., Kimberly-Clark, Nestlé, Novartis, Pepperidge Farm/Campbell’s Soup Co., PepsiCo Americas Foods, Frito-Lay, Procter & Gamble, The Walt Disney Co.) and advertisers (Anderson Merchandising, Mars Advertising, Tracy-Locke).

The forum also will involve UT faculty members from the College of Business Administration dean’s office, development office and MBA program; statistics, operations and management science; and the hosting department, marketing & logistics. Faculty from retailing, hospitality & tourism and advertising also are involved.

C O N T A C T :

Cindy Raines, (865-974-4359,

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034,