Exclusive: All the Experience – Ferns, White, Van Rheede launch shopper agency

by Louise Burgers. The evolution of retail has led three industry stalwarts in brand strategy and shopper marketing to join forces to launch One Experience: Brian Ferns, Carolyn White and Francoise van Rheede.

by Louise Burgers. Three industry stalwarts in brand strategy and shopper marketing have joined forces to launch One Experience, a new variant of shopper marketing consultancy. Brian Ferns, Carolyn White and Francoise van Rheede launch this February 2020.

Shopper marketing is evolving to become a significant part of the brand building basket and with the all-consuming focus on data, shopper marketing is now at the top of the shopping list for marketers.

The trio describe One Experience as a new breed of shopper marketing and retail marketing consultancy where there is fusion for the first time of insights, technology and ideas in brand growth solutions.

Ferns, who is co-founder of One Experience and strategic and creative partner, hails from Motherland, which he launched with Van Rheede in 2018. Motherland is being rebranded to One Experience after they brought an investor on board to accelerate growth and lured White away from McCann. White is managing partner: retail and shopper marketing, One Experience, and has 14 years advertising agency through-the-line experience, specialising in shopper and retail marketing. Van Rheede as co-founder of One Experience is heading up business operations.

Broadly, they define shopper marketing as the business of problem solving. “[We are] teaching solutions that optimise purchase or optimise an experience. We are in the business of actually solving problems and helping consumers and shoppers interact with our brands; and solving problems as to how they interact with our brands,” explained Ferns.

That is where shopper marketing has had a key impact in the recent past: agencies were able to take communications and bring it into an experiential field where it allowed them to communicate brand messages, while shoppers were experiencing the brand. It became a two-way piece of communication.

Brands are fighting for market share in what is probably the most pricey real estate in the world, said Ferns, with 30,000 to 40,000 SKUs per average retailer. If brands don’t make margin or sales for the retailer, they will be thrown off shelf. Explained Ferns: “From a shopper point of view, it’s all about how your brand is giving back to people, what is the purpose of your brand, does your product have a story, how is it interacting in your home?”

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels.
Shopper evolution

The evolution of shopper marketing was through the science of branding; where from being a piece of communication designed to evoke a response from shoppers, shopper marketing took branding further into the purpose of the brand giving it a narrative that followed the entire retail journey, from factory to store to lifestyle.

Part of the challenge when shopper marketing first came to the fore of marketing strategy, was the heavy focus on pushing point of sale and better trade marketing efficiencies. Shopper was still stuck in a below-the-line, classical space. The big shift happened when P&G and Unilever started investing in shopper insights and the strategy development side of shopper marketing started to make trade marketing a little sexier, explained White.

That’s when agencies took notice and shopper labs were born. “At that stage it was still relatively siloed as shopper sat as a separate department, as a set of tools. That was 10 years ago. With the role of digital coming in and with completely different behaviour sets on how we see people shopping both online and offline, agencies had to gear up for the fact that shoppers were no longer limited to the in store environment.”

Specialised teams

That challenge, said White, was that shopper now sits everywhere: “It’s no longer ringfenced at purely store or online commerce, it’s actually channel agnostic, technology agnostic. Shopper is everywhere, so you have to be looking for insights on shoppers everywhere. It’s not as easy to classify as it used to be and that is where the big shift is.”

What clients want now is specialised teams, integrated in through-the-line discipline, curated for their needs. Shopper marketing is now sitting more in a consultative space, where they are training clients and upskilling teams not that skilled in shopper marketing, but also bringing in the expertise needed.

“We want to play in spaces and places that are getting missed in shopper marketing in the industry. Because it is such an intensive discipline that requires such a different set of tools. We are trying to offer an experience to our clients, rather than just a list of services like everyone else,” reiterated Van Rheede. “We want to have conversations with clients so we can create strategic solutions and answer business problems, but then unpack the data in a creative way, so that it comes to life in a store environment and in a digital sense.”

+ONE is their strategic and creative tool in how they unpack a campaign and look beyond the obvious. As Ferns explains: “It is a strong cultural driver, not only how we live internally in the office and how we set it up, we look at what is the ‘plus one’ of that brief. We are not only in the business of solving client problems, we delve deeper into the client’s brand. Then +One becomes about how the brand functions in real life.”

From a shopper perspective, the goal is: ‘more shoppers, more baskets, more trips’ and in each of those you need the +One difference, added White. “You either need to add plus one more shopper category, plus one more product to a basket or add in a double trip that a shopper hadn’t considered. It works really well in our strategy toolkit in taking a client through where their growth is going to come from.”

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels.

White said One Experience will differentiate itself in the following way:

  • Lose the jargon. In the past decade jargon has overtaken impact and clients are asking what shopper marketing is really doing.
  • Focus in the consultancy space. Too many pieces of the puzzle are missing in traditional shopper marketing.
  • Skills building. The team will launch a full shopper marketing bricks and mortar training facility for their clients and other agency teams at their Hyde Park offices in Johannesburg.
  • Programmatic construction at retail level. They are also getting involved more in tech solutions for retail in how retail will be digitised in the future and how more data will be sourced in the in store environment.
  • Retail landscape mapping. Tailoring bespoke campaigns and solutions for retailers.
  • Optimising the data. Strategic behaviour analytics packaged into proper shopper solutions.

“In traditional shopper marketing, you come in more as an assassin, you work through the teams and you promptly sit with a problem, I don’t think that is a luxury that is afforded when you are working in the through-the-line environment. I’ve realised that often you aren’t sitting with the right person in a meeting; or there’s a whole other team sitting in another building. It’s the ability to become part of the client’s team, that is important – sitting in their offices engaging in cross-category and multi-functional teams,” White explained.

They like to call themselves “puzzle makers”. “We have the most exciting playground called Africa and exciting clients and we are working with technologies that bridge formal retail and informal retail, which means you can turn any vendor into a sophisticated retail store with the technology we now have. We want to play in this field because not only do we help brands take it to another level, but also work with key agencies and key brands in order to take their brands to the next level. That is why the training is so important, it not only infuses a new skills set into the new talent coming through and how they can have an active role in shaping this new retail world,” said Ferns.

As far as clients go, they have Amajoya sweets; Blue Code, a Nigerian cashless wallet system; and have just signed an NDA with a retailer to work with them on the digitisation of their environment. They have also had a lot of interest from agencies to train their shopper marketing teams, as well as their clients; and are having interesting conversations with clients on colabs in the retail space.

“We want to be known for doing cool sh*t,” said Van Rheede. “Things that are beautifully designed, well thought out, crafted because it gave the return on investment for the client and addressed their business problem, not only in a visual sense, but in the effect it had on that client’s business.”


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.

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