Digital marketing for retail brands is about as close to the Wild West as it gets.
From email marketers pushing out a seemingly endless stream of promotional messages to mobile marketing teams that have to balance the merits of custom apps versus mobile-specific advertisements, for many brands it quickly becomes a race to push out the most deals, most frequently. From their humble beginnings in catalogs and coupon clippers, many retail-marketing teams have grown into juggernauts of efficiency.
Except that many of them are missing the mark.
The signs might be subtle at first: a slowing in growth rates that still remain positive; a gradual increase in unsubscribes from your email list that you attribute to the rapidly growing list; perhaps an internal monthly goal or two have been missed, but by a close-enough margin that you just plan to pick it up again over the next four weeks. But far too often, these are the starts of trends that lead to crises for retail marketers. So what does it take for a retail brand to retake control of its marketing technology?
It seems that over time, due partially to the growing market strength of millennials who filter out advertising effectively and in part to the over-saturation of promotional messages reaching individuals today, the traditional means of approaching retail customers are starting to wane. In fact, when it comes to email—one of the most saturated spaces in the retail world—a recent Business Insider study found that marketers weren’t just failing to drive sales, but they were failing to meet all their email-marketing goals.
Meanwhile, retailers that are finding success in the digital space are spending enormous amounts just to keep up with the pace of advertising in the search and display worlds. This works out alright for companies with as much throughput as Amazon, but when it comes to typical retail businesses, every ad served is cut off of the top of every sale made—and at an enterprise scale, that becomes a lot of money.
So what are retail brands to do? An ideal solution needs to accomplish two things: help brands meet their regular marketing goals, while also helping to stem the tide of rising costs normally associated with doing so.
One of the challenges facing retailers is something I like to call “sticker syndrome.” Retail brands with sales-first mind-sets frequently find themselves trying to position material in a way so that the tags on their products come first (every message has to have a price and an option to buy somewhere).
The problem is that by defining your brand by your products alone, you reduce your brand story to an aesthetic. Being able to tell what sort of person might be interested in your brand isn’t the same as understanding how individual people fit into your brand’s story. By only trying to drive sales, retailers have created stories that are, essentially, weak mirror images that don’t entice people to continually engage.
The first step to beating sticker syndrome is pulling off the tags and offering at least one space where your customers can engage with stories first.
Some luxury brands have been doing this well for some time now. Consider, for instance, LVMH, which launched an entire website called NOWNESS that’s dedicated to editorial content about the designers, buyers, and culture that drive what they sell. The platform welcomes in a wider, more flexible audience by offering interesting stories first that then connect with people who might actually want to buy in to these stories through LVMH.
But perhaps this is too extreme an example for brands that want to baby-step their way out of sticker syndrome. In that case, Gucci has found an excellent middle ground with its app, which redefines the traditional catalog to create an editorialized, fashion magazine-styled shopping space for its customers. Purchases remain only a few taps away, while stories remain the focus of interest for their readers.
What’s more, while both a website and app model are ambitious ways to engage your audience with content, both LVMH and Gucci offer perfect models for ways to update your marketing more immediately. As a first step, couldn’t the editorial first articles of NOWNESS or the hidden purchases of Gucci just as easily make up your monthly newsletters?
Dedicated content hubs are a powerful but frequently longer-term goal for many brands. But by treating your email marketing as a first step, you can both acclimate your brand to a new editorial format while also building out a publishing network that can benefit your overall efforts down the line.
It’s not news that people are increasingly prioritizing mobile over desktop in their web habits. So why are marketers so hesitant to update their marketing technology to reflect this change?
The easy answer is cost, followed closely by time. Aside from responsively designing your web presence and throwing out the occasional targeted mobile ad, there doesn’t seem like much more for marketers to do that doesn’t involve developing an app or building a mobile-specific web page. Right?
The changes you can make might actually be easier than you suspect. Mobile browsing means more than just the size of the user’s screen. It means you have an audience that’s receptive to quick messages that lead to longer content, images that grab attention and suggest there’s more to the story, and people turning first to social media to discover new material, among many other behaviors. Finding simple ways to embrace this can have enormous gains for brands.
There’s a natural tendency for sales-oriented brands to want to push their messages out to every platform available. The problem is that this can dilute your brand’s messaging by introducing unnecessary conflict between messages shared to different communities. Try to identify two to three core platforms that best fit the way your brand wants to tell its story, and then expand from there only if you can adjust your story to each subsequent platform. Old Navy’s LinkedIn presence is a great example of how to do this second step effectively.
Phones allow people to “research” brands more so than interact with them. Your first touch on an audience member is likely to inform them about what your brand is and sells, not to immediately strike up a conversation. Taking a page from the fashion retailer’s playbook, look for ways to focus on grabbing your audience while they’re discovering you before visiting a location and while they’re in your location. After a visit is a great time to begin thinking about creating conversations and soliciting user-generated content.
Custom-brand apps are the most powerful way to define your own experience on mobile, but they necessitate a lot of resources and internal buy in up front. As a close second, however, a carefully crafted SMS campaign offers fun ways for your audience to interact with your brand in-store or during an experience. Don’t think of this as an easy way to serve interruptions to your audience—SMS is more powerful as a tool to get feedback from your audience than it is a tool to send messages their way.
Retailers have brilliant stories to tell. The trouble meeting mobile and email goals doesn’t lie in your audience, but rather in the promotions and price tags that frequently serve as the forefront of the content in these channels. Find ways to tailor yourself to customer’s natural behavior, put your price tags second, and encourage people to engage with the idea of taking part in your brand’s narrative first, and you’ll quickly find a purchase online or a visit to the store becomes a natural second step for your ever growing audience.
Featured image attribution: Mosaic Marketing