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Content strategy for retail and CPG brands: Risks and rewards

Content strategy for retail and CPG brands: Risks and rewards Rebecca Lieb

Over 90 percent of purchases are still made in bricks-and-mortar stores, yet few retailers and CPG brands make driving foot traffic part of their digital strategies, much less work to create unified, omni-channel customer experiences. Instead, they still rely on outmoded and increasingly ineffectual means such as print circulars.


Recently I published deep research on how a unified content strategy can drive foot traffic, spur purchase, and increase customer loyalty. The entire report can be downloaded here, but following, a summary of the risks, and the rewards, of content strategy for retailers and CPG brands.


Risks of not investing in a unified digital strategy


In a world where the rate of innovation is moving at breakneck speed, brands and retailers can't afford to be stagnant. Here are the major risks outlined:


Not fulfilling local customers' wants
When customers demand to be treated as unique, recognizable individuals across all company touchpoints, it becomes risky to not deliver that experience to them. This becomes a ripe opportunity for competitors to capture those customers.


Frustrating loyal customers
Most successful companies are built on the support of their existing customers, not the addition of new ones. By not delivering content to customers that makes them feel recognized, or that they have a personal relationship with?a brand, it could alienate longtime supporters, who only need one bad experience to take their business elsewhere. Imagine a grocery store continuously sending discount coupons for meat to a longtime shopper who is?a vegetarian, or a department store sends an in-store promotion for children to a childless couple. Customers no longer want to be part of a faceless mass. They demand to be recognized as individuals and are very aware of brands' ability to do this.


Less foot traffic
While print and other traditional marketing methods are not going to completely disappear, their influence and reach is diminishing each year as customers add other channels to their daily content consumption mix. Continuing to invest in these traditional channels at the expense of digital will result in diminishing relevance, and correspondingly, less people coming in to stores.


Inability to track, measure and report on local marketing
By far, the biggest advantage digital has been able to offer is the ability to track and measure the advertising efforts put in place.


This leads to more efficient budgetary allocation, more knowledge of the customer and more concrete decision-making, when it comes to serving the right content to the right audience. These capabilities simply don't exist in a non-digital realm, which still relies mostly on second hand, sample sized knowledge provided by publications and networks.


The opportunities


Despite the many challenges, and risks involved, the rewards in digital advertising are exponential once the many cogs start clicking into place.


Here are the major opportunities I identified:


Advertising becomes one-to-one, instead of one-to-many
Retailers and brands have an opportunity to connect with their customers on a far more meaningful level than simply advertising at them. Through targeting, they can create solutions for a customer to solve problems that are specific to those individuals and their lifestyles. Knowing a customer's likes and dislikes, what time of the month they are most likely to buy, or what type of promotion they are most likely to take advantage of is crucial information for personalizing content.


Once a customer realizes they are being treated as an individual rather than a demographic segment, there's a greater chance of them remaining loyal to that brand, and even advocating on their behalf. In essence, digital advertising now allows B2C marketers to bring the intimacy, and long term engagement of a B2B customer relationship to its audiences.


Engage customers wherever they are
Until a customer walked into a store and bought an item, it was difficult to know who they were, not just in terms of demographics, but in terms of their interests, habits, and responsiveness to content. All of that can now be measured by reaching customers at all the digital locations they visit before coming to the store. This includes the company website, search results, mobile, social media, and email. Instead of building the store and waiting for them to come, marketers can engage customers where they already are.


"It's critically clear that digital advertising drives in-store traffic, whether we do it through retargeting, paid search for services, or mobile advertising," says Alison Corcoran, senior vice president, marketing of North American stores and online at Staples. "Display does a good job for in-store and online, Search does drive some in-store, but more online. Retargeting depends on audience. Social drives in-store but not too much online and affiliate marketing drives more to our site."


Mobile is an especially potent addition to this mix, since it is a gateway to the customer at all times. There is a delicate balance to be implemented, which avoids bombarding a customer with constant messaging, and instead sending them a meaningful message at the moment when they are most likely to take action.


Digital also solves a scalability problem traditional messaging?can't. Erik Rosenstrauch, president and CEO of marketing agency Fuel Partnerships recently found success with this omni-channel approach when launching the new Sbyke scooter at Walmart during?the holiday season. "How do you market to 500 stores across the country? You can't use any traditional methods because they'll be?highly inefficient," says Rosenstrauch. "We came up with a digital campaign that was both mobile, and web, and highly targeted, advertising only to people within a five-mile radius of each store." By leveraging a variety of databases to get to the correct IP addresses? and mobile numbers, Fuel was able to track the people who responded?to the ads, and service them with additional content, such as video demos and visual information. These efforts resulted in a 700 percent lift in sales.



Know what's working
Attribution has always been a problem when it comes to traditional advertising. Most companies lacked the concrete evidence that proved their messages in print, TV and radio were actually what was driving customers into stores. With basic digital display advertising, much of the same problem remains. It's difficult to link an ad impression, or even a click to a person showing up in store. However, if there is strategy in place that links online customer activities with offline behavior, this attribution becomes far easier to see, and leverage.


To achieve this, it's necessary for both the offline teams and online teams to be able to see the same customer information, in real-time. More important, digital messages must function beyond brand awareness. Messaging might include information about product availability, specific promotions that can only be availed in-store, or knowledge of local events/conditions that make the message more compelling, and relevant to each customer. Different combinations of messages, content and delivery times can be tracked to see what's working, leading to even more optimization of the advertising efforts.


Strength in local
Local is the secret weapon for retailers/brands to push competitors (and Amazon) off their turf and bring shoppers back into their storefronts. Specific knowledge of local events, conditions, culture and people can be powerful in the hands of a skilled digital marketing team that can program ads to serve up dynamic content based on who will view them.


For example, REI found success by leveraging local knowledge of weather and generating dynamic content around the topic.


Local targeting doesn't even have to be very complex to work. Through a partnership with the Waze app, Target was able to get customers into its store simply by messaging them when they were in close proximity to a store location.


Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, advisor, and author at RebeccaLieb.com.


On Twitter? Follow Lieb at @Lieblink and iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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