As a brand manager, you must attempt to juggle a number of different plates while working within a budget, all at the will of the higher-ups. And at a large brand, there are many complexities involving the various teams and departments. So how does a big brand craft a successful creative strategy at scale, while still connecting with its audience on a personal level?
Amrita Sahasrabudhe, head of social and digital content strategy at PetSmart, spoke with host Kevin Ryan and the iMedia Breakthrough Summit in Austin, Texas, about how to tackle these problems. With an industry giant like PetSmart, doing things at scale while creating personal interaction comes down to the following key elements.
Defining your needs
There are multiple layers involved here. First, you have to start with defining your goal, said Sahasrabudhe. What is your end game, and where do you want to go with it? This is important for both agencies and brands to consider; agencies can help direct their brands back to this point in order to stay on track.
Knowing your audience
For PetSmart, the audience is (obviously) people who own pets, but there's more to it than that: Do they have a dog? Do they prefer reptiles? Do they enjoy dressing up their pets? For this last question, Sahasrabudhe said that what they've found is that, overwhelmingly, people consider themselves pet parents. They treat their pets as part of their family -- ultimately, humanizing them. PetSmart wants to become a trusted partner to pet parents by leveraging its social audience to build loyalty. Sahasrabudhe doesn't see anyone else in the pet industry owning that social space. To define this, PetSmart looked for where the "white space" was, and the brand is working to make these people true loyalists.
Harnessing cross-channel communications
Across different departments, you must facilitate communications. The key is to get everyone on the same page as far as the goal is concerned. We all have different approaches within our departments to achieve the same goal across channels. Some teams may have to focus more on returns, while social is more concerned with conversions and engagement.
Meanwhile, everyone is worried about where the money is coming from. As we all know, there's never any money -- you have to fight for it. You have to make a business case. Sometimes you can use your agency to make that case. Sometimes you have to look at your structure to see how you can move things. Sometimes you have to give up things, which is OK, as long as you can plan for it. If you can prove it's important to the higher-ups and show where you're going to get the money from, they'll most likely give it to you, said Sahasrabudhe.
Keeping up with trends
You have to isolate a metric to identify the key trends. The key metric is ultimately sales -- it's the bottom line. Sahasrabudhe quoted the CMO of PetSmart, who likes to say, "Top line is vanity, bottom line is sanity." When it comes to keeping up with trends, the metric there is differentiation. How do you differentiate from competition in the social space? PetSmart isn't focused even just within the pet industry, but on everyone else who is taking up the time and attention of its audience. And the agency plays an important part in keeping ahead of trends. That agency role isn't going away.
This is something that you must deal with on a daily basis. The best brands that look spontaneous have actually put a lot of planning in. You need the right partnerships and to plan resources in advance. Sahasrabudhe used PetSmart's recent activity on National Dog Day as an example; one thing it did was give away tennis balls, which is a very simple idea and a cheap product, but it was engaging with the right content. The team planned ahead and had real-time live resources throughout the day. In other words, the response may look spontaneous, but it's actually very planned out.
Becca Bleznak is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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