New Digital Strategies

Four trends to watch in 2013

By John Bajorek

It’s never too late – or too early – to revisit the way you reach customers digitally. As we race toward the new year, here are four big ideas you need to think about.

By now, your digital plan for this holiday season is probably in place, and you’re eagerly waiting to see just how far you’re able to move the needle on Black Friday and beyond. Or better yet, you’re planning your second (or third) quarter moves for 2013.

If so – and better yet, if not – here are some ideas we think will make your work more effective. We’re tracking four trends we believe are critical to any retailer’s success. When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no rest for the weary. Your digital strategy is an ongoing experiment that is never finished.

1. Branded Content

Embrace your inner expert. And those around you.

The way consumers interact with brands has shifted. Retailers are building loyalty and confidence by expanding their use of information that goes way beyond product descriptions. Remember the old axiom, “Show, don’t tell”? Branded content is all about showing. Style trends, insider tips, how-to instruction and event sponsorship can all enhance your shopping experience.

The best place to do this is online, of course. We’re seeing a consistent trend in shifting traditional ad spends to online media. Stream a video via YouTube and command longer exposure than any commercial spot ever could. Think it doesn’t work? Talk to RedBull, whose sole sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner’s amazing supersonic freefall commanded a live online audience of more than eight million worldwide and helps transform the brand from just another supersweet caffeine purveyor to an engaging advocate for science and nervy adventure. The credibility rubs off.

The same goes for more typical adventures, like online knowledge libraries, for both pre and post purchase. Home improvement retailers understand the value of showing how to fix and build things. It’s undeniable that viewers simply get more invested in the brand if they spend that much time with it.

2. Social/Visual Expression

Sometimes you can say more with images than words.

Consumer appetite for visual engagement is on the rise. For many, visual expression is overtaking the written word online. Style-tracking sites like Pinterest are responses to this trend. Visual search is something we’ll see whole lot more of in 2013.

It’s tempting to lump Pinterest, Instagram, and other mobile-and tablet-friendly sharing platforms into one big group, but there are meaningful distinctions. While Instagram is primarily about projecting what an individual is doing (via square,

arty photographs), sites like Pinterest and Houzz are about being inspired by others — it’s a filter as much as a publisher. Need furniture ideas for a living room with dark gray walls? Just plug those keywords into Houzz and peruse hundreds of photo examples — often tagged with specific brand names and links.

Pottery Barn and others are studying (and infiltrating) these design playgrounds, adding just enough inroads to be relevant but not overwhelming. Try clicking on the Pinterest “P” at the bottom of a page on PotteryBarn.com and behold the

brand’s active (but appropriate) participation, which includes pretty galleries of Pins beyond their own products. People are launching their shopping experiences in these neutral territories, whether shopping by room, activity or outfit. Finding mainstream brands along the way isn’t offputting if the content is curated — and helps them buy.

The key idea here: You need to broaden your digital consideration set. These growing sites won’t eliminate what you do on Facebook and YouTube, but it’s important to be aware of them and diversify. They’re simply new ways to have dialogue with your shoppers. And remember — these sites are all about personalized hunting and filtering. Once a profile is set up, they’ll be back.

3. Associate Empowerment

You’d be amazed how a tablet can help.

Your customers aren’t the only ones who love mobile technology. Your associates do, too. So why not use it to help them do their jobs? Retailers like Macy’s and The Home Depot are on top of this trend: They’re arming associates with mobile devices to help solve customer problems. The fact is, shoppers can buy anything online now, so if they’re coming into the store chances are there’s a significant obstacle they’re working to overcome.

And yet, far too few retailers are taking full advantage of the opportunity this presents. With a smartphone, it’s easy for a shopper to be more prepared and educated than the associate. This puts your people at a disadvantage. They may be savvy generalists in your store, but the shopper is usually focused on the one thing they need. So mobile helps your people level the playing field and bridge the knowledge gap. Walk into a Restoration Hardware seeking a specific chair, and if it’s not on the floor, out comes the associate iPad to verify price, size, and availability.

Think all this technology eliminates the need for human interaction? Think again. This isn’t either/or, it’s really more about also/and. It’s about filling a gap in your omni-channel strategy. We think this helps associates provide a better customer-service experience, because there’s knowledge at their fintertips. These tools empower both sides of the equation.

4. Strategic Partnerships

It’s time to find other companies to help fill your gaps.

More and more, we’re seeing retailers pursue strategic partnerships with the goal of expanding their channel and improving customer convenience. Consider, for example, the unlikely (and yet perfectly sensible) partnership between 7-11 and Amazon.

Amazon realized it was losing sales to people in apartments and others who weren’t comfortable having deliveries to their doors. Their solution: delivery to the ubiquitous urban convenience store. Their experiments with “delivery lockers” extended Amazon’s reach into 7-11 stores, elevated the convenience brand by association – and attracted new people into the space.

The moral of this story: it’s OK to revisit and even redefine what retail means. Can a convenience store suddenly become a distribution partner for a digital player? Why not? Spend some time, just for fun, playing brand matchmaker and see what you can come up with. How could eBay align with CVS? What about Geek Squad and Target? Seem unlikely? Actually, that one’s in the works. Target sells technology, yet offers no support or installation expertise. Geek Squad offers both – and could enhance Target’s credibility and customer satisfaction.

Our Digital Services team works to deepen retailers’ relationships with their customers by taking an omni-channel approach to retail solutions. We keep an eye on digital trends to create seamless retail-integration plans that drive sales and improve customer loyalty.

John Bajorek
John Bajorek
Executive Vice President, Strategic Growth & Innovation
WD Partners
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