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Retail marketing has gone through a major shift in the past several years — moving from reactive to proactive as more customer data becomes available. Shopping has always been a personal experience, but with unprecedented access to customer likes, dislikes and preferences before they even reach a retailers’ website, marketers are also faced with higher expectations and an increasingly finicky audience. The bottom line for most customers? If I don’t like the experience I have with you, I’ll just find another brand. And in the age of the Internet, it’s that easy.

The solution to building loyalty and engagement is simple: Know what your customers want before they know it themselves. It’s not about mind-reading, it’s about using the right tools for the job.

Know the Score

Scoring is one of the most powerful tools to inform the shift from click-based to behavior-based marketing. It allows marketers to assign value to the behavior of users both on a retailer’s web site, and before they even arrive there. Contextual re-marketing, for example, scores potential customers based on the content they’re consuming, past shopping habits, even social activity — and uses those scores to inform audience segments and campaign messaging. Scoring makes it possible for retail marketers to target potential customers who have never even visited their site, and to continue delivering personalized real-time messaging to those consumers based on the behavior and interests they demonstrate on the site.

This strategy carries through every part of the customer journey, from awareness to advocacy. A customer who has a consistently strong experience with a brand is far more likely to become an evangelist. From a tactical perspective, scoring customers allows for highly accurate next-best product modeling. Rather than an algorithm serving up a guess at a customer’s interest and risking the loss of that customer due to frustration, next-best product modeling based on real-time customer behavior can deliver informed messaging based on what that customer has been viewing, as well as what interests are indicated by their overall online behavior.

Reaching Your Audience

Men and women don’t shop as differently as was once assumed, but retail marketers still shouldn’t ascribe to one-size-fits-all messaging. Hyper-targeting is more effective than blanket strategy, and understanding where your audiences are and how they interact online means knowing where to put your marketing dollars.

For example, women are more likely to be influenced by social media in making purchasing decisions than men — 20 percent compared to 10 percent, according to a recent survey. Women are also more frequent and active social media users than men across platforms including Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. While there isn’t a large disparity between the percentage of women and men reporting social media marketing influence, it’s enough to impact strategy. This may translate into a heightened focus on influencers and social catalysts who demonstrate a broad reach within your core audience. Use score to track where your audience is spending the most time online, then find out who they’re listening to within that space. Consumers tend to seek authentic experiences, so making a connection with an influencer — be it an individual or a group — helps cut through the “sales-y” noise of the online retail space.

That strategy ties into a consumer behavior that is far older than the Internet — word of mouth. Or, to digitize it, online reviews. 82 percent of both men and women report using online ratings and reviews to make product decisions. Although this process initially seems difficult to wrangle (and outside the bounds of carefully controlled messaging), knowing how customers prefer to get their information is crucial. Showcasing positive reviews in campaign creative or ensuring that authentic, “here’s what customers say about us” messaging appears during the right point in the customer journey proves to targeted users that you understand their priorities.

When messaging specifically to a male demographic, it’s important to consider a shift in priorities that takes place between women and men. In black and white terms, it’s the shift from valuing time to valuing a quick decision. Women tend to spend a longer amount of time searching for exactly the right product to suit their needs, while men are more likely to make a decision quickly to save time and move on.

Keeping that in mind, prioritizing straightforward messaging based on customer values is the best way to cut through the noise when messaging to a male demographic. It’s more about leading with tangible proof of what the product can do — for example, a down jacket that can keep you warm in minus-30-degree weather — and following that up with secondary messaging about quality, style, etc. As with all general rules, there are exceptions. When marketing in the high-end and high-consideration retail space, style and quality may outweigh practical function. Having the right data can help inform those messaging hierarchy decisions.

The Perfect Combination

The perfect combination for success in the digital retail space requires equal parts insight and activation. Tools like score can provide the insights marketers need to message appropriately to their audiences, but those insights must be used to inform tactical strategy. The result? It might not be mind-reading, but it’s pretty close.

Brett Meager is vice president of customer success at IgnitionOne.

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