With retail brands at the mercy of national, state and local laws this year, Tag Americas’ managing director, retail and shopper marketing Lyndon Neal lays out what brands must do online and in-store to drive customer engagement in the U.S. this holiday season
Trying on shoes, feeling fabric and sampling cosmetics used to be one of the most important elements of the shopper experience. But, the global pandemic soon put a dramatic end to this highly tactile and delightful way of shopping.
Brands have adapted (and many are still adapting) how they engage with their customers.
For smart brands already working with an optimised hybrid online/in-store model, the shift was more about rebalancing the scales than rethinking the entire strategy. They already had AI and machine learning in place to personalise the shopper experience. The newest and biggest marketing challenge was not having the historical data to forecast what comes next. While many brands are still figuring it all out, they are now faced with another thing that they’ve never had to deal with before: people not shopping in stores over the holidays.
, we work with consumer brands that typically rely on retail outlets for their biggest revenue-generating time of the year: Thanksgiving through Christmas. Many have had to rethink their Black Friday and Cyber Monday marketing strategies to stretch the sales period from two or four days, to four to six weeks in order to make up for lost revenue.
As a result, we have seen brand ad campaigns spread over a longer period with their channel mix weighted to digital and messaging more attentive to the nuances of local markets and the specific emotional connectivity or need of the customer. Brands are adjusting their marketing content to speak directly to their target audience and coming up with creative and innovative ways to do this digitally.
Re-Defining the Online Experience
In order to improve customer engagement in an online environment during the holiday season, there are three crucial things to consider:
1) The wrong message can kill a sale. Forever. It has been a tough year in the US; socially, politically, and for many people, financially. Brands are struggling with how to get their holiday sales messaging right when there are so many emotions at play. Our advice is to stay true to the essence of your brand and the key reasons why customers have always loved you. Focus on social commitments. What has the brand done differently this year to support employees, suppliers and the community? How can you connect authentically with customers on what matters to your brand, and them.
2) The in-home customer experience is the new in-store experience. We are helping brands to redefine what ‘excite and delight’ means by looking at ways to bring the tactile and engaging in-store experience into the home. Some of our clients are looking to us to build AR/VR experiences to achieve this. Try on that blouse, put make-up on your face, place your furniture – all without leaving your home. Brands love this because even if the shopper doesn’t purchase a particular product, they’re engaging with your brand and building an emotional connection.
3) You can do SO much more with less. This is where repurposing and adapting assets comes into play. Creating more content across channels is doable, quickly, even with stripped down resources and budgets. We work with consumer brands to create and adapt master assets using CGI, allowing for quick changes in imagery and messaging. New product launches can be achieved without the need for photo or film shoots and instead can be created by combining existing live footage or graphics with CGI. We did this recently for Air Wick, adapting existing creative content to launch a new fragrance line during lockdown by creating fresh, new content - changing the imagery, messaging and language, digitally.
Re-Defining the In-Store Retail Experience
What happens when customers do get to holiday shop in-store? We’ve been working with clients to help them achieve safer customer engagement, like touchless vending, maximising the use of QR codes, and adapting messaging and content to communicate a new way of interacting, aligning on three key areas:
1) Health and safety is paramount. When it comes to in-person interaction, health and safety has come to the forefront, and this must be clearly communicated to shoppers at every level of the experience. We know they want to get in and out quickly so make it easy for them.
3) Think beyond the store. What are you building outside of your storefront to protect customers who now have to queue in the rain, snow and cold weather while socially distanced? How can you begin the shopper experience right from the parking lot? This is continually evolving, and brands must be agile and innovative in order to stay ahead of the curve.
A New Benchmark
As we navigate our way through these challenges, we must remember that there is no benchmark for where we are now. We are creating a new benchmark based on this drastic change in consumer behaviour, so the best thing brands can do is be nimble.
Be ready for change. Listen to the customer. Invest in the right agency partner or marketing vendor - one that understands your strategy, shifts tactics as your strategy evolves, and helps you do more with less so that you can adapt and change as the world does.