To survive and thrive, retailers must maximize returns on their existing investments while driving innovation that will keep their brand fresh and their customers loyal, says Kyle Lacy, principal of marketing research and education, ExactTarget. It is up to you, the retailer, to optimize all forms of consumer interaction online from email to social media. In ExactTarget’s Subscribers, Fans, and Followers research report, Retail Touchpoints Exposed, the firm tracked and analyzed the marketing techniques of the 100 fastest growing retail chains in the U.S. The objective was to document if and how retailers are seeking to build and engage proprietary consumer audiences in ongoing email, mobile and social communications. ExactTarget tracked each retailer’s efforts at three specific retail consumer touchpoints on the Internet. These were:
1. Retail Website Engagement
2. Email Engagement
3. Social Media Engagement
Lacy shares the following tips, based on ExactTarget’s research and best in class examples from the world of retail.
Tips for Retail Website Engagement
With over 80 percent of the Hot 100 Retailers deploying both email opt-in links and social media icons on their homepage, it’s clear that that digital teams know that part of their job is to build audiences for ongoing marketing and on-demand deployment. Merely putting up links or icons, however, is not enough to entice most visitors to engage. Therefore, retailers must:
1. Convey Clear Value.
Forms or icons on your homepage must be accompanied by copy and creative that communicates the reason for consumers to engage. Communicate value effectively, and your email subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and other social audiences will grow.
2. Simplify Your Opt-In Form.
Don’t collect consumer data unless you plan to use it. Asking too many questions during email opt-in will reduce form completion, so stick to questions that you leverage for message personalization or optimization.
3. Promote Social Brand Engagement.
Consumers engage with brands on social networks in large part because they want to become part of a community with similar interests. If your brand lends itself to strong communities of this nature, find innovative ways to showcase the community and its members on your site.
Tips for Email Messaging
Research and retailer experience continue to indicate that email remains the most affordable and effective digital channel for marketers to communicate with consumers and drive sales. To leverage email to its fullest extent, consider the following:
1. Supercharge the Welcome Email.
74 out of the 100 retailers sent welcome emails during the campaign while 80 percent sent on the same day as opt-in. When sent in a timely fashion after subscription, the welcome email will produce your email program’s highest opens and click-through rates. Optimize the content to orient new subscribers, reaffirm your brand promises, and give new subscribers a sense of exclusivity. And don’t batch welcome emails, automate them so each subscriber receives your welcome message in close proximity to opt-in.
2. Tie Frequency to Consumer Expectations.
The first 30 days after opt-in are critical to establishing your sender reputation with a subscriber. Don’t drown them in promotions. Find the balance appropriate to your brand and product offering, and then test different content and cadence to find your sweet spot with new subscribers.
3. Use the Data You Collect.
Four of the Hot 100 Retailers with in-store opt-in personalized emails after an in-store purchase, and only 15 did so after an online purchase. Looking at the data another way, while almost 44 percent of retailers surveyed asked for an email at in-store point-of-purchase, less than 4 percent used any of that purchase data to customize their email messaging. Segment and personalize email content based on the consumer data you collect.
Build Social Media Engagement
Your social audiences require constant care if you want them to amplify your brand stories. The care comes in the form of treating them as individuals, rather than as a mass media audience to be hypnotized by your great creative. Social engagement comes in the form of channel-appropriate content that resonates with them and inspires engagement, such as likes, shares, comments, pins or tweets. In taking a look at the 100 fastest growing retailers, a few recommendations for improving social engagement come to mind:
1. Make It More About Them Than You.
Social media consists of people sharing with people. The more you can align your social content with the needs of your subscribers, fans and followers, as opposed to your quarterly sales objectives, the more it will resonate with them. It may sound counter-intuitive, but social media isn’t mass media. You’re out to win trust, one person at a time.
2. Embrace Cross-Channel Promotion.
Not every Facebook fan is an email subscriber and vice versa. Give your audiences the ability to hear from you through multiple channels by occasionally promoting other channels within your social networks. Consumers who use each channel for very different purposes may very well take you up on the offer, and your bottom line may improve as a result.
3. Experiment Frequently And Openly.
Social media rewards transparency and humanity. It also allows you to test new ideas, promotions and creative with loyal, on-demand audiences. Stay true to your brand, but don’t be afraid to bring ideas to your Facebook audience. They aren’t shy and their ideas may help your marketing and product development efforts in other areas.
As retailers, you will always have competing priorities, challenging budgets and shifting strategies. Thanks to advances in marketing technology and integration, it is relatively easy to test and implement cross-channel engagement strategies. With a few measurable successes under your belt, who knows, you may generate returns that help fund the larger improvements you’d like to see to your email, mobile and social media marketing efforts. So roll up those sleeves and get started. Better, more profitable relationships with consumers are yours for the taking.
Kyle Lacy, principal of Marketing Research and Education at ExactTarget, leads an effort to build and distribute an ongoing research series that sets aside theories and assumptions about consumer online preferences and focuses instead on solid data collected through a combination of focus groups, experiential research and online surveys. He is the author of three books, Twitter Marketing for Dummies (2009), Branding Yourself (2010) and Social CRM for Dummies (2012). Prior to joining ExactTarget, Lacy co-founded a marketing technology company, helping over 350 clients build and deliver digital marketing experiences. You can follow him on Twitter at @kyleplacy or visit his blog at KyleLacy.com.