Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Warrenville, IL | (C) 630-388-8976
Twenty-four years writing general business, trade news, sports, and human interest
Covered petroleum, convenience store, shopper marketing, recreation management, and payment industries
Twelve years full-time sportswriter at Daily Herald, covering preps, college and pro
Three years full-time writing at industry leader CSP Information Group (petroleum/convenience store industry)
Ten years of freelance sports writing for Baseball America, USA Today, ESPN.com
Three years freelance writing for online magazine of Arizona State University’s business school
Freelance business writing for several publications steadily since 2009
Baseball America 2000 – 2005
Minor league, college and high-school features, for magazine and website
ESPN/Rise 2008 - 2010
Articles for ESPN high-school sports site
USA Today Sports Weekly 2005 - 2008
College Football Rivalries special section
College Football Season Preview issues
College Basketball Season Preview section
Knowledge@W.P.Carey 2005 - 2008
Arizona State University business school online publication
NACS Magazine 2009 - 2011 The publication of the National Association of Convenience Stores
Convenience Store Decisions 2010 - 2012
Trade magazine for convenience stores
Shopper Marketing Magazine 2010 - Present
The publication of The Path to Purchase Institute
Rebel Magazine March 2011
Men’s magazine focused on charitable causes
Athletic Business May - Aug. 2011
Magazine for athletic and recreational professionals
Oil Price Information Service (OPIS) 2011 - Present
Weekly oil marketing newsletter Oil Express
Source Media Jan.’12-Jan.’13
Daily payments industry stories for PaymentsSource/American Banker
USA Today’s Green Living Magazine Jan.’13–Present
Feature on major retailers’ sustainable practices
Recreation Management Magazine Dec.’12-Present
References on request; clips at the site listed at top.
The petcare category is transitioning to take advantage of consumers' ever-increasing affinity for their pet
Fido, Kitty, Buddy and Garfield can all answer to a new name: "Recession-proof." According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), even in the worst of the economic downturn of 2007-09, pet products sales rose. Americans spent more than $48 billion on their animal companions in 2010, and the forecast calls for $51 billion this year (to be continued after Institute POV).
- Almost two-thirds of American households have pets, creating a $19 billion pet-food industry. Sales have risen throughout the current economic downturn.
- The pet food recalls of 2007 (largely centered around Chinese animal feed with melamine) placed a harsh spotlight on safety standards, and shoppers began to pay closer attention to quality.
- A few decades ago, pet food was a fairly straightforward business with 95% of sales coming through supermarkets.
- Today, the grocery channel's share is 50% as sales have shifted to big boxes and specialty chains.
- Shopper marketers have to study the varying levels and types of relationships pet owners have with their pet when shaping marketing messages.
- More affluent pet owners are increasingly focused on products that tout health and nutrition, a factor that has driven up prices. Global CPGs like P&G are acquiring niche players in this category.
- There are two types of health-conscious pet-product shoppers: those focused on nutritional technology, and those demanding all-natural ingredients.
- On the other hand, in the mass channels, many shoppers are part of busy, dual-income households and their relationships with pets (outdoor dogs, for example) are extremely limited.
INSTITUTE POV: The petcare category is often used to illustrate the difference between a product's "consumer" and its "shopper." In reality, it's all about the owners. Expect to see more social media campaigns and smartphone tools figure into the shopper marketing in this category.
Why do we buy like this? When it comes to pet products, the answer is simple: love.
"It's almost like a societal shift is occurring where it's become more socially acceptable for pet owners to really pamper their pets," says David Lummis, a senior pet analyst for Rockville, Md.-based Market Research Group's Packaged Facts. "And it's not just about frivolous products. It's about the health of the pet and increasing the nutritional profile so that prices can also go up."
Lummis says that the widespread and highly publicized pet food recalls of 2007 (largely centered around Chinese animal feed with melamine) placed a harsh spotlight on the industry's safety standards. Shoppers began to pay closer attention to pet-product quality, boosting business in the natural/organic pet-product niche.
With almost two-thirds of American households (72.9 million homes) having pets, this represented an irresistible opportunity for the $19 billion pet-food industry. Global CPGs like Procter & Gamble began to snap up niche players such as Natura Pet Products, adding the holistic pet-food brands Innova, Evo, California Naturals, Healthwise and Karma to its Iams and Eukanuba portfolio.
"The industry," Lummis says, "is converting pet owners to higher-priced foods based on the affection that they feel for their animals and the belief that good nutrition – just like human foods – will be important to their overall health."
Jeff Metzner, Iams brand manager at P&G, says that today's health-conscious pet-product shoppers fall into two categories:
"In general, Iams' core consumers consider their pet to be part of the family and think first about health when choosing their pet food. This consumer wants to understand the nutritional technology in their pet food and is very interested in their veterinarian's opinion. The second approach is through natural ingredients. This consumer is seeking a healthy food but believes that natural ingredients are the key. For this consumer, the ingredients in the food are most important."
A Fragmented Path
A few decades ago, pet food was a fairly straightforward business with 95% of sales coming through supermarkets. Today, the grocery channel's share hovers around a mere 50% as sales shifted to big boxes like Walmart (on the price-value side) as well as specialized retailers like Petco, PetSmart and Pet Supplies Plus.
Dustin Lehner, vice president of shopper marketing at Catapult Marketing, Westport, Conn., says that as a result, the path to purchase for pet lovers is no longer one lane. Catapult, which counts Mars Inc.'s Pedigree brand as a client, changes its approach when focusing on a shopper at Southeastern U.S. grocery chain Publix or one at any Walmart. It's all about shopper research, Lehner says.
"What we've started to hone in on is this whole idea of these varying levels and types of relationships pet owners have with their pet – it's really starting to be, from the shopper's perspective, one of the key drivers of what we say and how we say it," Lehner says. "At a Publix for example, where I've got a little bit older shopper, typically an empty-nester, their pet has basically kind of filled that void of the child that's no longer in the home.
"Their level of looking at the ingredient, really looking at accessories, things like that, to basically treat that pet like their child, is much more prevalent than it would be at a Walmart, let's say. At Walmart, you tend to over-skew toward outdoor dogs, they're a busy, dual-income household, so there's a lot of things happening. Their moments with their pets are extremely limited: on the way to the car in the morning or coming home from work and get dinner started, fill the dog bowl and rub them on their head, and that's basically the interaction.
"So with Walmart, it was more about giving (the dog) the best you can, because when we started doing the research what we found was that Walmart shoppers, the food that they give their pet is one of the few things they really do for them – 'I would never buy him private label food because the food, for me, is kind of like treating him. I'm willing to spend the three dollars more because that's all I really do for him, buy him food.' If you look at Walmart, it was really much less about the relationship and more about, this is going to make you feel good because you're feeding him good food."
Tug at the Heartstrings
As the pet-products path to purchase has become more complex, marketers have created a variety of social awareness platforms and social media campaigns that play off consumers' deep feelings for (and some might say anthropomorphizing of) pets. One of the most successful is Iams' annual "Home 4 the Holidays" platform, which began a decade ago through an animal shelter network on the West Coast. The campaign has since gone global, serving more than 3,500 animal organizations.
The latest iteration of "Home 4 the Holidays" (Oct. 1, 2010, to Jan. 4, 2011) leaned heavily on heartstrings-tugging social media and in-store displays to help get more than 1.1 million animals adopted. In the U.S., Iams added a food-donation program named "Bags 4 Bowls." Two million meals were donated online through pet blogger sites, the Iams Facebook page and Iams' Twitter account. Another 3 million meals were donated at grocery, big-box and pet specialty chains using more traditional tactics – specially marked Iams bags of dog and cat food and at-shelf signage.
Given the highly social context of pet ownership, it's no surprise that smartphone tools have now begun to figure more prominently in petcare shopper marketing. Iams launched a fairly basic mobile site in April 2011. Sean Lee, Iams assistant brand manager, says the main goals of the site are to "educate consumers on the go, help them locate Iams products, allow them to connect with our communities [like Facebook], and provide access to user reviews."
Nestlé Purina was somewhat more ambitious when it launched its mobile app, named "The Petometer," in June 2011. The Petometer is designed to help consumers care for and monitor their pets. Sherry Smith, senior vice president of advertiser sales at Tampa, Fla.-based Triad Retail Media, says that once her company's work on the Nestlé Purina microsite on Walmart.com was established, Nestlé Purina asked for interaction away from the store and PCs.
"They came to us and said, 'We want to make sure we're reaching them while they're at home and drive overall brand awareness,'" says Smith, who works at Triad's Bentonville, Ark., branch. "We recommended an app that could track the history of your walks with your dog because it is linked to Google maps. You can set reminders for yourself, what times to walk your dog. There's a list of recommended exercises you can do with your dog. There's a calendar feature for tracking vet visits or grooming appointments." The app is available at Nestlé Purina's Walmart microsite, the iPhone app store or Android app store. Users can upload photos of their dog and share the routes and details of the walk (date, time, distance and pace) with friends on Facebook.
Smith says that Nestlé Purina doesn't try to "hard sell" anything inside the app; users are instead referred to the brand's microsite on Walmart.com for shopping tools like coupons, locational pricing or product availability by location.
"It is definitely seen as a sponsorship by Purina," Smith said of the app's value. "The brand specifics are not number one. Instead, it's really about giving consumers a tool that they can use to take better care of their pets. Who knows, as the app continues to develop and we make changes to it, we may include more on product information. But right now, it's about getting it into consumers' hands, letting them interact with it and seeing what they think."
Triad's relationship with Nestlé Purina and Walmart may be unique in the pet industry, says Smith, as it encompasses the brand showcase (i.e., a microsite) inside Walmart.com. The site has several functions: Direct visitors back to Nestlé Purina's main site for more information; share games (currently "The Fast and The Furriest" and "Yarn Ball Blocker"); offer articles on pets (such as "Puppy Necessities" and "Functions of Fiber"); and most recently, show episodes of a Triad-produced series named "Real Pet Stories" that chronicles the lives of pets at Tampa-area shelters. There's also a tab at Walmart.com/purina to help visitors find pets for adoption in their areas.
"What's nice about it is that it has a co-branded URL that Purina can leverage in their marketing campaigns and on their packaging," Smith says. "It is live all year. We're updating information at least monthly, working with Purina to make sure they've got the most up-to-date content and commerce information available."
Smith says what consumers see at the brand showcase will be consistent with what they see in-store:
"For example, last April, Purina promoted a puppy pack as 'Buy Puppy Chow, go to the website to enter a code, and get a free puppy pack to try.' It was a 360-degree approach that reached shoppers in the store and drove them back online, reaching them before they shopped again, driving them to the store, and giving them a nice giveaway based off their purchase of Purina products."
Nestlé Purina is involved with another campaign, this time in the grocery channel, that targets pet owners' human feelings for animals. "Tales For The Pet Lover's Heart" is sponsored by Nestlé Purina and grocery giant Kroger. It is also dependent on a website (Talesforthepetloversheart.com), where visitors can tell a story about a pet to have Kroger donate $1 up to $25,000 to welfare organizations across the U.S.
The site also links to Nestlé Purina's Facebook page, offers downloadable projects owners can do with their pets, relates the two companies' donations (not tied to pet stories) to animal welfare organizations and informs visitors of discounts at Kroger locations if they shop in late July and early August
Listen and Engage
Many brands monitor social media; some control the conversation
Not long ago, PepsiCo discovered that 70% of online conversations about Gatorade had absolutely nothing to do with its marketing focus, sports nutrition. Following the launch of a 2010 Gatorade TV ad, Internet chatter became fixated on an annoying voiceover. And if the buzz was to be believed, Gatorade was well positioned – as a hangover cure (story continues after Institute POV).
- CPG companies that implement a comprehensive program of social media monitoring and real-time engagement may be able to shift the content and tenor of online conversations about their brands onto more favorable terms.
- By monitoring social media, some brands have been able to identify key conversational "influencers" who can then be targeted with specific information.
- The key to monitoring the "social conversation" is being able to respond to the public quickly, on the public's terms, on the forums of their choosing, and using their language.
- Some experts believe that social media monitoring could make the "live focus group" obsolete.
- Major CPGs still wrestle with basic operational decisions regarding the monitoring, engaging and analytics of social media. For example, should the work be handed off to an agency, divided up among specialists, or taken entirely in-house?
INSTITUTE POV: Recent research from A.T. Kearney indicates that the world's top 100 brands manage social media poorly. Most, in fact, hit a wall if it involves anything more complicated than obtaining Facebook "Likes" or delivering coupons. The notion of a brand trying to "steer" shoppers' conversations in a particular direction may seem presumptuous or even Orwellian, but soon it will become a standard item in the marketing toolbox.
Brands have learned the value of being able to read, in real time, what consumers are discussing on multiple online platforms. The basic way brands monitor social media is by searching select Internet entities (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums) for specific keywords. They are able to read what targeted audiences are saying and also produce analyses and reports.
Social media monitoring provides a means of gathering information that can aid in the design of a product or the planning of a campaign. And after launch, monitoring or "listening" can confirm or determine a need to alter the direction of a campaign.
"Engagement is becoming more and more important to brands [and] especially retailers, who want to be able to provide the same great customer service that they do in person, on the telephone or by e-mail," says Rob Begg, senior director for product marketing at social media monitoring agency Radian6, Fredericton, New Brunswick.
The new tools out there to monitor social media are already invaluable, says Meg Way, director of digital strategy and planning at Kimberly-Clark:
"What's important to us is that we can get real-time data at our fingertips and have the pulse of what's going on so that we are not behind in anything. We are taking advantage of opportunities, managing risk, inserting ourselves in the right conversations. We know that the majority of word of mouth still happens offline, but 'recommended' brands win, and brands who are talked about win more."
PepsiCo on a 'Mission'
Radian6 has 3,000 clients in North America, and its website claims that half the Fortune 100 use it to "listen" to social media. But Radian6 and its competitors, such as Toronto-based Sysomos, don't just help companies listen; they provide platforms to dialogue with consumers in real time as well.
"The ability to respond back on Twitter, on a posting forum, on a blog post, on a YouTube video, and do it in a way that ties into the listening platform, is super important," says Begg. "Maybe they want to talk to you on Twitter, maybe they want to talk to you via a blog. They are not talking on your terms anymore. Being able to engage with them from a platform where they actually can find a post is critical for businesses that are making that step beyond listening."
At its headquarters in Chicago, Gatorade operates "Mission Control," a room with large screens containing Radian6 feeds and dashboards that are monitored by a staff of five. StruckAxiom, Salt Lake City, designed data visualizations that pull in the feeds and help explain the results for reporting; other agencies assisting include Gatorade's lead digital agency, VML, Kansas City, Mo.; social media and communications partner Fleishman-Hillard, New York; and media strategy agency OMD, New York.
"It's really about using the data from social to drive 'real-time' action from the brand," says Josh Karpf, digital and social media manager at PepsiCo. "Before we began this concerted effort around engagement, about 70% of online conversations referencing Gatorade were irrelevant to the brand's focus on sports nutrition: for example, Gatorade as a 'hangover cure.' Since we've implemented this real-time engagement and analytics hub, we've seen a shift in conversations. Now 60% of Gatorade mentions are relevant and focused on sports nutrition and performance."
Karpf says Gatorade is focused on engaging with its "athlete" consumers, those customers who are very serious about fitness and competition. Discussions include diet and training regimens as well as performance. Gatorade also uses Mission Control as a podium for special social media events. Last summer, in the days before the U.S. women's soccer team played in the Women's World Cup final, U.S. player Abby Wambach sat in Mission Control for a "Twitter Takeover." Karpf says the event generated record-high participation on Gatorade's digital channels.
Sometimes, however, the conversation is simply distracted. In late 2010, Gatorade launched an ad campaign with a voiceover that not only generated negative sentiment but also became the focus of 90% of the online chatter.
"Mission Control quickly identified the consumer sentiment and addressed the feedback to rework the ad," Karpf says. "As a result, an almost immediate shift in conversations was tracked as audiences began responding favorably to the spot online. We have also taken this approach in how we create media plans. Based on feedback provided via interactions and social media conversations, media buys are constantly evaluated and adjusted to optimize media dollars in response to consumers. If something isn't working, the team can quickly assess how to better allocate the dollars."
ConAgra Counts Calories
In 2010, a ConAgra Foods social audit discovered that many consumers of its Egg Beaters product were concerned with calories. What's more, the conversations took place not on Twitter or Facebook but on a Weight Watchers forum. Egg Beaters advertising focused on other health messages, like cholesterol.
"What we were able to do, by monitoring, by listening, by identifying this information, was to put in place a strategy to communicate to consumers around low calories through a partnership with Weight Watchers," says Stephanie Moritz, senior director public relations and social media, ConAgra. That included a sponsorship page on the Weight Watchers website.
"'Do a live focus group' is not the default anymore," says Brett Groom, senior vice president of content integration and activation at ConAgra. "Broader social monitoring might very well raise new issues, particularly if you're [only] doing a focus group with 12 people. It might never have come up, or you never would have appreciated the significance of 10 people out of 12 talking about calories.
"When we [listen to] 10,000 conversations and realize that 800 people are talking about calories, and then we follow that thread and see that 30% of calorie conversations are talking about Egg Beaters, all of a sudden you strike gold in these broader social monitoring things. You'd never find that in a focus group."
Confirming K-C's Direction
Kimberly-Clark used social media monitoring in 2010 to gauge reaction to the launch of Huggies Jeans Diapers.
"We were really interested to see how consumers reacted to a fashion diaper – everything from specific reactions to our media, to the general concept," says Way. "We pre-launched some stuff to YouTube and Facebook to get some reaction. We continued to watch how the community discussed the innovation, and used that as input to how we managed that program, both during that campaign, and for the duration."
K-C's monitoring team includes agency partners OgilvyOne, New York; Organic Inc., San Francisco; Studiocomm, Atlanta; and Biggs Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich. As a result, Kimberly-Clark decided to run almost the same TV spot for Huggies Jeans Diapers in 2011.
"The TV commercial that aired in 2010 was extremely successful, very well received by consumers," says Marc Rosenstock, director of consumer relationship marketing for Kimberly-Clark. "Because the consumer feedback was so positive, we didn't feel the need to reinvent the wheel on that."
Beyond Keyword Monitoring
With approximately 5,500 stores in the United States and 7,500 worldwide, General Nutrition Centers (GNC) is understandably interested in location-based monitoring (e.g., searching Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp). GNC has a mobile site, an iPhone app, and a strong Foursquare presence to go with its Facebook and Twitter activity.
According to director of social media Chris James, the company is committed to a stronger digital and social integration, having hired former Dick's Sporting Goods chief marketing officer Jeff Hennion to that same post. Both started at GNC in the past year, and have increased GNC content on Facebook and Twitter.
In partnership with Radian6 and Pittsburgh-based Branding Brand, GNC used social media monitoring to help launch six new flavors of a coconut water product.
Over the course of 90 days last spring, GNC monitored what flavors were talked about most, how much was positive or negative, and whether the marketing message was getting through. One insight among many stood out: GNC learned that yogis are coconut water fans, so they should be targeted as influencers.
"We learned a lot really quickly, certainly a lot more than we would have if the product was on the shelves for six months and then done surveys," James says. "We said, 'Whoa, this has got some pretty interesting impacts,' and so we took that learning and we're going back to the drawing board and looking at how we can refresh that product. That's kind of exciting."
Companies must figure out how to divide the monitoring work. Some buy a license and hand it to an agency; some have several agencies for different duties, such as monitoring, engaging and analysis; others do as much in-house as possible.
"The pro for a corporation taking it in-house is that they then own it," says Nygel Weishar, social media and community relations specialist for Sysomos, Radian6's largest competitor. "They have internal staff that actually understands what's going on, as opposed to before, when you'd just look at a social media report and say, 'So? What does this mean?'
"Now that we have the actual stakeholders understanding it, they know what they're looking for," says Weishar. "I definitely see a positive in that, and I think it makes the agencies on top of that strive for a higher standard. We're at the point now where a lot of our agencies are calling [us] to get more in-depth training sessions to make them all experts on the tool, as opposed to just having one or two stakeholders."
Appeasing the Appliance Shopper
LG Electronics works collaboratively and on its own to provide critical information along the path to purchase
Product specifications and reviews are the Holy Grail for shoppers of major home appliances. Consequently, delivering that information to shoppers on the path to purchase is a priority for product manufacturers such as LG Electronics and retailers such as Best Buy (story continues after Institute POV).
- Shoppers of major home appliances often feel overwhelmed. They crave and need product specifications and reviews in-store.
- Best Buy in 2010 began providing such information about every product it sells in-store through QR codes placed on shelf tags.
- Best Buy controls its space and message admirably, thereby limiting options for brands. The retailer does collaborate with brands to create digital content and in-store displays.
- LG Electronics provides product information through its "Mobile Shopping Assistant" mobile website, which is accessible via QR code on its displays and packaging, and with an in-store "Personal Shopping Assistant" kiosk that appears in 1,000 HHGregg, Home Depot, Fry's and Best Buy stores.
- The challenge for retailers and brands is to find the right balance between these digital information sources and the personal touch of a sales associate.
INSTITUTE POV: There's no more fertile ground for the development of useful path-to-purchase marketing activity than the electronics/durables category. We extol LG's efforts, which largely have been shaped by its Shopper Tracker research.
LG’s Shopper Research
LG Electronics' shopper marketing decisions are being shaped by insights gained from a research tool they've been using for two years called LG Shopper Tracker, according to David VanderWaal, director, in-store marketing.
Working with London-based Mesh Planning, LG recruits 50 “in-market shoppers” per week by product category. These shoppers, mobile phone users who are unaware that LG is behind the research, start their week by answering an online questionnaire. They then record all of their relevant encounters (e.g, TV ads, online experiences, conversations with a friend, circulars, newspaper ads, in-store experiences) into an online diary via text message.
They also have the option to upload photos of their experiences and add contextual comments. At the end of the week, the shoppers answer the same questionnaire again so LG can see any shifts in attitudes.
“It allows us to track in real time a week of behavior, where they go, how their encounters make them feel about a brand or retailer, and how much influence each one of those touchpoints has on their purchase decisions,” VanderWaal says.
LG Shopper Tracker helps the company create a better strategic decision framework, VanderWaal says, as it shapes LG’s decisions on marketing investments, “allows us to see from the customer’s perspective, provides comments that give context to data, and highlights the power of actual experiences.”
Whether or not they're wielding smartphones, shoppers want help.
"One of the things we know with retail research, and how people are researching products today, is that word of mouth is more important than ever," says Jeff Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom, a shelf-edge solution company based in Little Rock, Ark. "Word of mouth used to be neighbors talking over the mythical back fence; today, word of mouth is all about Facebook, [and] reviews posted on Epinions, on Amazon.com.
"If you can bring that to the shelf edge, then you provide the information to the shopper while he or she is in the store looking at the different products, which is even more valuable. The retailers who are doing that and making information more easily available to their shoppers are the ones shoppers are more likely to return to when they make another purchase in the future."
In August 2010, Best Buy began bringing information to shoppers via QR codes that are carried on every shelf tag in stores. Shoppers who scan the code are taken to the retailer's mobile site to view product information provided by manufacturers.
"We did it for a very logical reason," says Best Buy spokesperson Kelly Groehler. "We sell the technology that makes this possible, so we know consumers are going to be using the very technology we help them adopt to compare, shop and get more information to make better decisions about their technology investments, including appliances."
A Brand or a Retailer Experience?
Best Buy admirably controls its space and message by sending consumers to its own mobile site, but this can limit options for brands such as LG, which launched its own mobile site in 2009.
LG's mobile site – called "Mobile Shopping Assistant" and created by digital agency Publicis Modem, New York – features short videos, specs and reviews, and also identifies the nearest retailer that sells LG products. LG knows how many hits the site gets, and how many visitors are watching videos, reading reviews or reading specs.
VanderWaal says "Over 20% of our overall hits to our website is coming from the mobile site. That's a pretty enormous figure."
Despite its success, LG has the daunting task of competing with Best Buy's mobile site on the electronics retailer's own turf. While LG's P-O-P does carry the manufacturer's own QR codes that link shoppers to LG's mobile site, thanks to partner agency North Forty, Hiawatha, Iowa, those codes are just not as obvious as Best Buy's coded shelf tags.
"That has been a challenge to integrate; why would I want a brand mobile experience activated with QR codes when I've got a Best Buy experience?" VanderWaal says. "We've tried to work through that with [Best Buy], but at this point it's still a work in progress."
VanderWaal says it depends on what LG is delivering vs. what Best Buy is delivering, because incrementally they're always looking for the sum of the part being greater.
"They can have experiences for Best Buy shoppers that include brand experiences, and if the sum of the parts is greater than what they do on their own, they're all for it. But I don't think we've hit that formula with them yet. In essence, their default position is always going to be, these are Best Buy shoppers first, so we want it to be a Best Buy experience."
Best Buy's Groehler says the retailer typically brings the shopper back to a Best Buy page (via the QR code), but "we do work closely with our manufacturer partners for the information that's provided. We come at things in terms of where the technology's going in people's lives. I think we look at it in terms of how do we help you get the most out of all the technology in your life, whether that is in your hand, on the go, in your home, in your car."
Working With the Retailer
Best Buy by no means works alone. Manufacturers and agencies provide content for the Best Buy site and collaborate with the retailer on in-store displays and media. Working with LG and Best Buy, North Forty designed a laundry endcap that featured two LG washers, rather than a washer and a dryer, to show the difference between top-loading and front-loading units.
In the most recent iteration, the endcap includes interactive LCD monitors with short videos of how each type works, a must for such appliances since they would require water and are not usually powered in-store. North Forty and LG scripted continual-loop videos while Best Buy put together the introduction featuring its "blue shirts," as store associates are called.
LG wants to highlight the top-loading unit, as it has led the front-loading market for four years, says North Forty director of creative content Muna Matthews. The agency recently made several pieces of P-O-P for each LG appliance SKU with a QR code to fill the gaps left by retailer information tags.
"Those little retailer fact tags really don't do a good job of helping you say, 'OK, what's different about this model, why is this one $100 more, what do I get, what features do I get, what colors are available?'" she says.
For the shopper who's on an unassisted sales floor or is not looking for a sales associate, she is going in and looking for information that wasn't always readily available or really clear, says Matthews.
"We've created pieces that actually have a strategy. If there are five washers on the floor, here are the core features, here are some advanced features. This one has a 3.7 cubic foot capacity, this one has 4, this one has 4.5."
Further Assisting the Shopper
In its own shopper marketing, LG considers consumers who do not use mobile devices as well as those who are in an unmanned area and/or would rather not speak with a store associate.
With the help of partners – East Rutherford, N.J.-based TransWorld Marketing and Publicis Modem – LG created its "Personal Shopping Assistant," an interactive kiosk that appears in 1,000-plus HHGregg, Home Depot, Fry's and Best Buy stores.
Shoppers using the kiosks can sort products several ways – by color, price, type and size – and take a short lifestyle questionnaire to get started. The kiosk gives model recommendations and detailed model information.
"It's based on the insight that shoppers are overwhelmed by all these choices and technology and they have trouble just forming initial consideration sets," VanderWaal says.
Because of the unique status of appliances in shoppers' minds – high expense, low frequency – shopper marketers need to consider how to balance information sources. Digital, supported by personal, or vice versa? All digital? Only personal? How informed is the shopper, given all the information at his fingertips outside the store?
"As a retailer you have to review all of those and say, 'What's a differentiator, what are we going to do different and better than anybody else?'" Vestcom's Weidauer says. "Are we going to try to compete on price, on service, on after the purchase relationship?"
Says VanderWaal: "Personal touch in a digital age sounds opposite, but customized solutions without a personal touch are still not going to work because there is, especially for something like an appliance, a high-risk, high-financial implication. People want to feel like they're being heard. Digitally, that's hard to do unless you invest big time in back-end infrastructure-type things, and that's where a sales associate and the retailer can hit home runs."