Digital Delivery

The way in which retailers market to consumers has undergone considerable change in recent years, particularly in light of the popularity of social media platforms. Indeed, social media has become essential to retailers’ marketing efforts, according to a recent BDO USA survey, which found that 86% of retail CMOs included social media in their holiday 2012 marketing plans.

Facebook gets the lion’s share of the attention. In the BDO survey, 99% of the CMOs said they were focusing their social media marketing on the popular social platform. Davenport, Iowa-based department store operator Von Maur, which has 27 stores in 11 states, is an example of one retailer that is very active on the social media site.

“We’re building customers’ brand loyalty, and we give them a look behind the scenes,” said Holly Danler, Von Maur’s e-commerce manager. “We try to give them insight and make it interactive. We put different content on Facebook so we have highly active engagement.”

One of Von Maur’s simplest and most effective ways to engage the people who ‘like’ it is to ask “fill in the blank” questions, such as “I like to wear leggings because _ _ _” or “My favorite thing to buy is _ _ _.”

“We have found customers also interact with each other and get more dialog going,” Danler pointed out.

Half Price Books also uses Facebook — for everything from sales and promotions to branding campaigns, blog posts and to feature inventory.

“Facebook serves as a direct communication vehicle with our customers,” said Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive VP of the 115-store Dallas-based brand. “It allows us to respond in real time to our customers’ questions, complaints, comments and compliments.”

The site allows Half Price Books to not only pass on information directly to its fans, but also “allows for brand engagement and loyalty,” Thomas pointed out.

The brand engages by involving its followers with its Facebook page. A recent promotion for a 10%-off coupon had customers vote on whether they preferred zombies or aliens. Once they voted, they were eligible for a coupon.

“People like fun things on Facebook, and you really have to do something different and clever instead of just saying ‘10% off for anyone,’ ” Thomas added.

The value of Facebook isn’t in its ability to sell but its ability to get inside consumers’ heads, according to Wilson Tang, head of digital creative at New York marketing company TBA Global.

Facebook users who see a brand regularly on their wall will become much more familiar and have far greater brand awareness than retailers who are less visible, he said.

“Consumers are being bombarded with brand messages over time,” Tang said. “It makes the brands a little more credible. What [retailers are] hoping is that the next time you walk past their store, or they run a deal, it’s a lot easier to associate with that brand and for them to execute a commerce transaction.”

MOMMY BLOGGERS: Savvy retailers are also utilizing Twitter updates, online contests, and other online forms of marketing and advertising — all of which cost nothing, or virtually nothing, to use. For some retailers, working with “mommy bloggers” is another effective means of communicating with consumers. According to a study by Scarborough Research, 14% of all American mothers with at least one child in their household blog about parenting or turn to blogs for advice.

“A mommy blogger is an excellent resource for a retailer because she’s “an ordinary person, and a peer and someone a lot of these people can relate to,” added David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a marketing agency in Suwanee, Ga. “Readers can interact with them, and that’s key if you want to ask a question or talk about your own experience.”

Target Corporation has been working with mommy bloggers for many years.

“We recognize that mommy bloggers have really large and engaged followers, and they can speak very authentically to their readers … who trust them,” said spokeswoman Dustee Jenkins. “We call them online influencers.”

The chain has 17 mommy bloggers who are part of the Target Inner Circle. The select group of social influencers is given behind-the-scenes access to information relating to the brand to share with their followers. The retailer, for example, might bring a food blogger to its test kitchen, or provide a preview of a new clothing line to a fashion blogger.

Besides facilitating this access, Target is very hands-off with the bloggers. It doesn’t monitor their writing before they publish it, Jenkins said, because “we want it to be credible. We treat them like members of the media. We recognize that they have to be authentic, and they’re not if we write [their blogs] for them and package it beautifully.”

The Inner Circle bloggers are so important to Target that it actively thinks up ways to engage them, so they in turn can engage their readers.

“We have to give them access to behind-the-scenes at Target,” Jenkins explained. “Things go viral because they’re unique so we recognize that for their voices to be effective, we have to give them really good content. They’re going to be interested in Target with or without us, so by playing this role very intentionally we’re just helping them create a better story.”

The Outlet Shops of Grand River in Leeds, Ala., uses about 75 mommy bloggers to create a loyal following and 
get the word out about events and sales, reported general manager Chris Szalay. “They are advocates for the shopping center.”

The beauty of working with mommy bloggers, she said, is that their readers trust them as a peer who is typically in a similar life stage, and who is unbiased.

Working through bloggers allows retailers to deliver information “in a way that you’re not trying to sell them, but inform them,” Szalay added. “Any time you can engage your customers you’ll have a better relationship.”

The Outlet Shops also provides bloggers with unique access — it might be a style seminar or a Twitter scavenger hunt for gift cards (clues were posted to Twitter and bloggers had to find all five and tweet them to win).

An event such as the scavenger hunt is also very experiential, according to Szalay.

“You can walk people around and show [bloggers] the stores, but when you get them to go around and have them participate, it’s a lot more fun,” she said. “When they report on it they’re reporting on their fun, not just what someone else has told them.”