Nine Tips for More Effective Multi-Location Digital Marketing

By Chris Watland, chris@signalhq.com

By this point, most chain stores have embraced digital marketing to reach customers through regular email communications and with a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. And retail already outpaces many other industries in its sophisticated collection of customer purchase and loyalty program data.

Yet many retailers are still only achieving a fraction of the benefits that today's digital marketing tools can offer. Used properly, multi-location digital marketing can facilitate better integration of marketing initiatives and greater customer engagement through more relevant, targeted communications. And it can do so at a fraction of the cost of traditional mass media. Here are nine ways you can harness digital marketing to achieve these results.

1. Attract more social media fans and followers. If you're not doing so already, publicize your presence on Facebook and Twitter in-store, on your website, and in ads. Also consider Facebook ads to further ignite the growth of your fan base. Give people incentives to join and offer fans and followers a steady stream of exclusive content they won't find anywhere else. One study found that 37% of Facebook users "like" fan pages just to receive coupons and deals. Emphasize giveaways and discounts to keep your followers interested in your tweets and to ensure that your posts remain highlighted on your fans' news feeds.

2. Add SMS to your digital marketing playbook. Text marketing still isn't used by many retailers — but it should be. SMS offers something no other form of marketing can: an unparalleled ability to reach your most dedicated customers anywhere in real time. Eighty-three percent of texts are read within one hour, and mobile has three to five times the reported click-through rate of other media. SMS is particularly ideal for driving retail traffic through same-day offers and weekend sales. To retain and grow your subscription base, keep your SMS communications focused on enticing offers, and avoid overdoing it. One text a week or less is a good starting point.

3. Build your email and SMS lists using social media. Liking or following you on social media is a light commitment for customers compared to opting in to your email or SMS marketing lists. By acquiring social followers and offering them deals they appreciate, you can help them see the value in joining your lists. Create a permanent tab on your Facebook account to a web form people that complete to join your email or SMS lists, and tweet a link to your form on Twitter. Give people an incentive to join. On the opt-in form, collect information on their store location of choice so that you can make your offers even more targeted and relevant.

4. Add digital calls to action to your product packaging. Try using text-driven calls to action and QR codes on product packaging to deliver content to customers in real time and differentiate high-margin items on shelves. You can ask customers to send a text or scan the QR code to receive a recipe or coupon, watch a video about your brand's commitment to quality, register a loyalty code, or even fill out a survey. Calls to action that add real value for your customers will be the most successful.

5. Launch new products with a digital sweepstakes or promotion. A sweepstakes is a proven way to digitally build awareness for a new product or stimulate demand for an existing one. Allow entry and participation via text messaging, web, Facebook, and Twitter. Opt participants in to your text and email subscription lists as the cost of entry as another way to grow your lists.

6. Migrate to a cross-channel platform. Today's digital marketing tools allow you to conduct your email, SMS, and social marketing from a single source. Moving to a cross-channel approach will enable you to simplify campaign rollout across all media and to automatically collect data from every campaign in one place. It will also allow you to establish a consistent workflow across channels to minimize the complexity of scheduling and sending messages, and to implement a reliable approval process from headquarters for regional or single-store communications.

7. Build a universal profile of your customers. By connecting with your customers through social media, email, and SMS, you will eventually be able to develop a universal profile of them across all digital channels. You'll be able to see what kinds of deals each likes, and whether they respond more favorably to an afternoon tweet, an early-morning email, or a midday text. Using your cross-channel platform, you can also connect this information to your point-of-sale and loyalty marketing data to get a complete view of your customers' preferences and behaviors. 

8. Create more relevant, personalized offers. By gathering all of your customer information in a single database, you will be able to start segmenting and personalizing your communications for portions of your lists based on each customer's demographics, store location, behavior, and communication preferences. You can also automatically trigger messages to customers on holidays, their birthdays, and their anniversary date of joining your loyalty programs using their preferred communication medium.

9. Track your success. As you try different approaches and promotions, it's important to track the effectiveness of each campaign. You can gauge which ads or promotions led to new subscribers and which led people to unsubscribe. You can measure how much it cost per campaign to add a subscriber and which communications had the best click-through and open rates. Most importantly, you can see which had the best redemption rates by store, and whether those deal redemptions facilitated additional in-store purchases.

Over time, you can get a better sense of which offers work best and put more focus on those approaches. But you should still continue to try new tactics, both to continually improve the relevance of your offers and to keep customers engaged. Following these steps, you can use digital marketing to create more targeted, highly relevant communications that foster greater customer loyalty and repeat business.

Chris Watland is co-founder and president of Signal, a Chicago-based provider of digital marketing technology recently named #108 on the 2011 Inc. 500 List . You can reach him at chris@signalhq.com.