Out of the wallet and into the phone

My shoulders sag a bit every time I’m offered the chance to join a reward program that involves scribbling out my information on a paper form or being handed a plastic loyalty card or paper-punch card. 

Aren’t we well into the 21st century at this point? 

Better to offer nothing to your customer than another rewards card that goes into her wallet or on her key ring. Yes, paper-punch cards are simple to print. And yes, we’re very used to carrying plastic cards. But we already average 10 or more, and don’t want any more clutter.

I bet most shoppers prefer to use their phone number instead of sifting through their key ring or wallet anyway. And that’s a good start. The bigger prize, however, lies in having a more active conversation with your customer. And for that, you need to be on her smartphone. 

If you’re not ready or equipped to go it on your own and develop your own app, consider offering your rewards card through KeyRingTM, a nifty smartphone app that does all the heavy lifting for the retailer. And Apple’s upcoming “Passbook” app looks promising too.

For those retailers more inclined to DIY, Krogerand Safeway each have developed fairly robust mobile apps that allow users to review specials.

A New Face at Target

Over the past few years Target Stores have been really upping their game in the beauty area, adding lines from names like Jemma Kidd and Napoleon Perdis and revamping the look of the department to have a more premium feel.

And now the mass retailer has added what is arguably the most upscale touch of all – a human face. Last month they launched a test Beauty Concierge program in 28 stores in the Chicago area. Fourteen full-time Beauty Concierge advisors are assigned to cover two stores each, to “act as” a friendly face in what can often be an intimidating department.

Like the beauty consultants of high-end department stores they dress in chic black – instead of Target red – and wear aprons and nametags to identify themselves. But better than traditional department stores, they’ll be armed with a mirror, iPad, a stash of product samples and the ability to provide “detailed, unbiased information” about the multiple beauty brands Target carries, as well as practical beauty tips. Word has it that if the test is successful it will roll out to about 450 Target stores.

Overcoming shopper confusion in categories where decision-making is complex is a challenge modern big-box retailers have wrung their hands over for years. The industry has pursued increasingly sophisticated POS and tech solutions for delivering shopper information and education at shelf.

Kudos to Target for realizing there’s nothing like the human touch, a live person/advisor who can listen to my concerns then give a personalized answer, hopefully with reassurance and a smile – especially in a category as emotional and personal as beauty. 

Geared Up Goods

As retail locations are being bested by online shopping, building awareness, driving education and capturing an audience is more difficult than ever. There’s one industry that has consumers waiting in line for more. Enter reimagined mobile food trucks.

Today, food trucks have become almost as much a part of the urban landscape as Starbucks. The hesitation to approach has long been overshadowed by a consumer’s willingness to try something new with the promise of surprise and delight.

Retailers and manufacturers alike are embracing the power of the food truck model — their mobility, creativity and on-demand communication — to appeal to a higher purchasing power than just alleviating hunger. They are reimagining retail. Just by aligning the trifecta of food, fun and free stuff, on-the-street consumers are clamoring to be a part of this mobile trend in exchange for learning and helping grow brands.

A few examples of geared up food trucks are Gap 1969 Denim collection doling out California-style tacos to convey the light and carefree nature of the brand; P&G and Walmart offering QR codes for deals and gaining awareness for in-store savings; and Macy’s Culinary Council promoting their star-studded cookbook with free recipe samples.

As marketers, we strive to meet consumers where they live and seek to meet their needs wherever they go. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of thinking on our feet or, in this case, on our wheels. #Reimagine

The Politics of Shopping

I love shoes (understatement) and, obviously, retail innovation. So when I learned a few weeks ago that Barneys New York was opening a really cool new shoe department, I was reaching for my purse and heading out the front door. Finding out that during this launch 10% of any shoe purchase would benefit the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sent me running up Madison Ave.

On that same day, the digi-sphere started clucking about Chick-fil-A’s ongoing contributions to groups that lobby against and Dan Cathy’s stance against gay marriage; and whether my friends agreed or disagreed with their values, they made sure to shout about it on Facebook!

Here were two companies clearly articulating their side of this major political agenda – during an extremely heated election year.

So as a marketer, I wondered: When the pressure to make a political statement peaks, do customers look closer into the politics of their favorite brands to inform their purchase?

For example, some people may choose the notoriously liberal Ben & Jerry’s to make their political statement. Maybe pro-gay-marriage “Hubby Hubby” or the anti-super-PAC “Americone Dream.” Or post-election “Yes Pecan” (“Yes We Can”) created for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
As marketers, we often recommend affinity-focused feel-good campaigns to help drive choice and loyalty, like (non-polarizing) environmental causes or disease research. With causes like these as part of a politician’s platform, will consumers decide to try a competitor’s superpremium ice cream to show where they stand? Maybe then they’d choose Haagen Dazs, so they can “Buy a Carton, Save a [Honey] Bee.”

Some companies will capitalize on the spirit of election year without choosing a side. And so “hip” 18–30 year olds may choose Urban Outfitters for a “2 Legit 2 Mitt” T-shirt or one that calls for “Four More Years” of Obama. I would love to see those sales figures used as a polling device! Over the last several elections, the unofficial “poll” 7-Eleven conducted with their choice of presidential candidate cups closely predicted those election results.

But what if the brand is not joining the conversation (outwardly) at all? Do customers think about what party or policy is being funded by the brands they buy — if these companies are donating to one side or another? Do they do their research before they reach for their wallets?

Whether your mind-set leaves you seeing Red or feeling Blue, how does that shift your Brand decisions at the store? It’s something to think about, and something we at TPN will be watching closely over the course of this season. And of course, we are hoping for free Starbucks again this year to tell the world “I Voted” on November 6th.

Here are a few resources if you’re curious about where your favorite brands stand: 

Rocking the Vote from 30,000 feet

We’ve reached cruising altitude. So it’s time to turn your mobile device back on. Maybe you’ll play someAngry Birds, listen to music, or catch up on that book you’ve been dying to read. But what if you could do something more productive, something more civic?

If you’re on select Virgin America flights this fall, you can actually register to vote. From 30,000 feet. Just grab your smartphone, connect it to the in-flight Wi-Fi, and scan a QR code from your back-of-seat entertainment system. You’ll be taken to a mobile registration site, provided by Rock the Vote.

For over 20 years, Rock the Vote has helped register young(er) voters at places they frequent, like concerts. And this partnership with Virgin is a natural extension of “disruptive democracy” – getting people involved where they least expect it. In 2008, they registered over 2 million new voters, and they’re hoping to beat that this time around.

Think about it: You’re stuck on a plane with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Why not take a few minutes and use your smartphone to become an active participant in our democracy?

From a marketer’s standpoint, this promotion fits right in with Virgin’s hip and forward-thinking brand. They’re not taking sides but showing concern for our future by providing a public service to their customers, using cool technology. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Now, if I could only vote from the window seat, we’d really be in business. 

Are Twitter’s Promoted Products useful in local (and retail) promotions?

We have two distinct schools of thought under our roof at TPN. I am not sure if it is a gender or cultural divide (or simply a difference of opinion), but here are two perspectives coming from TPN: 

Manolo Almagro — Digital Shopper Marketing, Chicago, IL

Studies show that the majority of Twitter users who follow brands do so to get access to special offers and deals. Twitter’s Promoted Tweets product gives brands and advertisers a surgical tool to promote these offers.

Promoted Tweets add another dimension in monitoring the performance of a campaign. They are targeted, seeking out users who follow similar accounts, and geo-located, offering relevant deals to a local or regional audience. Plus they’re trackable, giving marketers better tools to analyze the success of a promotion.

The best part is the fee structure. Brands who use Promoted Tweets only pay when a user clicks on its link. If Tweets aren’t hitting the target, brands can reassess and try again.

I think this new tool provides a way for brands to have more targeted messaging and, thus, diminishes the “spamming” effect they may have had with non-targeted deals. 

Darci Ratliff — Senior Copywriter, New York, NY

I think what makes Twitter so attractive to its users is also what makes it difficult to monetize. With Promoted Trends and Tweets, Twitter is inviting brands to the cool kids’ table, then pulling the chair out from under them.

Take trends, for example. To see what people are talking about in real time, you look to Twitter trends. But their Promoted Trends are paid for (and marked as such), giving them zero credibility. It’s not a trend; it’s an ad. And unless brands get creative with a clever #hashtag, its unlikely anyone will notice.

Worse are Promoted Tweets which interrupt one’s feed. With over 400 million tweets per day, a user has to practice “selective listening” by choosing which other users to follow. Promoted Tweets break the rules in a way that can be both off-putting and pathetic. Unless the tweet is an exciting, attractive, and talk-worthy offer that really speaks to the user in a unique way, it can leave the impression that this brand “just doesn’t get it.”

What I think can be useful is their Promoted Accounts product, which helps users find a brand and keep it top of mind. A brand has to have followers for Twitter to be an effective promotional tool. And finding a brand on Twitter isn’t always easy—their search functionality is pretty terrible, and copycat accounts make it hard to know which one is the “official” voice of the brand.

Promoted Accounts is a pay-for-play product that tells targeted users that your brand is tweeting, and seems like a good way to build a following before launching a promotion or new product.

Both Manny and Darci make valid points; so how do you decide which is the right point of view for a particular brand, consumer or shopper?

As with any marketing tool, brands must be careful to use Twitter correctly or run the risk of alienating the people they are trying to win over.

Who’s doing it right?

It’s important for brands to know their audience, listen to the conversations, and take a poke or two in good stride. The Twitter-ers at Taco Bell, for example, have been generating positive reviews.

Who is missing the mark?

It pays to do your research. Online retailer CelebBoutique.comsuffered widespread Twitter backlash when it’s UK-based PR firm neglected to find out why #Aurora was trending a few weeks ago. They attributed it to a Kardashian design with the same name when, in fact, the talk centered on the tragic shooting in Colorado. Their lighthearted tweet solicited public outrage, even after its removal and subsequent apology.

What do you think?

Are Twitter’s new Promoted Products going to help brands succeed with better targeting, or is this a marketing shortcut that could turn people off? And what brands are you following? Whose tweets are getting your attention?