BY BARBARA T. NELLES
Retailers have lost control of their marketing communications, says Phil Johnston, senior vice president of strategic services for Marcus Thomas LLC. And here’s why that just may be a good thing.
Who is in charge of your marketing communications and brand image? You? Think again. A dramatic shift has occurred that is delivering tremendous power into the hands of consumers.
Previously, retailers had one method of communicating with potential customers. Megaphone-style, you put out a message via direct mail, print, radio or TV advertising. In essence, you were shouting your story to consumers, forcing them to listen to you. Today, thanks to technology, consumers make their own decisions about to whom they listen—and about whom they talk. They’re in control, not you.
How can you, as a retailer and marketer, capitalize on this power shift and get customers to “opt-in” to your messaging? It’s complicated, but opportunities abound for smart retailers, says Phil Johnston, senior vice president of strategic services for Cleveland-based marketing communications agency Marcus Thomas LLC, the Better Sleep Council’s agency of record. The BSC is the consumer education arm of the International Sleep Products Association.
He shared these and other insights in a speech delivered March 28 in New Orleans to mattress industry members at the biennial industry trade fair ISPA EXPO.
For starters, Johnston says, a megaphone and a message are no longer terribly effective. Smart companies must take the time to understand their audience’s needs.
“Think like a consumer,” Johnston says. “Understand that no one wants to feel ignorant and powerless in the face of a purchase decision that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. And the better educated and older these shoppers are, the more they expect to know or learn during the shopping process.”
First and foremost, mattress retailers must learn about their customers, think like their customers and uncover where their customers go for information about mattress shopping. Consumers have a multitude of choices, and your ads—or even your website—may be at the bottom of the list.
Today, smart marketers understand effective marketing communications means that by knowing your audience and their favorite technology platforms, they can deliver engaging messages at just the right time. Master this and you will be able to influence shopping behavior.
Most important, at the heart of an effective marketing strategy is deciding where you are not going to go and what you are not going to do, Johnston says. “You simply cannot be everywhere. It’s very hard to make these choices when there are thousands of communication and sharing platforms to choose from.”
Choose just a handful of platforms after careful research into where your store’s shoppers are most likely to be going in search of information.
The best marketers engage consumers through entertainment, providing useful information and offering customers opportunities for personal fame—because, today, everyone wants their “15 seconds.”
If review sites and user-generated reviews on Yelp, Citysearch or Facebook give you pause, get over it. Your customers are on these platforms—and they’re already talking about you.
It makes sense to encourage your store’s shoppers to review you online. After the retail sales associate asks for the sale, he should ask for the review.
Ninety percent of Internet users feel that consumer reviews are the most credible form of advertising. So, embrace consumer feedback and input. Participate and you will uncover the potential for turning detractors into advocates.
Above all, offer help because shopper marketing is not consumer marketing simply executed in-store. It’s not coupons and point of purchase; it’s not replicating your ad concepts on in-store materials—and it’s not overselling with pie-in-the-sky promises.
Can your store really make “all dreams come true?” And is that what someone in a shopper mindset is considering during their mattress-purchase process? Perhaps not.
Shopper marketing is communications designed to connect with people who are actively engaged in a shopping mode. In other words, they’re hunting for a new mattress—now—and they need information.
Consider how much research shoppers for big-ticket items like mattresses conduct. Your store should assist consumers who are in active shopping mode. Offer them the information they need. It can be through fact-filled blog posts; a hefty, review-filled Yelp page; a shopper feedback forum at your website or at Facebook; abundant Tweets from your account—wherever your shoppers are most likely to look.
Try to answer this question for shoppers: “How can I make the best, most informed mattress purchase decision?”
Help them. Do your best to provide real answers.
Segment your audience
In order to answer that question accurately, you need to segment your audience.
Know there are four key shopping variables. A shopper’s starting point may fall into one of these categories: preferred retailer, preferred brand, preferred product features or price.
For example, retailer-reliant shoppers will choose their preferred store first, then move on to considering the other three categories in their path to purchase. Brand aficionados tend to prefer specific brands often—but not always—based on prior experience with that brand. Feature geeks first seek specific features such as a specific mattress component—latex or memory foam, adjustable-base friendly, “organic,” etc.
What does this mean to you and your marketing message and in-store sales pitch? You need to be mindful of how individual customers shop, what path they typically follow and try to understand where there is room for influence.
But wait, it gets more complicated.
Path to purchase
The old path-to-purchase model is fading. Once, it was a wide-at-the-top funnel—similar to the megaphone marketers used to broadcast messages to consumers. The old model is being replaced by many new ones as shoppers now have so many more touch points in the shopping process and so many more options for finding information and buying.
Unsurprising, it’s a struggle to decipher how people actually go about buying a mattress—or making any other purchase decision. Path-to-purchase models are taking many different shapes. Is it a funnel, a spindle, a tunnel?
What percentages of your store’s potential customers are impacted by word-of-mouth, TV advertising, loyalty programs, circulars, in-store displays, review sites and the like? It’s a subject for further investigation by your marketing team or an experienced outside communications agency.
What’s a mattress retailer to do?
According to Marcus Thomas:
O 42% of shoppers move through a funnel purchase process, narrowing their choices as they go;
O 22% traverse a tunnel, starting out knowing exactly what they want, finding it and buying;
O 36% move through a spindle-shaped purchase process, adding more desired product features and benefits as they shop.
Since most mattress purchase decisions are made in-store, when the shopper is testing the product, the spindle-shaped, path-to-purchase model is—arguably—a well-worn one among mattress shoppers. In the spindle model, there is ample opportunity for the mattress retailer to educate and influence shoppers at the point of sale.
But retailers must bear in mind they no longer have a monopoly on product knowledge and shoppers are not a captive audience.
It’s the trump card, Johnston says. Customer experience in your store is everything.
Treat shoppers as they want to be treated because most—82%—will be perfectly comfortable shopping elsewhere, if they are unhappy with your store’s personnel or policies. In fact, a full 85% of shoppers say they will pay extra for a good customer experience.
Another reminder, you’re dealing with informed consumers. Current research shows that just 10% of furniture shoppers make purchases online; however, 50% of them do Web research before venturing out to buy. Don’t underestimate customers’ intelligence.
And when they arrive at your store, shoppers are using mobile devices to continue their research. What are they doing with their phones while walking your store? They’re searching for reviews and ratings of your store and products, comparing costs elsewhere, looking for promotions, and taking and sending photos.
Therefore, one of the most important things you can do is to choose your social media platforms and start sharing the types of helpful content—online—that your shoppers are looking for as they browse through your store.
Who buys your products? Consumer vs. Shopper
Consumers don’t buy, shoppers do. Your marketing communications efforts may be talking to the wrong people. Consider these differences between “consumer” behavior and “shopper” behavior.
O Focus on needs and wants
O Consider benefits
O Think about product use and enjoyment
O Often passive in media use
O Likely to tune out most marketing messages
O Focus on decisions
O Consider features
O Think about product selection and acquisition
O Very active in media use
O Likely to tune in to relevant marketing messages
Helpful resources for staying abreast of trends:
Today’s shopper is a moving target. If you want to stay engaged with her, down a daily dose of trendspotting at any of these popular websites.