Modern Promotion at Retail: Come Inside. Please.
Free can of soda with sandwich purchase. Autographed copies today only. 50 percent off holiday merchandise.
With so much talk about the impact of small business on the economy, it’s tempting to look at how Main Street businesses — especially storefront retail — market themselves in this environment. How they creatively pull you and your wallet inside the store. Some interesting approaches:
An errand transformed into an experience. Among the 30 nail salons in our Manhattan neighborhood, Dashing Divas has the most tempting promotion posted in their windows. “Girl’s Night Out” offers complimentary Cosmopolitans for you and a friend when you come in for a manicure or pedicure during weeknights. Insightfully, and boosting sales during a normally quiet period, the idea positions getting your nails done as a social activity. Now I haven’t had a proper manicure since my brother’s wedding, but I’m always ready for a Cosmo.
Noisy stunts. Some businesses put their people on the front lines of it, like one I first saw as a Cannes Juror last year. The CEO of PAUSE sound systems in Sweden drew tons of attention by literally swallowing a mini-microphone to become a “Human Jukebox.” A stunt, sure, but a big one that got him publicity he couldn’t afford to buy and customers flocking into his store. The store was deliberate about it as well. First, in an online video the CEO explained what he was going to do and when he was going to do it. Then, inviting press, bloggers and customers to witness it, he swallowed the microphone live. Afterwards, customers could take turns and literally deejay through him. Who wouldn’t go in and see this? Who wouldn’t want a great sound system?
Behind the scenes, big players pushing. A fairly new trend in storefront retail pull is the behind the scenes push from larger partner brands such as credit cards. MasterCard, for example, created a Priceless app that suggested stores in your neighborhood. I downloaded the app and used it only once, probably paying cash at a place I already knew. Not sure whether it was worth all the effort. The biggest hit, however, is the much lauded program from American Express, Small Business Saturday. During the holiday season, American Express heavily promotes the idea of shopping at small businesses for a rebate credit on your monthly statement (and the feel-good pride of having supported your very local economy). Obviously, this is great PR for the AmEx brand, and two years running, it’s been a boon for merchants to whom AmEx drives bodies through glass doors. Some stats and sources claim 100 million customers turned out for it — including President Obama.
Technology levels the playing field. Small businesses used to rely on being found through the Yellow Pages. Now it’s all about review sites like Yelp, targeted advertising such as Facebook classifieds and, of course, organic search. The challenge for all-important search is that many businesses can’t afford to stay on top of or lack the expertise internally. Small businesses are however tapping technology, especially for promotions. FourSquare promotions (i.e., check-in and get a coupon) are fairly easy to set up for a business and redemptions are often easy and cheaper than a complicated mail-in coupon program that one would have done ten years ago. I checked-in it at my local Pinkberry and saw $1 off, although the first cashier wasn’t sure what to do with it and to call over a manager.
Partnering with friends. Creative Kingsley Harris tweeted to me how he admires the joint promotion by West Elm and Etsy’s of a handmade holiday market inside West Elm furniture stores. While West Elm is certainly not a small business, the idea is a modern combination of digital commerce and brick-and-mortar stores collaborating with a shared agenda. Small businesses can easily join forces and do stuff like this.
Differentiation among fierce competition. Like in many cities, New York has an explosion of pharmacies and banks every twenty feet. Having fought the real estate battle, now they have to battle for bodies. Pharmacies like Duane Reade are now selling fresh food and installing ATMs. And full service banks don’t use toasters and free checking anymore to attract customers, but regional banks like TD Bank are using convenience, opening extra early like 7.30am, staying open seven days a weeks, and making a game out of converting loose change into bills
Admiration for sales promotion. In between traditional and digital advertising jobs long ago, I worked at a boutique promotion agency in Manhattan. I had come to help build out the agency’s advertising offering and, for me, it was my chance to be co-creative director of a place (I believe in always taking a job that’s got something good in it for both parties). Our clients were brands such as Nathan’s Famous, Johnnie Walker, Guinness Stout, Maxell, and Newport cigarettes. While digital had taught me the importance of response via clicks, here I learned tons of new things about marketing that they don’t teach you in most traditional agencies: the importance of distribution channels and distributors; how sweepstakes and contests work; and of course, the enormous role of seasonality. Never thought I’d learn so much about Christmas floor displays for liquor (including designing them in summer) or how a contest gets you quality and a sweeps gets you volume. Sure we did campaign ideas, but every project had to tactically pull in customers immediately or they flopped —and flopped fast. Our campaign for sentimental favorite restaurant chain Nathan’s Famous, for example, was called “Stop by a Smile.” We creatively took it to the airwaves and billboards for media, but it was also punctuated by the brand’s best-working promo at the time at the end of the spots and on in-store signage: Two hot dogs for two bucks. Talk about pull with, well, bite
Promotion is certainly changing. What’s notably changed is the vacuum within which sales promotion used to operate. Stores would do whatever they did and only current customers and passer-bys would see it. Word of mouth was manual, brought up at the dinner table or over the white picket fence. Incidentally, this was also true of direct marketing; you would only see what you got in the mail. Now, blogging, especially content-hungry community sites, talk about things they see or hear about. Tom’s Shoes, as everyone knows, donates a pair of shoes for every new pair you buy and new platforms like Groupon and Fab have modernized the experience of coupons. Public relations is now inexorably linked with promotion.
Maybe you’re not clipping the Sunday circulars anymore. Maybe you’re worn out from coupons via email. But if you want to be a modern marketer, my advice is to have a Cosmo, get your nails done and be ready; pulling people into stores isn’t going anywhere but everywhere.
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