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Meijer, Unilever execs: Capture today’s consumer with trust, evolved marketing

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Liz)

At FMI MidWinter last week in Miami, attendees received a profound message — we are reaching the end of an era in retailing that is fundamentally changing how consumers shop, when they shop and why they shop. Traditional marketing methods have evolved to maximize the capabilities of social media and technology, and consumers are now more educated about the products they consider and buy, as well as where they buy it from.

In a session entitled, “The New Consumer: a 360 Degree View”, Doug Stephens, author of “The Retail Revival: Re-Imagining Business for the New Age of Consumerism,” discussed the characteristics, motivations and behaviors of shoppers today along with the significant impact technology and e-commerce are having on the retail industry.

According to data shared by Stephens, e-commerce totaled $1.2 trillion dollars worldwide in 2013, representing a 20% year-on-year growth rate, and is estimated to account for 30% of all retail spending by 2025.

“There is no question we are a more connected society than we were even 10 years ago, with five billion connected devices worldwide today, and that figure is projected to be 50 billion connected devices in the next 10 years or so,” Stephens said. “And with all of this pervasive technology and connectivity, consumers are now firmly in control and this is fundamentally changing the relationships between consumers and brands and retailers.”

The sales funnel is broken

Thirty years ago, mass media was dependably effective. Advertisers could measure impressions and the size of the audience they were reaching. Brands and retailers controlled access to products and information, and the path to purchase was very straightforward. Consumers received the advertising messages and headed to a physical store to acquire products. And because we had a vibrant, thriving middle class accounting for a majority of this purchase activity, consumer preferences were largely homogenous and predictable. Basically, marketers poured dollars into the sales funnel and could reasonably predict successful results.

“The sales funnel as we remember it is broken. If you need proof, look at last year’s ‘Black Friday,’” said Stephens. “Brands and retailers poured significant dollars into advertising and promotions, yet sales were down 11% rom the prior year. The path to purchase has changed dramatically. We are a much more diverse and fragmented society of consumers, and we have become a mobile-first world.”

The store is everywhere

Stephens suggests that all of this connectivity that consumers enjoy, thanks to technology and their devices, means “the store is everywhere…media IS the store.”

“The old role of media was to tell a brand story, create product interest and drive traffic to the physical store. But today, media IS the store; consumers are visiting websites, browsing online catalogs, seeking reviews and opinions on products through social media and making purchases at any moment along the way using their smartphones, tablets and computers,” Stephens said.

So, if the store is in the palms of our hands, what is the purpose of a brick and mortar store? Stephens suggests stores need to become better forms of media. In other words, the “store IS media.” Physical stores are still unique in that they provide an immersive, emotional connection to a brand. The opportunity, according to Stephens, is to stop looking at stores as product distribution centers, and start thinking of them as delivering fulfilling, personalized experiences to shoppers.

“In a world of one-click satisfaction, no one really needs what you sell. They do need to understand how and why you sell it,” Stephens concluded. “That is the exciting opportunity for food retailers to differentiate themselves, to find one change in how they engage with shoppers that will be the catalyst for everything else in their business,”

In a panel discussion following Stephen’s remarks, participants focused on the unique opportunities digital media and consumer connectivity represent to help brands and retailers build trust and authenticity through individualized consumer engagement:

J.K. Symancyk, president, Meijer, Inc.: “We don’t sell all of the products we carry to all of our shoppers. We are a mass merchant doing business in an increasing less mass world. The opportunity is to focus on our consumers not as segments, but as individuals. I do think there is a place for retail, provided you focus on what kind of brand experience you want to provide, and deeply understand how consumers shop and interact with you.

Kees Kruythoff, president, Unilever North America: “The incredible growth of digital media opens up the opportunity to create one-to-one relationships between brands and consumers. And creating a dialog will help address the trust deficit that currently exists, while delivering true transparency to regain consumer trust.”

Karen Fichuk, president, North America, Nielsen: “We see an opportunity in food retail to move from a supply side focus to leveraging digital media and consumer connectivity to generate demand through thoughtful marketing efforts to reach the individual consumer. Our research also shows that creating trust is good business. Consumers will pay a premium for trust, and visit stores they trust.”

Ira Gleser is the founder and president of Amplify Marketing Communications, a B2B marketing communications firm that helps connect brands to B2B audiences. He has worked in management, leadership and consultative roles in the beverage, foodservice, hospitality, financial services, consumer durables and retail industries, including companies such as Coca-Cola, MGM Mirage, Burger King, Charles Schwab, Tyson Foods and Lowe’s.


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