March 24, 2011

Appetite For Digital: The Emerging Potential For Grocery Brands

By Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner, at Spinnaker London

Rapid digital developments should provide food for thought for smart grocery brands

The digital marketing opportunities for grocery food brands continue to grow. From home brand engagement to mobile platforms, grocery brands can now place digital as a centrepiece channel to drive awareness and sales. This represents a real shift for food brands.

Only a short time ago digital seemed a little distant to the grocery food brand. Other than online supermarket shopping why would any self-respecting consumer want to engage with a food brand on the internet and, even if they did, it’s all just a little bit removed from the physical point of purchase isn’t it? In 2011, absolutely not.

The recent launch of Tesco’s barcode scanner app represents one further significant example of how grocery shopping and digital have become firmly intertwined. It provides yet one more building block in the bridge between consumer consideration and active purchase.

Quite simply, digital has come of age as a tool for grocery brand marketing thanks to both new technology emergence and a shift in consumer behaviour and attitudes. In many ways the two are inexorably linked. There is now rich potential to influence and engage with consumers all the way from the home environment through to the point of purchase. And today’s shopper shows an appetite to participate.

Awareness Through To Purchase

The role of traditional out-of-store marketing has been to drive awareness and pre-disposition to purchase. Likewise, in-store point of sale and sales promotions are used to trigger purchase decisions through incentives, reminders and point-of-purchase call to action. Digital must always work in tandem with all this activity to enable integration of creative message and strategy. However, it can also take things one step further through personalised content and engagement. Personalisation delivered through the gathering of preference data, behavioural data, claimed/actual purchase data and location data.

Coupons, recipe ideas, location-based messaging, recommendations and education can all be brought to life through videos, apps, emails, display, search across both computer and mobile applications. In addition within the physical shopping environment digital can play a role in the form of signage, screens and kiosks. All of this provides enormously rich potential for grocery brands to engage in a relevant and meaningful way right the way through from the point of consideration to the point of purchase. But the thinking must be joined up.

Uncovering Insights

Grocery brand marketing has led by example when it comes to making product development or creative messaging decisions based on consumer insights. Digital, with its rich source of real time behaviour data and opted-in programmes has always offered insight potential in spades. The challenge has been about knowing how to use this data to best effect, and in ensuring that the data is representative of the core audience that is being targeted.

As daily digital engagement, social media use and e-commerce has grown amongst the mainstream grocery brand audience of mums and families, so too has an appetite from brand advertisers to listen and act on the data that is on offer.

For example, simple search trends which show what topics, recipes, brands and food combinations are being searched at any given time have not only provided obvious clues for evolving search strategies but have also proved invaluable for brands when considering advertising messaging, media timings, and general promotional tactics.

Also, just listening to conversations going on in forums, on Facebook, Twitter and blogs provides so much rich insight into how brands should present themselves. And opt-in email programmes are invaluable in providing demographic, attitudinal and purchase insights which enrich all aspects of the marketing programme.

Food Exploration

We have all seen first-hand the impact of the celebrity chef and the cookery programme. Consumer desire to learn and be inspired by food has never been greater. Inevitably this has spilled over into the digital world where food is now one of the fastest growing categories in terms of sites, conversations and searches.

Brands which play to this desire with content that is rich in ideas, recipes, and practical demonstrations have seen the benefits. Consumers want to engage and are happy to share their findings/results with friends. Social programmes that are supported (not led) by brands and which provide a platform for news, views and sharing are delivering significant reach. Video, whether brand or user generated, is getting engagement in line with what you might expect from consumers whose appetite for TV food programming has been so voracious. And the demographic of those getting involved is broad and reflective of the mainstream targeted consumer that so many grocery brands are after.

With so many players in the digital food arena – brands, publishers, bloggers and personalities – there is also huge potential for rich content sharing in the shape of recipes, ideas and tips. This can manifest as paid media in the form of site section sponsorship, advertorials, or it can be reciprocal in terms of complementary brands sharing content to mutual effect across websites or the social space.

All this exploration and education is delivering that all important pre-purchase consideration and significantly is playing to a brand’s ability to demonstrate multiple usage occasions and cross-sell potential where a portfolio of products exists. All extremely potent – especially when you consider the high level of targeting that is possible, the low cost per impact and the potential to test and evaluate. Each one of them important contributors to ROI.

The Future Lies With Mobile

Beyond the home environment the importance of mobile is clear to see. The mobile channel is invaluable in delivering messages to consumers when they are on the go and at the point of purchase.

Smartphones have revolutionised how we engage with the internet and with each other. The smartest food brands will be those that are delivering content relevant to the mobile channel.
Apps which deliver updated recipe ideas, social media channels which provide recommendations and ideas easily accessible when on the move, promotions that are delivered via SMS, nutritional advice via mobile, barcode scanning and, mobile couponing. In addition the inevitable growth of location-based promotional targeting will ensure that mobile becomes even more targeted and relevant.

While grocery food brands are beyond doubt already benefitting from the long awaited mobile revolution there is still some way to go before it becomes the central part of the grocery brand marketer’s armoury. Smartphone penetration needs to grow beyond its youth bias and we all need to ensure that it delivers mobile applications that offer genuine convenience in the form of price checking, barcode scanning, shopping list creation, promotional QR codes, loyalty promotions and other shopping experience enhancement tools.

Delivering Direct Sales

I have mostly been talking about the impact of digital upon the consumer journey from home consideration to supermarket purchase.

The final thought to take away is the inevitable growth of e-commerce potential for food brands and retailers alike. Of course the major grocery multiples have enjoyed success over a number of years in the area of direct selling. This is only likely to grow for both retailers and brands alike with the potential for more e-commerce partnerships between brands and retailers. If this is accompanied by the predicted evolution of e-commerce platforms embedded in social media and other hubs and portals – then digital really will be the centrepiece when it comes to grocery brand marketing.

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By Robert Goldsmith, Managing Partner, at Spinnaker London