Suppliers’ and Retailers’ marketing efforts took a hit during COVID-19. Initially, brands’ advertising efforts were curbed as business partners shifted their resources to get products onto shelves for anxious shoppers as the pandemic took hold. On top of the shift in resources, advertising one’s brand or banner all of a sudden seemed incongruous as the world economy was ‘infected’ and governments placed stiff restrictions on their constituents to stay home, closing businesses and other community gathering places except for those deemed ‘essential’.
This created a paradigm shift that virtually changed the way that commerce and marketing would be conducted forever, as e-commerce and D2C models penetrated the space where conventional routes to market carried manufacturers’ products from warehouse to store shelves. While there was some movement toward these channels pre-COVID, opportunity gaps exist as businesses realize that there is no return to how it was before and begin to make plans to future proof their operations. Implicit in these plans is how to reach consumers on their terms, and in ways that relate to them, prompting a reinvention in the way suppliers and retailers market their goods and services.
A major thrust in these changes is the rise in e-commerce, which increased by 150-300% in many markets around the world. A recent study by Cleveland Research found that suppliers expect e-commerce to reach 21% of US retail sales in 2021, which is four times the rate of growth predicted prior to the pandemic. While visits to bricks and mortar stores still stand solid at 80-90% of all shopping trips, marketing to shoppers in ways that leverage the ease of online – whether to browse, shop or learn – needs to be a part of the advertising experience going forward.
Smart business leaders have expanded their digital marketing budgets, shifting dollars away from marketing channels like TV, radio and print, and the traditional route through retail. With this spend they have taken the plunge into advertising platforms which are far more flexible, and that streamline the path to purchase for the consumer better than conventional advertising mediums. They also enable businesses to be nimble by allowing messaging to change on the fly and be customized to the end consumer. Suppliers and retailers need to ensure their brands stay relevant, on-trend, closer to the consumer and focused on the future. Sound familiar? These tenants have always been imperative in how marketing dollars are spent. But with rapidity, businesses need to recover lost sales due to the non-essential nature of their portfolios, replace sales from absent on-trade channels, and most importantly strengthen consumer trust and loyalty. This is achievable by enhancing the path to purchase with an agility that allows shoppers to find the products and outlets they desire, make their purchases, and get them into their homes as needed. In short, consumer demands have changed forever in a post-COVID world and to be frank, shoppers will not have it any other way.
Current digital technology enables businesses to develop content quickly and at a significantly lower production and creative cost compared to legacy mediums. It can easily be manipulated and curated for multiple user groups in various geographic locations, multiple languages and can be versioned for differing states, such as markets in different stages of the Coronavirus. Messaging may also be adapted frequently so it is relevant in the moment, as market changes occur. Content can be changed dynamically to feature special offers, pricing or be linked to other content for consumer education, user experience ratings or other information. This was never as important as when the Coronavirus took hold and companies had to virtually shift their marketing strategies overnight. Those who were advanced in this area had a much easier time driving content that supported the consumer and empathized with their experiences as COVID moved across the globe. Digital marketing tools are measurable and can thus tie directly to sales, facilitate experimentation and assessment of different initiatives to validate strategy shifts and target marketing efforts to optimize consumer reach.
Connect with the Consumer
Retailers have long been revered for their ability to build relationships and loyalty with their shoppers. Through them, manufacturers pushed their products and relied heavily on retail outlets for distribution and shopper loyalty. The pandemic has changed this, leaving many channels of trade dark and untouchable. Manufacturers see a new reality post-COVID, understanding that they must build a direct relationship with the consumer to be successful. They have also seen the power in moving from a brand focus to one that highlights a connection to world events, or causal marketing, and one that supports the consumer e.g. focusing on how they can improve their lives under difficult circumstances. Creating a brand story that will build trust in their company and brand(s) will be central in this new environment. A recent Edelman study showed that 33% of American consumers believe trust in a brand is important at times like these because they cannot afford to make a poor purchase decision. Thus, many brands have reached for social media as the best place to find consumers as they reach out to each other for support and information. For example, Oscar Mayer leveraged their Twitter account presence to get people to grill and share their photos. Kraft-Heinz Canada launched a recent initiative where it would deliver puzzles to strengthen their connection to the consumer. Promoting a feel-good image at a time when people are feeling challenges helps to nurture the human aspect of a brand or concept. This avenue has worked and will continue to be at the forefront as marketers rebuild and reinforce what they stand for in the ‘new normal’.
Supplier–Retailer Partnerships Elevate Value
Performance marketing helps to curate the online experience and with consumers in the driver seat, there has never been a more critical need to collaborate to bring consumers together with both manufacturers and retailers. As Kelly Odin, Head of Global E-commerce at General Mills shared in a recent Forbes article, “It is the role of e-commerce executives to partner with retailers and figure out how to make these new [digital] channels serve the consumer as well as work for the CPG firms”. Together, retailers and suppliers can create a web of opportunities for consumers that will help them navigate through every stage of the purchase experience whether they choose to make all stages of the purchase online in a Pure-Play model, choose to buy online and have their purchases delivered by a third party (e.g. Instacart), or opt for ‘Click and Collect’.
Sharing data and insights available digitally will also assist business partners to make better marketing decisions as they work together to understand the consumer at deeper levels in order to make their shopping experiences fluid. This will apply across the value chain not only online but in-store using touchless forms of payment and digital merchandising, and through other social media platforms and partnerships. For example, Kroger recently partnered with streaming service Roku on a shopper data program to help suppliers better target and measure the efficacy of their TV advertising.
Digital savvy, technology, agility, and a more surgical approach to understanding how the consumer thinks and what is important to them will drive how companies manage their advertising budgets going forward. The goal that retailers and suppliers share is to bring consumers the products they want, via the delivery mode they choose, and at the time that they want them. Therefore, both parties will need to work together to curate marketing experiences that link their shoppers and customers to products, delivery services, pick-up locations and customized shopping experiences. Planning and strategizing together today will compass new partnerships, strategies, and ways of marketing that will assist them in pathing for long-term survival and growth.
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