Florida is one of our more unpredictable states. The weather, the voting patterns, and the Florida Marlins can constantly surprise the locals, and there aren’t many other places where you can reasonably ask, “Is the Buick driver in front of me taking a nap, or is there an alligator crossing the highway?”
That helps to explain why MediaPost’s Social Media Insider Summit in Florida this week sparked far more questions than answers. The session I hosted was supposed to provide answers to the question, “How can a retailer use social media to drive in-store sales while positioning the marketer as an innovator?” That was the premise of “Instant RFP,” a panel where I presented four social media startups with a scenario they had to address. They had a week to prepare their answer, but just five minutes to present it, with additional time to answer questions.
The presenters were: CrowdTwist CEO Irving Fain, MicroStrategy Senior Director Marc Hayem, Echo VP of Marketing Kristin Hersant, and Brand Networks CEO Jamie Tedford. Their responses were strong, but the questions they provoked were far more interesting. SMIS event chair Cathy Taylor introduced the session saying it was like a game show and I was Alex Trebek; she couldn’t have been more prescient. I wound up providing an answer, and the panelists served up the questions that marketers should ask. In this case, the answer is, “A retailer should use social media to drive sales at their individual stores.” Here are the questions:
1) What’s the return on investment of social media?
This was a favorite of Fain’s, and it was echoed in all the presentations in this session, as well as others during the event. There doesn’t always have to be a clear-cut ROI. For instance, Coca-Cola’s Laura Houghton mentioned in a session on Google+ that Coca-Cola needed to be where its fans expected the brand to be, and it also needed to capitalize on any search-related benefits. She wasn’t looking at how many cans of Coke were moved. Yet for retailers and other marketers, it’s increasingly possible to track sales. What’s even better is that consumers who are fans of a brand will be especially interested in purchasing that brand’s products. From the panel, there were many answers on ways to do it: segmenting audiences to message the most influential shoppers; mobile sale alerts; live events promoted through social media; allowing local store owners to create their own sales. The specific tactics matter less than the bigger idea that marketers can push for answers relevant to their brands.
2) How much control of social programs should be given to local store or market managers versus a centralized marketing team?
Tedford seemed to have the most experience here, and he was a strong advocate of shared responsibility. He acknowledged that local managers often know which promotions will resonate best with their individual markets, but the centralized team will have more experience with what works across a large array of locations. Local managers also tend to differ in terms of their interest and activity with various marketing channels, so one store’s presence could be flourishing and another could be dormant without national promotions to even out the discrepancies.
3) How should marketers use their physical stores?
This question was inspired by Hersant, whose response focused on simultaneous live events at all of this hypothetical retailer’s 1,500 locations. The build-up would occur largely through social channels, while live feeds of the hottest products would appear in stores. Much of what Hersant proposed, including a live chat with a company spokesperson or celebrity endorser, could be done entirely digitally, which made the program all the more intriguing. Just because it can be done digitally, should it involve the physical locations somehow? And how can retailers with a physical presence bring digital experiences into their stores? What’s key is that digital marketers consider all consumer touchpoints, including the physical stores and people working there, as assets that can be incorporated into social media marketing programs.
4) How much do you segment your audience?
All presenters addressed audience segmentation in various ways. The most explicit were Fain, who discussed identifying the most influential consumers and targeting them separately, and Hayem, who proposed using data augmentation to make inferences about consumers and segment them accordingly. Segmentation is hardly a new discipline for marketers, but social media adds more variables. Once you define what influencers are, how do you treat them differently? How uniformly do influencers act across local markets? How much do you factor in one’s purchase history versus social sharing activity? Does all of this segmentation lead to a better ROI than mass messaging, given the added investment of resources needed?
Clearly, there are more than four questions here. The biggest lesson is that these are all questions you can ask today with the expectation of getting answers relevant to your brands, markets, and campaigns. Which questions will you ask first?