Is your retail business on life support?

Stella Gianotto writes about how retail businesses can utilise content marketing and digital platforms to survive during this difficult time. 

The coronavirus has forced many retailers to become more agile and remote. Retailers have had to pivot their business; some have closed their doors (either permanently or indefinitely) and others have had to create innovative ways to get products into the hands of consumers.

To make matters worse, we’ve had our social liberties substantially reduced and we are reaching out for human connection and social interaction online at an unprecedented level.

In the past, traditional methods of marketing for retailers included print advertising, signage, direct mail and product seeding in public spaces.

Today, retailers have been thrust (at lightning speed) towards digital and social media, having to contend with online advertising, landing pages, websites, blogs and e-newsletters.

A baptism of fire for many traditional retailers.

Learning to take advantage of any marketing channel that is free during the pandemic is crucial for many retailers to simply keep their doors open. In October 2019 the Financial Review reported that “80 percent of businesses use social media marketing” with only “18 percent selling or accepting payments on social platforms”, leaving room for retailers to do more business online.

Social media is no longer reserved only for franchises and multi-store chains, retailers of any size or stage of business can now use social media to their advantage.

How do retailers achieve brand awareness on social media?

We all know that branding is the driving force behind why consumers choose one retailer over another when there are numerous competing alternatives out there. Top of mind recall, known as ‘brand awareness’ can be a lengthy and costly feat for many retailers to achieve in turbulent times.

According to growth team Lean Labs, using social media is the “smartest way to build the value of your brand in the mind of your audience” by using as many social mediums that are “free, nearly-free, or really cheap”. Not only is social media a cost effective and fast alternative to achieve brand awareness, it is the best medium for retailers to communicate in the current environment.

Being able to cut through the daily noise of media broadcasts and show that your retail store is making some sense of the effects of COVID-19 allows your business to educate consumers and prime prospects using a digital platform.

How often should I be promoting my retail store on social media?

One key factor that determines the success of social media for any retailer, is to remember that quality far outweighs quantity. The quality of your product information and social interaction always determines the level of social activity and engagement that you receive.

Your images, videos and messaging must be clear, supportive, simple, and, above all else, remember that you are visually communicating to people who are time poor, stressed out and in shock about what is happening around them.

Any branded content you create must have a purpose and be relevant to your retail brand in the current environment. Using video is a powerful way to help consumers in their decision-making process, Smart Insights reports that48 percent of consumers want videos to reflect the specific products they are interested in.

As a rule of thumb, posting a variety of mixed content (three to four times each week) across all your social media platforms, is a good place to start. During peak, seasonal or unprecedented periods you can increase your posting as you see fit or as your engagement increases.

What kind of content should I be posting on social media?

Not all retailers can afford to employ a social media manager so the task may fall to business owners and employees. It’s important to have in place a simple and clear guideline to understand what is socially acceptable and what is not appropriate during COVID-19. This is vital for consumers to simultaneously see, hear and read your message as one consistent tone of voice.

Consider intimately what others would be looking from you as a retailer right now. Here are some of the things that consumers will want to know:

  • How does your retail brand set itself apart from competitors?
  • How do your products differ and what other services can you provide me?
  • Do you deliver your products in a particular manner?
  • Is there any product left for me to buy right now?
  • Are you bringing in outside expertise to collaborate with me as your consumer?
  • How are you engaging and appealing to my sense of well-being?
  • Is your product beneficial to me right now or can I live without it?

Remember that both employees and consumers become pseudo brand ambassadors or customer relationship managers that will help your retail brand build relationships, create positive associations and engage with both consumers and the community, even if you can’t physically socialise with them.

Record your social media results for future marketing

Remember to measure and adapt your social media efforts by looking at where the traffic is coming from online. Document and compare the results, looking at how often people are engaging with your posts and at what times of the day. Pay attention to see if certain posts or content type (image, video, written) are performing better than others, and if they are do more of those types of posts.

Consider what social media channel is working best for your retail brand. You don’t need to be on every channel, stick with two or three and be consistent and clear with your activity on those channels.

All this data is vital to helping you understand what your consumers do and don’t want from your business, it serves as market research for future marketing exercises. Take into consideration that your statistics will change from week to week as new developments arise through the global media on COVID-19.

Here are a few examples of what NOT to do for your retail brand:

Boasting about how wonderful you are as a retailer, how many awards you’ve won or how the delivery services are ‘raping your profits’, will all be viewed as distasteful and inappropriate. Posting any content that is negative, inflammatory or has a ‘the world is ending as we know it’ vibe is the fastest way to be removed from someone’s news feed.

On the other hand, any content that is over the top in delivering happiness and joy, will seem really fake, inauthentic and completely disingenuous. Some will even conclude that your retail brand is tone deaf to the conversation of today.

Your content must add value to people and to consumers lives, it must be relevant, offer advice on well being and demonstrate (in many ways) HOW your retail brand is ‘serving’ your consumers. This approach will deliver far more credibility and trust from your consumers to purchase from you now and in the future.

With free, easy-to-use tools on social media channels, it’s even simpler for retailers to get online and keep retail in business. These days, social media engagement has become vital for businesses to survive, and social media is like the new Yellow Pages – you can’t afford to be out of the loop if you want your retail business to survive.

Stella Gianotto is a multi-award-winning global Branding Expert who is passionate about building brands for a purpose, profit or a legacy.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.