Will Smart Marketing Put Retail Back in Black?

Jonathan Gardner

While we mourn the loss of one of the authors of rock anthem, “Back in Black,” the marketing world wonders if this year’s Black Friday will put the retail sector back on the upswing.

Tough times have been forecast, with the media ringing apocalyptic alarm bells about the future of retail, with an expected 6,800 stores set to close their doors this year. However, the top soothsayer of sales, the National Retail Federation, predicted holiday retail sales in November and December to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion last year.

The top brands and retailers we work with have been getting their marketing for Black Friday/Cyber Monday and beyond in gear, with a growing emphasis on earned media. Marketers recognize that paid media matters, but it has its limitations. Brands looking to boost holiday sales have learned to optimize the value of their visual content programs on social media platforms and around the web. But it’s not as simple as paying an influencer to post a product image on Pinterest or Instagram. We’re at a critical juncture, where every marketing program is scrutinized and strategized to ensure that companies get the highest return possible for their investment. The tools we provide brands help them get the deepest level of insight about what their earned media campaigns deliver -- during the holidays and all year round.

As we’ve noted (here and here, among other places) there’s a retail revolution afoot led by shifts in shopping behavior, moves to ecommerce and a sea change in how consumers interact with brands. Necessity is the mother of invention and former big box players and department stores are trying to shake things up with experiential, immersive retail experiences that provide something shoppers can’t get online.

This will force a leveling and rethinking of traditional retail, with some brands sticking around, challenger brands flourishing, and outmoded stores going the way of the dodo. A reinvention in trying times leads to interesting experimentation, as companies test out new ways to build foot traffic and drive in-person brand interaction. It’s a sure bet we’ll see -- starting this holiday season -- more and more indie and established brands dangling their feet with pop-up shops.

According to Lauren Thomas of CNBC: There is a "burst" of pop-ups expected to round out the year, an annual holiday survey from commercial real estate firm CBRE found.

The holiday season offers companies a sliver of time to test new features, experiment where there is heavier foot traffic, or bring their online operations offline — as companies such as Warby Parker, Bonobos and Allbirds have done.

More importantly, "landlords have an appetite for pop-ups that they didn't have in the past," Melina Cordero, head of CBRE Americas' retail research division, told CNBC. "Given customers are increasingly bored with the copy-paste mall model, [pop-ups] can be a pretty effective traffic driver."

Pop-ups are not only a great way to build brand buzz, they “bring to life” brands with which consumers may have a sentimental affinity. They can also be smart marketing platforms to build online engagement as well as offline footfalls: Kellogg, the maker of Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies, is opening its new cereal cafe on Dec. 7 in Manhattan. Kellogg’s Union Square Cafe was decorated with social media enthusiasts in mind. The company reports cereal and Kellogg characters will "come to life" in an engaging way that is ideal for selfie and Instagram users. As Erika Kincaid wrote in Marketing Dive:

It will be interesting to see if this new concept has any impact on grocery sales of cereal. Consumers may be inspired by their recipes, particularly for ice cream cereal sundaes, and try to recreate them at home. Even if sales don’t budge, it will still be a PR success for the company with the initial press they’ll receive with the opening and continued exposure from consumers posting on social media when they visit.

Learn more about how to get the most out of your visual content this holiday season.

The marketing world wonders if this year’s Black Friday will put the retail sector back on the upswing.
Jonathan Gardner

Jonathan is vice president of marketing for ShareIQ, based in New York City.