Retail chains are facing uncharted challenges in a world that is increasingly shifting to digital commerce. Competition is getting fierce. Once limited by geographic constraints, competitors are now unlimited in size and global with their reach. Retailers who want to continue to grow the foot traffic coming into their stores need to shift their marketing strategy to take full advantage of digital channels and mobile advertising opportunities. 

Crucial to maximizing a retailer’s digital marketing efforts is the ability to effectively attribute  online actions to offline behavior. What was once a pipedream is now being realized with high levels of accuracy. Advanced digital marketing analytics for retailers is a crucial component for successful digital marketing initiatives.

Using our extensive experience and expertise combined with third-party studies and research, we’ve compiled this comprehensive guide of digital marketing strategies for retail chains.


Retail advertising strategy

Like all direct-to-consumer marketers, retailers are increasingly using digital channels to reach and engage potential customers. Each year, consumers spend more time on their smartphone while spending less time watching television, reading newspapers, and listening to the radio. This shift in behavior is resulting in a reallocation of advertising budgets. According to eMarketer, advertisers spend more money advertising on smartphones than all traditional channels combined. 

Retail marketers should create a strategy that accomplishes two objectives:

  1. Drive customers into the store in the near term
  2. Build brand preference to elevate the retail chain’s favorability

In order to accomplish both of these objectives, retailers must develop a balanced and strategic channel mix. Digital is often considered a direct response medium but there are many ways to build a retail brand through mobile marketing and digital advertising. 

The traditional marketing funnel starts with awareness at the top and works down toward consideration, intent, and purchase. It’s not always realistic to drive a sale at the first touchpoint with a prospective customer. Digital advertising for retail brands should include display advertising (video, social, banners) that achieves reach and frequency coupled with direct response tactics (paid search, SEO, email) that drive measurable foot traffic into the store.


Determining the right channel mix

Developing the right mix of advertising channels for retailers depends on a few different factors including business objectives, the target audience, and the advertising budget. An advertising strategy should start with the objectives and definition of the ideal customer. Marketers often build a customer persona that clearly defines the attributes, characteristics, behaviors, and motivations of their ideal consumer. 

Once the objectives and target have been established, research is conducted to determine where there are opportunities to reach and engage target prospects. Google gives us the ability to understand what users are searching for and how much search volume is available near store locations. This is a great place to start since you can target advertising to people who are looking for the product or service you sell at the time they’re looking for it. 

Other platforms provide tools to research the opportunity to advertise to potential customers. Social media sites have in depth user data that can narrow your target audience by demographics, geographic location, interests, and specific behaviors. Video sites can provide estimated ad inventory around specific types of content or demographics.

Once the opportunities for reaching customers are well defined, the mix should be determined based on the objectives. For example, if the goal is to build awareness of a limited-time promotion, you’ll want to reach as many people as possible leading up to and during the promo period. Paid search and SEO won’t make as much sense for this since audience reach will be limited. Social media and video sites will be ideal to build awareness and increase interest. If, however, you sell a product or service that has a lot of search volume and is sold by competitors, it probably makes sense to maximize the paid search advertising and email marketing before allocating budget to other channels.


Engaging the retail audience using digital advertising

The advertising mix has been determined, now what are you saying to these prospects? What’s going to get someone who’s scrolling through their Twitter timeline or reading up on local news to notice your ad and potentially take an action like coming to a store.  This is where the audience persona comes back into play. The better you’re able to define the audience’s behaviors, interests, and motivations, the better you can align your messaging and creative execution.

There are many things to consider when developing your creative assets. Depending on your channel mix, you may need many different assets including video (both horizontal and vertical), text, animated banners, photography, and graphics. 

Your advertising messaging is just as important as how you showcase your stores’ products and services. It starts with the reason to believe. Why should a customer do business with your company? Oftentimes you’ll want to include a strong call to action. What do you want your target audience to do? 

Digital advertising provides an excellent opportunity to test different creative executions, reasons to believe, and/or calls to action. Google Ads, for example, will rotate different ad copy and choose a winner based on a metric you define. This insight can help inform other marketing channels. Facebook also encourages advertisers to run different versions at the same time in order to learn which creative execution is most effective. These platforms are making it easier to create multiple versions, even setting it so that you create one ad with many messages and the system will run these dynamically based on user behavior, matching the right message with the right person, in real-time.

Strong creative is crucial for retail marketing success. A recent study by Nielsen analyzed 500 advertising campaigns across a variety of platforms. It found that 47 percent of a brand’s sales lift from advertising was a result of the creative. Don’t let your creative strategy be an afterthought.


Owning the search engine results page

The search engine results page, or SERP, has become the most valuable virtual real estate a marketer can own. That may sound like hyperbole, but consider that Google accounted for over 30% of global digital advertising in 2019. It doesn’t seem possible that one company could have such a large share of a $333 billion industry. That’s how important the search engine results page is. And that’s why, as the marketing team for a retail chain, you need to own it!

Google’s SERP has evolved over recent years. Ads are taking up a lot of space. Organic listings are pushed below the fold on smartphones (where the majority of search is taking place). Google owned products like Google My Business (for retail locations) and Google Shopping (for ecommerce sites) are appearing front and center. Your well optimized web page is ranking for a specific search query but it’s not getting as much exposure as it once did. 

In order to “own” the search engine results page, retail marketers need to have a strategy for paid search, organic search (SEO), and Google My Business. Studies(1)(2) have shown that when a brand has multiple results on the page, not only do you have a better chance of the searcher taking an action, brand perception increases as well. 

Paid search advertising allows marketers to choose which keyword terms they want to appear for and only pay when someone clicks on their ad. For organic results and Google My Business, there are many best practices for optimizing pages and websites. These best practices change over time. Marketers need to follow sites and authors who document these changes closely to keep up on updates in the algorithm and SERP layout.


Measuring digital analytics to track online to offline data

There are a number of ways marketers are able to link advertising to actual foot traffic in their stores. Google introduced the store visit metric in Google Ads back in 2014. Google estimates store visit conversions by looking at phone location history to determine whether someone who interacted with a search ad ended up visiting your store. Google can track this across all devices – smartphone, desktop, and tablet.

Google has expanded this to their website analytics platform – Google Analytics. The ability to measure store visits based on the different ways users arrive at your website gives us important insight into which channels are effectively driving foot traffic. With this data, we can calculate return on ad spend (ROAS) in order to evaluate each channel.

Facebook is testing their own online to offline tracking. It’s currently limited to a select group of advertisers. This gives insight into people who are exposed to advertising, not just those who interact with it. 

Other ways to track online to offline is through store locator applications on the website and/or coupon codes. Couponing can be dynamically updated to track various channels and calculate the ROI of each.


Optimizing digital advertising results

We measure retail advertising performance so that we can improve results over time. Optimization can be done in a number of ways. At the macro level, budgets can be shifted from channels with low performance to channels that are more effective. At the micro level, optimizations can be made within each channel by analyzing different creative, placements, audiences, keywords, etc. 

When it comes to optimizing digital marketing campaigns, retailers need to focus on metrics that matter. You can make tweaks to increase click-through rates or engagement rates, but clicks and engagements don’t pay the bills. In fact, optimizing towards clicks may exclude a large part of your potential audience, who may not click as much, but will visit your store. Smart digital marketers and data analysts know how to pull the right levers that lead to more people physically entering their stores. 

Dashboards are extremely helpful in visualizing the data, slicing it in various ways, and plotting trends over time. If you collect, transform, and store the data correctly, you can zoom in and view results down to the store level or easily zoom out to review data by store clusters, markets, or various brands. It can be tempting to react to data that isn’t statistically significant, so make sure you’re practicing sound scientific data analysis. Campaigns should be set up with tests and controls (with a single variable) to learn what works over time. 


Conclusion

While marketing fundamentals haven’t changed, the way retail marketers are building preference and driving store traffic has shifted dramatically in recent years. Consumers are spending hours each day on their smartphones. Advertisers are rapidly shifting dollars from traditional media outlets. Local businesses are competing with global players to own as much real estate as possible on Google’s search results. And while all of this upheaval can be challenging for marketers, we’re able to measure results better than ever before. Proper measurement and optimization will give strategic retail marketers better insight into their ROI as well as a competitive advantage. 

1. Study: Impact of Search Engine Optimization as a Marketing Tool

2. Research: Appearance In Search Results Impacts Brand Perception