Retail is undergoing the most fundamental change since the dawn of ecommerce 15 years ago – a revolution in digital content that has gone largely un-noticed but has far-reaching implications, writes James Brooke, CEO at Amplience.
When retail took to the Internet some 15 years ago, so began a period of unprecedented change. Until now that change has been iterative – we’ve embraced a succession of new channels, from mobile to social; applied progressively more sophisticated merchandising and marketing techniques; and adopted ever more complex back end systems and processes along the way.
Now, however, we have reached a tipping point. Channel convergence is driving new consumer behaviours and, in response, digital content has emerged as a key battleground for customer engagement and sales. And not just online, but across all channels – as some of the world’s best known retail brands have already discovered.
We are entering an age in which the ability to deliver more high quality, shoppable content direct into every shopping experience and every context more often has a disproportionate effect on success – in the form of customer engagement and, ultimately sales. At Amplience, we call this ‘high frequency content’.
Lidl’s secret weapon
Lidl is perhaps the highest profile retailer using high frequency content to underpin commercial success. Lidl’s ability to win against giants like Tesco and Sainsbury’s is almost universally attributed to its ‘budget’ offering, but the truth behind its stunning success is rather more complex. Lidl’s secret weapon is an ingenious use of content – high frequency content.
As David Moth, Social Media Manager at Econsultancy, recently pointed out, the #LidlSurprises campaign has made a significant contribution to Lidl’s rise – it has been meteorically successful at changing brand perceptions and driving customer engagement.
Lidl’s content is smart. It is integrated and amplified across every context and channel – from experiential marketing and advertising, to the web, social and in-store (even car park signage). And it is not just brand content; user generated content drawn from Twitter in particular features heavily – again, online and in store. In effect this is high frequency content in a supermarket context – very high quality content, integrated, socially engaged, amplified across channels, and delivered everywhere, more often.
Come the revolution
Lidl is not the only retailer to focus on content. Indeed, content marketing is now the dominant form of marketing activity for retailers. It is likely that content marketing now accounts for well over half of the retail marketing mix – having seen its share rise sharply, from 19% of activity in 2012 to 37% in 2013 .
The driving force behind this focus on content is simple. Using digital content for retail marketing is extremely effective. Significant benefits are felt across all of retailers’ main brand equity and commerce metrics – from brand awareness and engagement, to conversion and customer retention – and across all channels.
Quite simply, when customers engage with digital content, they typically engage more deeply and are more likely to buy. The benefits of digital content are not confined to digital channels. They drive in store interaction and sales – and to a significant degree. According to Deloitte Digital’s Digital Divide report over 50% of in store purchases are now influenced at some point by digital content and, overall, digital content is a critical influence on 30-50% of all sales transactions in all channels.
But simply investing in more of the same content alone is not the answer, and this is why genuine examples of high frequency content in action remain rare.
The truth is most retailers are hamstrung by their own infrastructures and processes. The technology arms race that has accompanied the emergence of new retail channels and technologies has created complex and fragmented content toolsets, storage and workflows that make delivering high frequency content impossible in any practical sense.
How do you deliver a single, fast moving content experience that is shoppable and integrates seamlessly with the customer journey in every context if you must create the same content over and over again? First for the branded site, then for every affiliate, for mobile, for each social channel, and so on?
Even if a retailer exists with deep enough pockets to employ the army of designers required to deliver all that content the hard way, how do you measure the impact? How do you ensure content is perfectly rendered every time? And, most importantly, how do you draw all those resources together to allow the rapid decision making around content strategy that is vital to both speed of movement and consistency of message?
The first wave
Overcoming these challenges will drive big changes in retail. We will see infrastructure proliferation go into reverse, as retailers seek to consolidate diverse, channel-specific solutions and content siloes into single, unified content capabilities.
Examples of exactly that are already beginning to emerge.
First, there is Saks 5th Avenue, which has transformed its iconic quarterly catalogue into a 30 times per year omni-channel ‘magalog’ that works to drive sales and engagement across every channel. Sales associates are armed with the magalog on iPads, for instance, to better help customers with in store purchasing and rescue sales by ordering online when items are not available in store.
What’s more, the digital format enables Saks to look more closely at return on content investment. It can track usage, interactions with specific content and sales metrics – a level of granular feedback that printed materials simply cannot deliver.
Fashion footwear and accessories brand, Dune, meanwhile, offers another take on high frequency content.
It has put in place a unified content infrastructure that enables it to refresh digital campaign content on a much shorter rotation than most of its competitors. On average, campaign content is updated weekly, not quarterly – in fact, high quality, interactive content can be created and published in a matter of minutes should the need arise.
Crucially Dune’s ability to deliver more content, more often does not mean it needs a large creative team or agency budget. In fact, it maintains a much smaller team than most of its competitors.
Like Lidl, Saks and Dune, the winners in this age of high frequency content will be the retailers that find cost effective ways to overcome the limitations inherent in their own infrastructures – to deliver more high quality, shoppable content more often, and integrate it within every shopping experience everywhere.
Developing a high frequency content capability is no small challenge, but a quiet revolution is already underway, and smart retailers are already finding smart solutions.
By James Brooke