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Making markets super

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Have you read Progressive Grocer's Oct. 15th story in which Jenny McTaggart interviews Bob Meyer, the president of ad agency Meyer & Wallis, about the state of supermarket marketing? Here's the entire article (PDF).

Bob pulls no punches in his insightful and often dead-on Top Ten Rules of marketing -- I've read it several times and shared it with many colleagues. A point that Bob underlines in the article: many supermarkets haven't advanced their marketing strategy in decades. Sometimes it seems like they haven't progressed from "Everything you want from a store and a little bit more" or " It's Joe Albertson's Super Market....", or "Since we're neighbors let's be friends" -- and yet the consumers, stores, and products have all changed dramatically. Shopping patterns, consumer needs, media consumption, and marketing as an art & science have all evolved. I hope Bob's Top Ten list is a wake-up call to the industry, because I sincerely believe it may already be too late for some supermarkets. Others have to act now -- as Bob says, "step out of their comfort zone" and "stop acting like a grocer."

But, I think Bob stopped too soon! To paraphrase the famous philosopher and Buccaneer Barbossa I'd say to Captain Meyer, "We are naught but humble marketers." Here are a couple more steps I'd like to see supermarkets follow.

#11 - Stop treating your website like a side project. Your website should be a central part of your marketing, and it should be managed by the CMO. Too many supermarkets don't have a strategy for the website -- or worse, the website and online marketing is overseen by a separate department from those marketing the stores and the brand. Your retail brethren made this mistake in the late 90s and early 00s. They've got it right now, and you should follow suit. The Internet is essential to your customers' daily lives. Your website should a marketing hub to engage, help and build loyalty with your customers -- not just a place to collect email addresses or snag an online order. Online marketing and websites can and will drive offline traffic in your stores. That's another post for another day, but it's being proven continuously.

#12 - Help customers find your great web content. Most of us love the Internet because it gives us instant answers to anything we want to find or learn about. Like many people, I get recipes online instead of consulting a cookbook. I have the laptop in the kitchen, do a quick search and boom, I'm off and running in getting my family's meal together. I'm not alone: the top 3 seach categories for Baby Boomers are health, weather and recipes (eMarketer report: Seniors Online, 2006). Many grocery websites have great content: recipes, healthy living tips, nutritional content, store locators, and much more. But you need to help people find all that.

Nothing is better than connecting with your customer when they are searching for information that your website offers. If you have the info they need, you are helping them. Yes, it can require advertising money to help them find you, see your offering, and click through to your website -- but sponsored search links are seen as a benefit, not a hard sell or ad. Drive people to your site and let customers spend time with your brand. It will pay off.

Here's an example of a recent search I did for chicken salad.

The first sponsored link is for Target. Yep, Target has a great recipe that they want me to see and try. Every major supermarket chain I checked had a recipe too, but they aren't promoting it. Remember, you only pay if the person searching clicks, and you only have to promote this to people who live in areas where you have stores. I like Target, but shouldn't grocery stores own this?

#13 - Get in the pool and swim some laps! The water's warm, it's not too deep, and the only way to become a strong swimmer is to practice. The Internet has a lot to offer, and you are going to learn a lot. Maybe you'll make a few mistakes on the way, but everyone does at first. The important thing is to start trying things, testing and learning. The Internet is not going away. It's quickly becoming even more essential to your customers' very busy lives. So it's critical that you start learning, and fast. In 2005 the top 5 supermarkets spent on average less than 1% in Internet marketing, and much of that was in website development (TNS 2005 Multimedia Spend Report). If you don't implement some key lessons quickly, you can bet your direct and indirect competitors will. Wal-Mart committed 7% of its 2005 marketing budget to Internet marketing (TNS 2005 Multimedia Spend Report). That's over $33 million. And it's grown dramatically since then.

I'd welcome your thoughts or feedback on how supermarkets can do better.