When Digital Works with Retail, Not Against It

January 15, 2020

Seeing the connection between consumer technology and physical experiences.

Since the dawn of digital in the mid-90s, advertising has consistently struggled with false equivalences. Websites vs. print was the original. From there, it’s morphed all over the map. Classifieds vs. search. Programmatic vs. insertion-orders. The problem is that none of these channels compete with one another. They just are. The things don’t do anything.

People, on the other hand, do. Investors — aka marketers and advertisers — in these channels are often competing against each other’s best interests. My expertise vs. yours. My budget vs. yours. My livelihood as a professional vs. yours. Budgetary interests are too often a reflection of our personal hopes, dreams and fears rather than the desires of the consumer.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate those words as much as you. But I’ve spent my entire career being in a disruptive industry: digital. I didn’t ask for the conflict when I became obsessed with the Internet in the early 90s. It just was. It just is. Disruption is really hard to watch if you have a sense of empathy towards people in the industry who struggle with the momentous changes that have occured over the past 25 years. Disruption is also equally exhilarating when you see how you’re really just moving towards the desires of the consumer. The consumer is disrupting us — not each other. (And, by the way, you’re a consumer too, so no finger-pointing.)

Nowhere has this dynamic been more apparent than in the world of retail. Retail is a highly cost-centric field with sourcing logistics, expensive real estate, consumer experience investments, and labor all contributing to a challenging business model. Of these elements, the single area that retail can own over its native ecommerce brethren is physical consumer experience. For that reason, the innovators in the industry are the ones who are synthesizing digital consumer technology with the art of physical experiences, not least of which are Apple and now Amazon. Retail is decidedly not dead. Retail only brands are suffering righteously. But these synthesizers are not.

“The innovators in the industry are the ones who are synthesizing digital consumer technology with the art of physical experiences, not least of which are Apple and now Amazon.”

Take the Mall of America as a great example. The value of MOA is equally shared by its tenants and consumers alike. MOA has a responsibility to drive great value for both, so essentially the mall can impact its business best by driving foot traffic to its tenants. The way to do that is to create an exemplary consumer experience coupled with advertising and creative that fuses itself to real data.

In our work with MOA, we have taken a measured, creative and multi-channel approach, recognizing that consumer tech interacts with the brand at every single touchpoint in their brand experience. We know at a granular level who enjoys the mall the most, who is most attractive to various tenants, and how to reach these folks with content and advertising that will appeal to their actual interests.

Having us fuse a retail client’s store experience to mobile tech, in particular, brings the brand to life on a more intimate level because we are investing in channels that are personal to the consumer. Having the brand relevant in channels like SnapChat and Instagram with creative that reflects the zeitgeist of those communities brings them closer to their consumers’ own sense of themselves. Consumers like it when the brands they love participate in their channels. (And they also freely hate on those who miss the mark. Let’s be honest.)

But it’s not good enough just to participate in those channels through advertising and creative expressions. We recognize that we need to prove the value of these investments. In order to accomplish that, we work with geo-location data partners like Factual who can teather our campaign data to actual retail foot traffic. It’s the most direct connection between digital experience and retail I’ve ever experienced. For certain, it’s the most accurate and timely. Through this tethering, we’re able to quickly make decisions about how to modify creative to be more relevant and successful, retarget to audiences who are responding favorably, and finally but not least, report to our stakeholders how those investments are creating a long-term return.

“We work with geo-location data partners like Factual who can teather our campaign data to actual retail foot traffic. It’s the most direct connection between digital experience and retail I’ve ever experienced.”

Without question, the innovators in retail have recognized that there isn’t a war between retail and digital. These are solidly conjoined universes. One supports the other and vice versa. Only those brands who consider one to be pitted against the other are suffering at the moment. Successful retail brands are learning from the likes of Amazon and direct-to-consumer brands. Likewise, D2C and ecommerce-native brands are learning from retailers how to be retail.

We live in a fascinating time where consumer experience design is finally making it less about each other and more about how we become one.