3 Lessons Learned From Target’s Marketing Approach

This month, new Target CEO Brian Cornell announced a series of initiatives to foster a more innovative, customer-centric approach to marketing. These initiatives include: closing all Canadian stores, investing more in their employees, adopting urban store models and harnessing the power of technology and online shopping behaviors to develop a more channel-agnostic approach.

It’s impressive to see such nimble moves out of a retail giant like Target, but the truth is – this is how all retail players, big and small, need to start thinking. How can I move at the pace of innovation and stay connected to my customers?

Without the marketing budget of the “big guys,” mid-market retailers may feel like a massive shift in approach is years down the line. However, modern technology has actually made it much easier for smaller companies to test new models and innovate right alongside Target and their brethren. Here are some examples of how mid-market retailers can learn from Target and use technology to develop more customer-centric marketing approaches.

Embrace The Omnichannel Customer

As Target claims to be channel agnostic – now recognizing that 98% of customers are shopping online and the vast majority use a mobile device – so too should the mid-market retailer. Innovative companies like Shopify, UpShot Commerce and Square Space have developed easy and affordable solutions to help retailers to build and maintain mobile-friendly ecommerce shopping experiences.

The value of a device-friendly website extends far beyond the mere revenue generated via ecommerce. In 2014, Forrester reported that the behavior known as webrooming – browsing online and then visiting a store to complete their purchase – will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017, versus $1.2 trillion in 2012. Simple solutions that support new customer behaviors and preferences will go a long way in carving out a larger share of the retail pie.

Harness the Power of Search and Social

Target is no stranger to search and social media; its 55% increased spend in search and continued investment in harnessing the power of social influencers is yet another push in an ongoing effort to revolve marketing efforts around customer behavior and expectation. And they are not alone, a recent study by Shop.org and Forrester found that 85% of retailers found search (including paid and SEO) was the most effective customer acquisition tactic. For smaller retailers, there is a wealth of online information and tools available to support low-cost SEO and SEM efforts. Google’s AdWords and keyword planning tools allow companies to see search volume and affiliated terms that customers are using to find products and services. Tools like Moz offer a wealth of free and paid insights that companies can use to realize best practices and increase share of voice in the top spots on search engine results pages.

And while many companies struggle to prove the ROI for social media investments, one thing is clear: social media influencers are out there, easy to find and willing to partner. In one example, Target harnessed the power of Pinterest and hired top pinners to help design home good products. Use social media to find influencers who relate to your product or service and figure out innovative ways to work with them. If you are a smaller retailer, gauge your influencers accordingly. If you sell women’s clothing, don’t go after the hottest designer from fashion week, find an up-and-comer who wants to build their brand, has a strong online following, and develop a mutually beneficial partnership structure. Doing so immediately gains you exposure and validation to their audience as well as your own.

Keep it Real

At the end of the day, people want to feel like a brand is more than a faceless giant. An important part of Target’s initiative is the simultaneous investment in technology and people – they want their employees to reflect the values of their brand. This is where the idea of “omni-channel” retail really comes to life. The technological backbone of your marketing strategy should also help your employees see your customer better and drive more meaningful interactions across all channels. Where possible, your employees should be able to access customer information to elevate personalized customer service opportunities.

At minimum, retailers need regular, two-way communication with customer-facing employees. Deliver information regularly to sales and customer service associates to ensure they are aware of and support new brand initiatives and efforts. Standardized updates ensure that sales and customer service associates are in sync.

Lastly, ask for their feedback. Nobody has a more intimate interaction with your customer than your sales associates, open the channels of communication to understand what is working and what isn’t and harness those insights for future campaigns.

As the modern shopping experience continues to expand and evolve, so must the retailer. Large players, like Target, have powerful creative and analytics teams behind their efforts who are continuously working to optimize the channels used to connect with their customers.

By mirroring these approaches and harnessing the power of emerging technology as a means to listen and react in real-time; mid-market players can run alongside the retail giants who continue to meet rising customer expectations while increasing revenue.

Paul Mandeville is the Chief Product Officer for QuickPivot