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Print, electronic, loyalty cards, customized email all used to market to grocery customers


Last updated 3/19/2020 at 5:43pm

The formula for marketing to grocery store customers includes print media, electronic media, loyalty cards and customized email.

A Feb. 24 presentation called Standout Marketing was part of the Feb. 23-25 National Grocers Association conference at the San Diego Convention Center. The session was moderated by David Orgel Consulting principal and former Supermarket News editor David Orgel and also featured Weis Markets Inc., vice president of marketing and advertising Ron Bonacci, Coborn’s Inc., vice president of marketing Dennis Host and Story Arc Consulting president Steve Lerch.

“Marketing is essential for the whole independent grocery community, but things are definitely more complex now,” Orgel said. “Making things even more difficult is the growing number of marketing platforms out there.”

Coborn’s was founded in Minnesota in 1921 and thus will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Due to acquisitions Coborn’s Inc., now operates under four different store names in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Approximately one-third of the nearly 10,000 associates are involved in the employee stock ownership program.

“To be connected to your customers you have to be accessible on any platform they want you on,” Host said.

For Coborn’s that includes print, website, radio, digital, social media, customer loyalty program and in-store marketing.

“We just have to be in all the places consumers want,” Host said.

The loyalty program gives customers various benefits but also provides benefits for targeted marketing.

“This is all about knowing the customer,” Host said. “We use that all on a weekly basis to understand what resonates with primarily our best customers.”

Coborn’s loyalty program does not use a physical card. Customers enter a personal identification number at the point of sale, which includes gas station pumps as well as store cash registers.

The shopping results of advertisements also contribute to targeted marketing.

“We analyze every single item in our ads but specifically use it to drive our front page,” Host said.

Weekly emails are tailored to personalized shopping histories.

“Those 300,000 emails we’re sending, none of them are the same,” Host said. “All of those are centered around the customer’s expectations.”

The customer image of brands is important, which is why Coborn’s Inc., retained the names of the stores the company purchased.

“We’ve got really, really deep roots in the communities we operate in,” Host said.

Weis was founded in Pennsylvania in 1912 and now operates 198 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. Weis also operates 42 gas stations and approximately 150 pharmacy, liquor and other nongrocery stores.

The marketing platforms for Weis include a loyalty card and a mobile phone app.

“That one-on-one personal engagement is critical to our company,” Bonacci said.

Bonacci told the audience that approximately 3.7 million viewers take advantage of the Weis chain’s electronic exposure.

“We need to make sure that we’re relevant to their shopping,” he said.

Connections to the local community is also a marketing keystone for Weis. Weis supports more than 600 different events and participates in community drives such as food banks and shelters.

The local connection includes working with local suppliers.

“We really work with local farmers,” Bonacci said.

Weis works with between 125 and 130 local farmers.

The mobile app and loyalty card are supplemented by print advertising.

“We’d like to get out of printed circulars, but unfortunately our consumers won’t let us do that,” Bonacci said.

Story Arc Consulting is based in Arlington, Virginia. Lerch is a digital strategy and marketing consultant who worked for Google for nine years before founding his own company.

Lerch said that one component of marketing is riding trends. The examples of trends Lerch cited are the keto and paleo diets.

“The whole point of keto is no carbs,” he said. “You can attach that to products you sell.”

Another component Lerch cited is the “one big thing” to emphasize in a marketing message. “We are telling too many stories. We are saying too many things,” he said.

The NGA Show took place while presidential primary candidates and other candidates and ballot measure sides were advertising on television. Radio and television stations were able to take advantage of political campaigns being willing to pay higher rates.

“Your advertising is getting more expensive,” Lerch said.

Lerch said that many viewers and listeners did not pay full attention to political advertisements. “Those ads are boring because they’re all the same and they’re mostly repeats,” he said.

Grocery store advertising must stand out from the political ads, he said.

“Now is a great time to take those risks and to be weird,” Lerch said.

That change will make the advertising more memorable to potential customers.

“They’re expecting to see weird stuff. They’re expecting to see low-budget content,” Lerch said.

At one time Weis advertised in the Sunday edition of daily newspapers, but the circulation decline for dailies caused Weis to take another approach for print advertising.

“We actually had to go to direct mail to get our household count back up,” Bonacci said.

Any platform has obstacles.

“Just to cut through that clutter and be heard and be seen is a challenge,” Bonacci said.

It makes targeted marketing important to a store’s financial success.

“My budget isn’t necessarily getting any bigger,” Bonacci said.

“Targeting is the best tool we have to eliminate the waste,” Lerch said.

The choice of social media also requires decisions.

“We primarily use the bigger social media platforms,” Host said.

“There are literally hundreds of social media platforms,” Host said. “But our shoppers are on there.”

In the late 1980s, Snapple marketing executives decided they’d rather have political liberals not buying their product because Snapple sponsored Rush Limbaugh’s radio show than have neither liberals nor conservatives buying their product because nobody had heard of Snapple. Podcasts, political or otherwise, give a company the same potential opportunity to take advantage of a show’s growing audience.

“It’s not an area we particularly put a lot of focus on,” Host said of podcasts.

Host is not ruling out advertising on podcasts in the future.

“One day we may get there,” he said. “There may be some point when we have to sponsor podcasts.”

Bonacci indicated that Weis may become involved in podcasts as part of a brand standpoint.

“It’s more about branding,” he said. “It really gets your name out there.”

Lerch said that a podcast may be able to reach a targeted market.

“They can tell you what their audience looks like,” he said.

Any consideration of advertising on a podcast should be based on the anticipated marketing benefits.

“Platforms or technology, that’s the lever you use to accomplish your mission,” Lerch said.

Podcasts may fill the function of radio or music albums in terms of complementing a commuter’s travel.

“It works well in very big markets when you’re driving a long way to a store,” Orgel said.

Host said that older customers often rely on more traditional media.

Bonacci said the importance of feedback on marketing campaigns.

“Our customer service is to address that quickly,” he said.

“We do a return on investment on everything we do,” Bonacci said. “We know whether it’s good or not good.”

Most of the Weis marketing efforts have been good.

“We’re still getting a seven to one ratio for every dollar we spend,” Bonacci said.

“Customers today appreciate the fact that we as retailers understand them,” Host said.

“Everybody’s real goal is the same,” Lerch said. “We’re always trying to attract sales.”

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at [email protected]


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