Going Digital Is Marketing Magic

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Going Digital Is Marketing Magic

By Marshall Marcovitz - 10/01/2013

In the 1960s, Bob Dylan wrote, "The times they are a-changin'," and they are a-changin' again in 2013. Significant changes in how marketers go to market include more mobile marketing, a flood of apps for almost everything and the effectiveness of social media as marketing tools.

For starters, Americans are spending more time on digital devices than on TV screens. The average adult will spend five hours and nine minutes a day online or consuming other types of digital media this year. This is an increase of 38 minutes, or 16 percent, compared to 2012. More mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, will soon overtake the computer as the primary means of consuming digital media.

Fast Fact
The average adult will spend five hours and nine minutes a day online or consuming other types of digital media this year.

Marketers are steadily shifting their budgets to track how people are spending their time. Is the retail shopping audience ready for this change? We already have marketers advocating that there is marketing magic in engines for shopping recommendations and engines for social media like Facebook and Twitter.

There are new platforms available for smartphones and tablets. Individual retailers and large buying groups are developing and promoting such platforms and advocating that retailers need to make these investments to be competitive. But are independent retailers and their audience ready? How do we measure the effectiveness of these new platforms before making them a bigger part of our advertising and sales promotion budget?

Another change worthy of attention was Internet innovator Jeff Bezos's recent purchase of the Washington Post. The media's reaction was noteworthy as well. "Thinking Outside the Newspaper Box" was one of the headlines. Bezos was hailed as a "long-term thinker," a businessperson with a "need to invent" and a "need to experiment." Just what experiments he had in mind were not revealed.

I've followed Bezos's career from the start of Amazon. Yes, he is an entrepreneur, and he now has deep pockets, after having built Amazon into a retail giant. He's definitely an innovator (having developed a very effective engine for recommendations and making customer service convenient for shoppers' top priorities) and, yes, he is a very patient marketer (having focused on long-term growth rather than short-term profits). He has a strong background in the electronic media, with an online presence of more than 25 years.

The Post has dabbled in some experimental news products, including the creation of a social reader for Facebook and a recommendation engine. In his retailing experience, Bezos has tested various strategies with varying degrees of success. His deep pockets, patience and experience in the digital world give him a unique ability to bring to the newspaper world what he has learned from years of marketing on the Internet.

He has shown that there is room to try new things. He also has a knack for analyzing data to find ways to engage younger people. He has the resources to radically change the way an organization looks and runs.

Will his steady flow of ideas that propelled Amazon to the top in retailing also benefit the newspaper industry?

I suggest that the housewares industry keep an eye on the changes Bezos makes in the newspaper industry and how he does them. The promise of innovation can often energize an existing brand.

A third big change is the rise of social media as a marketing tool. For me, the jury is still out on this one for the independent retailer. Why? Social media hasn't proved that it can sell kitchenwares. Is it worth venturing further onto Facebook and Twitter?

It seems everyone is starting to use social media to reach their audience. Even the Dali Lama is spreading his wisdom to millions of his followers through social media. And as people retweet his posts, his message wings through social media, reaching tens of millions. How can you resist such marketing magic?

Many marketing consultants are pushing social media as the can't-miss future. They argue that word of mouth, heard from friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Google, is more likely to hit home than a traditional advertisement. The past advertising philosophy was to anticipate the needs and desires of consumers and then answer them with ideas. But in the last decade, the numbers people have shot to the top. They build and operate search engines – search engines for product recommendations and for social media like Facebook and Twitter. But when a big new phenomenon arrives on the scene, it is hard to know what to count. During the dot.com bubble in the late '90s, investors threw billions at Internet start-ups, and we all know how that ended.

What's the value of a "like" on Facebook? The real question is: "What action can I take to get the response I want?" It's hard to measure influence! Social networks, whether you like them or not, are laying out a new grid of personal connections. Maybe, just maybe, they will even be able to sell kitchenware and specialty food.

The big question in my mind is: How does the independent retailer keep up with the shopper? Shoppers have been hopping from the PC to tablets to cellphones. How does the retailer adapt? The size of an average order on tablets, particularly iPads, tends to be higher than one on PCs. Retailers also poured money and marketing into devices that make checkout easier for shoppers. Investments have been going into mobile, mobile and more mobile. Smartphones and tablets have changed the way people buy.

But shoppers are keeping one step ahead of retailers. The newest trend I see is retailers trying to adapt to device-hopping shoppers. Retailers sell products on mobile phones, but shoppers return on a different kind of device. It can get a little confusing.

Some shoppers are also hesitant to buy on mobile devices and still prefer to go to brick-and-mortar stores to buy. My guess is that people just need time to grow comfortable with new technology.

But the trend toward strong mobile sales is one I expect will continue to grow. The convenience of new technology is irresistible.

Marshall Marcovitz is the founder and former CEO of the Chef's Catalog, a leading Internet shopping site. Currently, he is a lecturer, university professor and marketing consultant. In each issue of The Gourmet Retailer, Marcovitz offers opinions and lessons in all things Web-related, from social networking to marketing.