Category Archive: Strategy

Topics and trends that affect your retail marketing.

2014: Bigger Is Apparently Better

At least when it comes to the world of online advertising. Whether it’s better UX as ads become easier to engage with – or dismiss – or our device sizes have finally settled down (and actually begun to get slightly larger again), the traditional display ad is beginning to spread its wings.

AdSense started this ball rolling at the end of 2012 with larger ads. Facebook has announced it will resize their Right Hand Column ads to be more in line visually with its newsfeed ads, a move that makes sense from a UI standpoint and a sales standpoint. It will help streamline their program but more importantly, in testing of the new design, it has seen up to three times more engagement with ads.* The great irony of course is that this comes on the heels of Facebook curtailing the direct engagement businesses have with their hard earned Followers by limiting the amount of organic content Followers see. But that is another discussion entirely.

But it’s not just AdSense and Facebook seeing the marginal gains from larger ad profiles. The larger and more dynamic Rising Stars IAB units that started appearing in 2012 are gaining traction.

According to data released by PointRoll, clickthrough rates for Rising Stars were 70% higher than for standard placements, and video completion rates experienced a 19% lift.**
If you’re not familiar with the Rising Stars format, you might want to get acquainted. Rising Stars come in three familiar formats (display, mobile, digital/video) and a seemingly endless array of portfolio sizes. If you’re mulling it over, be prepared for a significant project though, as the RS ads do still have some distribution issues (availability) and creating many types of rich content isn’t an easy proposition. That said, if the numbers are starting to completely trump “plain old banners” and driving much higher mobile engagement, it will be a welcome change.

*Facebook business blog post

** Source: EMarketer Daily

Channels, Channels, Channels…

We used to have ‘multi-channel’, which more or less referred to customers having access to brands and companies with different checkpoints. Customers were still in silos at that point… we didn’t have great vision when it came to brick/mortar versus mobile, etc. Then we had ‘cross-channel retail’ wherein customers started to see the brand in different ways because of new touch points (tablets, QR codes, location-based services) but there was still a lingering silo effect. We knew our brick/mortar customers and we knew our mobile customers but it was often hard to make the connection between the two even though they were (and remain) one and the same.

Enter “Omni-Channel Retail”, also referred to as OCR or IR (Integrated Retail). The barrier of siloed customers is a thing of the past in Omni-Channel. Even though its not really quite here yet and for most organizations it will take a lot of heaving lifting and infrastructure rethinking, it’s not going away.

OCR is definitely integrated- retailers have wish lists or ‘suggested items’ for that pair of shoes you just put in your cart, they can notify you of deals when you check in to a physical store location, they love to see you ‘tweet’ about your shoes and might respond to you if you do. They’re happy to send you a short survey asking how your shopping experience was after finishing that sale via the mobile POS tablet on the sales floor… and don’t forget that coupon you’ll get in the mail for your next purchase. Didn’t have a sales person? Maybe you actually just purchased an item at an in-store kiosk and had it shipped home? Yep, you’re in the world of OCR.

It’s topic that warrants a lot more of your attention than we can garner today so we’re hoping you’ll check in on this space often. But suffice it to say there are a few critical tools to becoming an OCR retailer or a brand that works with people in the integrated space. These include:

– A strong mobile strategy to enhance your existing customer data.

– Having a proven search (and retargeting) strategy to strengthen the link to potential customers and existing customers.

– Developing feedback mechanisms (social media email or surveys) to continue communication

– Developing an In-Store pickup program, to save everyone shipping costs and cut lead time for a customer’s item delivery.

– Reframing the Point of Sale and transaction “interaction”. Can you or should you empower staff to conduct transitions via tablet or mobile device on the floor? What about kiosks?

Gartner analyst Chris Fletcher made a great point we ran across recently, citing the e-commerce distinction as a dated term. It’s effectively all e-commerce now. Or maybe “just commerce”.

“Getting into data, analytics, or mobile isn’t even a decision anymore, so we should stop calling it e-commerce and call it just commerce, or maybe pervasive commerce… It’s happening and you have to deal with it. But companies are just getting used to the idea that it’s all one experience.”

Are BMW’s Sales Floors Going Digital, LinkedIn Opening Blogging Platform, and more…
SilverGrass Clippings
Welcome to SilverGrass Clippings, a weekly round-up of news and opinion in the retail marketing world.

‘Geniuses’ to Replace Salespeople in BMW Showrooms

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The Wall Street Journal reported last week that BMW has some major changes to its showroom floors on its wish list, knocking out cubicles and signage and replacing them with digital displays and Apple-Store-esque ‘Geniuses’ to answer customer questions. (Subscription required:

It’s an interesting concept, and one that would definitely rock the automotive sales world. As the Millennials move into BMW’s target demographic, it makes sense for the European luxury brand to court the more affluent early adopters among them.

But the article leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Apple’s ‘Geniuses’ don’t work on commissions or get SPIFFs, both long-standing mainstays of the automobile sales world. Instead, the average Apple retail employee makes about $12 per hour. Will commissions go away? Will the geniuses get a piece of that pie? Will the traditional salespeople go away entirely? And what will become of price negotiations on the vehicles?

And what of BMW’s non-Millennial customers, who for the foreseeable future will continue to make up a large part of BMW’s target demographic? Will the prospect of these young ‘Geniuses’ be enticing or alienating? Is there something inherently tactile about the car-buying experience – especially in the luxury sector – that can’t be replaced by digital screens and young product experts?

In short, there are more questions than answers at this point, but it’s an interesting development in an industry with a sales approach that already leaves many feeling uncomfortable and alienated. It certainly bears watching at BMW to see what changes happen, how successful they are, and the impact they’ll have on the American automotive manufacturers’ approaches.

LinkedIn to Open Blogging Platform to All Users

LinkedIn’s page views are dropping. So to try to increase members’ usage of the site beyond just looking for jobs, it’s opening its blogging platform – now used only by its influencers – to all LinkedIn members. (

The move aims to create a business-focus feed similar to the social feed users are accustomed to seeing on platforms like Facebook.

We think it has potential to be another element of content marketing, exposing a person or a company’s content to an audience beyond just its site visitors. And it will be a fantastic tool for users who don’t have another outlet for longer-form industry writings, say a company or personal blog on the topic.

But what of the individuals or small businesses that already post that type of content on their own blogs or company sites? We’ll have to see what LinkedIn’s policy is on back linking to those original articles so the LinkedIn content doesn’t just siphon views and decrease site traffic for the poster’s own site. And they promise analytics, but will they be as good as what Google Analytics can provide if you host that same content on your own blog?

Still, it’s a platform with which I’ll be eager to experiment, and I hope it’ll help target people who might not otherwise be visiting this site.

Brutal Winter Taking a Bite Out of Restaurant Sales

January and February are traditionally slow months for restaurants, but this year’s brutal weather throughout much of the country has taken an even bigger bite than usual out of restaurant sales. (

Plainly put, it’s just been too darn cold / wet / snow / miserable for people to want to make any non-essential treks outside. Analysts expect restaurant traffic to bounce back when the winter weather abates, but until then, it will continue to be a challenge.

Our advice? If you deliver, remind people of that. Do an email or direct mail campaign. Post it on social media. Make sure they know you can let them stay cozy in their own homes.

Still need to get them to come out to your location? Plan special one-time events that appeal to your demographic. Have a theme night, a community class, an author appearance – and make sure to publicize it. If you have a bar, offer happy hour specials and let neighborhood residents and businesses / employees know all about it. It’s easy to say, “Yes, I’ll stay for dinner” after a cozy happy hour.

“Buy Local” Campaign Thrives in Lincoln Square – Ravenswood

Don’t mind us if we toot our own horns… We were excited to be a part of the “Unwrap Lincoln Square – Ravenswood” campaign this past holiday season, providing the creative for outdoor signage, CTA signage, posters, brochures, and business cards, as well as designing and implementing the official website. The campaign generated nearly $95K in holiday spending at the neighborhood shops and restaurants. Kudos also to Ripson Communications for a job very well done with promotion on the event. (

Debunking the Testing Myth

Testing used to be a very mysterious process, performed by people with big brains who had access to willing participants (often wanting to be paid), loads of mathematical formulas and printers to provide you with bulky findings in paper form. What was the alternative, really? To choose a path based on a hunch? Most people chose ‘hunch’ because of the cost. The other issue was time— we’d convinced ourselves that we wouldn’t get feedback for days or weeks and we needed advice now.

There are many great free or ‘freemium’ services online that have blown that dynamic up in recent years and it’s only picking up more steam. Sites such as PickFU will let you run immediate tests for as little as $20 or you can buy bulk packages to test headlines, ad copy, imagery and so on. You also get access to gender, income, and ethnicity of respondents, among other things. Check out the example here.

Are you testing web mockups or page layouts? No problem, sites like Chalkmark have you covered.

SilverGrass can help you develop tests; we have years of experience in this area and we’d be glad to help you navigate those waters. But just remember at their most basic, tests should involve a small handful of components:

1. Your guess or hypothesis
What do you expect will happen? Why do you think that to be the case? Is there historical data to support this?

2. Implementing your test
Whether it’s A/B, multivariate or just general feedback, nobody is going to reach out and hand you the answer. Go out and get it- it’s now cheap and easy!

3. React to your responses
Did one option or method blow away the other option? Are there maybe more than one possible ‘correct’ way to build that web page? Often times this is the case. Utilize the feedback properly.

4. Implementing Real Life Change
Use your test results to inform your next campaign and establish a baseline… not for the next campaign but for the next round of testing.

Once this becomes part of your standard process it will seem less and less of an annoyance or frustration and more like an asset. It’s not unlike going to the gym—most don’t enjoy the process but they love the result.

S&P: Not Standard & Poors, but Security and Privacy

If you’re capturing data for mining or retargeting purposes or executing e-commerce, you’re aware that your policies need to defined and ‘water tight’. But that doesn’t mean those policies always are, and often they are not clear to customers. In 2014 that’s likely going to need a change.

The poor old forgotten Privacy Policy link buried on the bottom of websites is getting more and more notice due to the NSA being in the public eye constantly and retailers such as Target who’ve been, well, targeted. Will consumers start to read and understand the legalese? History says no but that doesn’t mean businesses should just stand pat.

The Better Business Bureau announced recently that it could penalize companies (including publishers and ad networks) that don’t provide real-time notifications to users when collecting data for behavioral ads. Should that come to pass, we’ll be sure to let everyone know.

In the meanwhile California, who has always been ahead of the legislative curve (see their Shine The Light legislation from 2003) has enacted the Do Not Track law, which went into effect on January 1st.
In summary, that law says “Do Not Track requires operators of commercial websites, apps and other online services that collect personal information about consumers in California to disclose how they handle DNT (Do Not Track signals) in their privacy policies. DNT signals are managed in individuals’ browser settings.

If you’re wondering “how do we know if we’re compliant or how do we get compliant?” you can obviously consult your attorney, but there are also apps and online businesses such as Iubenda that exist strictly to help develop your privacy policy. (Note: SilverGrass has no relationship with Iubenda)

If you’re wondering who the big winners and losers in this will be, Forbes has an interesting take on it here.

It’s a new year, which is always a great time to review all of your online policies and procedures. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to us.

Email Strategy: The Struggle Between Format and Content

We all hear or read similar reports– email open rates continue to drop, and yet click-through rates are holding fairly steady. Maybe that’s due to great content, compelling writing or a change in the way we engage with email. We’re betting heavy on that last one. (Bad subject line? Delete. Received three generic emails from your brand in the last week even though I’m a loyal customer? Delete. Data-driven subject line with an offer designed for me? Engage!)

The reality is that even when you’ve built a list, cleaned it continuously, and refined your message, the time and place where that message is getting read changes continuously. A new Experian report shows that 50% of all email is now opened on a smart phone and when you add in tablets those numbers jump up above 60%. The old model of ‘early mornings and late afternoons’ doesn’t fly anymore because we’ve trained ourselves to view email during all down-times, not just in front of the desktop. Your recipients are scrolling through those messages at lunch, at home in bed or even illegally while sitting at stoplights.

So remember two key points for formatting to help get that email opened.

1. Subject Line Brevity
Shorter subject lines have better open rates, this is well documented. Keep it short and on point.

2. It’s critical to format your content in a style or template that works on mobile devices. Approximately half of all opened ‘Brand Related’ messages are viewed for less than 15 seconds. Roughly 25% get less than three seconds. Wherever possible, make that first line of the message your strongest, because it’s the only line that will show up in the recipient’s preview window.

Simply put, if the message is difficult to grab “take aways” from, its going to end up in the trash bin. You can make it easier on your audience by using a scrolling format, large visual cues (appropriately sized images, obvious links to longer stories), and other visual tricks like separating text and photos completely to create blocks or fields. See the two samples pulled from our mobile phone earlier today to see an actual example. We love the actual news we get from the New York Times, but digesting their email (compared to the Velo News) is going to be a challenge.



Some data in this article is referenced in this report:

Make the most of the gift cards you sell…

PrintWith holiday shopping now in full swing, you’re probably not thinking, “What about January?” But you should be, and what you do now can make a big difference in your current holiday sales – and beyond.

Right now, your store or restaurant is likely in the midst of its strongest sales season of the year. And while some of that entails selling your products to your customers now, there’s a good chance that if you sell gift certificates or gift cards, that many of your customers are stocking up on those, as well. After all, gift cards have been the most requested item on holiday wish lists since 2007.

So why is it important to offer these to your customers, and how can you make the most of their visit to your store this month to improve your sales in the new year?

Gift Cards: The Facts
People love gift certificates, and they love gift cards even more. Switching from paper gift certificates to plastic gift cards can bump sales 50-100%. And gift cards made up 18% of all holiday gift purchases in 2011.

And for small businesses, gift cards can be a win-win. More than 60% of gift card recipients spend more than the amount of their gift card. 75% of them spend 60% or more over the value of their card. That’s the gift (card) that keeps giving for retailers.

The other 40% or so? They don’t use the total value of the card, moving that unused value to your bottom line.

Gift Cards: Preparing for Dec. 26 and Beyond
In addition to just SELLING gift cards, you can be using this high-traffic time to build toward your post-holiday marketing efforts.

Work now on building your customer list, particularly email addresses, so you can send them post-holiday sale information and encourage them to come in and redeem their gift. Consider a program now where you provide a small gift card to the purchaser for each gift card bought (say, “Free $10 gift card with purchase of $75 or more in gift cards.”) Now you have two customers to come back after the holidays.

After all, if 60% of those gift card recipients are going to spend MORE than the card value, there are more sales to be made.

And 55% percent of gift card recipients will visit your location more than once to spend the balance of their card. Multiple visits provide you extra opportunities to market your products and services to those gift card holders.

Gift Cards: If Not Now, When?
And don’t worry. Even if you’re not selling gift cards or gift certificates, it’s not too late to begin. After all, 81% of consumers purchase gift cards for birthdays (67% of customers buy them for other holidays, as well). So if you’ve missed this holiday season, don’t fret. It’s never too late to start.

Need Assistance?
We’d be happy to help you with your gift card campaign, or your marketing plan for the New Year. Fill out the form below to request information. Or stop by to see how we can help you make the most of your marketing in 2014. (Mention this article in your 1K Marketing Makeover sign-up form and get 20% off your plan! Hurry! Offer ends 12/25/2013.)



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By The Numbers: Entrepreneurs

We found some interesting numbers from some Crain’s data on what makes founders tick. Sure, almost all of them are risk takers, but did we really think that most of them would be married with children? The point is that you need a lot of support to run a business. (We won’t even get into luck.) That support takes many different forms – from colleagues and ex-colleagues to great partners and spouses…or banking and legal advice. Isolating yourself or not taking advantage of learning opportunities, networking events and other outreach is paramount to keeping your business sharp and your staff energized.


Social Shopping and Heuristics 6: Reciprocity

When someone says “hey next time just return the favor” we (more often then not) tell them, absolutely! Reciprocity is sort of a social binder, if you will, the adhesive that keeps relationships healthy. When it comes to shopping, that reciprocity generates a great deal of discussion – where to get the best deal, how to get a reservation at a top restaurant, etc. It can also mean inviting a friend to an exclusive event.

How does this apply to marketing?

In the form of shopping this may take the form of referrals or passing on “unknown sales info” to our close friends with the belief that they’ll look out for us down the road. Magazines are legendary for this in the subscription process- buy two subscriptions and get a free gift subscription, for instance.

How does this apply to me?

Can you offer first time customers a discount and an even deeper discount for getting their friend to buy your product? How about a limited time offer that can be forwarded on with a unique code for redemption? There are any number of companies building prospect lists or acquiring new customers by making their products available to extended networks through this strategy. Liquor distilleries have mastered the tactic, creating ‘secret societies’ that you can invite your closest friends to join for scotch tastings, wine purveyor/ wine maker nights, and so on.

So there you have it, over six days we’ve covered the basics of social shopping and human behavior. There are many common threads in the six points, but looking at the points holistically it’s clear that we value relationships and are willing to exchange a variety of things with (and through) our relationships if there is trust. That trust comes from common values, quality referrals and interactions with consistent brands.

Social Shopping and Heuristics 5: Being Consistent

Consistency and not taking risks go hand in hand, and as consumers when faced with uncertainty over a product, we usually prefer not to take risks. This dovetails right into brand loyalty and tucks in quite nicely. Yes, a lot of time brand loyalty is less about true loyalty and really just “being comfortable” with a product historically.

How does this apply to marketing?

Marketers know that the power of brand loyalty is strong, and that loyal customers will pay a premium for the brand they trust. That means entry into certain markets requires deep discount initial pricing or even free products (think trial size, buy-one-get-one, or 90 days free memberships). For many products, consumers will choose whatever is closest (gas station on the right hand side rather than the left, for instance) but by and large it takes quite an eye opener of a deal to grab our attention.

How does this apply to me?

Depending on which side of the equation you’re on (the incumbent or the ‘new kid’) there are a variety of possible applications. For established brands there is an opportunity to further the commitment by making certain your social media experiences are consistent with your brand. Create user messages boards where customers can help each other. Make sure your Facebook feed, twitter responses and Pinterest board need to reinforce what people believe about your product. True story: The original Doritos Tacos Locos from Taco Bell was a miserable failure, because the shells were not orange. Doritos fanatics believe that half the fun is having orange fingers with peppery powder you can lick off. Once Taco Bell and Frito Lay rectified that, the Doritos Tacos went on to become the best selling Taco Bell product of all time.
If you’re trying to break into a market, the aforementioned discounted products, free trials and other entry level pricing are something to consider. Your product might also benefit from appearing to be ‘like’ other items in the market that have a popular base. Ex: 4 out of 5 people say it tastes just like X at half the price!

Tomorrow: we wrap up this series with a short discussion of Reciprocity.