There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Communications Strategy in Retail

Here’s how retailers can go bespoke.

by Michael Klein

posted on 05-29-2020

”It’s not you,” The Wall Street Journal assured readers. “Clothing sizes are broken.”

For anyone who’s spent a frustrating day shopping for off-the-rack pants that fit just right, it’s a relief to finally hear that standard sizing is a myth. According to The Wall Street Journal, 70% of people have a difficult time finding clothes that fit, and it’s sparked a customization revolution in the fashion industry.

Of course, it’s not just consumers that want change. Brands have likewise been pushing for greater freedom of expression and customization. Services that allow shoppers to design their own pair of sneakers, or mix and match fabrics and colors when selecting a new sofa have turned the retail experience into something that puts individual customer needs front and center.

Now, that same shift is taking place in retail marketing: the days of one-size-fits-all campaigns are over, and personalized communication is the way forward. Treating a customer as a person, not a series of transactions, is critical to engagement and loyalty — and this is especially true during times of volatility. We’re currently seeing unprecedented challenges in the retail market, but also in consumers’ day-to-day lives. It’s more important than ever for retailers to communicate with an empathetic, human touch.

Navigating a rapidly changing industry requires a flexible operational plan — one that’s closely connected to the right communication strategy. Brands need to truly show they understand what shoppers are experiencing, and deliver the custom, new messages customers want to hear, when and where they need to hear them.

Fit their style

In order for marketing to hit the mark, retailers need to know exactly who they’re talking to. Segmentation and matching content to each segment can ensure that retailers get the right message to the appropriate audience.

When brands understand what customers are doing, how they’re feeling, and the context in which they’ll use a product, then campaigns and marketing communications can be more effectively personalized. To do this, retailers must understand their customer as well as their content.

The more personalized communications can get, the more relevant a conversation can be to customers’ individual needs:

Keep in mind, however, that personalization should extend far beyond online channels. Sprint, one of the nation’s largest retailers, uses a variety of tools to create an “elegant handshake” between channels, seamlessly guiding customers through physical and digital experiences.

Fit their context

It’s always been annoying to receive an irrelevant email after visiting a retail location or making a purchase online — but poorly timed communications are even less acceptable during volatile situations. Everyone is living through the same uncertainty together and, as a result, customers are going to expect real-time experiences even more. In today’s landscape, to ignore the larger global context that’s impacting customers is to be tone-deaf.

Providing the right context in real time — for example, updating customers on inventory or changing store hours — has been essential for retailers adapting their services right now, and will continue to be essential in the months after social distancing has ended.

Acknowledging current events and responding to specific needs shows that brands are not only listening, but prepared to meet customers where they are. For example, Staples offered practical work-from-home tips, keeping their brand top of mind while acknowledging the current state of many businesses. Chicago-based grocer Mariano’s, on the other hand, launched a series of online cooking classes, wine tastings, and mixology lessons to inspire at-home meals. Empathetic messaging and initiatives like these show a brand truly understands what customers are going through — and how they can be of help.

Fit their feelings

Even in difficult times, people still have buying needs, so retail brands shouldn’t necessarily halt all of their marketing practices. But they do need to be particularly sensitive with their messaging.

A video conference-themed campaign intended to sell blazers might be funny to those working from home. For someone who recently lost their job, however, that’s a message that may rub salt in the wound. West Elm has taken a creative and understanding approach with its hub of free resources, including decorating tips and advice, inspiring photo galleries, and online video and phone consultations with interior designers — helping customers make the most of their increased time spent at home.

Retailers must use customer intelligence tools and other data sources to better understand which of their consumers live in highly impacted areas, so they can adjust their messaging appropriately. Use data to help inform potential sensitivities in order to share information in a way that’s not going to distance customers.

The perfect fit

With the right analytics and predictive AI, savvy marketers can pull together all the measurements they need to tailor the perfect retail communication strategy and personalized marketing for their target audience — during times of crisis and beyond. Intelligent, empathetic communication never goes out of style.

Learn how we’re helping retailers enhance their digital experiences.

Topics: Retail, COVID-19