Power is in the Hands of the Shopper

Retail marketing solutions, meet retail digital marketing

For years, hybrid retail marketing — an integrated physical and digital experience — was seen as the gold standard for differentiating a product and getting shoppers to open their wallets at bricks-and-mortar retail. I can hear it now:

“Brands have so much to say, if they could only get their content in front of shoppers, we just know it will prompt a purchase!”

Hmmm… Outside of a few notable exceptions, why did so few brands or retailers get it right?

If you are a channel marketer, mass marketing retailer, or a display producer, you understand that in years past, it was extraordinarily hard to execute digital solutions at scale. (Anyone that implies otherwise hasn’t been in the trenches.) From a tech and infrastructure perspective, there was bad Wi-Fi in stores, and power outlets seldom available where you need them. Not to mention, straight-up hardware failures.

Physically implementing content updates? Damn near impossible. Store employees turning down or turning off the unit due to the audio factor was a common occurrence as well. And don’t get me started on the negative impression of seeing blank screens.

Brands served up content on a push strategy that didn’t, or couldn’t, consider what the shopper needed. Largely since, brands and retailers weren’t able to customize the journey for each user. Much of the content was fluff. It didn’t address the consideration drivers that someone experiences while in the “final foot.” Showing me a sizzle video of how your washing machine’s design was inspired by water isn’t the type of content I need when I’m choosing between models.

Shopper marketing means shopper respect

Even with the right content, shoppers were reluctant to engage in a digital experience while standing in an aisle. There were issues of cleanliness, privacy, and personal space. What seemed like a no-brainer engagement that we just knew would help sell product, went underutilized — often to get pulled only months after installation.

Then, in 2007, shoppers got a new toy from Apple: the smartphone. For all those keeping track, IBM did release a precursor to the smartphone in 1994, ironically called Simon. Let’s just say it didn’t have the same impact as the iPhone did.

Over the years, SMS solutions, QR codes, listing URL addresses on displays… they were all thrown into the mix. Brands got smarter about understanding the user journey that happens both offline and online. We used digital research tools (many of which are disappearing due to privacy laws) to better understand the path folks took when deciding on the product that is right for them.

So we got smarter. We tried whatever we could to increase usage, but it was still difficult to serve up the right content at the right time. In addition, engagement rates were still relatively low. 

Until now.

High adoption rates: QR codes are one step to the next level

Over the last few years, we were all a bit surprised when QR codes replaced the menu at our local restaurant. And now? We use them without thinking twice. In terms of digital adoption, the pandemic accelerated this change, eradicating one significant barrier to effective omnichannel merchandising at retail. Shoppability research conducted recently at S/M has shown 100% familiarity with and extremely high adoption rates of this rediscovered technology.

So, what are we going to do with this new power? Plastering QR codes on every inch of every graphic like wallpaper would neutralize the ability to help folks make their purchase decisions quickly and decisively. Good fundamental research is the key, as the path to purchase and consideration drivers in the final foot are more important than ever.

When S/M analyzed the purchase process for lighting fixtures on behalf of client Kichler at The Home Depot, user research revealed what information needed to live on the display and the new packaging. Equally importantly, what kind of information would the shopper like to find with their smartphone in order to make a final decision? Curating the information funnel allowed for a clean visual experience with a clear information hierarchy. But one with depth, providing opportunities to dive as deep as the user desired.

Next-level applications are opportunities like augmented reality and virtual reality. Check out how IKEA is bringing the decision to your home via their app, IKEA Place. Once clunky and awkward, these experiences continue to be refined. For even more forward-leaning examples, check out this article by S/M Creative Director, Experiential, Kathleen Carron. Like I said, the team passed me up long ago.

Let’s respect the shopper's time. Let’s respect their intelligence. Let’s do our jobs right and provide the information they need when they need it. The key is good data and insights that lead to a targeted retail strategy. If you’d like to infuse this type of thinking into your next initiative, we should talk.

Will AI programs rewrite the skill set of tomorrow’s designer?

Over the past year, AI programs have been impacting a significant range of creative endeavors. High school essay assignments can now be written by AI in seconds, professional fine artists are wrongfully being banned from Reddit, and an AI program won first place in the Colorado State Fair annual art competition

These AI programs — including ChatGPT, Dall-E, Midjourney, and Stable Fusion, just to name a few — are already having considerable impacts, despite being in their infancy. They’ll only continue to shed limitations as algorithm updates roll out every few months.

So how exactly will this impact a designer’s skill set in the future?

First, we have to take a look at how AI programs are functioning today. We’ll reference the popular AI generator, Midjourney, as an example. 

Midjourney is currently in open beta and allows users to create artwork using Discord commands. Discord is a popular communications app that facilitates voice, video, and text chat for millions of users in community based forums and is most prevalent in the gaming and web developer communities. The Midjourney trial program and Discord account are free, which means anyone with an internet connection can start creating AI-generated artwork. 

On Discord, the user simply types “/imagine” and followed by their prompt – which can be anything! Midjourney spits out four options based on the prompt, and the user can refine the imagery from there. 

Here are a few examples:

Prompt: “A monkey driving a car”

Prompt: “A pencil line drawing of pasta, olives, olive oil and fork in a bowl”

Prompt: “An ecommerce website that sells high end orange and green succulents”

The images above are prime examples of Midjourney’s range and convenience. What could be better than four hyper-realistic images of a monkey driving a car that only took one minute to generate? 

In all seriousness, the program is a fantastic tool for rapid concept generation. As a 3D designer of nearly ten years who has spent countless hours adjusting models for photo-real quality renders, a part of me crumbled the first time I saw Midjourney’s render quality after one minute of work. However, there are some limitations with Midjourney as it stands today. 

Using brand specific keywords or open-ended prompts can cause the program to produce unusable imagery with obvious tells of AI generation due to its surreal or dreamlike shape. This means that users will have to spend time tweaking multiple rounds of imagery by refining keywords within their prompt, just as I refine my models for photo-real quality renders. 

Also, most websites, ad campaigns, and store fixture displays are more complex than a single photo and require systems to be built and expanded upon for real-world implementation. As it stands today, Midjourney cannot handle the complexity of those tasks. But one would be naive to think that will not be possible in the future.

Unusable dreamlike shape example image from the prompt: “A website homepage for a creative agency specializing in 2D graphics and 3D experiential design”

At S/M, our take is that AI programs like Midjourney are yet another advancement in the long line of tools used by creatives, and they will only continue to get better as algorithms are refined. Midjourney is a sizable step forward in idea representation: It is to 3D rendering as 3D renderings are to pencil and hand sketches. 

But because the barrier to realistic renderings has been lowered, the value of the designer has been raised: Our knowledge of trends, our ability to create work within a pre-existing brand language, and our ability to understand the user and execute toward the goal on a project brief have never been more important. 

Concept generation can be outsourced to an AI program, but the creativity and pre-existing knowledge that builds and refines the prompt will always come from a designer.

Social Platforms Reveal Hottest Trends for 2023

Instagram’s 2023 Trend Report compiles insights from a study of Gen Z Instagram users conducted in October 2022.

  1. Building a more inclusive metaverse: While the metaverse had a slow year, Gen Z is adamant about bringing equity to established and growing digital spaces. Per Instagram’s user survey, 67% of Gen Z respondents feel metaverse avatars should better reflect diverse body types, clothing and skintones. 
  2. Influencers bridging physical and digital spaces: Influencers continue to be a powerful way to reach Gen Z. As pandemic restrictions continue to recede, users are excited to attend IRL events where they can meet their favorite influencers and connect with their digital communities.
  3. Gen Z are activist shoppers: While only a third of Gen Z are old enough to vote, in 2023 they’ll continue to support the causes they care about through their shopping choices. Disability advocacy is at the forefront of the issues Gen Z is passionate about.

LinkedIn’s ideas that will change the world

Expanding their lens beyond just business, LinkedIn news editors compiled a sweeping list of 41 Big Ideas That will Change Our World in 2023.

  1. Omnichannel retail: While the pandemic briefly boosted e-commerce’s share of retail sales, since 2020 e-commerce growth has plateaued to a steady 21% of total retail sales. Meanwhile, consumers have shown a renewed appreciation for in-store shopping, with 4,200 store openings in 2022. 2023 will be the year of developers reinventing existing retail properties, and the continued blending of in-person and online retail.
  2. Algorithm fatigue will fuel alternate social platforms: In 2022 consumers started to re-evaluate what they wanted out of social networks, and while they won’t fully abandon traditional social platforms, in 2023 they’ll continue to seek out smaller networks that focus on community-building instead of playing the algorithm game. Spaces like Discord, Mastodon and Geneva, as well as apps that aim to limit screen time like BeReal and WeAre8, will continue to gain traction this year.
  3. Bringing the workplace into the metaverse: As mentioned, the metaverse didn’t have the year many thought it would in 2022, with stunted user growth showing that VR is still miles away from popular adoption. Professional adoption, however, is poised for a boom. VR is already being used to train surgeons and design vehicles, and this year employers, universities and other institutions will explore what the metaverse has to offer.

What’s next, according to TikTok

TikTok’s 2023 What’s Next Report made it easy on us: It was already built around three key themes.

  1. Actionable entertainment: By using an entertainment-first model, TikTok content captures viewer attention, while relationships with creators build trust. In 2023 TikTok content will continue inspiring people to take action by trying new products, new ideas, and new behaviors. TikTok’s advice for brands wanting to create content that drives action? Build entertainment value by leaning into community-driven editing techniques, like adding text overlays, using popular audio clips and adding voiceover effects.
  2. Making space for joy: As people continue to look for meaningful self-care, content on TikTok will continue to serve a need for levity and encourage audiences to make more time and space for themselves. Brands can join the conversation by creating content that provides humor, relaxation, or helps audiences take care of themselves. According to TikTok, “Joy is a growing factor in people’s purchasing decisions worldwide… and should be a key element of marketing strategies in 2023.”

Community-built ideas: TIkTok is home to a wealth of thriving, niche communities, from #TiredMoms to #CozyGamers. Content shaped around hyper-specific interests gives users another way to define themselves and find inspiration, and these niche communities will continue to drive connection and engagement in 2023. Rather than casting a wide targeting net, brands should partner with impactful creators in relevant micro-communities, and seek to understand what makes these audiences tick.

Pinterest’s predictions

This year’s Pinterest Predicts was based on Pinterest Search data trends from 2020 to 2022, and their predictions run the thematic gamut, spanning fashion, design, tech, culture and more.

  1. What’s old is new: With newfound appreciation for historic decor, analog hobbies, classic crafts, and slow, storied means of travel, it’s clear that nostalgia is in and will continue to shape the digital landscape in 2023.
  2. Getting lit: It’s a post-pandemic party, and it’s not just Millennials and Generation Z who want to make up for lost time — it’s folks of all ages. The cocktails are flowing, the raves are back on, and new, experimental fashion is most definitely in, even if some is ultimately coming full circle.
  3. Earth in focus: Sustainability is showing up in whole new ways in whole new places. From responsible water use to a focus on eco-friendlier transportation and sea-sourced sustenance, nature-centric messages and activism will flourish in physical and digital spaces in 2023.

Influencer trend predictions

Last, but not least, we dug into influencer marketing trend predictions for 2023, according to Upfluence, Influencer Marketing Hub, and Forbes.

  1. TikTok’s share of influencer marketing expands: Instagram still reigns supreme in share of influencer spend. However, while Youtube and Facebook share of spend has trended downward, TikTok surpassed Facebook in 2022 and is projected to surpass YouTube by 2024.
  2. Influencer marketing moves down the funnel: In an economic downturn, marketers need to focus on strategies that will have a real impact on their company’s bottom line. This means that they need to prove the efficiency of their influencer marketing campaigns with actual sales numbers. Expect to see a rise in using coupon codes, affiliate links, and revenue-share compensation.
  3. Live shopping and e-Commerce grows: Livestream shopping purchases are trending over traditional social media purchases. In response, Amazon, Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram have all developed livestream shopping tools and partnerships. TikTok is also expected to take the lead in social commerce. 67% of users agreed that TikTok inspired them to shop, even when they weren’t looking to buy something.

Making the Smart Home Smarter, Part 1

Since the dawn of products like the Nest Thermostat and Amazon Alexa a decade ago, we’ve seen new technologies and products rapidly evolve — expanding the horizons of what’s possible in every room of the home.

But for consumers, these innovations can often bring about confusion and uncertainty just as they can bring about convenience and delight. At Simon/Myers, we set out to help brands reduce the former and maximize the latter.

An overview

The core of any smart home system is the smart assistant upon which it’s based, with the three leading contenders being Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit (Siri). To different degrees, each of these offer vocal commands, automation triggers, and device scheduling through routines for a whole new degree of convenient control. 

For example, a user could set up a nighttime routine that turns off all lights (accomplished through the use of smart plugs or in-wall switches), reduces the temperature on a smart thermostat, engages smart locks, and arms a security system — all triggered by voice, a particular time of day, or by simply tapping the appropriate icon within each platform’s accompanying app. 

Where confusion arises

For consumers, the smart home device purchase and setup process can often be anything but straightforward. Many are not fully interoperable with each platform. For example, Ecobee’s SmartThermostat supports Apple’s HomeKit, the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa — but the Nest Thermostat (produced by Google) only supports the latter two platforms. This means consumers have to do extensive research into each smart device purchased and whether each one is supported by the platform they’ve bought into. 

Over the past decade, consumers have often seen the devices they’ve purchased rapidly and unexpectedly lose support, reducing trust in the brands in which they’ve made large investments. A recent example of this is Insteon — a maker of smart plugs, switches, keypads, and sensors — abruptly shutting down their servers after running into financial difficulties, effectively “bricking” customer devices.

A better future for the home of the future

For players in the smart home space, there’s an abundance of opportunity to smooth out the process for end-users. Among the most prominent of these is the introduction of the Matter standard, supported by Amazon, Google, and Apple. Matter allows for full platform interoperability between supported devices. A future Google Nest thermostat could be controlled via direct Siri commands on an end-user’s iPhone, for instance. 

Another advantage of the Matter standard is privacy, as it provides for end-to-end encryption and local control.

Smart home device manufacturers must also keep in mind ongoing costs for customer support and server maintenance and upkeep. Subscription models can provide a continuous income stream to cover these costs when compared to an individual device purchase made just once.

Marketing & the smart home

As the smart home space continues to grow and evolve, it’s important to have a partner for communications and experiential activations that will help cut through the noise, reduce confusion in a quickly changing space, and get your brand to the forefront of customers’ minds. With cross-discipline expertise across the home improvement niche, the team at Simon/Myers is ready to help you succeed.

A Quantitative Researcher Braves the Wilds of Agency Life

Bringing my experience to a growing enterprise

For the first eight years of my career, I worked exclusively at market research firms, developing my knowledge of quantitative research at industry giants, small boutiques, and places in-between. 

But when the pandemic arrived, I was ready to try something new. So in late 2020, I accepted an offer at my first marketing agency, Simon/Myers. Little did I know at the time, it was exactly the change that I needed. 

Long before I joined, S/M had been tackling their clients’ business problems with a dedicated strategy-first approach. Fueled by quantitative and qualitative market research tactics (much of it provided by outside sources), S/M was delivering actionable solutions to their client partners. But when their workload started growing, they decided to bring these research tactics in house. That’s where I came in.

Early successes and challenges

As the agency’s new Quantitative Researcher, I was tasked with building out the department — no pressure, right? During my first year and a half, I developed a department roadmap, a menu of capabilities, and internal training materials. More importantly, I was able to grow S/M’s in-house strategic offerings. Knowing I’ve had a positive impact on the bottom lines of the agency and our clients is both inspiring and fulfilling. 

But making the switch to agency life has presented some challenges, the first being new technology and software. Upon arrival, I had only used PC computers. So in true ad-agency form, S/M gave me a brand new MacBook. For the first few weeks, I struggled with navigation. How do I use my mouse? Where did my window go? But it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the quality and user-friendly interface of Apple products. I may even switch my Android to an iPhone! 

Improved internal communications

While market research firms are using instant messaging platforms to communicate internally, they continue to rely heavily on Outlook. At S/M we use Slack. Like the MacBook, Slack has its own learning curve. But I appreciate not having an Outlook inbox overflowing with unread emails. Slack keeps me connected with all S/M team members, even those in other departments. It also allows me to share and access important documents easily, and in real time. 

Then there is “agency speak,” which is different from the language of market research. For example, many of my fellow S/Myers didn’t know that in the quantitative research world, “DP” stands for “data processing.” Meanwhile, I’m still learning the terms for all the different types of in-store displays. A challenge for sure, but it has greatly strengthened my communication skills — not just within the agency, but with vendors and clients as well. 

Different timelines, and more rewarding contributions

Generally, project timelines in market research are shorter than agency timelines. At market research firms things move quickly, with most projects lasting one to two months (unless continuous tracking is involved). At agencies, the research portion of a client initiative is just one piece of a longer process, with any given engagement spanning from several months to more than a year.

While I’ve had to adjust my thinking about project timelines, being at an agency means I get to see the impact of my work on the overall project, how it connects to the work of other departments, and ultimately, how it affects a client’s business. For these reasons and more, I’m thrilled that I made the switch. Now I just have to figure out this whole metaverse thing…

The One Trait That Elevates Phygital Communities

Last fall, Accenture purchased 60,000 Oculus headsets to start onboarding and training on VR experiences. Why not? After all, it’s the next “big” digital thing. And after this, there will be another, and another. 

Those of us who work in the digital experience arena know that every couple years there is a sea change in digital. Currently, it’s the metaverse. For context, we like Eric Ravenscraft’s real take on the metaverse in his Wired Magazine article.

Looking back, my generation (Gen X) has witnessed several big digital transformations. I remember when bank lobbies were a place where we met neighbors. I used to grab a cookie and free decaf coffee as my parents made transactions with a teller. Now, I do all my banking online and can’t remember the last time I was physically in a bank lobby. Of course, every generation has its own “I remember when” stories. We Gen Xers continue to adopt and innovate phygital experiences, and as digital natives, Gen Z simply expects phygital solutions.

One trait is valued over all others

But no matter how a phygital community is experienced, there is an indispensable trait that all generations demand: authenticity. More and more, consumers and trade partners demand it – and they’ll advocate for brands that can deliver. At S/M, we’ve been developing influencer outreach programs for our clients, with the goal of building communities authentically. 

What we mean by authentic is this: 

Get deep into the community’s needs

For interactions to be meaningful, we need to start with a deep understanding of where and how each community (consumers, trade partners, etc.) experiences the brand and its related content. Then we need to deliver content that they want to share, or that compels them to engage with their network, allowing them to build and grow the community for themselves. Members need to feel that engaging with the community is enriching and time well spent. 

For example, from our proprietary research, we’ve found that Instagram is a tool that many interior designers use to get work done. They communicate with other designers to get inspiration, with contractors to show updates, and with showroom associates to select products. 

Content and solutions should match expectations

Making sense means delivering content and solutions in channels (physical or digital) that a given community expects. It means that when I meet a fellow community member at an event, I can relate to them quickly because we share the same interests and have engaged with the same channels. It means that if a consumer can purchase a lighting fixture from an online retailer and call to ask for a replacement or return, I should be able to do the same as a trade partner. It means I can trust my community to have my back, and to provide me with helpful solutions and ideas — not just use me to promote products. Beyond providing content, authentic communities value networking. It simply makes sense, so plan accordingly.

Nike House of Innovation: Source: nike.com

Make it easy to be part of a phygital community

Easy engagement means members can connect with — and contribute to — a community whenever and however they want to, without any obligations or consequences. It means there are no membership fees or admission standards, just an interest in what the community has to offer. It means encouraging the universal desire to engage, to refer others, and to contribute. Nike has developed authentic phygital experiences by engaging with and learning from its sneakerhead community. Its apps and flagship stores, like its House of Innovation 000 in NYC, all integrate seamlessly. When Nike launches exclusive sneakers, the community literally lines up. 

To measure the success of our community development, we track both the organic and paid results of all content and events. While paid results provide us with a roadmap for increasing awareness of the community, organic results give us an understanding of how well the community is evolving and engaging within itself. Delivering authenticity requires an ongoing content and experiential strategy, delivered in both physical and digital ways.

One thing is certain: You can’t just pay for fans or influencers if you want to build an authentic community. In the end, the growth of a community depends on one genuine engagement and referral at a time. 

Want to know more about the path to rewarding phygital experiences? See Michael’s previous blog here: https://simon-myers.com/going-phygital/

Gen Z Marketing: A New Path To Purchase

While Millennials still hold the most purchasing power in the US, Gen Z is set to outpace them in the next decade (Business Insider), which makes reaching Gen Z imperative for marketers to succeed. Here at Simon/Myers, our focus is on helping our clients win at every stage of the consumer journey, whether physical or digital. While high-level Gen Z statistics abound, we wanted to dig deeper into every stage of their purchase journey to understand what truly makes them tick. 

It's why we conducted a proprietary study to understand where they’re purchasing, what matters most to them when purchasing, and what pitfalls marketers need to avoid. We performed a quantitative online survey across a sample size of 549 respondents, and also conducted qualitative video interviews with 15 respondents, all aged 18-25. While some findings were more surprising than others, one key takeaway was clear: successfully marketing to Gen Z is more nuanced than you may think.

Check out three of our key research insights below, and download our whitepaper for a deeper dive into our research findings!

Gen Z cares more about privacy than personalization

Personalization is a buzzy tactic these days, but for Gen Z, we found that they care more about their privacy being protected than receiving hyper-personalized ads. Highly sensitive to the data privacy breaches they’ve seen affect older generations, they’re concerned about how and where their data is being used, and many find hyper-personalized targeting invasive. 

Where to reach Gen Z depends on the product category

While emerging social platforms like TikTok are front-of-mind for marketers trying to reach Gen Z, we found that Gen Z is still researching and purchasing products across a variety of platforms. Ultimately, the best place to reach Gen Z is highly dependent on product category, with standard platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube still playing a significant role in some cases, and newer platforms like TikTok, Twitch, and Discord leading the way in others. 

Gen Z still cares about in-store shopping

Gen Z is often thought of as a generation of digital natives and online shoppers. While this is accurate, we also found that this doesn’t mean they don’t care about in-store shopping experiences. In fact, many Gen Z respondents indicated a desire to increase their in-store shopping coming out of the pandemic. They see in-store shopping as an opportunity to unplug, socialize, and find instant gratification, and marketers need to understand their preferences when designing in-store experiences. 

How to Make the Work-Anywhere Model Work

A new norm brings new challenges

Hybrid workplaces are becoming the new norm, and while the structure provides flexibility and balance for team members, it also presents some new challenges for productivity and workflows.

Consider the what, where and when of your work

To help maximize productivity in the various workspaces the model allows for, communication and planning are crucial to success. Teams should consider WHAT work is happening, WHERE the work is happening, and if a workforce is spread across multiple time zones, WHEN the work is happening. All are equally important factors in the equation.

When teams are working in an office, think about prioritizing relationship-building, collaborative work (like brainstorming), and workshops. Days spent offsite can focus on independent, routine tasks like emails, research, and heads-down work.

For example, kicking off a new project or brainstorm is a good reason to come together in person. Once the work is laid out and teams know what’s expected, the project can shift to a workflow that can be managed remotely.

Build openness and inclusivity into your model

Having open conversations and continuous feedback loops with teams about these expectations can help ground employees, and provide clear guidelines for independence. This will ultimately free them up to focus on the work, leading to smoother operations and productivity. 

Here are some things to consider when building a hybrid model to make sure it feels inclusive for all types of workers:

Availability: Establish a core set of hours when teams should be available for meetings, and make sure it’s comfortable for all times zones

Training: Develop training and onboarding resources that will work for both in-person and remote employees 

Culture: Plan inclusive cultural activities that allow employees to participate from anywhere and feel like a part of the team

Mentorship and growth: Ensure that all employees have access to the same level of coaching and opportunities

Creativity and collaboration: Cultivate strategies to foster an open dialogue and free-form thinking, even when employees can’t be in the same room

Building Engagement Into Your Content Strategy, Part 2

In part one of this two-part series, we explored ways to build engagement into your content strategy on a tactical level—with actionable tips and best practices to create content that will resonate with your target demographic. 

In part two, we’ll look at how brands can influence people along the customer journey with different types of content. What kind of content works best at the beginning of the journey? What resonates most with someone nearer the end? We can think of our possible approaches in three distinct buckets: conceptual, purposeful, and featureful — each of which makes sense at different phases in the purchase funnel.

Conceptual stage: selling an idea

There are so many brands selling so many “solutions” that it can be completely paralyzing — especially when the consumer doesn’t recognize a problem. And for marketers, it’s tremendously challenging to attract enthusiastic attention in our content-flooded world. When consumers begin the customer journey, they need an idea to convince them to continue down the path. This portion of your content strategy is all about building awareness. 

This content should be highly branded — selling the big idea behind your product or service, as well as the emotion you want your audience to feel. To define what that big idea should be, go back to your vision or mission statement and brainstorm creative ways to demonstrate it. 

This is not the time to sell all of your benefits (more on the danger of that in part one). Instead, think of it as an awareness play at the loftiest level, showing how your brand can improve lives. This is the time to pull on your audience’s desire to be a better version of themselves and live aspirationally. Consider the recent Fitbit campaign “What’s Strong With You.” Here, Fitbit challenges consumers to find their inner strength, aligning with their mission “to empower and inspire you to live a healthier, more active life.”

At this point in the journey, Fitbit refrains from any mention of products or services; instead, they focus on the big idea of recognizing your own strength to instill a sense of motivation and encouragement with consumers, setting the stage for product marketing later in the consumer journey. This approach allows them to cast a wide awareness net, building their case with consumers as they continue down the purchase funnel.

Purposeful stage: answering a specific need

As they move along in their journey, consumers should now know about your brand or a solution that your brand provides. They get the big idea and are inspired and poised to take action. Here, they simply need a little convincing to take a strong step toward purchase. In this case, they might even have entered the customer journey a little further downstream, perhaps from the recommendation of a friend. This portion of your content strategy should be designed with a certain level of specificity to solve a problem, or exploit an opportunity.

However, your content and the message it carries should still include a healthy dose of your brand. With Old Navy’s “Bodequality” campaign, the international clothing retailer promises consumers a fashion revolution in the form of size inclusivity.

Aidy Bryant serves as a spokesperson, offering a brand-forward message that solves a multitude of sizing problems for consumers “because you deserve it.” As an accessible, affordable fashion brand, this campaign ladders up to Old Navy’s mission of “imagining a place where everyone feels like they belong, and all the clothes are made with love” — communicating a critical benefit without offering info about specific products.

If conceptual content is all about awareness, then purposeful content is a unique proposal that invites the customer to become a part of your brand in a more specific way.

Source: Old Navy's BODEQUALITY Initiative

Featureful stage: selling value

Once your content pulls customers in, it’s time to close the deal and keep them in the loyalty loop. At this point in the customer journey, you’ll want to develop content that creates repeat customers and brand advocates.

The strategy here hinges on a combination of your brand’s DNA and a strong understanding of your customers, which you should have when they are this far down the path. Are you a value-based organization, like Patagonia? You’ll probably want to express those values repeatedly in your content to remind your audience that you care about the same things they do. Do you constantly innovate? You’ll want to consistently show your customers all of the features and achievements in your products, no matter how small.

At Apple, their brand advocates are artists, creatives, makers, and sophisticated tech-forward consumers. What is Apple selling with their latest product release, the iPhone 13? “Oh. So. Pro.” The new MacBook? “Supercharged for pros. The most powerful MacBook Pro ever is here. With the blazing-fast M1 Pro or M1 Max chip — the first Apple silicon designed for pros — you get groundbreaking performance and amazing battery life.” This is content designed to give consumers the information they need to believe and invest in the latest innovation. The aim is to be so well-aligned with their audience that they will never consider a different brand.

Third-party validation also matters at this stage in the journey. Testimonials, reviews, and influencers can make a real difference in the minds of consumers. Make sure your featureful messaging is as relevant to industry thought leaders as it is to your target demographic.

These days, the customer journey is seriously fragmented (more on that in our next post). But one thing remains true across every experience and every platform the modern consumer uses: content drives them down the path. Ultimately, your opportunity lies in having the right mix of content for each and every step.

How to Connect from a Distance

We learned to stay connected as an agency

At Simon/Myers, all-agency interactions became more important than ever. While they were also harder to organize, we learned that regular interaction with our team was crucial to feeling connected and supported.

In addition to our weekly all-agency calls, we made a point of hosting monthly Zoom happy hours, which allowed us to connect casually as a team. It may sound obvious, but seeing each other’s faces and chatting about things outside of work really does help us create stronger bonds and grow together as a group. It also reminds us that what we do as an agency is a team effort. To spice things up from our day-to-day Zoom calls, we organized activities like we would for our in-person gatherings. Making cocktails together, building terrariums, and playing themed games are among the highlights from this year.

Maintaining good relationships with clients

Not seeing our clients in person has been extremely frustrating. But from now on, thanks to Zoom, we may benefit from more client face-time than ever before. Pre-pandemic, Zoom was not even close to being a regular part of our meeting routine. When we couldn’t see clients face-to-face, we had conference calls — complete with the awkward pauses, talking over each other, and hand gestures that couldn’t be seen.

Zoom minimizes opportunities for awkward conversations, and even miscommunications, thanks to facial cues and body language you simply can’t get over the phone. For these reasons, we plan to continue using Zoom even when the pandemic is over.

Dealing with digital distraction and screen fatigue

While working from a distance has certainly made it harder to connect with colleagues and clients, in some ways it’s become harder to disconnect. Utilizing Zoom and other conference calling software comes with its downsides. We’ve grown accustomed to hopping on calls rather than sending an email or Slack message, and have had to navigate being strategic about when each mode of communication is appropriate to use (and for how long).

Something we are all too familiar with after this year is the fatigue that comes with spending all day on a screen, trying to squeeze work in between the many calls that Zoom has seemingly exacerbated. While we like communicating over Zoom, we still need to consider the costs and benefits of it from an efficiency and budget standpoint. And protecting our team from the fatigue that comes with it is something we’re working to do better.

Connecting with remote coworkers

While we’re still navigating this problem ourselves, we’ve come up with some strategies that have helped us in this area. A big one was creating a system to set statuses that alert team-members when you’re “Interruptible,” “In the Middle of Something,” or “Heads Down. No Distractions, Please.” While working in an office provides everyone with visual cues of when would be a good time to interact with team members (spinning in your desk chair vs. headphones in, focused-face on), it’s not so easy to sense in a virtual setting. These simple green, yellow, and red circles next to everyone’s face and name on Slack help let our team know when would be a good (or bad) time to reach anyone. 

What strategies has your team implemented to help connect and disconnect during this time?