By Kristi Tomasin

Over the course of one week in March 2020, Google saw search volume for “curbside pickup” grow by 70 percent. Jean-Philippe Gauthier, Head of Digital Marketing Transformation at Google Canada, knows the value of that famous search bar. It captures a lot of customer intent. In this case, the insight was a graphic illustration of how fast change happens.

Before 2020 shifted our outlook, regulatory changes and new technologies were already transforming Canadian eCommerce. And then, in the space of eight weeks, digital adoption skipped five years — with some companies reporting year-on-year surges of as much as 400 percent. According to Gauthier, “Canada’s eCommerce moment is now. It’s as simple as that.” Canada Post research in October 2020 shows that one third of Canadians now shop more online than in store.

As the eCommerce landscape evolves from transactional to relational, this inflection brings with it a wealth of marketing opportunities. ECommerce retailers across Canada are sitting on data gold, and marketers with clear intentions — who mine the right information at the right time — can use that data to inform effective marketing strategies that fuel business growth.

Home is the new frontier
Home. Family. Community. Throughout successive lockdowns, protective of what unites us, we have been comforted by the authenticity of belonging. According to Accenture survey research, we’re entering the decade of the home. Retailers must adjust their approach and meet consumers locally. 53 percent of people who never worked from home previously now plan to do so more often. 56 percent of consumers say they’re buying more locally sourced products, with 84 percent of those saying they plan to continue to do so long term. The Canada Post 2020 Canadian ECommerce Report reinforces this finding, indicating that, besides planning to shop more online, more Canadians plan to shop locally.

Accenture’s Oliver Wright says home has “become the workplace, the schoolroom, the place to try new hobbies, the place to socialize and a safe sanctuary — so companies must account for this reality.” He advises them to think beyond traditional tactics and be more creative to engage consumers.

Companies like Heinz are following his advice. At a time when home-bound audiences had more time on their hands, and less appetite for staring at a screen, Heinz Canada wondered about reinforcing nostalgia in a fun, relevant way. So it launched a pandemic-inspired social media contest with promotional puzzles sent to 57 winners’ homes.

The puzzles’ 570 pieces are the same monotone red. The irony wasn’t lost on at-home audiences. The campaign went viral, effectively linking the lockdown pastime to Heinz’s slow-pouring ketchup. This engaging idea boosted emotional connection by bringing together context, marketing and customer experience. The puzzle was so successful that ketchup sales in Canada increased by 18 percent.

Connecting with the right audiences
The advice is clear. But how can marketers be sure they’re connecting with browsers and buyers who’ll be receptive to their brand messages? The answer is hiding in plain sight. Canada’s online retailers are already sitting on data gold. With first-party customer data as their guide, marketers have direct access to the insights that will help them reach the right audiences with relevant, timely, personalized messaging to create memorable and engaging customer experiences.

Picking and packing the right data
Mining data for the most relevant, useful and actionable information takes careful consideration. Without applicable insights, marketers are left dealing with dead-end data. Mining the right information will transform data nuggets into commercial success.

The quickest route to meaningful transformation and growth lies in an effective data checklist that links business goals, customer expectations and media channels so that retailers can meet audiences at significant, defining touchpoints throughout a customer’s journey. Marketers already have that data, contained, for example, in online interactions with eCommerce websites and social media channels. There are insights to be gained from store visits too. Be on the lookout for:
• Shopping preferences: Do marketing strategies reflect changes in buying habits?
• Category trends: Does marketing content echo emerging shopping needs?
• Geographic clusters: Are marketing messages positioned in the right places?
• Purchasing volume and frequency: Are there add-to-cart opportunities needing a nudge?
• Demographic indicators, such as life stage and lifestyle: Do generational shifts in behaviour need to be addressed?
• Product rankings: Is media planning and spend aligned with product performance?
• Changes to channels: Are customers rerouting their journeys?

Showing up in homes
With all eyes on at-home audiences, marketers have been gifted the perfect opportunity to optimize the mix by using a proven media channel that is already well known for its connections with at-home consumers. Capitalizing on the new energy and agility of direct mail media, marketers can create renewed advantage. With direct mail in the mix, they can tailor messaging, timing, products and offers to meet customer needs and local market conditions. Integrating mobile, first-party and geolocation data improves local targeting. Targeted media can be used to amplify standardized mass media with localized offers.

In addition to the first-party data insights mentioned above, marketers can incorporate third-party postal code data to reach brand users in precisely targeted, personalized and integrated ways. This data can be used to optimize geographic and psychographic targeting. Brands can reach out locally, using physical media to encourage customers to buy online. With interest in local shopping and sourcing increasing, postal codes are an invaluable asset in the marketing data stack. Connecting data to direct mail and integrating it with other media channels makes local adaptation more effective and relevant.

Unified shopping experiences
The lines between online and offline marketing, retailing, fulfillment and distribution are now less distinct. Trading places, brick-and-mortar locations have become media channels — to drive interest, enquiry, engagement, loyalty — while online interactions take on the role of store.

Reilly Stephens is Director of Insights at Retail Prophet. For her, unified commerce is the frictionless shopping experience customers expect. Data doesn’t lie, and a unified approach makes it easier to allow that information to drive decision making and connect media channels. It has never been so important to understand the customer journey and remove points of friction. Stephens explains, “Building a truly integrated online/offline ecosystem allows retailers to connect all the dots of their business through a single platform, offering a single view of inventory in every channel — website, mobile, brick and mortar — while plugging into consumer behaviour. It integrates with buying history and personal data to create a seamless and personalized experience.”

It’s important to think about how customers experience marketing data decisions. Small-data projects are relatively easy to deploy and can quickly improve marketing effectiveness. Creating a customer-centric strategy that clearly outlines what data is needed, and why, can get small data working quickly. Sourcing stable third-party data can close gaps in customer insights. It’s important to work from clean, well-structured, integrated data sets. ECommerce data that marketers already possess can be invaluable in connecting media for a more impactful customer journey and a unified shopping experience.

Fulfilling the connected shopper
A unified shopping experience isn’t about all channels all the time. Instead it describes how someone can choose the single, most appropriate channel (online or offline) that fits their lifestyle, expectations and shopping category exactly when they want it.

It’s important for marketers to take a closer look at how they connect the marketing mix to sales, and brand to channel experience, in a way that captures customer interest and delivers value. This requires rethinking the role every channel can play in the mix of interactions.

Unified marketing strategies
Unified shopping experiences demand a unified approach to marketing. While direct mail media is often thought of as a linear channel, meant to take someone directly to a sale from a call-to-action, it can also play a highly adaptive and contextual role in the channel mix. It can bring our online, out-of-home and at-home contexts closer together. While direct mail has always been data driven, now it can be seamlessly plugged in to digital channels and mobile data in ways that make it more connected within the customer journey.

Direct mail media sits at the intersection of marketing, customer experience and shopping — giving it a unique ability to connect, captivate and convert. It can take on a customizable role throughout the customer journey. It matches key CX (return on experience) metrics by being memorable, emotionally engaging and promoting time spent. Beware last-touch attribution because it often hides the assists. It’s not always the channel that immediately precedes a sale that did all the work. What’s important is to recognize all the channels that move a shopper towards the buy button.
• 51 percent of consumers either purchased a product online or in-store as a result of direct mail.
• 88 percent of Canadians visit a store or go online after receiving a direct mail piece.
• 68 percent Canadians are likely to share advertising received in their mailbox.

Direct mail can turn brands into at-home experiences, increase shopability and amplify community connections:
• Engaging an audience in authentic, multi-sensory brand experiences and stories;
• Qualifying and personalizing the brand shopping experience with data relevance;
• Acting as a portal to the brand ecosystem and creating connected shopping; and
• Amplifying digital content by extending it into the physical world.

We know that free shipping, speed, quality of shipping experience and convenient returns all have a big impact on purchase conversion and customer retention. However, online retailers have the opportunity to dial up that impact. When the focus shifts from order fulfillment to emotional fulfillment, direct media becomes an integral part of delivering a customer experience that promotes retention.

Data-driven programmatic mail
Programmatic mail is the physical equivalent of digital remarketing, combining the best of online and offline. It enables brands to stand out by matching CRM data with pre-set business rules to engage with customers. Literally putting brands in the hands of consumers, programmatic mail combines the timeliness of online media with the sensory appeal and proven results of direct mail. Based on data that indicates a customer’s activity and intent signals, it’s possible to create, automatically print and deliver personalized direct mail to the customer in as little as 48 hours.

Aiming to attract new users and increase conversion, Wayfair, a data-driven and testing-oriented retail business, teamed up with Canada Post to find its best channel mix. Using data and Canada Post Expert Partners to conduct the tests, the Wayfair programmatic mailing resulted in double the response rate vs. digital-only efforts (online and email re-targeting). Using qualified data sets (eCommerce index/cart, postal code) to test adding direct mail (postcards and mini-catalogue) to its digital media mix, Wayfair’s aim was to attract new users, as well as increase conversion by nurturing prospects who had abandoned their carts. The result was a 90 percent lift over the control created from the demographic look-alike group.

Like other media, you can use postal code data to understand audience coverage and composition, enhance reach and meet targeting goals. Combined with first-party data (customer service, store, email, social media and website) postal code data can improve omnichannel targeting. Thanks to programmatic technology, brands can now turn digital traffic into addressable households. With increased tracking capabilities through address matching, it’s a faster way to close the marketing-sales-retention loop.

Canadian sports retailer Golf Town has successfully deployed direct mail to turn online browsers into in-store shoppers. Traffic to is strong and steady. And Golf Town stores are where visitors can hit balls, putt on greens, road-test prospective purchases and get expert advice from sales associates. Could online visitors be converted to in-store shoppers for the peak golf season?

To find out, Golf Town launched a triggered marketing campaign. After identifying the most popular product categories (clubs, balls, shoes, apparel and bags), Golf Town mailed promotional offers within three days of a visit to those web pages. The resulting sales revenue was worth $158,000.00.

“We were able to determine that retargeting doesn’t need to be seen as an online only marketing tactic,” said Fred Lecoq, Vice President of Marketing and ECommerce.

The edge of opportunity
Nobody would deny that the seismic eCommerce shifts of 2020 led to a whole new collection of marketing challenges. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, and an adaptive approach to the rapidly evolving marketplace, Canada’s marketers are poised on the edge of opportunity. Sitting on a wealth of data, those online retailers who pause to mine, analyze and segment their own information — using the insights in service of both commerce and consumer — are the eCommerce businesses who will reap the greatest benefits. And those with the foresight to fully integrate the marketing mix — combining multiple channels to create an impactful and unified shopping experience — stand to be rewarded with a clear competitive advantage.

Kristi Tomasin is Director, Smartmail Marketing, for Canada Post Corporation.

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