It's hardly a secret that customers increasingly dislike being sold to (Ad blockers anyone?), but I was still struck by some recent developments. By a Harris Poll study which revealed that direct targeting via ads on social media can actually lose you customers. By Adobe's release of a "Customer Fatigue Dashboard", designed to help brands avoid alienating customers through too much marketing. And by the 40% of people who would even be prepared to pay to stop being interrupted by advertising, according to a global Accenture study.
The advertising industry's proposed solution to all this seems to be a combination of better creative that will keep customers entertained, and hyper-targeted advertising that they’ll find more relevant. But with so many genuine entertainment choices already available, this is a daunting challenge for Agency creatives. And while it may be more relevant, hyper-targeted advertising still interrupts, and can feel creepy.
An alternative and perhaps more realistic approach, championed by Jay Baer, is to make the marketing itself useful to customers, so that it helps them in their lives. For example, there are certainly a number of ways supermarkets could do this:
1. Marketing that reduces friction. Starbucks struck customer gold by integrating mobile payment and ordering with their loyalty program. Supermarket shopping can be a pretty time-consuming process, yet the industry is awash with loyalty programs and the accompanying customer data. Why not use this data to make the supermarket experience dramatically easier for customers?
2. Marketing that inspires. Sephora's recent Virtual Artist app allows customers to see what any shade of lipstick would look like on their face, and has had a very positive reception. Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer is a long-standing example in food retailing. With food offering almost limitless possibilities to inspire, what could be a Sephora equivalent?
3. Marketing that educates. The success of Skillshare, Udemy and the like demonstrate that people have a thirst to learn. Health and wellness, cooking, and frugal living are just some of the many opportunities within food to educate customers, and indeed supermarkets have started to get involved.
However, the underlying point is that the marketing itself has to be centered on helping customers, rather than on selling. Although many supermarkets now have health and wellness programs, meal planning, and cooking classes, a look across the most visible aspects of supermarket marketing (flyers, websites, advertising) still reveals an industry dominated by selling. In a world where customers are evermore wary of being sold to, isn't it time to focus marketing on helping your customers instead?
A version of this post first appeared in Supermarket News