Getting personal

Saint Joseph’s University’s eighth annual Food Industry Summit focused on personalization and attracting well-informed shoppers. 

By Barrie Dawson

Empowered by their online devices and a bevy of apps, today’s food shoppers can check prices, consult experts, share experiences and ponder options at a moment’s notice. They are fickle, demanding and insistent on shopping where, when and how they want.140313-fis-058

This power has always been in shoppers’ hands, but now they know how to better use it. The marketing game has become far more complex than handing out a free sample here or sending a circular there.

Given that, “Leveraging Omni-Channel Marketing with the Connected Consumer” seemed to be a very appropriate title for Saint Joseph’s University’s eighth annual Food Industry Summit, sponsored by the university’s Food Marketing Program, on March 13 in Philadelphia.

“When you start with a term like omni-channel personalization, we’ll have to do a little defining here because it sounds like gobbledygook,” said Dr. Bill Bishop, founder of the Brick Meets Click website, which provides strategic insights to help retailers meet shoppers’ needs. “It’s either jargon or the beginning of a new language. I prefer to consider it the beginning of a new language.”

Bishop said omni-channel describes the shopper who has access to many new information sources. Personalization is how retailers can appeal more effectively to the empowered shopper by demonstrating an understanding of the shopper’s needs and helping the shopper make choices.

Seth Moser, who leads the customer innovation network for the management consulting firm Accenture, talked about the kind of personalized service the neighborhood cornerstore used to provide.

“The retailer knew you, knew your family, understood your needs and wanted to serve you on any given day,” he said. “You’d walk in, and they would almost anticipate your needs. Technology, for the first time, is getting to the point where we can scale that. We can do sort of the corner store at scale. We can give them customized products and we can also give them customized experiences. Or, we can take regular experiences and make them personal for their lifestyle and develop a relationship along the way.”

Jessica Gioglio, the social media strategist for Dunkin’ Donuts, uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets to connect with the company’s fans. Her social media strategy incorporates everyone from Dunkin’ Donuts’ legal experts to its advertising executives, and it focuses on building a community of loyal, engaged followers. Her mantra: Embrace visual storytelling.

She said Dunkin’ Donuts rewards fans with a Fan of the Week, which is a way to capitalize on the many unsolicited Facebook photos and videos the company receives from its followers. Not only is the Fan of the Week honored with a Facebook presence, he or she is featured on Dunkin’ Donuts’ digital billboard in New York’s Times Square. A copy of the Times Square photo is sent to the fan, who usually distributes it—and the Dunkin’ Donuts brand—far and wide. It is called “Recommend by a Friend.”

Another way Dunkin’ Donuts develops personal relationships with its customers is through the “Surprise and Delight” program. When a fan raves about Dunkin’ Donuts all the time, goes to a store every day and regularly shares stories and tweets, Gioglio’s team will often ask the fan for his or her address. The team will send the fan a “care package” of Dunkin’ Donuts goodies, accompanied by a hand-written note.

“We find that nine times out of 10, when we send one to a really loyal fan, they take a picture and share it,” Gioglio said. “I’d love to do more of this. I see a real opportunity to do this at scale.”

The opportunity to interact with fans through social media did not come about because Dunkin’ Donuts cut back on spending in other channels. Instead, it ramped up its social-media budget and created a 360-degree marketing platform that includes traditional and nontraditional channels for a campaign that is seamless in the customer’s eyes.

Walgreens drug stores have been around since 1901, but it was only a few years ago that management realized that if someone were to be marched blindfolded into the middle of a store, that person would not know whether he or she was in a CVS, a Rite-Aid or a Walgreens once the blindfold was removed. That bothered management, which launched a campaign aimed to make Walgreens the first choice in health care in America and beyond.

“Our mantra is really Happy and Healthy Made Easy,” said Jasbir Patel, the company’s divisional vice president of daily living, photo and omni-channel. “We have three core strategies: The first one is ‘Well Experience.’ The second one is ‘Transforming the Community Pharmacy’ and the third one is ‘Establishing an Efficient Global Platform.’”

In 2009, under then-new CEO Gregory Wasson, Walgreens began to transform itself. The process included a trip overseas by a corporate team to study how retail stores were run in other countries. It included the acquisition of the New York-based Duane Reade pharmacy chain as well as Boots Ltd. in the United Kingdom. Walgreens not only gained Duane Reade’s New York market share, it borrowed from the Duane Reade store format and customer experience.

Today, patrons can enjoy sushi and an alcoholic beverage in a café or stop by the nail salon at some Walgreens locations. Its pharmacists are in the front of the store, not in the back, and they are ready to answer customers’ questions and make recommendations.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is that our customers interact with their telephones, so how do we make that service easy?” Patel said. “We’ve created what we call ‘refill by scan,’ which gave us our Webby award.” Webby awards are given internationally for excellence on the Internet.

It is that kind of innovation that can serve as a model for the grocery industry. As online services continue to emerge, traditional grocery retailers must keep pace or risk losing their shoppers. Personalization is one way to do that. Improving the in-store shopping experience is another. Customer engagement across channels is a third.

The common denominator? People.

“Omni-channel personalization is a commitment to being customer-centered,” Bishop said. “We have such a preoccupation in the grocery business with being product-oriented or category-oriented, but we’re not really that shopper-oriented. Omni-channel personalization isn’t just jargon. It’s the way the world is going to unfold.”


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