Guest editorial: tips from the trenches

by Jake Fell
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From helping more than 50 specialty retailers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve garnered some best practices in marketing and branding. (These practices were already imperative prior to COVID-19; the pandemic has merely accelerated the urgency.)

Focus your branding and marketing message on customer relationships and community.  All specialty retailers who are generating sales above industry benchmarks implemented successful campaigns based on customer relationships and community. Close client relationships are exactly what department stores lack. One of our most successful retail customers, Chris Lambert from Christopher James Menswear, said it perfectly: “We’re in the people business; we just happen to sell clothes.” Your marketing should reflect this sentiment. Be a beacon of optimism for your community.

Post authentic, unpolished content on social media. Start creating engaging content your customers will love on Instagram and Facebook. Show unpolished videos and photos documenting your purpose and journey as a retailer. Some retailers display only professional vendor model shots on social media. This is a missed opportunity because modern consumers reward unpolished and authentic content on channels like Instagram and Facebook. Consumers want to see you and your associates out connecting with customers, supporting your local community, and making things happen.

Trevor Furbay from Trevor Furbay Bespoke is a role model for how to create great content on social media. He’s generated sales in the tens of thousands of dollars during the pandemic through scrappy Instagram campaigns with cameos from vendors (e.g. the founders of Faherty and M. Singer), customer testimonials, appearances by local celebrities, and curated custom style boxes. Every specialty retailer can adapt savvy social media tactics without a new financial investment.

Embrace polished content on your website, email, and print. Social media rewards unpolished content. Conversely, your website, emails, and print should be polished. Your website is the face of your brand; prospective customers will visit it to decide whether or not to do business with you. Obsolete DIY websites or no website at all are no longer options. Devote your resources to delivering polished content and great user experiences on your website, email, and print.

Embrace e-commerce. E-commerce-only retailers are down 60 percent during the pandemic. In other words, e-commerce is not a panacea. Having said that, e-commerce is less expensive and easier to implement than ever and has proven to generate cash and improve customer engagement. Modern e-commerce platforms like Shopify integrate with modern POS systems, making inventory management relatively simple. In our experience implementing e-commerce sites for retailers since the pandemic, all stores generated enough sales to offset their new financial investment in less than a month.

Automate “polished” marketing.  Automate and outsource marketing tasks to devote your time to creating unpolished social media content, connecting with customers, and executing scrappy campaigns. Create a strategy for which marketing aspects to automate vs. which to do yourself. Modern POS systems enable you to integrate your customer data with cloud marketing platforms and automatically deliver exciting experiences at every point of the customer lifecycle journey.

Jake Fell is the managing partner at eMarketing Logic. He can be reached at jacob@emarketinglogic.com.

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