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How Grocers Can Change the Conversation With Customers

A brand-new Wegmans Food Market supermarket opened up in Northborough, Mass., in October and the Northeast regional grocer has plans to open six or seven more across New England. Whole Foods Market, another high-end grocer, has a strong and growing presence, as do local CSAs. What’s their secret to success?

High-end grocers like Wegmans and Whole Foods have created strong relationships with customers by turning shopping into an experience for customers, while also offering those customers quality products. On the other end of the spectrum are low-price providers, such as Demoulas Market Basket in Massachusetts, whose value proposition is being the lowest price in town. The vast majority of chain stores fall in the middle and are in danger of being squeezed out because they have neither market position nor identity.

These mid-market chains keep promoting themselves in the same old way with tired TV spots and print circulars. How many different ways can they show us a “mom on the go” making dinner for her family with the supermarket logo and jingle in the background? In many ways, these marketing efforts have remained unchanged since the 1970s.

Mid-market supermarkets can change the nature of the conversation by creating original content for customers to help them plan meals, improve family health and enjoy holidays -- and distribute that content across multiple platforms. The content needs to be where the customers are: online, print, mobile and social.

Today’s shopper has an infinite number of media and information choices at her fingertips. Ultimately, media content is self-selecting, as consumers seek out and gravitate to the information that best suits their needs. Creating content-rich, permission-based relationships is the goal for any supermarket focused on establishing an emotional customer connection. This connection leads to a long-term relationship built on affinity, trust and action.

To connect with their customers, supermarkets need to move beyond the price-promotion relationship to a deeper relationship based on innovation and trust, by surrounding their customers with inspiring content. This content should motivate customers to sample new products, ingredients and recipes while establishing an underlying emotional connection over time. The content should also address the interests, time demands and budgets of all segments of consumers to create a brand proposition that’s not exclusively dependent on price and promotions.

It’s important to use all available media platforms to distribute this content. This strategy takes advantage of the built-in audiences and influential customers who can evangelize the brand experience through social media. It’s imperative to have all platforms working together to ultimately drive customer engagement and action -- more frequent visits to stores, sampling new product categories and increasing average cart size. Here are some suggestions for supermarkets looking to connect with content marketing:

Print Magazine: Print builds an emotional reader connection, and is a vehicle that drives brand purchase decisions. In an age of e-mail overload, print gets attention and has staying power in the household. Wegmans and Whole Foods produce sleek, ad-supported magazines that bolster and extend each brand.

Web Content: The store site should be the repository of all content, and be updated on a weekly basis with fresh content. The site should give customers the ability to:

In addition, the site should also have:

  • Regular bloggers and subject matter experts: This would include an active comments section for users
  • Video content: Not advertising, but real vignettes that introduce humor and honesty -- elements likely to be forwarded within women’s groups
  • The site would be heavily “socialized” with easy-to-use share features to social media sites, the integration of Facebook’s “like” button, and Twitter feeds of subject matter experts and bloggers.
  • A crowd-sourcing function to allow customers to submit their own tips, ideas, opinions and recipes to allow customers to interact and share

All of this valuable content should be shared via the supermarket’s social and mobile channels. The addition of good, original content adds vibrancy to your social efforts and gives customers a real reason to follow you and share your content.

Consumers and the media environment are undergoing rapid change. Now is the time for supermarkets to start helping customers long-term rather than selling them the deal of the day.

The author works with King Fish Media clients on their integrated marketing strategy and programs, and is involved with the measurement analytics and social/mobile aspects of the campaigns. He writes and edits the King Fish “Think Tank” blog and hosts the “Kings of Content” podcast. Previously, he held senior marketing and research positions at CMP/UBM, Ziff Davis and IDG. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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