Over the past few years, a number of c-store operators introduced mobile apps with the goal of fulfilling an imperative to “go digital.”
Digital, however, is much more than an app; a comprehensive strategy includes data, customer relationship management (CRM), social media, optimization and more. In this column, we’ll focus on five key parts of a digital strategy.
As more convenience retailers embrace technologies such as loyalty apps, mobile ordering and self-service kiosks, it’s critical to establish a clear digital strategy from the outset. The goal of such a strategy is to leverage data and technology to better understand your customers, making their experience across every brand interaction and touchpoint more convenient, personalized and enjoyable — and, in the process, drive measurable business outcomes.
First-Party Data and Analytics
Analytics help brands determine how users behave and interact with a brand. If your brand website has limited functionality (no user login, ordering functionality, etc.), site user data from platforms like Google Analytics may be limited. However, customer data can come from a variety of sources such as primary and secondary research.
When beginning to gather customer data, a key question convenience retailers can begin with is: What motivates customers to choose this brand over another?
Some customers want fuel discounts. Others want convenience in the form of ancillary services, such as ready-to-eat meals, delivery or car washes. Still others might appreciate a high level of in-person customer service when they stop in for their morning coffee.
Everyone has different motivations and desired outcomes; the goal of a comprehensive digital strategy is to cater to these unique desires and expectations at each and every touchpoint. Understanding your customer base via first-party data and analytics is the first step in doing that.
Personalization, Loyalty and CRM
Once you have data, it can be analyzed and trends within it can be used to better understand consumer behavior and eliminate friction points. This, in turn, drives personalized brand interactions that feel like they were created specifically for each customer, at just the right time.
An effective CRM strategy considers each phase of the customer lifecycle. It requires strategic, deliberate messaging to target users at a unique moment in time, considering channel, frequency or content.
The small marketing team at Blaze Pizza used its CRM platform to gather a wealth of insights about the brand’s clientele.
“We did a series of surveys, which resulted in a much higher engagement rate than we anticipated,” said Vince Szwajkowski, chief marketing officer, Blaze Pizza. “In some cases, we were able to re-engage with lapsed guests. We also received information that we can’t get from transactional data, such as which features should be developed in our app, what they love about the brand, and what is challenging about engaging with the brand.”
This gave Blaze an initial data set to build on. As a result of the survey, the brand put together a successful ”Win Back” campaign for lapsed guests.
Digital Properties and Marketing Technologies
Customers want to be communicated with in a personalized way. Digital assets such as apps, websites, self-service kiosks and media displays in the fuel area are all examples of ways in which to do that. The marketing technology, or “martech” stack — which can include the customer data, loyalty, offer management, marketing automation, online ordering, gift card and other platforms — comprise the underlying architecture that powers a brand’s consumer-facing technology.
Consumer insights, gathered from the data and analytics mentioned above, can help drive the digital strategy and create a roadmap for new technologies, which will be added over time.
Testing and Optimization
Digital transformation is not a matter of immediately instituting the best ideas, but rather trying new methods and initiatives to determine what works best for your brand. Breakthrough ideas come not only from knowing what is working, but from knowing what isn’t.
Some brands will gladly invest in new features and technologies, but struggle to invest in user testing. A/B testing, however, is a critical part of an effective digital strategy. Often, a simple solution can dramatically improve the user experience, but you won’t know that until it’s tested.
Remember: digital transformation is a long-term, iterative process. Even the most successful brands — such as Starbucks, which began its digital journey more than 15 years ago — constantly strive to optimize customer interactions with the brand.
Establishing early-phase collaboration between the IT and marketing departments, along with consideration for operations and accounting, is essential to implementing a holistic digital strategy.
When the IT department understands the ultimate goals of the marketing team, and vice versa, they can work in tandem to evolve the tech stack based on a clear strategy and roadmap, ultimately improving the customer experience and driving measurable business outcomes. They can also be forward-thinking in planning software integrations, rollouts of new products and services, and tracking and measuring progress.
While an app alone may not be a digital strategy, it can be an integral part of your brand’s overarching plan. By creating a roadmap and planning across teams and departments, your c-store’s digital presence will grow and contribute to your bottom line.
Kevin Rice is the executive vice president at Bounteous, a digital growth partner for the restaurant and c-store industries that helps brands like Wawa, Dash In and Domino’s drive incremental revenue through digital experiences.