The Future Looks Sweet

Online shopping has slowed checkout aisle impulse buys like candy bars. Former Unilever executive Doug Straton is now tapping data to reconfigure how Hershey’s conducts business to compete in a bricks-and-clicks retail landscape. For brands today, a customer’s inability to find products, paired with subpar online content, is the equivalent of […]

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All told, great digital content is akin to what all consumer brands are searching for: Prime retail shelf space, Straton explained.

We should “make sure we are creating authentic, relevant, and shareable experiences, and that we’re able to deliver that content wherever somebody is.”

Hershey’s has set its sights on optimizing that endless stream of content that flows from the digital economy, which it divides into three buckets: branded content, enterprise content (such as the ingredients in a Reese’s peanut butter cup), and user-generated content—from shoppers’ product reviews on retail sites to their social media posts.

“In the past, there was a limited amount of brand-related copy created to address a limited amount of media and marketing channels, and all prospective consumers got basically the same message through those channels,” Straton said.

“Now, for any given product, there is a massive amount of content created, and not just by us, but also by people who love us—visuals, romance copy, TV spots, inspirational videos, ingredient lists, recipes, social, ratings, reviews, etc., are all part of the mix and are accessible on mobile, anywhere.

“As we create, curate, and most importantly, manage that content, we can deliver a different combination of image, video, recipes, or suggestions that are uniquely different based on who and where they are, by time of day or weather condition.”

When it comes to branded content, Straton argues that a well-executed Hershey’s product description page on Amazon, for example, is equally important to driving sales today as smart planogramming in hundreds of stores—although marketers too often ignore it, failing to appreciate that digital, once again, is the new front door to the store.

Unlike the unwieldy and inexact process of merchandising stores, there’s a pretty exact data science to getting a digital page right, he said. This includes details, such as product type and key words, like “Reese’s peanut butter cup,” or “Reese’s pieces,” that are findable, for example. At Unilever, Straton had to fight for the word “soap” to be included in Dove’s digital marketing. The keepers of the brand insisted that the product is a beauty bar, but “you’ve got to use the shopper’s language so that it surfaces in search,” he explained.

In this case, “The sexy things are not as important as the unsexy things,” Straton said.

Additive content, such as customer reviews, product features, and occasion-specific promotions, like March madness-themed Reese’s Pieces, are also integral to optimizing findability and consumer engagement.

“If you don’t master search, your brands can’t be found, and in turn, can’t be sold,” he said.

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