FMCG brands lose out online

FMCG brands that place all their eggs in one basket by only engaging consumers online through their own brand websites don’t understand how grocery shoppers behave and are missing a trick, says Jo Malvern, beforeIshop.co.uk product & marketing director at Couponstar.

Jo Malvern
Jo Malvern

As powerful a marketing medium as the Internet is, its potential for targeting and engaging traditional supermarket shoppers, predominately “Mum”, is at best variable for FMCG brands seeking to gain new customers and sell products. This is because everyday FMCG brands in the foods, beverages, pet food, household and personal care categories are typically low involvement purchases requiring little more than momentary thought before consumers add them to their trolleys

High-involvement products and services are considerably different by their very nature. An individual who is about to part with serious money to buy a new car or washing machine will take their time, do their research online and evaluate the options and promotions available to ensure they get the best deal.

However, FMCG brands face a far tougher challenge getting consumers to engage with them online. Despite this, nearly every FMCG brand now has its own website which they seek to actively promote, yet consumers don’t typically have the interest, time or desire to visit it! This begs the question – do some FMCG brands have false expectations and do they really understand how their customers behave online?

More effort, less impact

Apart from the rare few such as Coca Cola and Unilever who are starting to use social media sites such as Facebook, when it comes to online marketing, FMCG brands are still curiously reluctant to engage with consumers outside of their own website. Brands seem to prefer to invest in independently driving consumers to their own websites, even though it’s often more costly, because they then own and control the brand’s relationship with the consumer.

But, not only is this ’control-freak’ approach out of sync with a consumer’s desire to interact with FMCG brands online, it’s also a comparatively expensive and labour-intensive method of reaching and engaging consumers online.

A direct comparison with a multi-brand promotional website aggregating advertisements and offers from multiple brands such as www.beforeIshop.co.uk soon highlights the difference. When a leading household care brand embarked on a dual strategy of offering a £1.00 off printable coupon – both from its own website and also via a multi-brand promotional site – its media costs were £79,000 versus £3,000 to achieve the same quantity of coupons issued and redeemed through each route respectively. The brand’s own website required a substantial investment in online and traditional media to drive visitors (traffic) to the site. The multi-brand program on the other hand, which pools together advertisements and offers from multiple brands into a single destination and benefits from shared costs and an existing returning target audience, charged using a cost-per-engagement (pay-on-performance) model. The upshot was that the aggregate site delivered the same results for just 4% of the cost.

Pride before a fall

The insistence on trying to force unnatural behaviour by driving consumers to FMCG brand websites is puzzling. Because it goes against the grain, it means brand owners must independently invest heavily in online and traditional media to target potential customers and get them to visit their website where they can then engage them further in the brand, interact with them, sign-them-up and capture consumer data.

All of these benefits can be more easily achieved, and for a tiny fraction of the cost, by taking a more natural route aligned with shoppers’ behaviour and attitudes, which is typically: “I have little time so make it quick and easy – give me offers from multiple brands, all in one place, like my grocery loyalty card mailings or the promotional offers I see on shelf in the supermarket.”

Any snobbery that pooling brands together online may be somehow demeaning to the brand misses the point. It also fails to appreciate just how sophisticated and creative multi-brand promotional sites can be. The right digital platform will offer advertisers a positive brand association as well as all of the same engagement tools valued by brand owners running promotions on their own websites – including brand plots, surveys, data capture, competitions and videos, all of which can also be combined with a printable coupon to drive measurable in-store sales.

In addition, consumers that visit a multi-brand programme to take advantage of a particular headline offer, typically go on to engage with many other promotions on the same platform. For example, Couponstar www.couponstar.com found that when they had 32 offers live within beforeIshop™ consumers typically interacted with or printed an average of four offers during their visit.

Keep rivals close

When it comes to integrated marketing campaigns, brand managers must adhere to their own common sense. Brands share shelf space in store and in Google search listings (organic and paid) so sharing space with other brands on an aggregated promotional site is surely much the same?

That’s not to say that brand owners should see this as an ultimatum between the two options. It is simply that in their attempts to derive the best value from their budgets they should be more open-minded about how best to spend their precious marketing budgets online. It’s natural to push consumer interaction via the brand’s website or enewsletter, but if it’s an everyday grocery product rather than an Aston Martin, there could be a worrying disconnect from the average supermarket shopper’s mindset.

Take Proctor & Gamble UK for example, a vast and highly respected brand owner, and a large investor in online marketing. It is no coincidence that the company recently launched its own multi-brand web site, “supersavvyme” as an alternative to each brand going it alone. It sees the benefit of pooling its brands and resources, recognising the diminishing returns on pursuing independent campaigns via each individual brand’s website.

An independent multi-brand promotional forum multiplies the return on investment for FMCG brands because it reflects the way consumers behave offline. In the FMCG sector, winning new customers is a challenge, especially in the current climate. Finding and engaging them doesn’t need to be hard work, idly frittering money on expensive online and traditional media, but rather responding to what shoppers truly need and where they are already spending time online.

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