David Feinleib is the founder and CEO of IT’SRAPID, a leading ecommerce visual content creation company.
When it comes to creating awareness for your products, in-store seasonal marketing is one of the most effective ways to attract, engage, and convert shoppers because it’s both visually and physically appealing.
Consider the colorful and memorable seasonal marketing tactics used to elevate the store experience: from end caps to display signs, Super Bowl standees, and Valentine’s Day chocolate displays to bright orange pumpkins and freshly cut Christmas trees.
As sales have shifted online and digital’s influence has increased, marketers have tried to replicate in-store seasonal marketing online with limited success because it’s less dynamic and seasonally rotational.
Until recently, many sites simply didn’t support the breadth and depth of content formats that lend themselves to visual marketing. Just getting an up-to-date product shot live was challenging enough. The thought of trying to refresh that product shot to take advantage of seasonal opportunities was an aspiration, but a mostly unattainable one.
Consumers’ digital content preferences have changed in the last few years, driven by a big shift to shopping and consuming content on mobile devices. This engagement has been driven by social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok because they focus on highly visual, highly digestible, bite-sized content.
There’s also been a boom in retail media networks that have turned virtually every ecommerce site into an advertising-driven publisher site, complete with sponsored display and search ads.
Altogether, this has resulted in a huge increase in the quantity and types of placements available to brands when it comes to reaching shoppers online. It means that the visual content marketing that marketers have historically relied on to drive sales in-store can now be replicated online — and, in many cases, made even better than before.
There’s a very clear case to be made for building the same seasonal marketing and merchandising capabilities for the digital shelf that we have for brick-and-mortar.
What’s Changed in the Last 10 Years
Ten years ago, it was sufficient just to publish a product shot online — and it was a huge challenge to do so. The systems of the time weren’t designed to easily publish web-friendly product images.
Many had been designed from a production and sourcing perspective. A single low-resolution image was provided at the outset simply to help identify the product to facilitate supply chain workflows.
Five years later, product information management (PIM) and data asset management (DAM) systems started becoming mainstream.
My previous company, Content Analytics, introduced Content Health Scorecards, which became popularized by many leading retailers. Content became a core focus for many brands, but it was text heavy and largely a one-and-done function. It was considered sufficient if a vendor could get a single major update done.
But then the switch flipped. Shoppers were spending a lot more time online. They consumed almost all their content and did the vast majority of their shopping on a mobile device. Attention spans got shorter. The number of SKUs online grew exponentially.
Seemingly overnight, it became a lot more challenging to stand out at the very time standing out became even more critical.
The Challenges of Replicating the Store Experience
Today, the one-and-done approach no longer cuts it. As marketers, we know that seasonal and occasion-based marketing works. We’ve seen it work for the store experience, so we want to replicate it online.
But the approach and the toolset we need to keep content fresh on a regular basis weren't there. There wasn’t a practical way to refresh our content to take advantage of all those tentpole opportunities throughout the year (not without a huge cost and resource hit, which is impractical in today’s resource- and cost-constrained environment).
We had the product shots and lifestyle images, and, at long last, the placements were available to help us from top to bottom of the funnel, from display to brand page and product detail page (PDP). Perhaps — most importantly — the demand was there.
Shoppers were hungry for fresh content, and marketers wanted to take advantage of all the new placements, formats, and demand for seasonal and visual content for shoppers.
It was the perfect opportunity — or at least it would have been if the critical elements hadn’t been missing: the approach and the toolset required to execute it.
A Strategic Opportunity for Capturing Seasonal Demand
Brands and retailers are eager to create and capture seasonal demand. As a result, brands that support retailers for seasonal efforts can strengthen their relationships strategically. Seasonal marketing can help retailers attract new shoppers and grow the category. Both of these benefit the brand in a strategic way that aligns well with retailers’ interests.
The availability of new placements and new formats, combined with the shopper and marketer demand for fresh, engaging visual content has brought with it a new set of approaches and tools. Content that’s created at scale, which is customized per seasonal opportunity and even per SKU, is now very much a reality.
How Visual Content Has Changed
Content has become much more about production and freshness and less about perfection. Most content only stays relevant now for a few weeks at most — and sometimes for as little as a few days or even a few hours.
Creating content that’s very high quality remains extremely important, but so does getting it live and refreshing it frequently. And with so many opportunities available throughout the year, from the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and more, taking advantage of seasonal opportunities has never been more relevant.
A New Toolset and Approach Makes a Variety of Content Possible
A new toolset has emerged that leverages existing brand assets, like product images, but uses modern technologies and retailer-specific templates combined with just the right amount of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to produce a variety of different content outputs, from display ads to product infographics and stoppable videos.
The right approach combined with the right technology can produce content in a variety of different formats, sizes, and variations, all in a matter of minutes. That means you can produce a video and a set of display ads. And you can produce multiple variations of similar creative, featuring different offers, calls to action (CTAs), backgrounds, and products, to see what performs the best.
Finally, retailers and ecommerce sites have added support for the delivery of display ads and PDP content via programmatic interfaces. This means that once content is created, it can be immediately delivered to retailers to go live on top-of-funnel ad campaigns and bottom-of-funnel PDP pages.
Real-World Examples of Leveraging Technology
Let’s take a look at a few real-world examples.
Our client and partner PepsiCo is creating display ads across multiple retailers, leveraging multiple ad formats combined with a variety of different offers in order to optimize performance.
At the same time, they’re using automation to rapidly produce mobile-ready hero images that have the exact right colors, text, and products for each brand.
Another one of our clients, a leading beer maker, is refreshing display ads, shoppable videos, and PDP images throughout the year. We’ve partnered with them to produce Halloween creative, holiday creative, and creative for St. Patrick’s Day, with even more coming. Their head of marketing loves the scalability, ecommerce-specific content, and speed of execution they get with today’s new modular, semi-automated toolset and content creation approaches.
Bridging the Gap Between the Digital and Physical Shelf
All of this, of course, is just the beginning. As brands continue to seize the opportunity for seasonal content that highlights brand and product relevance and increases shopper engagement, more tools and approaches will continue to emerge to support these efforts.
Technologies like ChatGPT will be incorporated into content-creation tools to streamline the creation of headlines and CTAs while staying on-brand and on message.
Other technologies will be able to suggest the most relevant backgrounds for seasonal occasions, making even faster work of the production process. And that will make it even more important for brands that want to stand out from the crowd to have a truly differentiated content execution strategy: one that takes full advantage of every seasonal opportunity to be relevant for shoppers throughout the year.
At long last, the ability to bring seasonal display opportunities that for years have been so successful in stores to online, digital marketing efforts is now well within reach.
Interested in more insights on closing the gap between the digital and physical shelf? Learn more about the Digital Shelf Institute.
IT’SRAPID provides a unique combination of managed services and digital platform capabilities that accelerate visual content creation for leading brands worldwide. For more information, reach David at email@example.com.