Ahead of Amazon Prime Day, one of the biggest e-commerce days of the year, NMG’s VP of Shopper Marketing Amanda Evans joined us to talk about the opportunity for independent retailers to turn the messaging around in their favor.
Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast. And before we dive into the episode, I just want to say happy birthday to you, Mrs. Amanda Evans.
Amanda Evans: Thank you.
Rob Stott: I don’t know why I got so lucky to have you record a podcast with us on your birthday, why you’re even letting this happen, but…
Well, I’m excited. It’s a good birthday present for me.
Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, we’re happy to have you on. Are VP of customer marketing. Is that right? You’re… Did I get that right?
Amanda Evans: Yeah. A shopper marketing.
Rob Stott: Shopper marketing.
Amanda Evans: It just recently changed so.
Rob Stott: That’s right. I was sure of your title. And then I went and looked. I was like, “Oh, that’s right. It just got changed.” Well, first of all, let’s start right there. Explain shopper marketing and what the new role means for you?
Amanda Evans: Yeah. So my role really didn’t change. Really what I’ve been doing the last five and a half years that I’ve been part of the buying group. So in that part, I’m really lucky, but really I’m just focused 100% on how do we drive customers to our retailer stores. So some of that is obviously through our brand relationships that we have and knowing what they’ve got going on, how we can help promote certain products and promotions, but then really blowing out and creating whole bunch of new stuff for our retailers. It’s really retailer first is kind of how we think of it internally. So that’s what I do. Yeah.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Has that always been… I mean, you marketing background tell us a little bit about is this always what you’ve been doing from a marketing perspective, and then what led you to nationwide?
Amanda Evans: Yeah. So I graduated high school and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to get a communications PR degree.” I actually found out very early on, I hate pitching media. So that was my least favorite activity to do, but…
Rob Stott: I’ll take no offense to that.
Amanda Evans: Kind of put it to marketing and advertising and have spent the last 20 years, thankfully, in this industry, marketing specifically. My background, I spent 10 years in franchising, couple of years in nonprofit, and then a few years at a digital and web agency. So all of those things kind of combined really made this opportunity when I first heard about it five years ago, really attractive. So all those experiences kind of led me here.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. And we’re obviously pleased and blessed and lucky to have you. So you talked about it a little bit, but I don’t even know if you can give an elevator pitch on what goes on in the marketing department where you are, but talk a little bit about… Try to peel the layers back for our listeners on kind of what it’s like in nationwide marketing groups and marketing department.
Amanda Evans: Oh, yeah. Perfect. So luckily we’ve had the ability to add several folks to the team since I’ve been here, which is I’m super thankful for that really high caliber marketing minded, creative minded individuals. So what we do is really figure out a promotional path for our retailers, right? So part of it is how do we help them use co-op funding and drive things that are really important to our manufacturing partners. So new product introductions, how do we keep content ever-present on their websites. But really what we’ve been kind of pivoting towards and we’re excited to be able to unveil a bunch of new things at Prime time when we’re together in Nashville, but really focused on retailer first. So shop local and searches for near me type products and services have just continued to grow exponentially. So we want to make sure that we have a library of ready to go content ready for our retailers to use across a variety of channels. And not just digital, but social, print, you name it so.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And kind of ironic that, that shifts happening, when the gist of why we’re here today is because the timing couldn’t be better. We’ve got an event… We’re sitting here on your birthday a couple of days before a big event that’s usually a month later than it is right now, but Amazon prime day, you might’ve heard about it.
Amanda Evans: Yeah. Once or twice.
Rob Stott: You may know what that is or what goes on there. But talk about… That’s kind of a self-made holiday for Amazon. They can do what they want, but is it something where… Is it a big deal in the Independent channel?
Amanda Evans: So I think it’s a big deal for consumers, right? So I like to put that hat on first, whenever I think about promotions and different activity. It really does draw a lot of promotion and interest from consumers, whether you’re an Amazon prime user or not. The challenge really, for me as a marketer in this seat in the role that I have with Independence is, Amazon continues… If you look at any of their recent ad campaigns, everything is based on driving low price, low, low price, and the commercials are cute, they’re kitschy, they’re memorable, but from our perspective, driving down the costs is not helpful to the industry. It’s not helpful to our channel. And in fact, it’s probably Prime Day is more of a competition between the big box stores than it really is for us. Because again, that’s not the focus of our retail environment.
We’re trying to drive the right sale to the right customer and focus on features and helping the customer find the best product for them. And I’ve sat in meetings for the last five years and seen our average sell value, just continue to be much higher than kind of industry average and big box. And so I think there’s a spree there to really tell, but we can’t eliminate our voice and our footprint when there are big consumer holidays like this.
So our stance is really, let’s get out ahead of it a little bit, and we want to play up the nature and all of the good things that Independence bring to the retail channel. So that’s really our push here. We’re going to be a week ahead of it. Really, because we want to capitalize on all buzz that is going to happen in that time period around Prime Day. So that’s really why we pick the days that we did.
Rob Stott: Certainly. And I mean, you mentioned it that this is… You see a lot of those competing for anyone that shops online consumers online, you see the competing big box stores trying to make their own mini holidays out of this and use that online traffic to kind of drive traffic to their own websites and stores, and things of that nature. But you mentioned the… I guess it’s weird to say opportunity, but there is an opportunity because a lot is happening online to kind of capture that buzz and turn it around. Is it something where as opposed to driving the sale message, like you mentioned low prices and things like that, what is the opportunity for the Independent retailer during this time and during this manufactured holiday, if you will?
Amanda Evans: Yeah. Right. So I think for our retailers specifically, making sure that they’re in market with some message, right? So we really are just on the end of the Memorial Day promotional period, not a lot of safe stories happening like we’re used to in years past, but there was a lot of activity for us with a lot of our brands. But just having some sort of message out there in their local communities. If they want to use this Independence message, it’s a great tie in, it helps kind of leverage and bridge the gap towards the July 4th period as well. And really, we kind of picked this because it was a little bit of a play on words, but we really want to focus on the things that make Independent retail unique, so trained salespeople, right? So we’re not just pulling someone from another department and kind of repurposing them when you need to buy a refrigerator and you have a bunch of questions.
We want to make sure that we can focus on what’s in stock or readily available because we all know that, that’s a big consumer concern right now. Obviously, this continues to be unprecedented times things have gotten better. And then some things I think continue to still not be great in terms of getting product out there with the demand that we have.
Another message that we can push here as well is service after the sale. So I think that’s really important as you’re building your brand awareness in the marketplace is to talk about how long you’ve been part of the community, the things that you do to support your local community. And then obviously for appliances and some of our CE folks service after the sale. So it’s not a single transaction and, “Hey, we’re done with you.” Know our name and the salesperson is still there to help you down the road.
Rob Stott: The interesting thing and kind of hearing you talk about those tactics and where we’re leaning in is it almost sounds like those are the things that as you’re talking about marketing an independent store and an independent business that we lean into anyway. So it’s just kind of reinforcing those messages. And I mean, I’m sure you could speak to it. I mean, that message resonates. I imagine with consumers is that kind of what you guys are seeing?
Amanda Evans: Yeah. And we took some gambles last year. So I remember coming home and things started shutting down in March and just being on, felt like a million conference calls with all these different brands, figuring out what their plans were, what was going to shift.
So most brands you really did pull back from their national ads. And what we saw thankfully, was Independence really stepped up and continued to spend, to build their brand awareness, which I think was absolutely the right move to make. We did pivot a couple of things because we really… Gave us an opportunity to test what message, during the pandemic, really worked. So obviously shop local, big, huge push there. And then we tested several things within stock. Shop local, shop in stock, which performed much better than we have typically even seen our biggest kind of save up to type offers. So I think consumers are just really leaning into the shop local. You even saw Home Depot and Lowe’s really pivot all of their ad strategy last year too, which was on this human aspect we care kind of emotional tug, than even what they traditionally do, which is this product, this price point.
Rob Stott: Yeah. No, that’s interesting. Now, do you see as those kinds of the bigger stores do that and try to lean into almost encroaching on our space, kind of, sorta in a way-
Amanda Evans: Yeah. Right.
Rob Stott: Right.
Amanda Evans: So fired up every time I see it.
Rob Stott: That’s crazy. It makes me… Do you have to… From when you saw that, do you have to do any sort of pivoting to differentiate again, away from that?
Amanda Evans: I think the value of our channel is just being authentic. So it doesn’t feel like anything that we’re producing or that our retailers are producing and running on their own feels manufactured or forced. It does feel authentic. And I think that’s what resonates with consumers, especially at the local level.
I do get really fired up every time I see their national ads then or be watching TV and the ads come on streaming. And I’m just like, “Ah.” Just makes my blood boil. But I think that was just the nature of this, but I have seen more and more retailers… Obviously we all talk about it, but I’m really leaning into digital, getting their websites more up to the standard of what consumers are expecting to see. So it’s no longer just a basic landing page with your logo and a couple of the brands you sell. It really has to be a pretty robust experience because we know consumers are going to do all of their research now, even more so online. And then that’s really where they’re figuring out, okay, who’s got it. What’s the price point. And then the other things like service after the sale, free installation, free delivery, things like that.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And one of the things you said a little bit ago that stuck in my mind is that this past year gave you the opportunity to test things out and do some AB testing to see what works, what doesn’t. Is there anything in doing that, that you learned that you can kind of carry forward into the second half year of 2021? I can’t believe 20… Talking 21’s half over. Oh, man.
Amanda Evans: I know right. We’re already planning for Labor Day.
Rob Stott: Right. I know. Crazy.
Amanda Evans: The things that really kind of stuck out were the in-stock message or how fast you can get the product and being able to display that on the website really down to the individual skew level product image. So we’ve been able to facilitate some of that for our retailers who are on the platform, by getting certain feeds from some of our manufacturing partners. We talk about it with all the rests so that we can try to get that capability pulled into the web experience. Some of our retailers have been to do that directly on their own with tie-ins with their point of sale and things like that, but even just flagging product that is on display and in stock or just different keywords like that is a really easy process to do. At least on our web platforms that I know of. And doing that again, just putting as much information in front of the consumer because they are then going to make their choices based on what they can see online first. And then they will decide whether or not to visit that store. So definitely the in-stock really stuck with us.
And then we’re continuing to do a big push on different tests and learn opportunity. So there’s some exciting things that we’ll be able to share coming up at Prime time, but we just did our first pass of a test on the luxury customer. And so Karen on our team just did that on monograms. So we’ll have some learnings there that we want to share. Things like if you’re in a market that is much more of the makeup is Hispanic, we just did a test with Tempur-Pedic in that market to really serve native language ads. Essentially be a Google to consumers and see what the difference looks like then. Instead of serving, if someone who’s internet settings are set to Spanish, we shouldn’t be serving them English ads. So let’s seek customers exactly where they are. So things like that, that we’re always just trying to iterate and kind of test. So that’s really one of the benefits of being part of our platform is that we’re able to pull those things off much more easily and include more retailers.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome to kind of see that the work that you guys do and how it’s constantly… It’s never finished, what you guys are doing and evolving and making it more customized and streamlined for not even just our retailers, but the consumers that end up getting served these ads and things like that. Yeah.
Have you seen in this past year… This more anecdotally, I guess, but just an interest from our members in terms of what you guys are doing and even adopting some of the things that you’ve been able to apply over the past year?
Amanda Evans: Yeah, definitely. I know we continue to see our numbers of members who participate in the websites. And so we’re always trying to iterate new campaign creative there as well, like level four type promotions. I’m really hoping that we’ll start to see more people engage on the email marketing platform and with social media. Those are two areas where it’s low cost or no cost to our retailers. We are going to start creating a lot more campaign content for those two particular areas, as an example because that’s really low hanging fruit to drive traffic back into the store or pull a customer back in for an additional purchase or add a warranty or things like that. So I’m hoping we’ll start to see more folks pick up there too.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And kind of related, maybe it’s the same answer and you could tell me just to not ask it, but what opportunities do exist? As we shift to the back half of the year, and even as we shift to consumers starting to get back out to the stores for retailers with their marketing efforts.
Amanda Evans: Yeah. So one of the things that I get really passionate about is using co-op dollars. So there’s always here… It’s ends up being several million dollars with our top three vendor partners that our members are leaving on the table year after year. And that pains me inside because think of all the traffic that you could drive, or just general awareness to your brand name in your marketplace by using those funds. So that’s one big opportunity our team is… We’re always talking about how do we make it easier to use co-op. So it’s either making it easier for the retailer or making it easier for the vendor to say, “Yes, we love this creative. We’re going to give it the highest possible reimbursement.” So those are opportunities we’re always working on.
Other things that we’re really looking at again, is some retailer first, if you will campaigns. So I just kind of sit in a couple of briefs that we’re going to get started on, but who are the sleep experts? So a campaign around that things like, is it worth protecting? Is another campaign that we’re getting ready to start the creative on. Again, just trying to create opportunities for retailers to push a message that’s really focused on them. We’re not talking about this product at this price point in this time period, that something that can live for a while and they can kind of plug in when they need something or just to build awareness.
The one other opportunity that I think is out there and hopefully last it gets talked about this at Prime time is really gen Z. So they’re already kind of popping up in key segments of our industry. So they are obviously the target for most spend the box sales. They’re also a target when we look at certain Samsung TVs. And so really figuring out what’s the right way to reach gen Z is very different. Then how we to market today.
Rob Stott: We just got done learning all about millennials, and now you’re going to throw that.
Amanda Evans: I know right.
Rob Stott: It’s just never ending. It’s crazy, but no, always cool to hear and your passion I think is infectious. So to see it and be able to capture it in a podcast is something I’ve been looking forward to. And to get to do it around a topic that I know gets you… You said it gets you fired up is the best time to do it.
Amanda Evans: Oh, man. Yeah. I love the opportunity. And being able to talk to our retailers, hear the challenges that they’re having, lets us kind of go back to the table and brainstorm and come up with a solution. So here’s my plug to anybody who’s listening is we want you to reach out. We want to work one-on-one and because it helps us learn too.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And thankfully, this is not live so we can tell them that they… We don’t have to tell them not to reach out today because it is your birthday. So you wouldn’t want that.
Amanda Evans: No. I’m good.
Rob Stott: That’s awesome. But I’ve taken up too much of your time on your birthday. So, Amanda, I appreciate it. And this was great. And certainly, maybe we’ll have to catch up at Prime time and since we’ll be back in person. Unbelievable. But just to see how those things are going and the learnings you guys have from what you’re working on. So I appreciate go celebrate.
Amanda Evans: Yeah. Thank you.