Greg Archibald is the senior vice president of North America at InMobi Marketing Cloud. Archibald is responsible for leading the company's agency and brand direct business that focuses on driving revenue, adoption and retention for marketers.
To use the parlance of the day, these are unprecedented times for consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, as Americans adjust to a new normal. This is especially true for those with a focus in food and beverage.
From a CPG lens, the pandemic has put two core themes into focus. On one hand, the in-person shopping experience has become downright Darwinian. Store hours are reduced, shelves are empty and social distancing is the norm. Quick trips to the grocery store every week have turned into hours-long waits outside while standing six feet apart, only to be confronted by a lack of inventory and masked checkout staff.
While the situation varies in different parts of the country – especially as certain areas begin to open up in earnest — the in-store shopping experience is far more fraught for many consumers than it was before. Instead of shopping in-person, many people are going online.
Indeed, now just about all parts of our life are online. It’s how many of us shop, communicate, socialize, entertain ourselves, learn and do just about everything else today. And increasingly, our online behavior is happening on mobile.
This actually presents food-focused CPG brands with a golden opportunity. By pivoting to mobile, CPG companies can reach a wide audience of Americans and drive sales through the channels that people prefer and use a lot — even while stuck at home.
Mobile isn’t the second screen anymore
Even before March, mobile devices were overtaking desktops, laptops and televisions as the primary screens for Americans. In 2019, Americans spent close to four hours on average a day using mobile devices not for phone calls, but only three-and-a-half hours a day watching TV, according to eMarketer. And this gap was expected to become more pronounced, despite COVID-19.
It’s also important to note that a significant chunk of this time spent with mobile is devoted specifically to apps. According to eMarketer, apps account for around 90% of all time spent using smartphones.
For food-focused CPG brands, this should cause a major rethinking and reallocation of media and marketing budgets. If you want to reach a wide audience, then you need to invest in mobile.
How app install is the new footfall
No matter where food-focused CPGs were advertising in the past, the goal of these campaigns was to drive sales through footfall at brick-and-mortar stores. But what happens when people are hesitant or unable to visit a store in person?
For example, placer.air has found that as of June 1, footfall at Whole Foods locations is down 41% year-over-year, while 7-Eleven has seen footfall drop 26%. These are far from the only brands seeing a decline year-over-year, as chains including Wegmans, CVS, Food 4 Less, Costco, Dollar Tree and many others find themselves in the same situation.
On the flipside, installs of apps like Instacart, Shipt, Drizly, Aldi, Walmart Grocery and others began to noticeably rise beginning in March. This shows how consumers are moving away from in-person shopping towards online delivery options – facilitated through apps.
As a result of this shift, the virtual shopping cart is slowly but surely becoming more important than the physical shopping cart. The goal for all CPG brands today thus needs to evolve around how they can spur consumers to use these various e-commerce apps to select and buy their products online.
Concrete steps CPG brands can take today
It’s one thing for brands to understand the current situation today. Taking concrete actions based off this knowledge is another matter.
Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Here are my top five tips:
Replicate the buyer journey in the mobile app
Many CPG brands have specific and concrete plans that they’ve long relied on to drum up in-store sales. After all, there’s a reason that every checkout line has candy, chocolate and other so-called impulse buys. But what might this look like on mobile? It behooves brands to understand how consumers use grocery delivery apps to look for and purchase products, and how that impacts their sales.
Offer deals, coupons and referral strategies
Not only are there probably lots of options in your particular space, but there are lots of options for buying CPG products online. So how can you convince consumers to choose your brand? Everyone loves a good deal, and that’s especially true today considering the current economic environment. With the right incentives, you can generate awareness and repeat business.
Inform audiences with mobile-optimized product videos
What should consumers know about your product before they buy? What does it taste and smell like, and how is it different from other products on the market? Brands have long used TV advertising to get the word out about their food and beverage products, and there’s no reason to go a different route with mobile. Video is ideal no matter the screen. Just be sure to remember that a mobile device has a smaller display than pretty much any TV set, and that most people hold their phone vertically.
Develop valued customer programs
Now is an ideal time to engender loyalty with consumers, and points programs or similar loyalty efforts can be a great way to do that. Think Box Tops for Kids, but for mobile-first adults.
Highlight contactless payment and delivery options
Safety and cleanliness is paramount in the minds of many consumers right now and will likely continue to be key for many months still. This is an especially crucial point for food brands, as food and cleanliness always need to go hand-in-hand. Anything brands can do now to highlight the safety of their supply chain – especially that last mile of delivery to the consumer – is ideal.
It’s hard to say how long Americans will be sheltering in place, and thus adjusting their shopping behavior accordingly. While some people in certain parts of the country are already beginning their return to normal, others may not be willing or able to return to 2019 shopping habits and behaviors until 2021 at the earliest.
Still, I’m confident that the ease of mobile-led shopping is here to stay. As consumers become accustomed to both spending lots of free time on their mobile devices and on ordering groceries through these channels, expect these behaviors and habits to become ingrained. In-person shopping may never be the same. As a result, CPG brands need a concrete, cohesive and thoughtful mobile strategy if they want to compete today and in the future.