7 Steps to Successful LinkedIn Marketing

In recent weeks, we’ve explored how to develop a content strategy, how to set up a social media program from scratch, and how to use thought leadership bylines to earn media coverage. All of these content approaches complement each other and help reinforce a brand’s identity. But the power of the written, or recorded, word can only get as far as the audience you’ve built to consume it. Luckily, there’s a way to amplify the reach and impact of this owned and earned content that we find quite valuable and our clients are consistently curious about: LinkedIn Sponsored Content.

 Adding a paid element to your PR program helps bridge the gap between traditional PR and traditional marketing, which shouldn’t operate in silos anyway. We like to take a strategic view of LinkedIn promotion, using a step-by-step practice to develop and continually optimize a highly-targeted LinkedIn ads campaign that complements existing content development and organic social media initiatives. The approach outlined below helps identify hyper-relevant prospects, target them with the right content, understand what content to create in the future and serve your company’s ultimate marketing goals.

 Step 1: Identify Ideal Audience

As with any marketing process, you can’t succeed if you don’t know who you’re talking to or trying to reach. But if you know who the decision makers, influencers or buyers are that you want to influence with your content, you can target them at a granular level on LinkedIn. By combing criteria, you can hit a hyper-targeted user set and ensure you’re not spending money promoting content to users who will never make a difference for your bottom line.  You can target audiences in three ways:

  • Demographics – Job function, seniority, company name, geographic region, industry, etc.
  • Interest-based targeting – Group membership, skills, fields of study
  • Company audience data – Target account lists your sales team is using (Note, you’ll need a lot of names for this to be effective, but it guarantees a precise audience.)

Step 2: Define Campaign Goal and Associated Content Formats

Once you know who you want to read your content and ultimately to engage with your brand as a potential customer, you’ll need to define the goal of your campaign. This will determine the kind of content you promote. For content you don’t already have, you’ll need to focus on developing it as part of a comprehensive owned, earned and paid media program. For the following goals, you’ll want to emphasize the associated content:

 Brand awareness

  • Company blog posts on LinkedIn
  • Press releases
  • Long-form posts
  • Visuals/videos
  • Product announcements
  • Promotion of tradeshow attendance

Thought leadership

  • eBook, whitepaper, video, research
  • Industry commentary
  • Long-form posts
  • Guest blogs on other blogs
  • Industry trends or data

 Lead generation

  • eBooks­
  • Webinars
  • How-to guides
  • Blog posts with calls-to-action (CTA)
  • “Freemium” downloads/gated content
  • Industry-related reports

Step 3: Develop an Editorial Calendar

Once you know which content to share, set up an editorial calendar – this will help you to visualize the rhythm of content being published and ensure that you’re addressing different aspects of your brand’s value proposition. Having everything written out will also help make sure you share different forms of content to keep things fresh and engaging for all members of your target audience, depending on their interest, challenge, or stage in the buying process:

  • Awareness: Have realized and expressed symptoms of potential problems or an opportunity.
  • Consideration: Have clearly defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity, actively looking for ways to address the issue.
  • Decision: Have defined their solution strategy, method or approach and ready to take the next step.

Step 4: Identify Assets and Messaging to Promote Content

Identify and/or develop compelling ad copy (150 words or less) and visual content that make readers want to click on or download the content you’re promoting. If you can’t sell your content, no one will read it no matter how informative or well-written it is.

Hint: Include calls to action, statistics, quotes, actionable text.

Step 5: Determine Ad Method

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content campaigns are promoted through paid channels based on posts you have also made directly on your Company Page. They are best used to attract new followers to the company website or landing page and drive engagement with company-specific content.

Company Page posts (status updates) can be promoted in the newsfeeds of both followers and non-followers whose demographics have been specifically targeted. This is a good option for posting blog content, articles about your company or to showcase commentary, award wins, customer or product announcements, and more.

Direct Sponsored Content

The direct sponsored content option allows you to post content directly in the LinkedIn feed without the content originating on your LinkedIn Company Page. This is useful if you don’t want the post to clutter your company’s LinkedIn profile page, but otherwise operates the same as sponsored content.

Website Ads

LinkedIn also offers more traditional website ads, which lead readers to the company website and often start at $2.00 per click and up. These are best leveraged for sending interested parties to your website to download gated content – whitepapers, e-books, case studies, webinars – for lead generation, or to product pages for direct sales promotion. If you choose this option, you should set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to count how many contact form submissions are received as a result of a given ad. Then judge what your cost per lead is and determine if it is delivering appropriate ROI.

Step 6: Set a Budget

Finally, you’ll need to decide what your total monthly budget for LinkedIn ads will be, and how you’ll allocate your spend – either emphasizing CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) if your goal is brand visibility, or CPC (cost per click) if your goal is lead generation or website traffic conversion.

LinkedIn Ads work on a bidding process, so depending on the audience you compete for, the price will change to show an ad. Bids are only processed at $.01 more than second-highest bid, so you can set your bids at the top limit of what you consider a fair value for the click or impression.

Step 7: Reporting/Continuous Improvement

It’s essential to monitor and analyze the key metrics of your campaigns on an ongoing basis. This review process is critical for finding opportunities for improvement to your campaigns, whether it’s improving reach, accuracy of targeting, CPC or CPM, website conversions, engagement and much more.

You should use the LinkedIn campaign manager to review all the metrics available on the platform itself, but also refer to your Google Analytics reports to see how successful you’ve been at driving increased traffic to your website as a whole or to specific landing pages on the site. There are also tools like LinkedIn Insight Tag to your website that will help you evaluate deeper insights about your campaign and users to continue improve your LinkedIn, content marketing, and overall marketing goals.

To learn more about how LinkedIn can help drive brand awareness and lead generation as part of your PR or marketing program, feel free to reach out to me directly – [email protected] – and don’t forget to follow Ketner Group Communications on LinkedIn and Twitter for more valuable tips like these.

 

Tips for Developing a Content Strategy

Blogs! Social media! Whitepapers! Webinars and email newsletters! These are only some of the content marketing tactics that hold a tremendous amount of potential for getting your business the attention it needs to grow as fast as it deserves.

It can be truly dizzying for marketing teams to crank out the amount of content needed to make an impact. And unless your marketing team requires a fleet of Uber XLs to get to an office happy hour, it’s just not possible to do it all. Yes, PR firms can be terrific allies in developing and executing on your content strategy, but how should you set one up in the first place?

Brand awareness vs. lead generation

An effective content strategy serves two equally valuable and competing (yet complementary) purposes – brand awareness and lead generation – neither of which your marketing can succeed without. It’s finding out how to balance these that takes work. So, take a step back and work from the top down. Define your organization’s unique needs and goals. Ask questions like:

  • Do our customers know who we are?
  • Is our pipeline flooded or flowing at a trickle?
  • Does our sales team close every sale they work on or are we struggling to convert leads?
  • Do we have a competitor or competitors regularly winning deals over us?

Once you know where you stand, where you’re already succeeding and what gaps you need to address, you can determine the type of information your intended audience would most benefit from. Then, leverage the three overarching channels available to you – owned, earned and paid media – to get it to them.

Owned Media

Think about the advice we’d all give to a friend feeling overwhelmed by a situation, something along the lines of, “you can only control what you can control.” Although sometimes frustrating to take that advice at face value, it’s essential to get the basics right before branching out to more nuanced arenas. Unsurprisingly then, owned media should always be the first and most fundamental element of any content strategy.

Website

To that end, your focus should be on ensuring your website is the rock your content strategy can build off of. It allows you to tell visitors who you are as a company, what you stand for, what you sell and why it’s worth the investment. It has unrivaled power to tell your story how you want it told – everything you want someone to know about your company should live here. You should also have simple components like a ‘Contact Us’ page for lead generation, and any gated whitepapers, case studies, e-books, or webinars can live in perpetuity on your website to generate traffic and leads, long after you publish them.  Managing a regularly updated blog is also a key part of becoming a well-rounded brand; it will serve as an outlet for the promotional and thought leadership messaging you want your customers to associate with your business.

Social Media

It’s not exactly a cutting-edge revelation, but social media channels allow you to disseminate any info you want to the people that follow you. All the content you post to your website should be shared on the social channels you run, as this drives traffic to specific landing pages and your site as a whole, further driving lead generation. Just don’t forget to share and engage with the broader community on your social media platforms, as no one likes a “me, me, me” account!

However, it’s also important to note that not every platform is perfect for every brand or audience. We’ll share another post on social media content marketing in a few weeks (and will link to it once it’s live), but we tend to be major fans of LinkedIn for our B2B retail clients, using Twitter and Facebook as complementary outlets. Based on your audience and goals, pick and choose your platforms so you don’t waste time and resources building a community that won’t drive online engagement.

Email

Often left out of the ‘thought leadership’ bucket, but rarely forgotten by traditional marketers, email can play a key role in reaching an audience of customers, prospects, partners and others who care about your company message and sign up to receive information from you. Don’t just use email to sell; use it to inform, engage and entertain whenever possible to maximize its potential and keep your readers from going for an instant ‘delete.’

Earned Media

Along with content strategy and development as a whole, earned media is the bread and butter of our PR firm, and one of the most compelling reasons to work with an agency with a long history in a given market. Earned media provides a major boost to your brand’s visibility, recognition and authority. But using content to earn media attention doesn’t end with press release pitching.

My colleague Adrienne Newcomb wrote a great blog on using bylined articles to secure thought leadership coverage in key trade publications, and we’ve found that case studies, proprietary research reports, and pitching executive commentary on developing trends (great for sharing on social too) can have a big impact on a brand’s ability to get media coverage.

Whatever content you create for your owned channels, think about how you might be able to convince someone else to use it on their own platform. Without reinventing the wheel, you’ve greatly increased the value of a given piece of content.

Paid Media

Paid media can be a terrific option to supplement your owned and earned content strategies but should rarely, if ever, be relied upon to have a strong impact before the brand has developed those initial content foundations. We recommend thinking of paid media as the final exclamation point on a well-executed organic program that helps take successes to new heights. This doesn’t mean you need to have a killer email marketing program in order to promote high-performing blog posts on LinkedIn, but it does mean you shouldn’t be investing heavily in LinkedIn posts that direct back to a useless website. Determine the gap in your growth plan, create enjoyable content people want to engage with, build an audience that cares what you have to say, and use paid to take you over the top. If your foundation is strong, the potential ROI can be huge!

We’re here to help

Want to learn more about developing a content marketing strategy from scratch or optimizing a program already in motion? Reach out to us. We love talking about content and it’d be our pleasure to help you use your own media effectively and efficiently.

An Austinite’s Take on the New Amazon Books Store

I’m a big book nerd. When I was younger, I told my parents I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. Nowadays on any given trip to Target, I’ll take a stroll through the book section and get scan-happy with the Goodreads app, adding to my growing “Want to Read” list. So, it should come as no surprise that on a recent date night out, I told my husband we couldn’t leave The Domain before checking out Austin’s new Amazon Books store.

The Austin location, which opened on March 6, is the first in Texas and 14th in the U.S. Amazon describes the Books store as “a physical extension of Amazon.com… integrating the benefits of offline and online shopping to help you find books and devices you’ll love.” Mariana Garavaglia, head of stores and retail operations for Amazon Books, calls it “a store without walls.”

The store was buzzing on a Friday night, but there were plenty of Amazon team members on hand to acclimate us to the shopping experience. Amazon has a unique yet simple in-store pricing approach: Amazon Prime members get the same price they’d get on Amazon.com. Others pay the list price. And while there are price scanners throughout the store, employees encouraged us to check-in through the provided QR code and use our phones to look up prices. As I explored the store and discovered new titles, I enjoyed being able to easily add titles to Amazon wish lists for future purchases – hey, even book nerds need to stick to a budget.

There are 3,800 different titles in stock at any given time, and on average, books have a rating of 4.3 or more stars – the placards beneath the books show you the rating and sometimes even an excerpt from a customer review. However, what I liked most is the thoughtful curation and layout of the store. Amazon’s team looks at reviews and ratings, e-book reading behaviors, sales and pre-order information to determine what books to carry and where to place them. Signage will tell you which titles are “Most Wished For,” which are “Page Turners” finished in three days or less on Kindle devices, and which titles “You’ll Love” “If You Liked” another particular read.

Another interesting approach is how most books in the store are displayed facing outward, rather than seeing shelf after shelf of book spines. The consequence of this is that it limits the available shelf space for inventory but is designed to make it easy to “discover titles you weren’t even looking for in the first place.”

In writing this blog, I thought I’d also check out local Yelp reviews to see what others thought of the new shopping experience. There were several five-star, glowing reviews, but here were some unique opinions I saw:

  • One parent was glad that, unlike some book retailers, there weren’t toys kept in stock alongside books. Her child wasn’t distracted or confused about what they were there to buy.
  • Some compared the book selection to that of an airport bookstore, saying they preferred the robust shopping experience across town at Barnes & Noble.
  • Many observed that Amazon Books doesn’t have space to linger and read – no coffee shop, tables and chairs or reading nooks. Probably exactly what Amazon intended, but a notable difference if that’s something you want to do as you explore.
  • Some outspoken Austinites were unimpressed, pledging their loyalty to local favorite Book People.

Lastly, I was curious to know if Amazon has seen an increase in Prime membership registrations as brick-and-mortar locations have opened. If I weren’t a Prime member and learned I could shop in-store and get a better price, I may want to sign up right then to take advantage of the discount. But alas, I couldn’t find any research online about this.

What about you? Have you visited an Amazon Books store, and were you a fan?

Happy reading, book lovers!

Meet our newest addition to the team: Madeleine Hatley

This blog post was written by our intern, Madeleine Hatley.

Hi, everyone! My name is Madeleine Hatley and I am a senior public relations major at the University of Texas at Austin. Coming from the small town of Paris, Texas, I was ready to head to a larger city with more growth opportunities and also more things to do other than take pictures in front of the world’s third largest Eiffel Tower complete with a cowboy hat.  During my spare time, I love seeing live music, discovering new restaurants, and taking my adorably fluffy Corgi, Oliver, to Zilker Park.

Prior to joining the Ketner Group team, I mainly worked in politics. My past experience has taught me that internships are vital to figure out what best suits your personality and what path you want your career to follow.

My first internship was with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at Texans for Greg Abbott. I mainly worked on his social media, press releases regarding the governor and event scheduling. It was a great first internship in that I learned how to further develop my writing skills and got the opportunity to represent a single client via social media.

This past semester I was an intern at Axiom Strategies, a political consulting and public relations agency. I got the chance to represent and write for House and Senate members and meet lots of interesting people. I also got experience helping with crisis management and handling tricky situations that can easily escalate online and by word-of-mouth.

My cute puppy, Oliver. I wish he was still this size!

However, after two political internships, I decided it was time for a change of pace. I imagined I could be the real-life Kerry Washington in Scandal, but the job was far less glamorous than I imagined. The political sphere did not allow me to connect with people how I like to nor did it allow me to utilize much that I had learned in college. I felt like a small fish in a very large pond.

This is one of the reasons I think my internship at Ketner Group will be so valuable. The people here are so welcoming, actually care about your ideas and want to help you learn. On my first day, they ordered pizza for me and we all got the chance to get to know each other a little better over lunch. If my first day is anything like the rest of my internship, I know I will love it here. It took me long enough to find an internship that suited me!

Trial and error is the key to college internships. Get your first or second (maybe even third) internship out of the way to find which path you want to take. Internships give you real world experience so you aren’t forced to be in a field you dislike for the rest of your life. Try, try and try again until you get your dream internship that leads to your dream job.

As for my dream job after graduation, I would love to work in an agency setting that allows me to grow as a writer, team member and professional. I am a native Texan, so I would love to stay in Austin or move to Dallas to be closer to home.

I am very much looking forward to my time here and hope to learn valuable skills I can carry with me to my future career!

 

We Moved!

Ketner Group is excited to announce our new digs! Last week, we moved into our new home, where we plan to stay for the next five years. While we’re still getting settled in, the new space is already serving us well.

When we moved to our previous office two years ago, it was always thought of as a short-term fix for our growing team. With our new space we have everything we need: an office for each full-time team member, a kitchen (!), a conference room, tons of open space and plenty of room to expand as our team grows.

We’re still working to get the entire space decorated, furnished and set up but we thought we’d share a few “before” photos.

The reception area. KG logo coming soon.
The reception area. KG logo coming soon.
 The conference room. You’ll see we still have some artwork to hang and need new furniture that scales better to the large room.

The conference room. You’ll see we still have some artwork to hang and need new furniture that scales better to the large room.
Lounge area between the offices.
Lounge area between the offices.
And most importantly…the kitchen! We didn’t have a kitchen at our last space so we’re pretty pumped to have a real kitchen with a sink.
And most importantly…the kitchen! We didn’t have a kitchen at our last space so we’re pretty pumped to have a real kitchen with a sink.

We hope that you’ll visit soon to see the finished space but until then, make sure you have our new mailing address on file:

Ketner Group PR + Marketing
3737 Executive Center Drive, Suite 210
Austin, TX 78731

Until Next Year NRF

NRF’s Big Show is officially over and we are back in Austin! After several cups of coffee consumed as well as analyst and media meetings coordinated for 13 clients, I think it’s safe to say this year’s show was one for the books. Check out what the Ketner Group team was up to while in the Big Apple.

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New Intern on the Block: Daniela Ramirez

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Photo provided by Daniela Ramirez.

This blog was provided by our intern, Daniela Ramirez.

Hello everyone! I’m Daniela Ramirez and I’m one of the new Ketner Group interns, it’s nice to e-meet you! I am currently in my final year at The University of Texas at Austin studying public relations. It’s hard to believe that I am a senior (cue the nostalgia) and already in my last two semesters of undergrad. Looking back as a curious freshman, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with public relations or the type of job I wanted to work in following graduation. Through previous internships and courses, I have been able to develop a trajectory and carve a more focused track. These experiences have led me to develop a more strategic outlook and make the most of my four years at the best school in the world (Hook ‘em!).

Having worked in a variety of communication and public relations roles in the beverage industry, music business working with niche, reggae-type artists and bands as well as non-profits, I have been able to widen my scope of knowledge and skills. I’m excited to work with the amazing team at Ketner Group and continue to develop my B2B communication skills, and not to mention, learn about some pretty cool retail technology! Having only been with the team for a short time, I already feel so welcomed and truly feel like a valuable asset.

Now, a little bit about myself. I’m from a small town near Fort Worth, Texas called Kennedale – maybe you’ve heard of it? That’s why I was so excited to move to Austin and really live in a place that I haven’t experienced before. I love everything about Austin and the energy that it offers; I don’t plan on leaving the city scene anytime soon (sorry, Mom!). I’m all about experiences and living in the moment. You can often find me seeking out the next place to try brunch, attending a concert in town or going to an improv comedy show. I love to meet new people and learn about their life. That’s what really intrigued me about studying public relations; it’s a discipline that’s all about sustaining relationships through authentic dialogue. It’s a field that’s conducive to learning and exploring new interests and allows you to build an arsenal of skills. I love diving into different industries and learning how they operate, hence the range of my internships. Overall, I’m an extrovert and love to surround myself with good company. I’m excited for the semester ahead and spending my time with Ketner Group. As a senior, I’m anxious as well as excited for what’s ahead, while ironically wanting time to slow down at the same time.

Looking forward, I hope to work in the agency world so I can continue to gain varied experience in one industry and widen my scope of knowledge. I can already see that interning at Ketner Group will make my public relations undergrad experience memorable and one-of-a-kind, and I am very excited for the wonderful opportunity!

The Inescapability of the Word ‘Millennial’

millennialsThis blog was written by our intern, Kamilla Rahman.

If you’ve ever surfed the web for more than 10 minutes, you’ve definitely come across the word millennial at least five times. People are constantly talking about millennials, what they’re doing, what they want, what they will be doing, how they react and how to resonate with them. Even the KG team has been known to write about millennials on behalf of our clients from time to time – here is a recent example.

According to Investopedia, “a millennial is the given name to the generation born between 1982 and 2004…this generation is often associated with technology and social media.” In the last couple of years, there has been a more specific consensus. A millennial is basically someone in their 20’s or 30’s.

The world is infatuated with millennials, and as a millennial, I honestly don’t get it. I was flipping through a few articles the other day and almost every article referenced the millennial generation. I do understand millennials are important, especially when regarding technology and retail. We’re a different generation, we’re nontraditional, we’re viewed as more independent, we have different expectations and we are more technologically advanced than our parents and grandparents with a tremendous amount of buying power.

But why the obsession?

Some of the headlines read:

Though all of these articles are extremely insightful, as a millennial, I don’t understand why all of these brands and companies are constantly trying to appeal to us. The word is everywhere. It’s basically inescapable and everyone seems to think that appealing to a millennial is the magic key to all things holy and great.

My brother and I are both millennials. He was born in 1985 and I was born in 1995. Throughout most of our lives, our purchasing habits, interests and even technological awareness have been different. Though they are closer today than they have ever been, they’re still completely different.

He’s 31, he goes to work, has meetings all day, buys suits and dress pants, goes to CrossFit, has nice dinners with his beloved girlfriend, just bought a house, gets a beer with his buds, checks his iPad for emails, pretty much knows what he’s doing with his life and occasionally has a late night out. I, on the other hand, am 21. I’m about to start my senior year of college, I intern, I’m an avid online shopper, I go out with my friends almost every weekend, I study, am always on the move and suffer withdrawal symptoms when I don’t have my phone for more than 45 minutes.

The only things we really have in common are that we stay busy and know technology. I may be wrong here, but that just doesn’t seem like the proper way to target consumers, especially in retail. The word millennial is too broad. It encompasses people that are in completely different stages of their lives. To me, focusing efforts around millennials is just an over-followed trend.

Don’t get me wrong; appealing to millennials has definitely shifted the way marketers appeal to consumers. It has become intuitive, personal and brands have figured out how to market in a way that is additive to peoples’ lives. But if you think about it, don’t generations older and younger want that as well?

In retail and technology, a new goal is personalization; so my question is why do these industries continue to obsess over a market that appears to be so diverse and vague?

Can Teslas and Pizza Get People Shopping Again?

A recent Washington Post headline read, “Unemployment is down. Gas prices are low. Why isn’t America shopping?”

There are a number of possible answers. Both in the article and at the inaugural ShopTalk conference, there were numerous discussions about the U.S. being “over-retailed” – too many stores and e-commerce sites for too few shoppers. Many like to point to widespread uncertainty about the global economy and the twists and turns of the presidential election. Moreover, shoppers are spending their money differently: they are addicted to promotions and often opt to spend their hard-earned dollars on experiences like vacations or big projects like home improvement. But these don’t explain the whole truth.

In reality, the shopping experience can all too often be downright awful. On a recent weekend I spent five minutes at a big-box office products store waiting for someone, anyone to show up at the empty cash registers at the front of the store. I didn’t really feel like chasing anyone down, and I’d only gotten half of what I came for, as the pens I wanted were out-of-stock. After a few minutes of waiting I started comparing prices on Amazon. No surprises here: I found everything I wanted at a lower price, so I left my purchases at the register, walked out the door, and placed the order before I left the parking lot. It’ll likely be the last time I visit that retailer for basic office supplies.

My wife didn’t fare much better at a women’s apparel store that weekend. She stood in line at the register for what seemed an interminable amount of time waiting to pick up an order, which turned out to be a different size from what she ordered. When she headed back to the counter to order it in the right size, the sales associate promptly announced she was headed to lunch, leaving my wife stranded at the cash wrap. She placed her order online later that afternoon; however, her 40% off coupon code didn’t apply online, even though the coupon said nothing about online exclusions. It took a call to the e-commerce help desk to straighten it out – although the help desk operator couldn’t answer my wife’s questions right away, as the retailer’s systems hadn’t updated yet.

These problems fall into two broad categories: too few sales associates for many retailers (and a failure to properly train the ones they have), as well as outdated systems and disconnected technology. Is it any wonder that Amazon accounts for 1 in 3 shopping transactions, according to Internet Retailer?

Fortunately, the best retailers are making the right moves to re-energize retail and attract shoppers. Nordstrom, which consistently has some of the best sales associates in retail, is opening a small Tesla gallery at a high-end mall location. Target is spending $1 billion this year remodeling its stores and has launched 25 “stores of the future” in Los Angeles. Urban Outfitters, which recently set a Q1 sales record, firmly believes that “bricks and clicks are synergistic.” Urban bought the popular Vetri Family pizza chain last year and recently opened two flagship Anthropologie stores with “a petite shop, expanded jewelry and accessories, an intimates boutique, an 800 square foot beauty shop, a full-service shoe salon as well as over 6,000 square feet of home products,” according to RIS News.

These retailers, and many others, are clearly doing everything they can to get America shopping again. Retailers shouldn’t forget the fundamentals, though: Train your associates. And get those legacy systems to talk to one another, in real-time. Focus on these things – and continue to make stores fun, creative and innovative – and consumers will start shopping again. After all, you can’t buy a Tesla, get a makeover or get a slice of pizza while shopping at Amazon – at least not yet.

SXSW 2016: The Customer May Always Be Right, But What The Heck Do They Want?

SXSW Interactive 2016 blazed through Austin this past week in typical disruptive fashion, bringing the tech industry’s brightest minds into town for a five-day festival that was all business during the day and all party during the night.

No matter the application, the topic of how to engage customers was at the forefront of the most prominent conversations. From machine learning to data analytics to mobile, all technology pointed to one focal point – the customer and their engagement.

However, during all of the discussions one thing became apparent: while we now have technology that can help us track and study customers’ actions throughout the engagement cycle, we cannot yet decipher what prompted the customer to begin the engagement process with a particular brand.

Zappos Product Manager Kandis Yaokum best described it during the panel session titled “Future of Cool: Predicting What’s Next in Fashion”. Sitting alongside ThoughtWorks Senior Retail Consultant Rachel Brooks, Google Fashion Data Scientist Olivier Zimmer and Shoptelligence Founder Laura Khoury, Yaokum discussed how data analytics is helping fashion retailers predict what will be the industry’s next big trend. When Yaokum was asked “what kept her up at night?,” she answered that it was not knowing why a particular customer decided that a certain product was the “cool one” to buy and what stirred the initial curiosity to engage with a brand.

All the panel members described how data analytics is historical by nature, and can help deliver better insights into overall trends that can help predict the future. However, understanding what sparked a customer’s initial attention is still something that technology cannot yet decipher.

It seems we are at an inflection point, however; additional sessions all pointed to a better understanding of the customer and different ways we can look at the convergence of brand and technology to spark and measure customer’s attention. Key themes that emerged included:

It’s all about psychology: a brand’s engagement with a consumer should have personal and organic connection.

  • Marcela Sapone, founder of the New York based startup, Hello Alfred, discussed that how brands make you feel is all about perception, and brands can use this perception alongside technology as a metric to continue innovating and building a better product.

Going beyond the product – A physical store setting should be more about the overall experience and providing content customers can immerse themselves in.

  • STORY founder Rachel Shecthman discussed how the retail store should be utilized as a media channel to create an experience that immerses customers in the overall story and gives them something to do. We should think about physical stores as living labs and places of entertainment that are enabled by technology.

Democratizing access to luxury: luxury is now defined as a combination of access, experiences and usability.

  • Discussing wearables, Uri Minkoff and Decoded’s Liz Bacelar emphasized how luxury items should be both about usability and functionality and how the wearables of the future will be more about portraying emotion than tracking health data.

ALL customers are individuals.

  • Refinery29’s Phillipe von Borries discussed how all brands should look to people as individuals instead of grouping them into a block such as a generational age group. The power, he says, lies in niches – people who are defined by their overall passions and hobbies.

At the end of the day, the customer is the key driver, and brands that look to incorporate innovative technologies and tactics into their overall customer experience philosophy will continue to spark their attention.