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Q&A with Savvy Marketing: Virtual Reality and Creating a Digital Strategy

August 9, 2016
Jannie Cahill
Written By
Jannie Cahill


Virtual Reality has exploded over the past few years which brings confidence that eCommerce will soon be closely tied with this phenomena.

Andrew Pearl, Profitero’s Director of Strategy and Insights EMEA, speaks to Ben Stoney who heads up the Innovation and Development side of Savvy, a creative, retail and shopper marketing agency. Savvy helps brands and retailers sell more by influencing shopper and consumer behaviors online, in store and on the move.

In a Q&A transcript of their recent podcast, Andrew and Ben discuss virtual reality, how to get the most out of digital agencies, the latest digital shopper trends, as well as the importance of personalization.

Q. First of all, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and the kind of things that you’re up to now. 

My background is special effects and CGI and computer games – what we thought was the future, which is now very much a reality. I then moved to one of the biggest shopper agencies in Leeds and actually kicked off their digital marketing initiative. I’ve been at Savvy for the last 5 years. Savvy had a really new, exciting digital offering when I started, and it’s grown from strength to strength ever since. Now I’m pleased to say digital is not considered to be stand-alone in our industry. 

Q. We’re in the grip of Pokemon Go currently. What are some of the key areas that a lot of your customers are asking you to focus on?

One of the things which has exploded over the last few years, which isn’t in the minute closely tied to eCommerce but very soon will be, is virtual reality. We got our development kits and started playing around and made an awful lot of mistakes and an awful lot of successes. What that’s meant is a lot of our clients are now doing their test and learn and new consumer projects in virtual reality. 

If you think back 6 months before VR first came a reality was almost unthought of. You had no idea of the new channel that was open to you as a marketer. I think that’s something people are getting to grips with now in terms of what that means and trying to put a commercial wrapper on it. Now we’ve got this extra channel to take people to unbound spaces and places and create these experiences that haven’t got shelves or walls or tables. They can be anything you can imagine. It’s people’s jobs now, my job in particular, to try and actually put forward a product in a better way to make you feel close to a brand, take you to a particular event. I think it’s probably the most unexplored, biggest area for marketers that I’ve personally seen in my career. 

Q. What are the key reasons that you see your customers are using VR for – is it new product development or is it much bigger blue sky thinking and concept creation? 

We tend to think of VR in 4 main strands. You’ve got published VR, which is, if you like, the next generation of TV advert; retail VR, which is engaging in retail, trying in eCommerce, allowing people to actually transact and buy; experiential VR where you can control every element of someone’s experience. You can have hot, cold. You can make something move, shake. You can control volume, and you can have the latest technology. Then commercial VR where we’re working with some really big brands to actually solve big business problems. How are we going to recruit staff and get them up to speed faster than we have ever before? 

Q. You talked about the big brands. I know from experience having worked for brands for many years myself that VR was always seen as a great thing to do but incredibly expensive. Is this something that can be accessible for smaller brands as well as the larger ones? 

It’s generally one of the new streams of media for marketers where they have to convince someone else that holds the purse strings or someone else with a bigger remit. Quite often it’s been the case where we’ve done a project for a few thousand pounds and said, “This is the kind of experience you can create. This is the kind of feeling you can give people.” That’s generally showed someone on the board of directors or someone on a steering group who is pretty blown away, and then they’re with us for the long haul to try and make experiences for their consumers. 

It very much depends on the idea. Again, if you’re a client who has a good working relationship with your agencies, who is open to your agency with the assets you have to work with, the key dates you have in your diary, your key objectives as a brand or retailer or eComm platform, and if you layout all the tools that your agency has to work with, they will get the best value for your window experience. Quite often as long as you see the biggest picture, you can find a pretty simple way to the end result. 

Andrew-Pearl-1-300x300Q: You’re approaching it from the agency side and we have a lot of people listen to these podcasts who are from brands or retailers. Any other sort of recommendations on how to get the best out of a digital or shopper marketing agency such as yours?

I think openness and sharing is often the biggest one. Clients are quite often surprised by what agencies can do even if they’ve been working with them for years. Agencies rarely get the full picture of clients’ remits, their goals, their pressures. I think any way you can work more closely is great, but also share successes and failures.

Nowadays, budgets are being less siloed for individual strands. Agencies are having to offer more diverse services and happily work together collaboratively. I think the more you can do from the outset and encourage that behavior, the better your result. 

Q: I know you cover execution from a shopper marketing point of view but also real insight in terms of shopper and the digital shopper online. Are there particular trends that you’re seeing on the insight side for brands and retailers?

We ask 1,000 shoppers every month what’s on their mind, questions such as: How much do you feel like you have to spend? Are you looking forward to Christmas? What’s the technology you use the most often? Which brands do you trust and don’t trust? I think we’re just coming to the end of the curve of the brands actually sorting out their digital shelf. 

Instead of thinking about my consumer as a Tesco customer and my next customer as an Asda customer, we’re thinking just about consumers , the single customer view. People start their shop on Google on their smartphones versus Asda on their desktop or Tesco on their iPad. We have to create an ecosystem and a solution which captures all and is good for all. I think brands have often had a fantastic experience with one consumer and a terrible one for others. 

Most brands are more happily collaborating with people like Google. Our long standing partnership with Google has really helped with the brands that we work with. If you consider the vast majority of brand interaction, it’s off retail sites. It’s actually through search results and third party sites’ recommendations, social media, even dark social recommendations from friends and sharing. You can’t physically get to all these points of contact and influence, and you have to just do as good a job as you can, and be as open and responsive as you can. People like Google allow you to set up your media platforms and your programmatic content to be there when people want you, as opposed to just publishing and hope people find you. 

Q: What’s the next areas that you think your customers, our customers and everyone listening needs to be really thinking of in terms of developing their digital strategy? 

I think it’s more in terms of the available anywhere, anytime as opposed to doing things radically different. We’re seeing projects such as Alibaba in China and Myer looking at partnering with eBay where you can actually buy in virtual reality, so you can have a cardboard headset in your home, and instead of actually going on eBay or Alibaba on your smartphone or your computer, you can actually dive into a category. That’s, if you like, a proof of concept for now. However that actually comes together meaningfully for an entire market has yet to be seen. 

Amazon has also taken things to the next level, and everyone else is playing catch up. I think when they decide to wholeheartedly go into grocery, that’s when things will really change. When we’re talking to our brands about should they, shouldn’t they go on Amazon, particularly for example the spirits category, it really means a different way of operating as to how they operate now.

Amazon has the ability to be able to stock, pick, package, deliver, even sometimes provide their own packaging or their own security for your product. If Amazon can come along and say, “Well actually, we can provide 15% of what you’re charging for as a service, so we’ll sell it at that, and you can pay us for the privilege of it as well”, then it’s a different operating model and something that brands and retailers in particular need to watch out for. 

We refer to a lot of consumers that we either interview or work with or research as Amazon households. They’re Prime members. It’s TV. It’s audio. It’s all the gifts for all the family for every special occasion. It’s grocery. It’s furniture. It’s fashion. It covers pretty much everything. Their service is consistent. The customer service backs that up. The experience is good on all devices which now includes your TV and various other devices. It’s not just what we would consider eCommerce transactional devices where you’re used to actually typing in payment details. Now it’s one account, one experience, and you can buy from anywhere. 

Q: What other key areas are you talking to with your customers about how they can improve the mobile experience. 

For example, things like Facebook single button sign on to take your personal details and your preferences, or Google if you choose to be a Google advocate as opposed to a social butterfly, and making it as seamless as possible. We see an awful lot of click here functionality, which is still too small to nicely tap on with a single hand on a smart phone. 

Then I think a lot of people thing of a mobile experience as a small format functional take down of a desktop when actually, a mobile offers you some amazing opportunities. At times, you can do more with a smartphone experience than you can with a desktop experience. 

The New York Times has put in a huge amount of effort into their production of content to make sponsored content far more engaging. If you look at that on the New York Times website, on the New York Times app and the smartphone, quite often the experience is the best on the smartphone, because the guys that are running the production of this creative content and the way they’re thinking is for this generation of consumer. They’re starting with the most commonly used device, making the most of it, and engaging people that way. I think if brands started to engage people on those devices, their sales can only go up.

Q: There’s so much talk about personalization. Is it really necessary across the board, or do you think it very much differs depending on your type of product and how you approach your shopper from a digital point of view?

The really short answer is yes. I think it is absolutely essential. We have such a connected ecosystem of devices and accounts now. I expect anyone I buy off to pretty much know my information. I’m one of the few people who is happy to have my information syndicated around these companies, because I’m hoping they offer me a better experience as a result. Things like the L’Oreal app, which we saw it as CES in Las Vegas a few years ago, and which offers a great consumer experience. 

I think retailers and brands are the first to always get involved and almost the last to realize the full value in their pilots and initial ideas that they create. I don’t think that’s any fault of theirs at all. I think there’s some brilliant things coming out of Silicon Valley and other hot tech hubs at the minute, and they’re making millions as a result, but where personalization really gets good is where it’s kept simple, and it refines choice. 

Q: Just as we finish up, Ben, are there any final thoughts or real calls to action that you are saying to you customers now and you think that brands should be really focusing on as they develop their digital strategy? 

I think understand your consumer. Never assume. I’ve given up assuming. We do an awful lot in eye tracking, and I pretty much get it wrong every time. Get to know them. Get to know what devices they prefer based on the types of products they buy, age, their behaviors, and then start to actually create experiences that play to those. Once you know someone’s general spend threshold, their preferred device, their location, and their history, you should be able to create a pretty good experience. 

Q: Thank you so much, Ben. That’s been really really fascinating. I’m sure if we speak again in even 6 months’ time, we’ll have so much more to talk about. If anyone does want to catch up with you, what’s the best way that they can contact you? 

Feel free to check out our website, or drop me a line on Twitter @DigitalOutside. 

To hear other industry thought leaders discuss the key eCommerce trends impacting the CPG and retail sector today, visit the Profitero Podcast Series

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