Retail should replace antiquated circulars with mobile solutions

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Amid dwindling newspaper circulation, free standing insert (FSI) publishers are at a crossroads. They faced escalating printing costs and declining readership, and their once tried-and-true powerhouse marketing tool seems all but destined for extinction.

For many, the natural reaction might be to “modernize” the distribution model by using e-mail marketing to send the circular — or a link to one — to opt-in recipients. Not only is this a bit of a cop-out, but it also fails to meet today's savvy and discriminating consumers' expectations for relevance and convenience. Delivered in e-mail-only form, most circulars will still fail to reduce purchase friction, forcing customers to take too many steps to make the sale. For bricks-and-mortar-only retailers (like supermarkets), the chasm between the offer and the ability to purchase remains vast.

Instead, marketers must reimagine the FSI as a bona fide eCircular—an intelligent broadcast platform that leverages multiple digital channels to communicate deals. To do so, publishers must first deconstruct the circular as we know it: a set of geographically focused, time-limited offers. The problem is that most FSIs are chock-full of hundreds of offers, making it difficult for marketers to cut through the clutter and ensure that relevant and timely offers are seen by their intended audience.

As luck would have it, today's digital and mobile technologies provide a dizzying array of options to meet the geo-targeting and time-sensitive needs of the re-imagined eCircular. The reinvented FSI is a comprehensive broadcast platform that delivers highly relevant offers to targeted consumers through a combination of digital channels. By employing rich media and mobile technologies alongside known user preferences, marketers can tear down the barriers to engagement, remove purchase friction and reach customers more directly with useful offers that drive sales.

For example, let's say the local supermarket is running a weeklong special on 8-packs of Bounty paper towels. Based on known shopper profiles, purchase history and other intelligence, the store could deliver news of the deal to a highly engaged consumer audience through a store-branded mobile app and a Facebook and Twitter presence. Integrate a mobile couponing system, and the result is an incredibly powerful, yet much more affordable and convenient, handheld alternative to the antiquated printed circular.

With millions of dollars wasted on printed circulars each week, the retail industry is ripe for a revolution in leveraging its phenomenally detailed (yet grossly underutilized) customer data warehouses alongside evolving technology to reduce costs, boost sales and provide the relevancy and convenience shoppers crave. The concept of a modern eCircular not only transcends multiple channels, but also ensures survival for FSI publishers whose current medium is likely headed for obsolescence in the very near future.

Dror Liwer heads the client strategy team at Zemoga, a digital media agency founded in 2001.

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