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Emma Herrod investigates how digital is enabling brands which don’t have their own direct-to-consumer sales channels to get closer to the customer.

Marketing continues to change as technology and the digital landscape enable new experiences and communication channels to open between brands, retailers and customers. For many brands, their wholesale business is their only sales channel but this no longer excludes them from communicating directly with the end consumer.

After-sales care is no longer the only direct customer touchpoint since digital has opened the way for brands which don’t sell direct to interact with consumers before the sale takes place – and to carry on conversations and engagement post-sale. The relationship and the all important data about the consumer and how they use the product is therefore moving to the brand in a way that benefits both parties.

Brand stories or specific product information can be shared with shoppers in a retailer’s store through digital screens that interact with branded products and movement. It can also be shared through the consumer’s own phone.

Mammut, the Swiss mountain sports equipment retailer, has launched a mobile app that uses Near Field Communication (NFC) tags embedded in its clothing products to link the individual physical products to digital content. The tags are added to the products when they are manufactured and work as a unique identifier for each item enabling the customer to tap an NFC-enabled smartphone against their new purchase and link it to the Mammut Connect mobile app.

From here, they can discover virtual hash tags, extend their warranty and share feedback.
The app further connects the customer with a community and brand experience full of product, inspiration, activities and content related to their sport.

In the three main parts of the app – My Product, My Inspiration and My Activity – customers gain access to exclusive content including product highlights and behind-the-scenes material, they can add pictures and save their favourite routes whether they are hiking, skiing or climbing, and receive invitations to exclusive events.

The NFC tag also enables Mammut to view the product throughout the customer journey and its lifetime rather than just up to the point at which it is distributed to the sales channel or retailer. A digital product identity is created to connect between the product and the customer so that the brand can gain valuable insight into its customers’ lifestyles, while also deepening their brand experience – and giving Mammut a connection between the product and the customer post-purchase.

With the app, it can collect feedback on individual products, offer value-added and after-sales services to customers which as a manufacturer and wholesaler it wouldn’t usually have visibility of.

“Customers are digital, mobile and social. They communicate with brands, actively contribute and give feedback with much more concrete demands than just a few years ago. This is why Mammut is building an ecosystem. With Mammut Connect – a broad portfolio of real customer added value – we are creating an innovative platform and underlining our ambition to become digital leader in the outdoor sector,” says Oliver Pabst, ceo of Mammut Sports Group.

Chelsea FC has done something similar with kit sold to fans. They can win tickets, unlock exclusive content and prove that the merchandise they have bought is authentic by scanning the NFC-enabled NikeConnect logo on the shirt with their smartphone.

Working with how a product enhances the customer’s lifestyle, goals or ambitions has not been lost on other brands. Sportswear brand Under Armour bought the MapMy series of apps which includes MapMyRun and MapMyRide in 2013 later acquiring meal and physical activity tracking app MyFitnessPal in 2015.

Dog food brand Pedigree did a similar thing with Pedigree Tracks. The app tracks a dog’s daily exercise level and creates a tailored menu of wet and dry food based on its activity.


As retailers have found though, managing, processing and acting upon a large amount of data is not straightforward. Cassandra Stevens, global commerce director at Zenith, points out that many brands aren’t set up to being able to build a CRM strategy “because they don’t have the customer database and once they do, building a team the size that a retailer has to keep customers engaged and continue to give them utility or value in exchange I think is quite difficult especially when you don’t see the return on that in the end because someone will end up buying from a retailer anyway.”

Brands don’t have to go to the extremes of Mammut or Under Armour in order to gain insight into their end customers. Their own website has a valuable role to play within the customer journey either adding value or driving traffic directly to a retailer’s ecommerce site where they can convert a sale – and collect data along the way. Live stock feeds, for example, would be valuable on a brand’s site showing consumers exactly where they can go to buy the product they are looking at.

Stevens suggests that a brand could agree to drive a portion of its marketing directly to a retailer if they share data on how the product performs on the back of it – which is something that “digital allows us to do,” she adds.

Getting involved in responding to questions within the ratings and reviews section of a retailer’s website is another step that can be taken easily.

Stevens believes that the industry is moving towards more integration between retailers and brands with features within second-party data agreements enabling brands to reconnect with customers post-sale or upsell or cross sell within their own portfolio. “That requires a lot of cooperation from traditional retailers who aren’t necessarily ready to do that yet,” she says.

She believes that pureplays are more open to trying collaborative tests with brands on Google and Facebook and moving away from traditional methods.

They are starting to change how they provide solutions for brands and “not getting [brands] to commit to traditional digital trade buys such as banners on a website which no-one very much sees on a retailer since most of the product pages are discovered through search as people don’t navigate through the category pages, but selling things like that which are traditional almost similar to how you’d sell a banner on a shelf in a store is no longer valuable to brands.

They are more interested in having the engagement with the customer, having data so they can understand if their marketing is influencing sales, understanding the audience makeup so they can inform their own programmatic and display or social strategy,” she says.


Ecommerce companies are sitting on a wealth of transactional data which can be used to activate intelligent marketing and is no different. Along with recognising the value of this data, the online travel agency realised that there were additional products which would enhance the service it offered to its customers.

“If that information is used to deliver relevant data and relevant marketing then customers are happy, brands are happy and hopefully product flies off the shelf,” says Alessandra di Lorenzo, ceo, at Forward, part of the group of companies, explaining how the lm group has opened up advertising on the, Rough Guides and AccuWeather sites to marketing and advertising by partner brands. This has led to a new division operating as an in housing and marketing consultancy which runs 1,300 campaigns for 500 brands each year.

“Every advertiser has their own goals and objectives,” she says but data enables brands and marketers to have a more relevant and informed conversation with the customer so that they will go on and buy product.

“We start from the creative concept which is all done through looking at our dataset and the insights then we overlay that with media activation,” she says. “First we create the concept and then we create the content for example video or text or copy and then we activate it through either display or video advertising or content advertising or any other form of advertising in the digital world.”

A lot of work is going into the marketing world to overcome the challenge for brands of linking the digital world and offline sales channels. How they connect sales to the digital channel is the “biggest challenge,” she adds.

“The more work we do and the closer we can get to understanding our joint audiences the more success we can find. It’s a busy world out there in the internet and I think we need to start building more alliances.”

This is leading to an expansion of the relationship between retailers and brands away from just the buying team. An “ideal future” is where the marketing teams at the retailer and the brand work together, for the best outcomes in trading product and ensuring sell through. The marketing conversation is around “where you can pull different triggers on either side to influence outcomes as required,” says Stevens.

This is an area in which beauty retailer Birchbox excels with its subscription boxes containing product samples. Many subscribers go on and buy products from Birchbox online so the company is able to work directly with brands, sharing data on how a product sells as well as the consumer behaviour around site visits and which subscriber profiles receive samples of products in their monthly box.

Data is a valuable asset and while retailers and brands work out who owns the relationship with the end customer there is no getting away from the fact that it is the customer who owns their own data. Retailers and brands may try to bring the data together with a unique identifier – such as a holiday booking reference or an NFC tag – but in order to gather further information about the customer they have to offer something in return. And this is where the customer again has the upper hand.

What gimmick, conversation or value-added service will entice them to share further and continue the relationship beyond the purely transactional?

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