Are you engaging your shoppers?

It's a brave new world for grocery retailers — one that increasingly requires expertise in digital and social media to connect with consumers. And that required expertise extends to store brand marketing as well, Carlos Gil, speaker and digital strategist, suggested to attendees of Store Brands' 2015 Innovation & Marketing Summit, held in Rosemont, Ill.

"Technology has changed retail and grocery forever," Gil said during his Feb. 27 presentation, titled "Engage Shoppers with Digital and Social Media."

Today's consumers are more connected and influential than ever, he noted, and have more options than ever before. As such, "they want to be engaged, not sold to." And they make purchasing decisions based on how accessible the retailer is in multiple places.

To succeed in marketing store brand products, therefore, retailers need to have relevant conversations with their shoppers, Gil said. They also must turn their customers into marketers for their own brands.

As an example of customer marketing, he pointed to Coca-Cola and its Share a Coke campaign on the consumer packaged goods (CPG) side. The campaign, which featured personalized bottles and social media shares, resulted in a 25 percent increase in sales of Coke products following a decade of decline.

"The end game is to grow sales," he noted. "How you get there is by building engaged, loyal communities of shoppers."

But retailers must define their audience to determine the right digital or social media strategy, Gil noted. Additionally, retailers should look to collaborate with supplier and CPG partners on approaches.

"Social media is not a one-size-fits-all solution to driving awareness," he stressed.

Gil, who formerly worked for Winn-Dixie Stores Inc./Bi-Lo Holdings and Save-A-Lot, pointed to a recent BI-LO Chek Soda campaign as one success story here on the store brand side. The retailer ran a scratch-and-match game on Facebook. Participants clicked on soda can images to match flavors and win; winners received a gift card in varying amounts. They also had a chance to win free Chek Soda for a year.

The campaign not only drove awareness of the Chek Soda store brand, Gil said, but also gave the retailer the opportunity to capture customer e-mails for future initiatives. Moreover, the campaign featured a "share" functionality, turning customers into own-brand marketers.

Gil also encouraged retailer attendees to identify their own-brand "influencers and advocates" and leverage their communications in digital and social media. So retailers should be thinking about how they could begin a dialogue with these customers.

Save-A-Lot did just that when it reached out to its advocates to send them a bag of the retailer's J. Higgs potato chips and asked them to weigh in, he noted. The result was increased brand awareness that drove sales.

Finally, Gil recommended that retailer attendees ask themselves five key questions going forward so they could address shortcomings that might negatively impact their ability to engage consumers effectively via digital and social media:

1. Do you have the right people?

2. Do you have the right IT and technology?

3. Do you believe that your customers, not your brand or competitors, drive market trends?

4. Do you know what your competitors are doing?

5. Do you have the right company culture?