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The Obituary of the Flyer

With 2013 still in diapers and the rapid evolution of retail customized pricing, it’s a perfect time to speculate anew on the longevity of that most venerable institution known as the grocery store flyer.

Will we be writing the flyer’s obituary five years from now? Three years? As soon as this time next year?

Of course, any notion of the death of the flyer brings to mind a quip from author Mark Twain, who famously said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Marketers have been saying for 10 or 15 years the flyer will go away. Yet it’s arguable the flyer is more popular than ever.

The newsprint flyer drives a huge volume of purchases and is far and away the grocer’s largest discretionary investment in promotions.

In the just-released 2013 Consumer Engagement Study, the Flyer Distribution Standards Association (FDSA) said the traditional grocery flyer remains an amazingly popular marketing tool.

Approximately 75 per cent of Canadian consumers responding to the FDSA survey said that they look to printed flyers as a source of information about their grocery purchases – easily topping online flyers.

On the other hand, 30 to 50 per cent of what’s in every flyer doesn’t work.

Content in the ad doesn’t drive incremental sales and doesn’t drive sales to the right people. The grocer can promote a deal on a 12-pack of Coke, but if customers come in, buy the Coke, and leave, the store won’t stay in business very long.

Factor in as well that for people in their 20s and early 30s, there’s a low readership rate and usage rate for flyers.

This next generation of customers uses other media to find deals, including coupon sites. Its channel of choice is mobile.

Forget wading through a 16-page flyer, thirty-something shoppers demand 20 relevant items released to their cell phones.

Time, technology and the inevitability of change are not on the side of the flyer, which seems destined to follow the path of the movie rental store, the bookstore and print newspapers, to name just a few examples.

A trend can be spotted here: reliance on traditional media is not a winning strategy.

To recap, three reasons for the ultimate demise of the flyer are as follows: decline in effectiveness, the demographic shift from baby boomers to a generation raised on digital, the shift in media preference to mobile.

The time has come to imagine life after the flyer, to embrace the new world order.

Within the grocery industry, Safeway, having launched its Just for U program, is demonstrating that technology offers a chance to do it better.

Just for U is an online and mobile shopping tool that delivers targeted savings directly to a customer’s Safeway Club Card.

By using Just for U before a grocery trip, shoppers can access digital coupons, with new savings added weekly. They can download personalized deals based on their own shopping history.

Worth noting is a comment from Steve Frisby, president of Safeway’s Portland and Seattle division, at the launch of the program last year. “Gone are the days where shoppers have to clip coupons, browse through ads or promotional flyers, or bring a handwritten shopping list to the store,” he said.

Just for U provides personalized promotional pricing direct to the customer. In essence, it uses technology to deliver a personalized (high-tech) flyer directly to the customer.

From a marketing standpoint, the program and the strategy behind it are relevant and cost-effective.

Additionally, the program is a more environmentally sustainable business practice, and it’s a differentiator because competitors can’t copy it for lack of access to the personalized data.

For those grocers who are ready to make the leap, it’s only fair to acknowledge that while change is inevitable, rarely is it painless.

There will be costs, including the initial investment in analytics. You’ll have to do two things at once: build digital capabilities while you continue to operate in the paper world.

Additionally, there will be the change management factor – you’ll have to cope with resistance.

After all, this is a massive change in that it affects one of the biggest levers that drive the organization.

The traditional flyer works today but with each passing year it’s getting less effective.

These factors underscore the wisdom of acting sooner rather than later.

There’s a long lead-time and a natural transition period.

History tells us there will be one or two early adopters, not unlike the companies that gained an advantage from the early implementation of loyalty programs. There will be trailblazers and risk-averse laggards.

If you are ready to embrace life after the death of the newsprint flyer, I recommend two key first steps:

1) Get the basics right. Use data from a loyalty program to understand your customers. Be able to discern promotions that work from those that fail. Bordering on shocking is the number of retailers that aren’t able to say which promotions work, who are the key customers, and which promotions drive the right items and the right categories to the right customers.

2) Focus on alternative promotions. Start testing them now. Instead of 16-page flyers that go into the Saturday mailbox, deliver one-to-one targeted flyers delivered to a mobile phone, via email, the web or social media.

Don’t wait until the day until the flyer is not working at all.

Get started now to build a true one-to-one relationship that creates not merely a satisfactory but dazzling experience for your customer and drives emotional loyalty to your brand.

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