Covid-19: How Ryman is revamping its digital marketing strategy

During the Covid-19 lockdown, people have become increasingly reliant on technology to stay informed and entertained. The importance of marketing via digital channels has therefore taken a renewed sense of importance for non-essential retailers, currently unable to interact with customers via physical stores as a result of Covid-19 lockdown measures introduced since 23 March.

To meaningfully connect with customers during this health, social and economic crisis requires retailers to think very differently. It is becoming clear that traditional adverts showcasing products and offers alone will not be enough to engage people and drive sales. Instead, many consumers are being much more careful about discretionary spending, and are looking to brands to help them meet the unique challenges they are currently facing rather than simply sell them products. Many of these changes in consumer behaviour are expected to continue into the long-term.

This new environment has heavily influenced the recent marketing strategies of stationary retailer Ryman. “The reality is customer shopping habits will have changed probably forever. And we need to nurture that and make sure we continue to talk to our customers and continue to be relevant with them and their lives,” says Phil Turner-Taylor, head of customer marketing at Ryman, during a recent Ometria webinar.

With the help of tech partners, Ryman has rapidly transformed its digital marketing strategy using a mixture of innovative technology and content. This has enabled the retailer to markedly enhance its engagement with customers in recent months, including improving its email opening rates by an average of 12%, according to Turner-Taylor.

The first stage in making this shift has been to respond to the changing needs of customers during lockdown by providing practical help in areas such as overcoming stress and anxiety, setting up a home office and providing entertainment. Turner-Taylor outlines: “We wanted to make sure that our email communications were being timely and relevant for our customers and providing them with ideas and solutions so they don’t have to think about things in times of stress and anxiety.”

Ensuring email campaigns are personalised according to the varying needs of its customers has been a major feature in Ryman’s approach to be more relevant. With this in mind, it has been working with ODDICI, the microsite platform, to gather important data on customers in an interactive way. Using ODDICI’s customer profiling module, for instance, Ryman has been able to capture personality profiles by asking customers what type of stationery they think they are (e.g. a highlighter or a ruler). This particular initiative achieved a participation rate in excess of 50%.

“This insight will help you realise your customer’s characteristics, behaviours, and traits,” explains Victoria Manning, head of customer success, ODICCI. “And by having a better understanding of your customers, you will also understand what they are interested in and in turn be able to communicate with them in a much more effective and personalised way.”

This information has in turn been used by marketing tech firm Ometria to develop personalised email campaigns on behalf of Ryman that combine help and information with relevant promotions. These have included providing activities for customers and their families, such as downloading colouring sheets or how to plan an indoor scavenger hunt.

“Seeing as we are all stuck indoors, this is a great way to offer support, both for those who want to settle down in a corner for some me-time, or for those who are at home and have to entertain children,” notes Luam Mesfun, senior customer success manager at Ometria.

This approach has not only enhanced engagement and participation with Ryman emails, but helps keep housebound customers entertained. Products are still marketed alongside the engaging content, although carefully put into context of how they can help customers at this particular time.

And when the crisis ends, there is no plan for a ‘return to normal’. Instead, Ryman intend to learn from, and build on, the success of their new approach to marketing. “We’ll be making sure we’re providing solutions for their problems and giving them advice and talk to them in a really credible way that is balancing sales but also being really relevant and informative,” comments Turner-Taylor. “Also, as a brand we’re going to be much more fun and make sure that we’re being much more interactive in the way that we’re talking to people.”

Plans are now afoot for Oddici to create further ways to engage with customers interactively while collecting more valuable insights into their personalities and preferences. This includes a ‘swipe-to-enrich’ feature, whereby customers can swipe left or right depending on whether they are interested in something. “All this data can be fed into Ometria to ensure the right content is reaching the right person at the right time,” adds Manning.

Luam also highlights Ometria’s work with Ryman to design a new post-purchase campaign, in which relevant and timely information is sent to customers who have brought particular items; this aims to pave the way for upselling in that category in the weeks and months ahead.

Luam comments: “We know Covid-19 has changed the relationship between customers and brands, where context and relevance are key and we see more and more brands prioritising value rather than sending loads of sales based emails. Customer expectations have changed, and it will be hard for brands to go back to their old ways of mass messaging.”

During Covid-19, customer needs have changed substantially, and the increasing use of the internet as a means of entertainment and interaction is a trend that is likely to continue. This means retailers should be putting a greater emphasis on adapting their digital marketing strategies over the long-term. Ryman has found that helping customers during this difficult period through a mix of personalisation, entertainment and interactivity has yielded positive results. This example should pave the way for a new era of marketing in retail; one that is far more subtle about advertising products, and more focused on entertaining and engaging customers digitally.