Behind the Art and Science of Shoe Carnival’s Marketing Strategy


Retailers face a complex brand marketing challenge: Not only do they have to tell their own branding stories to increasingly digitally driven customers, but they need to promote their vendors' branding stories as well.

Deb Hannah, VP marketing of the 370-plus-store Shoe Carnival chain and CGT/RIS Executive Council member, presented solutions to this often-conflicting marketing challenge in her "Brand Storytelling: Creating a Content-Centric Marketing Strategy" session at the Consumer Goods Sales & Marketing Summit last week.

Creating effective and engaging marketing content is a marriage of art and science. "What you’re selling is about creativity and innovation and design, and ultimately an emotional response from the customer," Hannah explained. "On the other side, you also have science, and science is what enables us to actually achieve our business goals."

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Before delving into marketing and social media content creation, Hannah advocates a high-level planning process. First, build a master calendar that encapsulates your overall marketing campaign ideas that incorporate your channel and brand stories, as well as your associated promotion plans.

"We have our campaign ideas, we have individual brand stories, and we plan with our big vendors what products are they launching, what are their big priorities," she noted.

Once the calendar is built, the content planning can begin. Importantly, considering Shoe Carnival's diversity of customer and consumer constituencies, content can't be one-size-fits-all.

"The creative on Facebook doesn’t look like the creative on Instagram, which is different from what’s on TikTok, which is different for what’s on mobile banners, our homepage, etc.,” Hannah said. “We're making sure that all of the audience nuances are reflected, too. If we’re targeting a Hispanic audience for instance, or targeting an African American audience, we're making sure that we have the right level of diversity, the right language … and then we go make some art."

Many retailers hire an outside agency to create content, but the retail exec noted that dealing with an outside agency slowed down the process.

[See also: Mondelez On Driving Personalized Experiences]

"Frankly, we just moved too fast, especially once we moved to a more regular cadence in terms of the amount of time that we turn over our website and our email creative." Moving creative in-house made a difference, Hannah said, to make Shoe Carnival's content creation more agile.

In offering advice to brands seeking to improve their retail partnerships, Hannah noted the importance of being responsive. "If you want us to use your assets, send them to us with some haste," she said, pointing to the value of when brands are able to work with them on actual content creation.

“Can we work together on a plan that fits both of our needs? It’s when either side kinds of digs in their heels and goes, 'Oh, no, I’m only interested in doing X,' that’s when the opportunities are lost because we’re not taking advantage of the things that we could do all together,” she noted. “Communication is key for sure."

Creating content completes only one half of the circle. Analytics, along with adjustments based on insight and information gleaned from the analytics, completes the process — at least for a brief period.

"The most critical parts of our process are actually not in all of the creative that we create but in our process for how we put it back together and how we review it and then how we optimize against it," Hannah said. "Our individual creative product is approved systemically… It’s a slick group of marketing folks as well as our merchants, and we review everything in context. We literally take it week by week."

This article origionaly ran on sister publication CGT. 

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