Malls Evolve - Event Marketer

Malls Evolve

Malls continue to evolve into 360-degree marketing platforms

When you think of the American shopping mall what comes to mind? Lionel Richie instrumentals piped in on a tinny sound system? Blenders whipping up another batch at Orange Julius? Grandma and Grandpa walkin’ it out before the early bird special? Yes it’s true malls have a certain nostalgic charm (one EM reporter had her first almost-kiss in the food court) but as marketers it may be time to reevaluate the staid perception.

With one mall chain alone boasting 2.8 billion shopper visits each year—2.5 million of them sit on Santa’s lap—and a network that reaches just about every corner of the country mall numbers today rival concert and festival venues as powerful platforms for reaching consumers in a leisure-time mindset. Mall marketing departments are responding by offering retailers and brands robust customer databases branded web sites proprietary event packages and deep research into local customer bases in one centrally-managed network. Calling all marketers! Reps from both sides of the mall wall suggest ways to think outside of the center court mall-stop to modernize and maximize mall sponsorships and events.

Target Shoppers. Southern California-based consumers may be central to your strategy but the youthful vibe at The Block shopping center is a far cry from the upscale South Coast Plaza just a few miles down the road. Target malls like you target consumers: with laser beam focus. Taubman Centers has a small 20-mall portfolio that caters to status shoppers in high income brackets with a taste for stores like Tiffany & Co. and Burberry. “We don’t have the eyeballs you can get at a 200-mall portfolio but we have some pretty damn good eyeballs ” says David Goldberg vp-sponsorship and marketing for Taubman Centers. Simon Property Group offers a bigger 323-mall network with a more mainstream appeal but also gives marketers the ability to target malls and outlets by shopper demographics.

Make It Special. Think about how you can turn an everyday shopping excursion into an amenity. For two years Cadillac has been the exclusive auto partner at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta. To leverage at-mall between its fashion and test-drive events the auto maker runs a valet area at mall entrances throughout year. (Caddie drivers park for free.) L’Oréal is a Taubman sponsor that activates with free makeovers and spa experiences for weary shoppers. And Sharp in July inked a three-year deal with Taubman Centers to transform in-mall seating areas in 10 malls into aquos Entertainment Lounges. The center will conduct occasional special events in the lounges but the day-to-day brand presence is otherwise low-key. The approach requires a slightly different measure for success than a one-day event says Judah Zeigler associate vp-retail and consumer marketing for Sharp Electronics. “It’s not a sales play at all. It’s really designed to expose consumers to the product in a non-threatening way a very comfortable way so they can take a break while shopping.”

Leverage Shopper Data. Not only do malls have growing databases of regular shoppers in their areas they can provide narrowly targeted lists based on favorite stores and other shopping preferences. Taubman pushes e-bulletins every week to its 700 000 subscribers. “Whether you’re looking for the Neiman Marcus customer or the Foot Locker customer it creates some good chances to do some meaningful messaging leading up to a presence that you might have in the mall ” says Goldberg.
Sharp is leveraging its lounge partnership by sending emails to Taubman subscribers in select markets. Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids have each incorporated email offers into their mall event programs by tapping into Simon’s Kidgits Club—a membership club for kids ages three to six that has 650 000 registered members.

Tie In Retail. To encourage people to try the adidas a3 Megaride sneakers two years ago adidas partnered with the Finish Line doing events in four key running markets. The a3 Megaride College Challenge (Agency: Mr. Youth New York City) skipped the traditional mall footprint and instead set up treadmills in store windows. In each market the brand reached out grass roots-style to local intramural track boxing and other sports teams and invited athletes to come to the mall and run in the sneaks. Runners competed to win prizes for the fastest half-mile run and local sportscasters and news anchors ran for charity getting the events an extra plug on the local news. Store sales in the selected locations increased over 95 percent week over week.

Typically adidas runs a national print or TV campaign with in-store components to support its market-by-market events using its retail partner’s store data to target key markets. “I think it’s a formula that works because you get a strong tie to retail and you can get sales results immediately ” says Marla Bulich senior marketing manager for adidas. “You want to start developing a platform for the brand in those markets because you have a better chance of winning per market than you do nationally.”

Go Proprietary. Rather than footing the entire tour bill brands can buy into a proprietary mall program. Simon’s DTour Live concert tour targets teens and runs in 20 malls across the country from July to September. Sponsors like Sprint Coca-Cola and ABC get on-site activation stations as well as brand presence on the DTour Live web site with sticky features like music downloads and blogs plus plugs on the 50-mall digital TV network. Sprint in conjunction with Body Glove and LG is using interactive text messaging contests at the event to showcase its products. “It’s almost like having a mini tour inside of our tour ” says Cathi Weiner senior vp-business development for Simon Brand Ventures. “It feeds the strategy to develop continuity marketing after the event ” she says.

Five to 10 years ago mall companies looked to event producers to help pull traffic into the mall. Today the roles are reversing. The more sophisticated mall marketing gets the more negotiation-savvy brands will need to become. “We used to get people who would come to us and say ‘We’re doing a road race downtown and you should sponsor us because there will be 50 000 people there ’” says Goldberg. “Now we say ‘You know what we call 50 000 people? Wednesday.’”

For a list of U.S. mall networks click here.

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