Properties & Leasing

Marketing a shopping center: Top tips from a retail marketing pro

Posted by: Mark Curran Mark Curran
on September 2, 2014

Never before has it been so difficult to create a perfect marketing mix. It seems like every day new studies and reports are being released about the hottest new products that are flying off the shelves, how to integrate Big Data into your advertising efforts, or what the best social platforms are for reaching consumer audiences.

In the world of retail real estate, marketers are often challenged to do more with less, and create tangible results in turn. To help shed some light on the topic, we spoke with the owner of creative marketing company, Team Watkins, to get his professional take on some of today’s top tips for marketing a shopping center. David Watkins and his son, Chris, manage the promotion and publicity efforts at Kimco’s MarketPlace at Factoria in Bellevue, WA, executing integrated marketing campaigns that include everything from traditional television and transit advertising to social media visibility, development of marketing materials, to the planning and execution of on-site events and entertainment. David’s 30+ years in the industry, coupled with Chris’ graphic design skills and new media savvy have helped the MarketPlace at Factoria become a top retail destination in the region.

Here are some of the leading tips from these marketing and advertising pros that can help any neighborhood shopping center make the most of its marketing efforts and drive foot traffic to tenant storefronts.

Create a community. According to David, successful retail site marketing stems largely from recognizing that it requires substantially more hands-on activity than traditional marketing for a product or company. “Just consider the huge variety of products and services offered at the typical Kimco shopping center,” said David. “While it’s a great challenge to be faced with, we have many different things to promote in a very small space. It requires significant time spent at the center talking to merchants, understanding their new products and features, trying to get input on our marketing initiatives, and informing them of what we have planned for the center.”

By building on the strength of the entire shopping center community, marketers are not only able to generate more excitement, energy, and collaboration from tenants, but in turn create a more enticing and holistic message to share with the local shopping community. This also allows tenants to prepare in their own ways, by printing flyers or posters to put up before an event, creating special sales or promotions during a particularly heavily-trafficked weekend, or spreading the word about plans at the center.

Host regular events and make your site a consumer destination. From summer concert series to Child Safety Days, shopping center events can be a major draw for the community. The key is to generate awareness before the event kicks off to ensure that you have large crowds the day of the affair which will result in visibility and sales for retailers. Team Watkins says that partnering with media is one of the best ways to create excitement and awareness about your center’s goings-on. By co-hosting events with media partners, the shopping center is bringing in additional promotional funds and is reaching wider audiences that are already actively tuned in to the station. Evaluate your local media partnership opportunities and develop a strategic plan for how you can both benefit from collaborating on events. “Radio Disney has been a phenomenal partner for our family-centric events because it keeps kids engaged and gets them excited to spend time with their parents at a shopping center, while further building affinity for the media brand,” said David.

Mix it up. Creating a fusion of traditional and new media campaigns in the community can help a shopping center reach diverse demographics. Billboards and transit ads wrapped around buses on local routes keep shopping centers top of mind among commuters; targeted online media buys pinpoint audiences based on relevant consumer data; social media allows for real-time, two-way conversations with shoppers; and TV commercials allow marketers to share great visuals while mixing in the names of the various tenants that consistently draw people to the center. Cable networks in particular can provide highly geo- and demo-targeted options for advertisers, and should be considered in the marketing mix.

One insider tip from David: In many states the winter season means messy roads, causing transit ads to get splashed with slush and dirty snow that can cover or dilute a positive message about a shopping center.

Build leads. Utilize your marketing efforts to generate lists of shoppers’ contact information so you can reach out to them directly. Event sign ups, newsletter opt-ins on your website and social media platforms, and coupon redemptions are a great way to collect the contact information of engaged audiences who may be highly receptive to your marketing messages in the future. Use these touch points as opportunities to inform readers about the variety of activities and updates going on at the shopping center. These can include major promotions, events, sales, updated hours, new tenants, or even just updates about the center itself, such as new green space or corporate responsibility initiatives taking place. “You don’t always have to sell stuff,” said David, “Providing a human interest story can be a welcome change for readers and keep them interested in opening your materials because they know it will be new and different every time.”

Keep it fresh. Whenever you can, surprising shoppers or bringing something unique to the community that it wouldn’t otherwise have, is a great opportunity to promote your shopping center in a positive light. David recalled a recent contest they had in coordination with a local radio station where a hit band announced a surprise concert at MarketPlace at Factoria with only 24 hours warning. Even with just one day’s notice, the event generated a crowd of at least 500 attendees, bringing a boost for tenants and creating a memory of the center that the community would cherish for years.

For those looking for additional insights into shopping center marketing, the International Council of Shopping Centers is another great resource to discover strategies, tactics, techniques, and trends, with dedicated publications committed to effective marketing practices. Also be sure to check back to the Kimco blog for new ideas and tips on how tenants and shopping centers in our industry-leading portfolio are making the most of marketing today.

4 COMMENTS

Great tips all around. A good mix of advertising, events, social media and email marketing are a few excellent ways to reach today’s busy shopper. I’d also recommend don’t forget about mobile as a way to reach shoppers on the go. Whether through mobile advertising or a shopping center mobile app, this is a perfect way to keep shoppers informed and engaged while on the go.

September 4, 2014

Hi Mark,

I appreciate efforts from people like yourself who keep the brick and mortar shopping centres alive in this age of ecommerce. I build apps for the commercial real estate industry, mostly to support leasing but recently I built an iphone app for shopping centre visitors. The app shows the shopping centre map, like the one posted on ‘The Marketplace at Factoria’ home page and provides navigation info as you walk within the shopping centre, like your car GPS.

I can add events and sales info, as well as some social media type functionality where people can leave comments. But before moving any further, I am looking for feedback/guidance to see if such an app has a place in the shopping centre industry. I would love to hear your comments on the idea.

Regards,
Azfar

September 8, 2014

Azfar,
Sounds like a great idea and one that would be a great customer service tool in large centers, tourist destinations, or centers with a complex layout. I think consumers, who are used to immediate responses for information, don’t want to have to look for a directory or a customer service center. This could cut-down on the need for multiple customer service centers as well as printed directories. Management and retailers are always on the look-out for ways to drive consumer traffic to all areas of a shopping center. Your idea also sounds like it could have a revenue generating component.
-Mark

September 9, 2014

Geoff,
Thanks for the response. We launched our first mobile site last year and are constantly reviewing mobile opportunities in the market.
-Mark

September 9, 2014


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