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What Retailers Can Learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge


Once in a while, something comes along which captures the public’s imagination. Such was the case with the Ice Bucket Challenge, spurred by Pete Frates who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This seemingly light-hearted challenge of dumping ice on one’s head to raise money and awareness of this incurable disease went viral, and videos of celebrities, business tycoons, and next-door neighbors experiencing the chilly blast rampaged through social media like a storm. This phenomenon may end up as a case study in social media, since its outcome resulted in raising more than $100 million in donations for the ALS Association this summer, compared to $2.8 million for the same period in 2013.

Moreover, this was something that became embedded in pop culture and it’s the kind of massive engagement that is a marketer’s dream.

The take-aways that retailers can learn from this are varied.

  1. Social Media works! Make the pitch for your store/brand fun, entertaining, and interactive.
  2. Videos are not a trend—they should be part of your standard promotion strategy. The use of video in emails has been reported to double  or triple click-through rates. If the Ice Bucket Challenge consisted of staged still photos, it would never have had the same effect…or success.
  3. Appealing to emotions and creating buzz and conversation helps to drive people to your business or store to see what it’s all about. A call to action is dynamic. It encourages participation and store traffic.

The challenge pulled in different generations, demographics and genders, but your store may appeal only to a particular audience or demographic. You need to tailor your message and content to that demographic.

But before everyone goes hog wild about duplicating this campaign, no one really knows why it took off the way it did. It’s certainly a good cause, but there are a million worthy charities and causes out there. Maybe the Ice Bucket success had to with summer, a fun diversion and an escape from oppressive news stories around the world to benefit something worthwhile.

So, while you can glean certain points from the challenge that translate to good promotion and brand building, it’s still not something you can repeat and expect equal success. What it shows is uniqueness and being first at something. Consumers are less likely to be impressed with the same thing the second time around.

As demonstrated hundreds of times, engagement and authenticity are key components in drawing customers to your store or brand.

Pulling heartstrings, posting videos are one thing, but as a commercial enterprise, retailers are accountable to consumers who expect certain benefits in return for their dollars and loyalty.

Using the imaginative essence of the Ice Bucket challenge to grow your customer base is an important building block for your business. While retailers shouldn’t mimic the campaign, it provides a great foundation from which to learn and incorporate lessons into future ideas.

Timing your promotions, making them fresh, “non-corporate,” and new, and creating relevant social media and video content, are important factors in creating and sustaining customer interest.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a unique experience that can’t be copied. While retailers can learn from its success, and create their own call-to-action enticements, they’re only scratching the surface. Building ongoing relationships, staff engagement and support services to accommodate customer satisfaction is vital to securing loyalty and sales. 

TAGS: retail, retail trends, retailers,
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