Sunday, 26 September 2021
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What this food gifting business has had to do to modernise marketing

An overhauled ecommerce site, marketing specialist skills in-house and an investment in a next-generation digital marketing platform has seen US-based gifting business, Hickory Farms, lift off-season revenues by more than 30 per cent.

Speaking to CMO during the recent Salesforce Connections event in Chicago, Hickory Farms CMO, Judy Ransford, said the 76-year old food gifts business has felt like a startup since it was acquired by investment group, Modjule, in 2015.

Despite high brand recognition, the former family-run business, which operates more than 500 pop-up kiosks in the US and Canada during holiday seasons, had suffered a decade of dwindling growth, falling customer list rates, and operated with a maintenance and cost-cutting mentality as a result.

In 2016, investors set out to restructure and modernise Hickory Farms, bringing in experienced retail and consumer goods leader, Diane Pearse, as CEO to lead the way. This was also when Ransford joined, alongside COO, Matt James.

Modernising the marketing function

A huge component of modernisation is about improving the company’s relationship with the customer all year-round, Ransford said. And that’s where skills and technology investment comes in.

Since joining two years ago, Ransford has made significant investments across the board, including restructuring the marketing function and bringing talent in-house. Her remit includes creative and brand, integrated marketing, digital, print catalogues, ecommerce, Web development and B2C customer service.

“The company had previously stripped down the internal infrastructure to a couple of core managers managing work with agencies,” she said, noting everything from creative to email, execution and strategy was outsourced. “When you’re in that mode, you don’t have people taking ownership. And when you’re pivoting into an aggressive growth strategy, you need people in-house.”

A key communications vehicle is email marketing, which previously sat fourth in the list of ecommerce traffic sources. Ransford said she has a special affinity for email “in terms of all the levers a CMO can pull”.

“In ecommerce, email is a super powerful, low-funnel tool with your best customers. But the company really wasn’t treating email in that way,” she said. “One of the first things I looked at was bringing all email in-house and building up an internal function.”  

Having previously had an ExactTarget platform managed by an outsourced crew, as well as Demandware (now Salesforce Commerce Cloud) in-house, Hickory Farms brought on Salesforce Marketing Cloud as its automated marketing platform. It also began working with local integration player, LyonsCG, (part of Capgemini) and hired its first email marketing manager.

As this was taking place, Hickory Farms instigated a site rebuild improving front-end capability and fixing technical infrastructure behind the site. This immediately drove a 10 per cent improvement in conversion rates during the holiday season.

Ransford said it wasn’t all technology, however, and noted creative came in-house at the same time.

“That really changed our art direction and photography and a lot of the content started changing. So it’s been evolving together,” she said. “In 2017, we then did a site genesis upgrade, upgrading the whole platform, and we also implemented Marketing Cloud.”

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