Case Study: Duane Reade Uses Brand Advocates for Local Campaigns

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DRAt Duane Reade the ubiquitous and occasionally despised drugstore chain with more than 250 locations in New York and New Jersey, localizing each store to fit its neighborhood is a key concept. While the chain, named for the two cross streets where the first store opened, isn’t specifically using cutting-edge local tech, online/public relations manager Calvin Peters says its social media and local “VIP blogger” strategy to promote the company’s recent rebranding efforts, has delivered results. In fact, in a campaign to increase sales for its store-brand hosiery line, the company pulled out all the stops and saw a 28% lift in sales.

Street Fight spoke with Peters recently to discuss these initiatives, and why the store has focused its energy on partnering with NY-area bloggers.

How would you describe Duane Reade’s overall digital marketing strategy.
Our integrated strategies are usually implemented across the board seamlessly with each promotional campaign we roll out. [We’re] able to easily initiate campaigns involving the corporate website, social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, our VIP blogger team generating content via their own social platforms, our own DR-QR code landing page that’s mobile-optimized, blogs, and Google+, in addition to trying traditional PR tactics that help drive our digital and social momentum.

[We have been especially] focused around strategically highlighting, procuring, and disseminating UGC (that’s user-generated content, or consumer-generated media) as the core for expanding our online social presence. Forming and building the Duane Reade blogger team has been integral in being able to monitor, control and leverage relevant UGC and incorporate this organic media within our campaigns. Really, the VIP blogger team is the core focus for me and our social media strategy.

What role does local marketing play in your social media campaigns, and how do you keep Duane Reade relevant on a local level?
We went through a pretty major rebranding effort over the last few years, so each of our remodeled and rebranded stores throughout the New York metropolitan area is designed specifically with that particular neighborhood in mind. Localization concepts are key for us. In-store amenities and services cater to the neighborhood each store resides in. The 40 Wall Street flagship caters not to New York, but to the financial district specifically. We have flagships that have opened up on the Walgreens side in Chicago, as well, and [those] stores cater to that specific area. One of the key things that has taken place with our remodeling over the last few years is our localization concepts.

How does the VIP blogger program work?
A lot of companies are getting involved in a lot of blogger initiatives, but [they’re usually] dealt with on a one-off basis. We cater to the Duane Reade VIP team. They’re not actual employees, but we treat them as such [and] we offer incentives and introduce [them to] initiatives before the public. We syndicate their [posts] under the #DReade hashtag, so that continued syndication is helping them grow their respective communities as well.

The team has been hugely successful in various amplification campaigns on a corporate and vendor basis. The team has allowed us to facilitate a whole new digital revenue stream, while providing our vendors with exceptional options to generate buzz and benefit from customer-based path to purchase options to create exposure. The content [produced by the VIP blogger team] is more organic in nature and is more likely to be trusted and engaged [with], versus your traditional advertising media. What makes our VIP content both relevant and dynamic is that all the VIPs on the team have been vetted as Duane Reade brand advocates. Their individual communities are usually within the New York metropolitan area, which is key for our vendors here.

I know you’ve worked with Collective Bias on a few of your social initiatives. How does that partnership work?
Collective Bias is an integral factor in visualizing the continued growth of the VIP team concept. It’s resulted in some great vendor digital social amplification programs. I needed a company I could trust to put the team concepts in motion, in addition to managing the day-to-day workflow that’s inherent with a social team and a revenue generator such as this.

You also partnered with Collective Bias on a promotion to boost sales of Duane Reade’s private label hosiery line, right?
Sure. What happened was the president of Doris Hosiery Mills, which manufactures the Duane Reade hosiery line, approached me with the desire to amplify Duane Reade’s private hosiery products because, as he put it, it was the best-kept secret. The quality of the hosiery wasn’t widely known, and he wanted to get the word out. He had a desire to run a social-based promotion. What he wanted to do was fully leverage our Facebook and Twitter communities in a fun and engaging way. So, it was a collaborative effort between Doris, Collective Bias, 5WPR, and the members of the Duane Reade VIP blogger team. Our primary goal for the “Show Us Some Leg” campaign was customer awareness and exposure. A close second would be the goal of customer acquisition.

I’m personally an avid believer in engaging and cultivating key bloggers within the retail space. The utilization of celebrity blogger Jess Zaino, the style producer for the ABC daytime show, The Chew, was key. Along with that, we hosted a one-hour Twitter party on December 5th and it was widely successful. Participants were able to follow along on TweetGrid, which is a Twitter search dashboard that updates in real time. We had about 100 ladies join the one-hour party. That created almost two million impressions. We were trending on Twitter 15 minutes into the party, so there was immense activity throughout the entire hour.

What was your main takeaway from the promotion?
In terms of the takeaways for me, it was powerful. Obviously with the 28% lift in year-over-year sales, the ROI that generated, 5x ROI, and then the crazy number of impressions. I think we had over 20 million impressions over the entire period of the campaign. [We had] almost 2,000 pieces of original content being generated over this campaign, so it was huge for us. And it goes back to my point, which is the core of this campaign at Duane Reade, which is consumer-generated media. A lot of this content was coming from contestants and our VIP bloggers. That helped us with the impressions, and it fueled the awareness and the social activity around the content.

How do you measure the ROI of a social promotion?
I think a lot of people do it in different ways. For me, especially in terms of the Show Us Some Leg campaign, I would say regardless of qualitative results, on the PR side I monitor tangibles. I [monitor] pickup from major publications and trade outlets. In regards to the quantitative results, the big success in terms of the Twitter party [was the] numbers and the fact that we trended throughout the event. Positive movement from certain KPIs [key performance indicators], and again SOV is huge. User-generated content and syndication is big. Search ranking, brand sentiment and impressions are things I focus on, as well. For me, the end result is the positive movement with the KPIs showing the viral nature of this organic content that has been derived from the contest.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.