How Harman Takes Electronics Marketing to the Local Level

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Having the customer’s ear is literally what Harman International wants, but getting their attention at the local level takes more than a few steps for a consumer electronics maker. Harman, which was acquired by Samsung in March, produces connected products such as audio systems through its brands that include JBL and Bang Olufsen Automotive. Its headsets and speakers can be found in stadiums, concert venues, and built into cars. The company’s wares are sold through retailers, creating a need for some cooperation for local marketing efforts. 

Shobhit Kapoor, Harman’s vice president of global brand marketing, will be a speaker at Street Fight Summit next month in Brooklyn. He caught up with Street Fight recently to talk about the ways his company approaches local marketing and why it is important for Harman to get consumers listening to its offers.

How do you think about local digital marketing as a part of your overall marketing mix?  How important is it for Harman to connect with consumers at the street and store level?
A significant part of our business is retail. We don’t have any owned-retail, so we’re dependent on our retail partners as a channel — be it a Best Buy, Target, or Walmart — wherever people shop for electronics. Local marketing is fairly significant. We’ve been experimenting a lot with mobile-based marketing and geofenced targeting to drive more people into stores with localized offers and incentives.

Are there specific measures you take to further consumer interest on that front?
It’s still a fairly nascent marketing effort in terms of being part of the overall mix. We’ve been looking at some geotargeting and geofenced offers. We’ve been looking at some beacon-based technology to integrate the mobile marketing offers, as well as in-app offers with your store presence. We’re looking at local offer-based efforts that drive people to the store. I wouldn’t say we’ve done one thing in particular that’s had a huge payoff. We’re still experimenting and exploring with all kinds of different technology that’s out there.

Which elements of local digital are most essential to your arsenal?
The most effective thing that we’ve found is geofenced offers. Especially if we know someone is in the vicinity of, let’s say, a Best Buy and we know from their previous browsing history that they’re actually interested in one of our products and they have been researching or exploring it. We can give them an offer to compel them to come into a store and explore further. That’s what we’ve found to be the most effective conversion strategy so far.

What kind of mix of traditional and other forms of marketing media do you also use?
It really depends on the campaign and what we’re trying to achieve. If I were to look at a macro-level across the entire company, traditional spend is probably around 20% to 25% and everything else is some form of digital. It really depends upon the campaign; if I’m running a campaign that has content orientation, we invest more in traditional channels. Whereas, if it’s a transaction-based component and we’re trying to drive more traffic and clicks, that’s where we go heavy on digital. I don’t know if there’s a fixed formula that we have; it really depends on the campaign, the objective, and what the KPIs (key performance indicators) are.

Are there specific challenges or pain points that you must address as a marketer? Is there a specific product that you might envision solving them?
On the local front, the biggest challenge we have as an advertiser, we don’t control the last mile experience, so to speak. I don’t own our partners’ stores. If I had my own stores, I could have a lot more flexibility over what I could do with local marketing. I’m really dependent on the channel, how fast the channel is willing to react, and how experimentative a channel partner is willing to get. That becomes the single biggest challenge. Unfortunately technology can’t solve for that. That is really solved at the relationship level, finding mutual interest, and finding a way to execute that is not disruptive to the channel.

They could have 100 marketers like myself knocking on the door saying, “I want to try this, I want to try to that, I want to do this, and I want to do that in the store.” Obviously they can’t allow everyone to come in and turn their stores upside-down. For people like me — who don’t own their own destination — that is the single biggest challenge.

How much do you use data to inform your marketing?  
We rely on data as much as we possibly can. Sometimes the data is more directional than direct. We try to use data to make our decisions as best as we possibly can. Marketing isn’t an instinct driven game anymore.

We often are told by brands that they are excited about big data and have reams of it, but that they find it hard to generate usable insights that translate into ROI. Do you have any examples of how data is helping inform your decision-making process?
You start at the micro-level, looking at data in isolation in a particular campaign and say whether the campaign worked or not in terms of the specific KPIs of the campaign. Then you look at your campaigns at the channel level, or whatever the execution mechanism is. Then you can say, what is it doing overall for my brand? How is it moving the needle in terms of the overall business impact? Then you take it a step up and say, what does it mean for the life cycle of my customer and consumer?

We’re trying to work with data across all of those spectrums, and then you add a level of complexity to say, how do we take a customer’s profile? Not just from their purchases of retail products and their satisfaction, but to the audio experience from their automobiles? For Harman, that is a huge part of our business. We’re trying to use big data across the entire spectrum, to build these consumer profiles, and try to mesh the data across usage and understanding. There’s a lot of data and information. The challenge is getting all the data to be in the same spot because there’s ambiguity over who owns the data and who should get first cut at the data. The second challenge is how do you mesh the data and find consistencies? The third thing, if you manage to find all of that, is what do you actually learn? Is what you learn useful? Does it help drive the business, differently or better?

How important is ROI attribution to you? Is it vital to find a direct correlation between a campaign and every sale generated?
No. Data is important; ROI is important. At some point you’re going to have to make a decision and say not every action that you take is going to have an equal reaction. Some efforts are meant to be long-term. Intangible efforts, so to speak. That goes in the broader bucket of brand awareness and brand recall. Often times you’re not going to get a direct measurement of those things right off the bat. Other times, you may be making an investment that does not translate into direct sales at that particular point in time. You are looking to build the longevity of the relationship with the consumer, or try to get them at a later point on in time.

What are your thoughts on local marketing tools such as geofencing, bots, and artificial intelligence?  Are these relevant to the work you do?
I think they are interesting technologies. It is still very nascent and unproven to some extent. With the emergence of mobile, I think local targeted offers are going to become more and more relevant than broad-based offers. It’s healthy for the ecosystem, because you don’t have to run universal campaigns across the board. You can be more timely in terms of how you give the offers. You can be more proactive in terms of reaching out with an offer. There’s a lot of infrastructure work that still needs to get done.

Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.

Join Harman’s Shobhit Kapoor and hundreds of other top local companies and brands at The Best Street Fight Summit Ever — a three-day extravaganza in Brooklyn on June 12-14. Click here to register now!