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Walmart, Home Depot missed mobile opportunities during recent blizzard

As consumers hunkered down to endure the recent winter storm with their smartphones in hand, brands such as Home Depot and Walmart missed a major opportunity to directly connect with users via paid and earned media.

Brands can leverage significant weather events to disperse marketing content to audiences in a slew of regions by offering tips and videos for optimal preparedness, as well as updates on sought-after items that may be selling out of stores. While scores of individuals opted to engage with Walmart and Home Depot's existing digital content to prepare themselves for this past weekend's blizzard, both companies failed to take advantage of a major mobile marketing opportunity by not rolling out snowstorm-related paid and earned media.

?Our brand intelligence technology revealed that Home Depot and Walmart were the two top brands associated with the storm because people were engaging in high volume with digital content about how to prepare for the storm,? said Assaf Henkin, senior vice president of brand intelligence at Amobee, New York.

?It was surprising to us that these brands were not proactively utilizing paid and earned media to reach people during what has been one of the biggest storms in a long time,? he said. ?In the past, insurance companies like State Farm leveraged media to help people understand what their claims options and resources were.

?Hurricane Sandy marked a significant shift for the use of social media during a natural disaster.?

Clearing pathways for mobile
Brands that seize the massive opportunity for marketing during major events are well-poised to enjoy higher brand engagement and sales. Home Depot, which maintains a plethora of how-to videos on its YouTube channel, missed the mark by not publishing social media posts directing concerned homeowners to tutorials that could have helped them ready their properties for potential storm damage.

One electrician group, Electrical Plus, retweeted Home Depot?s YouTube tutorial discussing six ways to keep a house warm during winter. This video was an optimal watch for consumers who found heat escaping from their homes during the havoc-wreaking winter storm.

Rolling out continuous media content on social networks, as many brands did this past weekend, could have helped ensure that Walmart and Home Depot were at the forefront of individuals? minds. If consumers discovered they needed to pick up some salt for their driveways prior to the blizzard, they might have been swayed to visit one of Walmart or Home Depot's competitors if those brands were actively posting relevant content.

Another big mobile marketing opportunity lays in advertising sale products that could be of use to homeowners in inclement weather situations. Amobee?s brand intelligence platform determined that water was the most-associated product with the term ?winter storm? in digital engagement.

Gas was 80 percent as associated, followed by milk with a 62 percent association.

Consequently, Walmart and Home Depot could have raised their sales even higher this past weekend by alerting social media users to specific stores that had these products available or on sale.

Driving up brand awareness is also firmly within the grasp of companies that choose to post relevant content during significant events.

Although Washington, D.C.?s Smithsonian Zoo remained closed during the winter storm, it saw digital engagement jump 24 times higher after it posted a heartwarming video of its giant panda, Tian Tian, happily frolicking in the snow. The short clip was uploaded onto social media via the #blizzard2016 hashtag, and quickly became one of the weekend?s most-shared posts.

?Marketers are getting better at using mobile as part of a cross-channel strategy to communicate with target audiences at scale during planned and unplanned events like a winter storm,? Mr. Henkin said. ?What is unique to the storm is that brands knew it was approaching so they had time to think about how they could use paid and earned media to reach consumers.

?Once the storm hit, it then became a real-time, hyper local opportunity to authentically utilize multiple channels to reach those in need,? he said. ?Mobile and social channels are the first ?go-to? channels to quickly activate and amplify a message directed to residents in affected areas.

?The goal would be to help them understand where they could go for supplies or still stock up on items that may be more difficult to get to.?

Leveraging location-based material
This past blizzard was not the only weather event during which brands emerged on social media with full force.

When winter storm Juno bore down on the New York and Boston regions last winter, savvy marketers were quick to put plans into place to stay in touch with customers and make them aware of valuable services or offers by leveraging the one device many kept nearby at all times ? their smartphones (see story).

The fact that so many consumers have their personal devices by their side at all times points to another more sophisticated strategy that marketers can use: geo-location.

For example, Walmart or Home Depot could segment audiences that have downloaded its app and send relevant push notifications to consumers in areas which the storm has not yet hit. This would give individuals the push they need to stock up on items, and perhaps dart to their nearest bricks-and-mortar store to purchase appropriate supplies and food.

?With mobile, geo-targeting opens up a huge opportunity for dynamic, location-relevant messaging to reach people when and where it matters most,? Mr. Henkin said. ?During a storm, mobile devices sometimes can be the only communication method available to people.

?So, for a brand, it provides the opportunity to be helpful, and show how that brand can address a real-time need.?