Beta Twitter Advertiser Rock/Creek Rocks The Social Stream

Independently owned-and-operated outdoor specialty retailer Rock/Creek  has realized early return as one of Twitter’s early beta advertisers.

The brand was founded 25 years ago as a Chattanooga-based canoeing company. It operates five standalone stores in addition to an ecommerce platform, but has yet to mobile-optimize its site. Fifty-one percent of retailers cited this very optimization issue as a top priority in 2013, according to and Forrester Research’s State of Retailing Online report, indicating Rock/Creek is far from alone.

Mark McKnight, Rock/Creek’s head of marketing & creative, spoke with AdExchanger about the brand’s early Twitter tests, the platform’s usefulness from a mobile perspective, and where Facebook and local targeting fit into the strategic equation.

AdExchanger: Can you describe Rock/Creek’s sweet spot and why paid social “makes sense” to you as a marketer?

MARK MCKNIGHT: We’re a specialty retailer with a very narrow focus and we’re kind of like an REI in the kinds of things that we carry. But we have a lot of cutting-edge technology that we leverage, so we have to find those little niche audiences that are very committed to the sport, whether it’s trail running or climbing. In the case of [lifestyle brand] Patagonia, people are very passionate about the brand and really respond to it. To be able to go in there and target it down to “people like our followers” has worked really well for us.

It’s still early for Twitter, but we’ve seen audiences change … We’ve seen Facebook skew older lately and you see teens and tweens jumping off of it or even skipping Twitter and going to Snapchat. I still think it’s a very influential audience and there are people who really help us spread the message about a sale… people have been really hungry for information through that channel.

How did you first get involved with Twitter for advertising?

We’ve been using Twitter for advertising since last fall. We had been active there for about six months before that. We’ve had an account for a long time and we finally came to it as marketers and started to grow our following on there. We saw good organic results and felt like we really could do well if we were able to expand our reach a little bit and that’s what led us to experimenting with advertising. We were one of the first to get on in May or June of last year when they allowed you to engage with the self-service model.

They kind of came to advertising, I guess, the opposite way that a lot of these social sites did — they started with big brands and slowly kind of moved toward smaller businesses. We had been talking with them about having an account manager and it was a little more than we were willing to commit to in the beginning, since they wanted a minimum spend for an account rep, which makes sense. But as soon as they came out with self-service, we jumped right on it and started building out campaigns and saw some early success. It was totally self-service, so it was going in, poking around and trying to figure out what worked best for us. We had our best sales day in 2012 due to a campaign that we ran, and it was prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It was very significant for us.

As a beta advertiser for Twitter’s new lead-gen cards, which were just generally released, you saw some impressive early results.

We were giving away two pairs of Chacos, which is one of our top brands in the summertime. Inventory has been kind of hard to get recently and after the recession, our vendor started making less. We weren’t really in a position to do a sales promotion that was tied directly to selling Chacos because we didn’t have the inventory, but we wanted to keep the buzz going, so we decided to give away two pairs for free, and said, ‘Let’s make it an exclusive for our Twitter followers.’

We thought it would be a great opportunity to test out the lead-gen cards because we were already invited into the beta program. It was pretty simple to set up. At first, I was using the CSV download and then worked with my tech guy in-house and we were able to get it so it [connected to] Bronto, which we use as our email and marketing automation software provider.

The thing I like about it is, it makes it really easy on the customer. What always drove me crazy, especially on mobile, especially when you don’t have a mobile optimized website is when you supply a link and go to a website and have to enter your email on a non-optimized site, [it’s an added barrier]. Twitter already has the email, so all you have to do is click a button and you’re done. We use ATG, which is Oracle Commerce now, on the back end for orders. We also have brick and mortar stores. The brick and mortar platform runs on another system, but it’s all integrated. That’s the good thing about all these systems that have APIs to share data across these platforms.

Other than Twitter, are you running Facebook campaigns and how would you stack one against the other?

We do. If I’m going to do a general, light campaign or just try to get a little more ‘attituding’ around a post, I’ll probably do that natively inside the Facebook ad platform. Then for retargeting, we use FBX through AdRoll. With Twitter retargeting, it’s definitely one of the things everyone is asking for and waiting for. We would definitely use it, and would be interested in seeing what the results are. I can imagine it would be strong.

The thing that was really cool to me about the cards deal was that knowing that I’m kind of behind the game on mobile, and Facebook is figuring out mobile as well. On Twitter, I feel like I’m not going for an immediate sale. Being able to take their contact information and develop that relationship offline via email is a huge value driver to me and something that’s really compelling to me.

We get a little more direct-sales activity off of Facebook and I’m not sure if it’s just the nature of the platform and people are more open to being interrupted and taken off a shopping website but both platforms, for us, are primarily branding and relationship based. One of the things we’re doing on our website after you purchase and come back to the site is, we’re popping up and trying to get you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We have a couple of other triggers. If you’ve been to our site four-to-five times and haven’t purchased, we’ll try to get you through social media.

How are you marketing to the local consumer?

A lot of our local traffic shops online. Some [local customers] order online and have it shipped anyway because it might not be convenient to go to the store. But then a lot of our local customers will go do their research online and then come in the store and buy, so it’s a little tricky for us to figure out online – ‘Are you abandoning our site because you’re headed down to the store to buy something?’ or ‘Are you abandoning it because you didn’t find what you needed?’ So, we’re starting to pay more attention to that behavior on a local level.

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