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A mass market retailer might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of social media innovation. But Canadian Tire Corp., a family of businesses that includes multiple banners, has been on a roll lately. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg cited it as a leader in digital advertising for converting its sporting goods retail chain Sport Chek’s print flyer to digital. Last winter, a viral video by the Canadian Tire banner topped 1.3 million views on YouTube. It has a new Digital Innovation Centre that will serve as a digital hub for the company. “If you have to be world class in digital, you’ll never get there if you let people outside do it for you,” said Duncan Fulton, svp of communications and corporate affairs. Here, he talks about the challenges of digital transformation by a multi-category retailer. How did a multichannel retailer akin to Walmart or Target come to embrace digital? The Canadian Tire Company is the No. 1 in kitchen and tools and backyards. A couple years ago we bought Sport Chek, which would be the Dick’s of Canada. That suddenly gave the company the access to a young, urban digitally savvy customer, versus our core Canadian Tire customer, which tends to be over 50 and a little more rural. So that kind of forced the company much more quickly into the digital and social world. By converting the tried-and-true print flyer to a digital one on Facebook? It’s been a journey to prove that you can pull all your print circulars out of the market and drive sales. Half of Sport Chek’s marketing budget was in circulars. About 17 percent went to the store because of the circular. Now you’ve got a bit of a disaster on your hand. Our customers are all online. We had to figure out how to take the essence of the circular and move it online. There’s no question, digital can drive likes and shares. But how do you sell a bike on Facebook? We ran all digital for two weeks. In-store sales grew 12 percent year-over-year, and in-store sales of promoted items were up 23 percent. Do you see the print flyer going away entirely? We absolutely do. We’re going to transfer at least 25 percent of the flyers to digital next year. Here’s why we need to. When you put a circular out, you’re stuck. If there’s a huge change of weather, there’s nothing you can do. The digital flyer lets us change the products at a month’s notice. You’re also creating video posts and sponsored stories. What is the hardest part of becoming a brand-as-publisher? Scaling quickly the volume of content we need. We put up two stores in Canada. One has 800 screens in it. On those are 240 different channels of content. We literally are running men’s Nike running content on the table that has men’s Nike running shoes. So we had to build our own production studio. You have to source content from your partners, create some of your own content, you have to push it out. But the content you put out on Facebook has to be different from what you put on Instagram. Your video of two guys building a truck of ice was a viral hit back in January. Where does video fit into your media strategy? Canadian Tire had a simple retailing problem. They wanted to sell more car batteries. We could put it in the flyer, or you could tell a story about the car battery. So the team said, we’re going to build a truck entirely built out of ice in under 40 [degrees]. People loved the fact that only in Canada and only Canadian Tire would put a truck out built entirely of ice.
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