According to a study conducted by Forbes, 90% of startups fail within a very short period of time. Very often, this happens due to a lack of long-term strategic planning: the goal must not only be to sell and generate immediate turnover, but also to build brand awareness. Offering an original, coherent and persuasive corporate image is essential so that the target audience knows and remembers the brand and associates it with positive values.
NetStrategy's CEO, Stefano Robbi, together with Cicalia's founders Davide Rossi, Simone Gotti and Emiliano Anversa contributed to the birth and growth of Cicalia, the first online supermarket that delivers fresh and ultra-fresh products all over Italy: a very ambitious challenge! To be successful, it was necessary, in fact, to spread the convenience and practicality of a whole new way of shopping. What results has this collaboration brought? Is Cicalia today a well-known brand on the Web? In this case study we're going to analyze how NetStrategy, Davide and Simone, have developed a brand strategy tailored to the first Italian online supermarket and what goals have been achieved by the 2 companies together.
THE IDEA: REVOLUTIONIZING THE WAY WE SHOP
Cicalia is a startup based in Mantua. It is the first online supermarket born with the aim of serving the entire Italian territory, including islands and small mountain villages. At Cicalia you can find a wide variety of products, just like in a traditional supermarket: among the many examples, bread, sauces, soft drinks, fruits, vegetables and fresh food, which are delivered by dry and refrigerated carriers.
In addition to the most common products, the consumer can also purchase niche, high-end products that are difficult to find in common offline supermarkets.
Even before the opening of the e-commerce, NetStrategy, Davide and Simone decided to collaborate in order to create a long-term winning project that would revolutionize - for the better - the habits of consumers. The challenge was welcomed with pleasure. Here are which strategic actions have been taken since 2016 to spread the Cicalia brand throughout Italy.
#1 WAS THE CONSUMER READY TO SHOP ONLINE?
Before starting a business, it is crucial to understand if the conditions are in place to sell in your target market. However brilliant an idea may be, if there is no demand or if the competition is too aggressive, it will never become profitable. That's why the starting point of any marketing plan is always the market analysis. NetStrategy supported the Cicalia team in this delicate phase. Which aspects have been deepened? We see them briefly summarized below.
- E-commerce industry in Italy. Although our country has always lagged behind other European nations in the development of e-commerce, in recent years the sector has experienced an explosion. This indicates the growing confidence of consumers in the Web. At the same time, however, the market is not yet saturated and there are many potentialities that it can offer, both to well-known companies and to startups.
- During the analysis it has emerged the presence of companies inserted in the sector of the large distribution (GDO) that had already started similar projects to that of Cicalia, allowing the purchase of the groceries online. However, these activities resulted limited mostly to the centers of the great cities, excluding in fact the peripheral towns from this service. Moreover, the range of products that could be purchased online was limited only to goods with a long expiry date, which do not require special means of transport.
- Need of the reference target. It was necessary to study the target to which Cicalia would have aimed its service and ask if it would have welcomed this new way of shopping. It was then analyzed the everyday life of the consumer: shopping online would have meant saving precious time, a significant advantage considering the frenetic lifestyle that characterizes today's people.
Thanks to all this information, it was possible to define the points of difference that would characterize the new company on the market. Among the advantages that Cicalia can provide to the consumer we can find:
- The possibility to serve any region in Italy, even the peripheral areas;
- The possibility of accessing a wide range of products in any price range (low, medium, high), including fresh and ultra-fresh, for which refrigerated vehicles equipped and submitted to stringent health and hygiene regulations are required;
- Avoiding having to move around, queuing at the checkout and spending hours and hours at the supermarket: the consumer's free time would be dedicated exclusively to his passions and the care of the people he loves.
#2 THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY: CICALIA
From all the information collected during the analysis phase, Cicalia's management identified the brand name and its initial storytelling. "Cicalia" is a brand name as eloquent as ever: it is the emblem of the consumer who becomes a "cicada", i.e. lazes around while someone else does the shopping for him. The logo represented the natural consequence of the brand name: a stylized cicada, characterized by a modern design and easily identifiable on the market, represents today the startup.
These were the starting points of the strategy: what followed was aimed at spreading the brand on the market, making it first known and then appreciated by a wide audience. For this reason, an incisive communication slogan was adopted: "sing as long as you want, we'll carry your shopping". In a few words, the core business (what does Cicalia do?) and the benefit in the user's life have been effectively summarized: he can continue to sing - like a cicada - because there is someone ready to do the shopping for him.
#3 THE BIRTH OF THE ONLINE SUPERMARKET
When the company started its activity, there were very few consumers who had already used a service similar to the one offered by Cicalia. For this, it was essential that the e-commerce was intuitive and easily navigable by users. Achieving this goal was very difficult considering the presence of tens of thousands of products, but it was possible paying high attention from the beginning to the User Experience, taking the purchasing criteria that the user already knew, and making them accessible on the Web.
Together with the Cicalia team, the choice was made to re-propose the purchasing criteria to which the user was already accustomed, i.e. the characteristics of the traditional supermarket. This is how the "virtual aisles" were born: when the user enters the site, he can access a series of categories that correspond exactly to the aisles of offline supermarkets.
Each category has specific subcategories, allowing the user to locate what they are looking for in a matter of seconds. For example, in the "house cleaning" category, you can find cleaning and laundry accessories, air fresheners, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, and so on.
Each product has its own in-depth sheet and even an image of the label. In this way, before proceeding with the purchase, the user can view directly from the site the nutritional values and ingredients of the product, just as he would do if he were in a physical store.
Also on Cicalia the user can ask information to the staff, in case he can't find a product or has doubts. That's why the chat service has also been implemented: a way to offer a timely and comprehensive customer service, as well as the first step for a good navigation of the user, who will appreciate the convenience of the service and will come back to buy from Cicalia.
On the site https://www.cicalia.com/it/ have been integrated technical tools for the creation of heatmaps: these are maps with which you can analyze in detail the behavior of users within the website, identifying any friction in the buying process. Through the study of heatmaps, the User Experience is constantly improved according to the needs and behaviors adopted by the consumer. For example, after the launch of the e-commerce, it was noticed that many users were looking for vegan, organic or gluten-free products. Specific categories were therefore created, greatly facilitating the search process for these users.
#4 CREATING A TRUSTED COMMUNITY
A branding strategy must necessarily take social media into account. These platforms welcome millions of active users every day, who interact with their favorite brands. It is the starting point to create a trusted community, which appreciates the brand and not only: it supports the brand in its initiatives, sharing posts to make them known to as many people as possible.
For Cicalia, it was chosen first of all to open the Facebook profile. This social network guarantees a wide and varied audience, which allows to go to identify and select the right target of the company. As in the site, the communication is oriented to highlight the advantages of the user who buys groceries online.
The promotional posts are alternated with more personal contents, in which the protagonists are the team or the management of Cicalia and the events in which they participate, and with the reviews of the customers on Trust Pilot. All of these elements allow for a credible and trusted look at the company, a factor that encourages the user to test the service offered.
Considering the excellent response on Facebook, the company's Instagram channel was subsequently opened. This social network is generally used by a younger audience, but has been growing steadily for a few years now. More and more users of all age groups decide to create their own account. In this case, greater visibility is given by the strategic use of hashtags: in posts, personalized hashtags are inserted, such as #spesaintelligente, #acasatuaconunclick and so on.
Every Facebook and Instagram post features a dedicated graphic. This is not only a way to beautify the feed as the user scrolls through the profile, but another way to spread the word about the brand: the logo and stylized cicada appear in each post, leading the consumer to memorize and recognize the brand over time.
To make sure the posts reach as many potential customers as possible, NetStrategy's team performs specific sponsorships and creates paid campaigns. This allows to show the content to the right target audience, the one that will really be interested in the service offered by Cicalia.
#5 THE INCENTIVE TO VIRTUAL WORD OF MOUTH
In order to grow, the company needs to acquire clients and retain them: the goal is to achieve greater turnover from the existing pool of clients, who know the service and appreciate it. This is also important to develop a powerful word-of-mouth process to spread the brand to a wide audience. It is for this reason that NetStrategy has planned specific strategic actions to trigger customer loyalty.
How to encourage a user to talk about Cicalia with their contacts? "Cicalia Program" was born for this: it is a loyalty system that provides special discounts not only for those who recommend the company, but also for those who, in turn, buy on the website www.cicalia.com. It establishes a rewarding circle, beneficial to all parties involved: Cicalia, the customer and his friend (or family member).
#6 WHEN BRAND ADVICE HELPS THE USER
Marketing automation plays a primary role in customer retention. Thanks to personalized communications targeted to meet the needs of the user, it is possible to keep alive the company-customer relationship over time. The result is a loyal, regular customer, who continues to bring profitability to Cicalia, with a minimum effort.
Based on the information provided by Cicalia's team, NetStrategy segmented the startup's database with an emphasis on customer consumption preferences and behaviors held by users within e-commerce. For example:
- User looking for organic products;
- User looking for vegan products;
- User looking for gluten-free products;
- User who buys premium products.
According to these segmentations, specific workflows have been created and activated: periodically, personalized newsletters are sent out, promoting the products that customers or potential customers are interested in. These communications go to hit exactly the user's need and, through a discount with a short deadline, is created a sense of urgency in the purchase: this allows to acquire a greater number of sales in the shortest possible time.
#7 THE CLIMB TO NATIONAL SUCCESS
After achieving local and regional results, it's time to do something big. Never before have videos held enormous power: they allow you to communicate messages instantly. For a company that makes saving time and consumer stress its strong point, it's therefore essential to open a YouTube channel. With the support of NetStrategy, Cicalia's team has created professional and catchy videos, which tell in a nice and self-ironic way the benefits that shopping online can bring in people's everyday life.
The video has reached nearly 240,000 views in just over a year.
In addition to this, in a brand strategy it is also essential to focus on influencers or valuable testimonials. These are people or brands that are particularly well-known, followed and appreciated, which can therefore positively influence the user's decision-making process. With this in mind, a collaboration has been initiated with the Virgilio Consortium, which has 50 associated dairies in the production of butter, creams and cheeses: by proposing simple but quality video-recipes on Cicalia's YouTube channel, the Virgilio Consortium has become a representative of the new way of shopping. This has significantly increased the level of credibility of the startup in the eyes of the consumer, consequently raising the brand's perceived value and the desire to try this service.
#8 BECOME MORE THAN A SUPERMARKET: PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION
Cicalia was born as an online supermarket: for this reason, as we have seen, in the planning of e-commerce as in the strategies implemented, it was decided to consider the actions that generally the consumer performs in the traditional market. However, having reached this point, it was necessary to offer a further competitive advantage to the company. With the direct advice of the CEO of NetStrategy, Stefano, Davide and Simone have therefore decided to start a new project, which has as its focus the creation of an appropriate section for niche products. These are different types of goods (meat, oil, pasta, wine,...) of high value, which are generally not found in traditional supermarkets.
This selection helps to associate the brand not only with everyday goods, but also with all those refined products meant for the holidays or to give as gifts to friends and relatives. It is another way to differentiate Cicalia on the market, as well as to upsell, increasing the average value of the cart of each customer.
FROM 0 TO 100: FROM ANT TO CICADA
It can be a real challenge to create a winning startup. At the base of everything there must always be an in-depth analysis that identifies the market space where there is demand but no supply. Or, as in this case, the supply does not exactly meet the need expressed by the consumer. In addition to planning and applying branding and marketing strategies that bring immediate results to compensate for the investment made, it is essential to devote oneself to the creation and diffusion of a brand identity that characterizes the company: a step that does not only concern the logo, the naming, the slogan, but that goes beyond. It is necessary, in fact, that the consumer associates the brand with positive values and knows how to distinguish it on the market. After 3 years from the inauguration of Cicalia, the company and the brand have achieved amazing results, both in terms of sales and in terms of visibility on the market.
The first data to consider in order to evaluate the performance of such a strategy is the number of direct visits to the website. By "direct visits" we mean all those searches that include the URL of the brand: a clear indication that the brand is known. Starting in 2016, the year the startup was founded, the www.cicalia.com website shows an increase in direct visits year over year. The following graph, in particular, refers to the first 11 months of 2020, compared to the same period of the previous year.
As you can see, there has been a 147% increase in direct visits to the website over the past year! This is a very important catchment area: first of all, they are users who already know the brand and its service; secondly, they are very often potential customers ready to make a purchase.
In addition to this data, NetStrategy also takes into consideration the organic visibility of the site. Over the years, SEO techniques have been applied to make Cicalia found by those who search on Google. For example, the product sheets have been enriched with original and catchy texts, which allow a better navigation of the user and, at the same time, contain the keywords to get ranking on search engines. This has produced an improvement in the credibility and authority of the site and its pages in the eyes of Google, which resulted in a high ranking. This is also demonstrated by the following graph, which shows the level of organic visibility of www.cicalia.com.
The visibility of Cicalia on search engines is constantly growing, a clear sign that the SEO strategy implemented is paying off: the site is actively and effectively present in the search results made by its target audience and can thus meet new potential customers.
And what about social media marketing? Today, the Facebook profile of Cicalia is followed by more than 8,700 followers! As you can see from the chart below, this number is growing month after month.
This means that, potentially, almost 9,000 people are interested in buying groceries online from Cicalia. Thanks to the loyalty program, these users will be able to bring later at least one friend or relative, multiplying in fact the sales of the online supermarket.
Thanks to a branding strategy focused on multiple channels, today Cicalia can boast almost 300,000 visits per month: in total, from the end of 2016 to today (November 2020) 8 million users have visited Cicalia's website.
But that's not all. The strategic actions described in this case study also allowed Cicalia to make the most of the opportunities arising from the lockdown between March and May 2020. In these particular circumstances caused by the Covid-19 emergency, many users relied on online shopping: people who feared the contagion and therefore wanted to avoid staying in traditional supermarkets. Thanks to a high-performance, intuitive and responsive website and an effective and timely management of orders, these users have found in Cicalia a valid answer to their request.
All these results are the combination of many minds: Davide and Simone and the team of NetStrategy collaborate every day in an active and proactive way, constantly sharing ideas and opinions to find new strategies to spread the innovative service of Cicalia. The goal is clear: to lighten the life of people unable to move or who want to enjoy their free time to the fullest. And, thanks to the goals achieved in these years of collaboration, we can say that we have succeeded, together, to transform what was initially just an ant into a cicada ... and to continue to dream bigger and bigger.