For us, the signature moment so far for the FutureM Boston show came during the presentation from The Hershey Co.’s digital marketing manager.

No, it wasn’t when Reese, the digital Hershey character, appeared for a Skype chat. But that was pretty cool:

Increased Sales, Marketing Campaigns

Rather, it came in the Q&A, when one conference attendee asked Jeff Sommer, Hershey's Chocolate World digital marketing manager, to explain how Hershey's Chocolate World correlates a weekly 37 percent increase in sales with a particular digital marketing interactive experience campaign at its in-store Hershey's Chocolate World Time Square store. 

It's a great question. Hershey's Chocolate World did in fact measure its year-over-year sales inside its New York City store the week its interactive campaign started and discovered sales were up 37 percent. It was a campaign gone good, they believe.

The campaign -- which allowed sweet lovers using touch screen interactive to design their ultimate peanut-buttery treat experience -- had an impact on sales, they said.

Generally, though, how are companies directly measuring campaigns today -- whether it's in store like Hershey's Chocolate World, social media or digital marketing campaigns?

Digital marketers here at the FutureM -- and those watching and working from afar -- are hearing this kinda tune. Showing digital marketing’s direct impact on sales and return on investment (ROI). That’s what it’s all about for most.

That question from the conference attendee put digital marketing into perspective. We all want to engage. We all want to look good doing so. We want people to talk about us. 

But mostly, we want sales, right? The name at the bottom of your check isn’t “brand awareness chief," after all.

Wal-mart: Social Strategy from Within

This is not to say there aren’t some great things happening in social and digital marketing that don’t necessarily directly lead to ROI and we’re hearing about it at the Hynes Convention Center at FutureM today.

Umang Shah, director of social strategy for Wal-Mart Stores, spoke this morning about being in the business of “reputation management.” Wal-Mart's social campaign eliminated subjectivity, he said, and focused on data to measure what worked and what did not.

“Every month we’re ranking our best and worst content and have created a very empirical strategy around this,” Shah said. “This is how we get our message out to our audience.” 

Wal-Mart’s social strategy is less about selling products than it is about changing people’s “hearts and minds” by sharing stories in a compelling way, Shah said.

Although the retailer works with third-party social vendors in some cases, Shah thinks organizations must be accountable for their innovation and strategy. It’s his “neck on the line,” he said, and he’s going to deploy a creative social team that boosts the organization’s strategic vision there. As he said:

I don’t think you can outsource strategy. Strategy comes from within. I love hearing from agencies about strategies but ultimately it’s my neck on the line, and I’m going to make the call on how I want the direction of our social strategy to go.”

Multiple Twitter Presence

Wal-Mart is spending most of its energies in social on Twitter. The company is currently considering an expanded presence on LinkedIn. Facebook, however, is not a big channel.

Wal-Mart has divided Twitter accounts, where it covers topics like veterans and women’s economic empowerment, topics you just “can’t float out there.”

Wal-Mart deploys a social solution that analyzes tweets that will resonate with a large audience and automatically retweets it to its main Twitter handle.

“It optimizes the activity of our audience and optimizes the right time to deliver messages,” Shah said. “… We want engagement and impressions. But the next level of investment is do they engage with it? Did they watch the video? Did they comment? Reply?”

Sweet Social Success

Hershey's Chocolate World -- visitor center for the Hershey company -- doesn’t need any help in branding, but it is putting a great amount of effort into its digital strategy. 

Its “Hershey's Great Chocolate Factory Mystery in 4D” campaign generated 42,739 total actions in social, which includes link clicks, check-ins, page likes, shares, comments, posts and likes.

customer experience, Digital Marketing Files: Social is Sweet…But For Sales? #FutureM
Dom Nicastro photo from #FutureM today, CMSWire.

It has its digital characters -- such as Reese we mentioned earlier -- who interact with visitors at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania through vehicles like birthday wishes through text messages.

Eric Jones, vice president of digital marketing of Hershey's Chocolate World digital marketing agency, R2integrated, said organizations must integrate mobile into their social programs by becoming a brand destination.

“You need to have distinct value -- create something unique you can’t get anywhere else,” he added.

Make things personal. Give people their own experience through your apps.

Hershey’s has certainly done that. The company personalizes the customer experience quite well with the digital chocolate characters who interact with customers. 

And it just may have increased sales because of this. But if you’re a digital marketer, be prepared to answer the question the conference attendee asked after the Hershey presentation. 

It seems to be the thing industry leaders want to know most today -- how digital marketing ties directly into the bottom line.