Shopping Center Marketing 2.0

As the consumer, technology and privacy laws evolve so, too, must a shopping center’s marketing strategies.

A shopping center’s marketing agenda has one goal in mind: get shoppers into the center where they can spend money on goods and services. There’s just one problem — the perennial bachelor doesn’t care that there’s a sale at Zales. The mom of three isn’t likely to engage in Sunday Funday during the playoffs. The homebody prefers the convenience of online shopping over perusing endless stores.

The strategy, then, is to create a campaign that everyone will love, right? If only it were that easy…

“If the customer or community feels like you are blindly marketing to them without regard to what appeals to them, they will shut you off,” warns Sandy Sigal, Chairman, CEO and president of NewMark Merrill in Calabasas. “If they think you are being insincere, they will shut you off.”

There are most certainly ways to compel that bachelor, mom and homebody into your center, as many of today’s shopping centers offer something for everyone. The challenge is breaking down who these current and would-be consumers are individually, what is most likely to appeal to them and where you’re most likely to reach them.

Shopping center landlords have to do this, by the way, while battling increased costs (hi, inflation) and changing privacy laws that impact how they gather and use data. The hard is not impossible, though, as many landlords excel at meeting their consumers where they are.


To “speak” to consumers, a shopping center landlord must first speak their language. What lights them up? What causes them to act? In today’s world, what principles do they value when it comes to consumerism?

Sandy Sigal,

Sigal notes NewMark Merrill uses multiple forms of communication to reach its consumer on the platform that appeals to them. This includes email, social media channels, digital street-front signage, internal marketing, events and weekly outreach.

“We personalize the experience — who are the segments of the community who can benefit from our centers, how do we support them and how we can make our customers feel special?” he continues “We fight as hard for their heart as we do for their head.”

The broadest, most bird’s-eyed view efforts start by knowing your larger community.

“We want to connect our communities authentically,” says Lanko Goldberger, vice president of corporate marketing at URW in Century City. “We have a very diverse, educated and socially conscious audience, and our creative is curated to our demographic.”

URW uses the information it has on the area to determine what is lacking, along with what residents and visitors might enjoy. At Westfield Topanga, this meant adding a new dining and entertainment district. This space will include Pinstripes, which will offer bowling, bocce ball and private event banquet space, as well as Topanga Social, which will include 20 eateries. Both concepts are scheduled to open this year.

Though a “Coming Soon” sign can drum up some early buzz, URW leans heavily on social media to ensure its consumers stay current on upcoming offerings.

“On social media, we focus on showcasing all the latest offerings available at the centers, as well as offer behind-the-scenes looks at new openings and experiences to inform our community of that latest happenings,” Goldberger says. “Social media is a way for us to stay connected with and cultivate our community, and an opportunity to highlight our centers’ unmatched retail, entertainment and dining options.”

One way NewMark Merrill reaches its community is by highlighting the success stories of its local tenants. These tenants are, after all, part of the larger community. Many consumers can see themselves or their families in these stories, which provides that emotional, “heart” connection Sigal and his team are looking for.

“Our ‘Fostering the American Dream’ series is all about the individuals we work with and their stories,” he says. “It spotlights the story of our retailers — how they reach out to the community, how they achieve their goals and what we can do as an owner of a property to help other merchants achieve their dreams.”

Sigal notes about 65 percent of NewMark Merrill’s tenants are local entrepreneurs or small business owners. These stories include a daughter who took over her late father’s fulfilled dream of owning a Hawaiian barbecue restaurant (Ohana Hawaiian BB at Mission Marketplace in Oceanside); a single father and music lover who left a corporate IT job to start a business that buys, sells and trades instruments (Music-Go-Round at Market- place 99 in Elk Grove); and a husband-and-wife team whose Taekwondo studio has more American Taekwondo Association World Champions than any other studio in the country (Church’s ATA Martial Arts at Piazza Carmel in the San Diego submarket of Carmel Valley).

“Today we can speak to different groups in each community and share messages that are meaningful to them,” Sigal says. “Everything we do is through the eyes of our customers and our communities.”


Unfortunately, speaking to these individuals and groups is about to get harder in some ways. Google announced it’s phasing out third-party cookies in its Chrome web browsing platform by 2024. Cookies are small files that track an online user’s activities. They can collect information that creates a profile of sorts on that individual. That information can then be sold to other companies — say, shopping center landlords — who can now target their online ads based off what they know the customer likes. An example? Say, the perennial bachelor suddenly starts visiting websites about “engagement rings” and “what to know about diamonds.” This may now be the perfect time for targeted advertisements that tout local jewelers or romantic restaurants with prix fixe meals.

A farmer’s market brings foot traffic to Federal Realty’s Santana Row in San Jose.

This way of gathering data, targeting customers and expanding a shopping center’s reach will become limited as Google and other providers eliminate third-party cookies altogether or require consent from customers, who must now enable cookies if they want to be tracked and receive targeted ads. They are doing this ahead of the ePrivacy Regulation law, which is still evolving and will amend past laws that dealt with privacy, consent, and how third parties can access and use consumer data.

“The new cookie law and consent rules are making third-party advertising targeting more difficult for shopping centers and marketers across all industries,” says Brad Jashinsky, a Los Angeles-based director analyst in the Gartner Marketing Practice. “The consent rules also make data gathering more difficult. Companies have to ensure that their teams, agencies, software vendors and other partners are complying with data privacy rules to not be fined.”

Thankfully, there is a solution that prevents a data drought.

“A combination of zero-party data and first-party data is key for marketers to ensure they can continue to reach customers in a cost-effective manner,” Jashinsky continues. “Gathering customer data and increased owned communication channels will ensure marketers can adapt to data privacy policy changes by platform owners and legislation by governments.”

NewMark Merrill believes telling tenants’ stories is important to make a connection with consumers.

Zero-party data is created when a user consents to providing information in exchange for a customized experience. They may fill out surveys, a form, a social media poll, online quiz, etc. First-party data is information a company (say, a shopping center landlord) has passively gathered from its online and in-person marketing efforts. This data is gathered when a consumer visits their website, uses their mobile app, makes a purchase at the center or, if geofencing is involved, is in close proximity to the center.

Zero- and first-party data are free — in so much as you don’t have to pay for that data. Owners would have to pay for the systems, hardware and other technology to collect and analyze it, however, along with the manpower to create the surveys, forms and other interactions required for zero-party data.

“Creating or expanding a loyalty program that includes both experiential and transactional earning methods and rewards, for example, are key to gathering customer data,” Jashinsky says.

Third-party data does have a hard cost to it, usually ranging from $0.50 to more than $2 per 1,000 views or impressions.

Collette Navarrette, senior director of marketing at Federal Realty in San Jose notes that these “free” forms of data are easier to come by nowadays. And they can tell you a great deal about consumers’ buying habits.

“We actively engage with our shoppers in the digital world to foster user-generated content, boost SEO (search engine optimization), increase conversations and drive foot traffic to the center,” she says.

Brad Jashinsky, Gartner Marketing Practice

Navarrette notes this is done through influencer marketing and activations, including “Passport to The Row” at Santana Row in San Jose. This event created a scavenger hunt for local influencers that encouraged engagement with multiple merchants.

“We also engage with our shopper by understanding that our customers want three things: convenience, consistency and communication,” Navarrette continues.

In today’s high-inflation era, customers also appreciate savings. That’s why Federal also incentivizes foot traffic through buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deals and free brand swag. Jashinsky believes these types of strategies are smart, as consumers are feeling that high-price pinch.

“During times of inflation, shoppers are increasingly changing their behaviors,” he says. “More people cut back on in-person shopping visits and store variety. A 2022 Gartner Consumer Community poll found that 48 percent of consumers are increasing how often they shop online due to inflation. Shopper center owners need to continue marketing efforts to not lose more consumers to online shopping and rival centers.”

Sigal knows this, which is why he doesn’t take his foot off the gas even as budgets become a top priority for many.

“Today these dollars are more precious than ever,” he says. “Do you cancel your insurance when the fire risk goes up? The customer is being more careful with the money they spend. They are concentrating their purchases and we want to make sure our locations are the ones that bring the best value, provide the best environment and, if there’s one place you’re going to shop, it should be NewMark Merrill centers.”

Lanko Goldberger, URW

Goldberger agrees that maximizing marketing dollars is essential, especially as the amount of digital channels and shopping options increases.

“In 2023, we are more focused on ROI of our marketing dollars than ever,” she says. “Technological advancements in advertising have made this easier over the years. We are not pulling back our spend on marketing, but rather focusing on fewer programs that drive larger impact by investing in fewer, larger-scale initiatives.”

This includes the Holiday Market at Westfield Century City. The event transforms the center’s atrium into a winter village with an elevated retail experience courtesy of pop-up shops like Diamond Art Club, Pop Mart and Our Place.

Jashinsky notes events are always a great way to draw foot traffic to a center, though they don’t need to be limited to the holiday season.

“Add events for Lunar New Year, Easter and Halloween,” he says. “Adding live bands, farmer’s markets and other types of events on a regular basis are also crucial to driving traffic. The key is designing these events to draw people around the shopping center with activities across the area, including scavenger hunts and special promos from tenants.”

Federal Realty recently did that with Lunar New Year.

“For Lunar New Year, we held an event with live entertainment hosted by NBC Bay Area with shop and restaurant offers you couldn’t get online, red envelope giveaways with merchant incentives and more,” Navarrette says. “We promoted this online through social, again through a monthly e-blast and had supporting on-site signage. Customers visit the property in person for the event, then spend their day shopping, dining and making lasting memories.”

Outside of reasons for celebration, URW says it will continue to spend on technology initiatives that foster pilot programs aimed at improving the customer experience and creating opportunities for them to encounter new innovations at its centers.

“Hyper-personalized, curated experiences are in the near future,” Goldberger says. “We believe personalization will be a priority in continued customer loyalty. Imagine coming to one of our centers and having your personal preferences and sizes already queued and ready for you as you arrive.”


Ranking priorities, finding opportunities for celebration, tackling new privacy laws and creating a personalized experience are all essential parts to building a successful marketing strategy for today’s shopping centers. There’s just one tiny thing to consider. None of this matters if your marketing efforts aren’t streamlined. That means all marketing channels must be on the same page…and all retailers and service providers must be kept in the loop.

“A strict approval workflow and content management system are key to ensure that messaging and customer experience flows across every channel,” Jashinsky says. “Brand and campaign style guides also play an important role in keeping internal and external partners aligned on creative messaging. A collaborative organizational structure with cross-functional roles can ensure communication and responsibilities are not siloed.”

Church’s ATA Martial Arts studio at NewMark Merrill’s Piazza Carmel in Carmel Valley.

Active participation and cross-promotion are also plusses. But who do you partner with when you have an entire tenant roster?

“When we look at the most popular consumer and retail releases that stood out from the crowd regarding overall views, engagement and uniqueness, we can see that people are interested in health and wellness, restaurant rankings and eco-friendly, sustainable brands,” Navarrette says. “So, from a marketing standpoint, we are constantly partnering and promoting with those tenants that fit that bill.”

Federal Realty also likes to utilize its outdoor space for these partnerships whenever possible. A few recent experiences include Yoga on the Row hosted by Hot 8 Yoga; building a 140-foot-long Maki roll with Iron Chef Morimoto to celebrate the opening of Momosan Santana Row; and Sip & Stroll the Row where participants grabbed bites and drinks at various retailers.

Consistency is also key regardless of your marketing platform.

“The greatest opportunities we have are to find the customers where they are and make sure our messaging is consistent,” Sigal says. “The shopper today isn’t just an online shopper or an in-store shopper. They get to decide, and they can evolve. The difference is some mediums are selling channels and some are connection channels. The trick is how to know what messages to provide and where.”

It’s essentially connection versus commerce, as shopping center marketers must walk that fine line between the consumer’s head and heart. Enticing someone with a value proposition — say, a sale — may appeal to their need for convenience, but their leisure dollars could go elsewhere. Appealing to the heart, where a company can show that its principals align with the community’s, can grab both.

In a perfect world, a shopping center wants to be the first place its neighbor thinks of whether they need a gallon of milk, a workout or some time away from home.

NewMark Merrill has created special shopping days for seniors, first responders and teachers to feel special.

“We need to ensure our programming and social outreach help our shoppers want to visit our centers and our merchants,” Sigal continues. “With information easier to come by today, we know our demographics. We know whether they feel supported by our merchants or our competitors. We can speak to different groups in each community and share messages that are meaningful to them — and we share that information with our merchants to make sure they deliver on the promise our marketing provides.”

Collette Navarrette, Federal Realty

Of course, retailers aren’t the only ones involved in marketing efforts. Communication must stay current and consistent throughout the customer service supply chain. This includes in-house departments, such as finance, human resources, center operators and digital teams.

What shopping center landlords may not realize, Navarrette argues, is that the customer is the final marketing target, but not the only marketing target.

“Marketing takes on many forms,” she says. “Not only do we market to our customers, we also market to prospective merchants and brokerage houses. It is imperative that our tenant mix is a combination of best-in-class retail, as well as new-to-market and first-to-market brands.”

Federal’s leasing team works closely with its marketing team to engage the right merchants for optimal spaces in its developments, Navarrette notes. Though these efforts are done to court the ideal retailers, it is all done for the benefit of the end user.

“The benefit to the consumer is a multi-faceted experience when visiting one of our centers,” she says. “You may visit your favorite restaurant, but you can also take a self-care fitness class and pick up a hot, newly released item at your favorite shop, essentially saving you time and making for a richer experience during your visit. If every part of your team is not trained to focus on the overall experience of customers, no marketing tool or strategy will prove to be beneficial.”

The ways to reach consumers may have changed, and what’s important to consumers has certainly changed — as it has throughout history. What hasn’t changed are our key influencers. Namely, the human heart and head. Appealing to one’s practical side that is ruled by convenience and price is wise. Drawing them in with an emotional connection through relatability and shared principles is arguably wiser.

Though the medium for reaching consumers will continue to evolve, the dual bullseye will almost certainly remain constant. It’s the one thing technology can’t replace.

Article by Nellie Day for California Centers

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