CMO Spotlight: Dollar General’s Chad Fox on why the retailer’s media strategy is scrappy and effective
Chad Fox credits his eight years in the United States Marine Corps — as a jet mechanic on the F/A 18 Hornet and a plane captain — with instilling the values that still serve him well today, more than two decades later: leadership, discipline, accountability, and teamwork. But his biggest and perhaps most enduring lesson, he says, is the ability to adapt when faced with obstacles.
Such agility aligns to his professional career today as the chief marketing officer of Dollar General, the discount retailer that has proved to be one of the country’s most resilient retail chains since it was founded in 1939 as a family-owned business. “In retail, you’re moving fast, things are changing constantly, and you’ve got to be flexible,” he tells The Current, adding with a smile, “What’s that old saying? ‘No good battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.’”
When Fox joined Dollar General (DG) in 2019, he wanted to update a marketing strategy that had favored print media as its main channel for reaching consumers. Fox saw an opportunity to shift some of the marketing budget into “more efficient and effective modern media channels, where we could get more bang for the buck, start to build out our first-party data, and take a more technology-driven approach to marketing,” he says. Dollar General proved different from Fox’s previous retail marketing roles, where he spent a lot of time and money on high-end television ads. “Our marketing budgets are not as big, so we have to ‘moneyball’ it in the way we go to market and make sure we’re getting a return for every dollar we spend.”
That means a strong focus on mid-to lower-funnel performance marketing. Like other major retailers, Dollar General has a substantial trove of first-party shopper data with over 80 million unique customer profiles, enabling the company to reach over 90 percent of active Dollar General customers with paid media, says Fox. But what makes Dollar General different from other national retailers is its demographic: Approximately 75 percent of its stores are in markets of 20,000 people or fewer. “This is really small-town rural America, roughly 30 percent of America,” he says. “In the world of digital media, those people are really hard to reach and they’re hard to measure.”
Dollar General’s strategy runs counter to other national retailers who’ve tended to optimize into more densely populated areas. Given its unique customer base — over 18,000 stores in 47 states — Dollar General has evolved its own media network, DGMN, to engage those hard-to-reach customers and allow brands to tap in to that extensive, unduplicated, and growing group of consumers. DG is one of several discount retailers that is showing strength and attracting more value shoppers in the face of inflation, so it’s a strategy that’s paying off.
"It's not just media and promotions and digital tactics, but positioning yourself as a brand that gets the consumer, and serves ads to them that are relevant. And one that they want to come back to time and again."
Chief Marketing Officer
One of the key challenges for Fox is to hone the Dollar General brand. Because there are stores across the country, consumers are very aware of the brand but sometimes misunderstand what’s on offer. For example, it’s not a store where everything costs a dollar. “We don’t have an awareness issue, but a [purchase] consideration issue,” he says, pointing out that some people are not quite sure what they’ll find inside a DG store. “In fact, we carry all the same national brands that a Walmart or a Target or a Kroger carries,” he says, name-checking the likes of Tom’s of Maine, Hello’s “naturally friendly” products, and Iams pet food line.
The DGMN allows the company to address that purchase-consideration message. “Off-site is where the magic is going to be for DGMN,” he says. “That story has to be told outside of our store, outside of our site, outside of our app, to position Dollar General as the retailer of choice. And then that drives trips to our store.” Moreover, Fox says, his company’s strategy to build out better media channels allows its vendors and partners to develop campaigns based on data-driven insights. And that means their advertisers are realizing the incremental benefits of reaching that underserved small-town rural American shopper.
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Fox may have a bird’s-eye view of the retail media landscape, but he also has some insight into the needs of that core DG customer, having grown up in a small town in West Texas. “Dollar General was a purpose-based brand before purpose was cool,” he says. The founding family established a mission of serving others — both geographically and financially — and that’s a point of pride for Fox. A recent campaign seeks to highlight how Dollar General is “here for what matters” for communities, providing not just affordable goods, but access to other things like education and employment.
“It’s not just media and promotions and digital tactics but positioning yourself as a brand that gets the consumer, and one that serves ads to them that are relevant,” he says. “A brand that consumers want to come back to time and again.”