Contributed Column


by Matt Hayes, Hayes Group Inc.

Retail Marketing Refresher

Whenever a retailer says to me, “I know my customer,” but store sales are sluggish, it reminds me of one definition of insanity. It’s when you do the same thing over and over again hoping that this time you’ll get a different result.

In recent years there have been books and even entire courses at integrated marketing communications (IMC) schools that focus on the reality that the world has become flat and the consumer has won. The notion is that we are all now capable of communicating instantly to whoever we wish about whatever we want. This is particularly true in the retail world.

All retailers are different: They sell different products at different price points and at different locations. Since the consumer has won and is in total control, thanks to the Internet, the secret to success is no longer “location, location, location” or “sale, sale, sale.”

Sure, the same faces may seem to be coming through your door. But they are not the same consumers of only a few years ago. You need to get much more specific in the way that you define your customers, how you educate them and how you prepare for their arrival. Keep in mind that most media tactics, for example, are quite broad in their audience reach. A tactic that may have made sense years ago when the communications options where far fewer might be completely useless today. In today’s retail marketing reality, broad-reach media can often mean only a considerable waste of resources. Push at your media representatives on this matter. They can be of assistance. It’s not like they are unaware of this emerged reality.

Then there’s the matter of how you stock your store. Is it still being stocked with the same general merchandise as five years ago? You might consider a SKU analysis or an inventory aging. The dust collectors may surprise you.

How is your retail image perceived in today’s competitive frame? A careful, in-depth analysis of your competitors could be very revealing and opportunistic.

The ability to gather information about purchase options is now without limit. Consumers can have total control of what they are willing to be exposed to. It is logical, therefore, that a marketing plan that does not have an ongoing discipline of tracking the consumer is weak. The recent term for such discipline is “consumer-generated marketing,” or CGM.

It is no longer meaningful to work with only an annual plan. You will need a monthly plan with the ability to react to the shifting whims of the advancing consumer education. This is not knee-jerking or shooting from the hip or even making it up as you move along. It is the result of a paradigm shift in planning models resulting from a consumer who is smarter today than yesterday or an hour ago.

I just spent time doing a Google search for advice to retailers. It amazes me how many pundits have yet to get the fact that, depending on the category, most shoppers do their homework online. They then go to the store, most likely to not only find what they want but at a price that beats the rest — that is, if they have not been given an opportunity to order online. Keep in mind that inconvenience adds to the perception of ultimate price; so location is still in the equation, but it has diminished in value for certain categories.

The focus on prospects that a CGM discipline can provide will have dramatic influence over how you plan. This is particularly true of marketing communications. Yes, clustering and ZIP-code, or zone, targeting has been around for quite a while. This refinement, however, was useful for the more traditional media options. The more traditional our strategic tactics, the more predictable our communications patterns may be to our competitors. But there is more.

Quarterly checks on how we are doing financially are standard behavior. In some categories a weekly or even a daily track is the norm. What is not standard is the database tracking of the consumer, which can now be more important than ever. For example, consumer awareness, attitudes, intent to buy and purchasing behavior should be assessed frequently. There are numerous online tools for doing this. Use them. The margins will come when the ongoing and repetitive level of satisfaction of your prime prospect groups are being met. The constant pattern of sale, sale, and sale can be leveled off against a more refined definition of who your most opportunistic customers are or should be and how you can most efficiently get to them.

You still need to drive traffic through your doors and you still need to compete on price. That will never change. However, how a retailer can attract and keep customers has changed. Some retailers have it figured out but many still struggle. There is a new process for driving customers through your door. There is also a new process for engaging the very educated consumer. There is an entirely new meaning — or lack thereof — to brand or store loyalty as well. Shifting to a CGM posture in your planning can iron out some of these perplexing wrinkles.

It’s not too late to get ahead of the advancing digital curve that is altering the total shopping matrix. Most of your competitors are probably floundering as much as you are or worse. A skillful and unvarnished-truth assessment of your current customers, your prospective customers, your product or service offering for these groups, your tactics for reaching them and your competitive frame will be very enlightening. Gut your current plans like a fish and start over with a refreshed and today view of the real retail world. You will not regret the exercise. If you need help — and most of us do — there are several fine marketing companies in the state that can help. Give one of them a call. You will not regret it. You may feel that you are afloat when you may be up to your bottom lip in historical nonsense that will overtake you very soon. •

Matt Hayes is president and creative director of Hayes Group Inc. in Williston.

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