Tag Archives: marketing

Make it a sweet ’16

On the runThis January we reflected on some of the work we have been doing lately and how clients are evolving.  While marketing has become so much more complex, mainly due to the many trends we have posted about here, we also see the net effect as working to make 2016 a “sweet” year for the industry.   You can help make this the Year of the Superhero Marketer by keeping these points in mind:

  • DISRUPTION GOES MAINSTREAM.  Our last post dealt with this topic and was one of our most popular.  It reminded us that back in the day (Mad Men era) and even up to a few years ago, clients were not up for rocking the boat in any way.  This was especially true in large corporations, where playing it safe meant you kept your job. The ethics of the newer generations (Millennials +), mobile workforce, and the power of social media have changed the fear of creativity and innovation.  Heck, it’s ALL disruptive now, with the new popularity of digital detox camps being proof of that (“Leave your cell:  bring your bottle”).  Today, the Big Boys want to show how nimble and with-it they are, and many of their employees are secretly hoping to be fired so they can launch a start-up.
  • SMARTER CLIENTS.  Some of the old-timers decry that marketing was a lot more fun when clients weren’t so in-the-know.  We disagree, as it’s more enjoyable to play tennis with someone who plays better or at least at the same level as you.  A client who is already up on strategic and media tactics that work is one you can take to a whole new level without stomach-churning stops & starts. Turning your client into a thought partner is what it’s about today.
  • INFLUENCING vs. PUSHING.  We have bloggers to thank for helping raise the consumer message bar.  You can’t just dump rubbish on these folks. These arbiters of good (or bad) taste help keep marketers on course by immediately exposing phony pitches, tepid tones and other marketing sins.  Influencing may take longer, but once is sticks, it lasts.
  • MAKE METRICS MATTER.  Perhaps nothing brings more fear to a marketer’s heart than measuring and evaluating programs.  We’ve frequently posted about the importance of metrics, but it wasn’t always easy to measure success in traditional advertising.  Former boss David Ogilvy was just one of the ad gurus credited with saying:  “Half the money spent on advertising is wasted.  We just don’t know which half”.  Again, digital media to the rescue, with myriad ways to check, in real time who reads your stuff, who likes it, who buys it.  If you’re a weak marketer, this  allows you to change a campaign’s direction before disaster strikes.  Think about that benefit alone:  you get to keep the client!

 

 

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Positive disruptors

This week, the National Retail Federation Foundation announced 25 individuals selected for honors,  “representing power players, disruptors, givers, influencers and dreamers who are changing the face of retail – many doing so behind the scenes.” (You can read about them on the link below this post)

For now we want to focus on one descriptor listed above: DISRUPTORS.  More than the others listed, this says what marketers should be all about.  Let the players manipulate, the givers hug, the dreamers doodle, and the influencers network, but if marketers are not shaking things up they are not worth their salt.

You know you were born to be a Disruptor when as a kid your parents received notes from the teacher, reporting:  “An eternal chatterbox”, or “Fidgets and flirts non-stop”, or better:  “Has an answer to everything, sometimes the right one.”  In short, a pain-in-the-ass student.

Now that we are all grown up, the NRF calls us:  “True originals who rock the boat with ideas so crazy, they just might work. These are the people who make you rethink what you thought you knew…opening you up to new worlds never imagined.”

Wow, take a look, Mom!  Aren’t you glad I didn’t drink the KoolAid??

There’s another word — its polar opposite — we use for a lot of companies :  ENTRENCHERS.  The image is of soldiers in (wet!) dugouts, poised with guns pointing, awaiting orders to jump out into a scenario that might mean certain death.

It’s not just big companies that are guilty of Entrenchment.  Small family companies are often the worst , living in their comfortable world,  digging in, believing all should be done the way it has been done for decades.  Until, one day…

Today we know that Disruptors and Entrenchers are a “match.com” (to quote a respected strategic planner colleague).  They are meant to learn from each other and work together to slaughter those sacred cows (see our post re this) that threaten to kill any business that does not innovate and differentiate.

We give special thanks to the NRF for letting us come out of the classroom closet and take a (shy) bow!

What the VA could learn from P&G

Delivery issues
Delivery issues

We were first told this in Marketing 101 eons ago, but the message continues to be reinforced by experience after experience:  “If you are a marketer, you can market anything”.  This means you can typically apply the “Four Ps” (positioning, product, price, promotion) to just about any industry without really knowing much about it.

But things can and do get lost in translation, or what we term “cross-overs”.   We have seen the industry crossover work well at Apple and disastrously at  J.C. Penny’s (JCP), and a few others.

It really depends on the industry and the immediate challenge being faced…which brings to mind another axiom, this one by sociologist Abraham Maslow:  “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail.”

We wonder if this will be the case with the most recent and arguably most interesting crossovers in quite a while: consumer packaged goods expert, Bob McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble named head of the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs (known affectionately as “the VA”.)

While the VA appears to have both serious operational and marketing challenges, it will be interesting to see how a veteran of brand wars attacks them.  Since he is a “carpenter”, will he rely solely on his hammer?

In the interest of service to our nation, we have some lessons from our CPG colleagues that may cross over nicely to the VA:

  • DISTRACT FROM DELAYS.  What manufacturer has not experienced delays in getting product to a customer?  Savvy sales execs always have alternatives to soothe the savage beast.  Many times, atop that list is substitution.  In this case, offer something else that pleases or at least distracts while you work on your logistics issues.
  • SUBCONTRACT.  If you don’t have what it takes, let someone else provide the item or service while your company covers the cost.  If you do it in a seamless manner your customer may not even notice…but if they do chances are they will be impressed by your pluck.
  • FOSTER COMPETITION.  Healthy competition between brands has always been a cornerstone of P&G’s success.  The “umbrella” of products need to be complementary, with each brand manager working toward a common corporate vision and purpose, all infused with a healthy dose of friendly competition (and reward$, of course).
  • NIX WEAK EXTENSIONS.  This is one P&G knows well:  kill that dying SKU.  You don’t want too many flavors:  products, services and procedures that don’t add value but instead create customer confusion and erode core competency.
  • BUILD BRAND AMBASSADORS.  Perhaps the key issue for the VA in this case is that only the bad news got out.  What about the millions of satisfied customers?  Develop dozens — no, hundreds — of compelling stories from this group that will galvanize the nation.  In short, what the VA brand seems to be missing is a Marine-like formation that will cultivate media, blog, Tweet, Facebook and Pin, yelling from the mountaintops to the sea til death about how great the place is.

Best of luck, Bob!

Was it good for you, too?

Go-to gal
Our go-to gal

In our continuous quest to find out what makes the supermarket shopper tick, we often rely on the go-to folks on this topic:  consumer affairs directors (or CADs, as we call them).

These are often the unheralded, way-back-in-the-corner office, female (mostly nutritionists or dietitians) at most major supermarket chains.  While category managers and buyers are great for telling you about what’s good for their chain, CADs will tell you what’s good for their customers.

We find CADs are like the school nurse:  she knows her patients well and can spot an epidemic before anyone else.  She can also tell when you’re faking it.

That’s because shoppers, like schoolchildren, lie.  Our experience has shown us that shoppers tend to tell researchers what they think they want to hear, such as: “Yes, we’re eating much healthier now!”  But the scanner data reveals a different picture…until now.

One CAD at a regional chain has seen scanner data that shows the tide has shifted.  Shoppers today are really into “good-for-me” items, she explains:

“We believe it’s the cumulative affect of the new healthcare initiative, more active lifestyles, concerns about the environment, and the phenomenal growth of natural and organic foods. They’re leaning so much more on social media now, and are just more aware of these issues.”

This viewpoint is echoed by the explosive growth of chains such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, etc., with new banners (i.e. Mariano’s) popping up, joining long-time purveyors like Stew Leonard’s and others that serve up retailtainment alongside the kale.

Even mass-marketers like WalMart see the sea change.  CEO Bill Simon noted in a recent report by PlanetRetail:  “Customers needs and expectations are changing…and we are transforming our business to meet their expectations.”

And transforming they are.  Along withTarget, and Dollar General chains, Walmart is leading the march toward new, smaller-format stores featuring trendier, healthier SKUs.  Drugstores chains like CVS are also revamping,  creating health-hubs where shoppers can consult with care and nutrition experts.

The question our clients are asking now is:  “Is good for them good for me, too?”  Several seem convinced, and are now focused on launching products and marketing communications that reflect goodness.

While corporate sustainability and social responsibility initiatives are almost old hat by now, there are some cornerstones for building a “good-for-you” campaign worth remembering:

  • Tell a story.  The magic of corporate story-telling is not to be underestimated, even if the narrative doesn’t directly relate to health and wellness.  Find compelling and heartwarming info about your family and/or company’s history to tout: “rags to riches” anecdotes, key challenges surmounted, etc., and watch the “halo” effect take hold.
  • Stand for something.  Ideally, the storytelling should include a unique positioning, ideology, philosophy that sets you apart from those without a mission.  Everyone knows you’re in business to make money: there ought to be something more.
  • Put your money where your mouth is.  Even a humble effort toward some form of social conscience, such as Fair Trade certification, a corporate foundation, or community-giving program allows you to say you’re involved.
  • Beware of “natural”.  It’s become a  cliché, in fact, has lost its meaning.  We’ve also blogged about that type of labeling coming under fire by the regulators.  Surely there are other, more creative terms for identifying your product attributes…

Remember: “good for me” is a fairly open concept.  It doesn’t have to an actual product attribute but can merely be a corporate attitude that’s communicated passionately and creatively.

Slaughtering sacred cows

Is it time for the slaughterhouse?
Is it time for the slaughterhouse?

We marketers are often faced with a quandary.  The client hires us to overhaul the company’s brand, then warn us, “But you can’t touch that!”

“That” can mean anything.  In some cases it’s the logo colors (unchanged since 1945), or where, exactly, the photo of the mascot dog goes on the label, or what we can say about Grandpa, the company’s founder.  In short, we call these “sacred cows”.   Like those fabled beasts of India, they walk along with impunity, daring anyone to run over them.

Yet as marketing consultants, our job should involve doing just that.   In fact, marketing firms should be veritable slaughterhouses.

We don’t do it to exert power over frightened clients:  to show them who’s the real boss.  It’s not about gratuitous change.  Change for change’s sake is rarely a good strategy.

We do it because sacred cows come with a lot of baggage:  stuff  that can weigh down a brand in today’s fickle market, rendering  it unmovable, a victim of irrelevance.   The key is leaning the difference between luggage and wings.  One holds you hostage while the other lets you fly.

In fact, Trendwatching tells us in a recent report how established brands are coming back from irrelevance with…irreverence.   That’s the  ability to laugh at oneself and to let others in on the “joke”;  to place that sacred brand somewhere no one expected; in short:  to do the unthinkable.

There’s an acid test for identifying sacred cows.  Complete the following sentences, and then think about what might happen if you did exactly the opposite of each statement.

“Our brand must ALWAYS ____________________”

“Our brand must NEVER _____________________”

In fact, consider what’s the worse that can happen… That may just be the best thing for your brand!

One example of aggressive slaughtering is the venerable French Champagne brand Moët.  Previously, it was only available at tony bars and high-end liquor stores.  Recently, though, they introduced it in tiny bottles in (gasp!) self-serving coolers…at department stores.

This is an example of “massification”, or making an elite brand mainstream.  They didn’t just change the product format, they changed the entire distribution channel.  Quelle courage!

Another example came from FlyDubai, an all-economy-class carrier representing a country where the roads are paved with gold, or at least good imitations thereof.   Problem was,  the brand didn’t quite appeal to the Arab princes.  It lacked the cachet to match their exploding, luxury-image country.

So they did the opposite of Moët: they upgraded the brand by creating a business class with attendant top-tier services, positioning the airlines as classy and elite.  Sales took off.

Another example involved a gentle repositioning with powerful ramifications involved giant sacred cow Marriott (at least we all know that one!)  The recession and downtrend in sales prompted them to take a new, hard look at the business they were in.

They saw the writing in the wall about cut corporate travel budgets and mobile workforces.  They saw the competition was a “sea of sameness”.

The company was then motivated to root down to the basics, and realized they were really in the business of…(drumroll)…selling space.  So they started doing just that:  selling desk spaces by the day for business people to work from, whether or not they were actually sleeping there, repositioning this “brand extension” as Great Workplaces at Marriott.

We have three good examples of companies who dared to rebrand using mainstreaming, upgrading and differentiation strategies, all slaughtering their sacred cows .

In closing, a caveat:  not all brands should be sent to the slaughterhouse.  There are indeed those with a heritage that has stood the test of time.  You can tell if the brand should be left alone (for now) if sales are steady or rising.

But then again, consider physics:  what goes up, must come down.

Post Modern: the new architecture of retail

No longer enough to have bricks & mortar
No longer enough to have impressive bricks & mortar

We hear the description “Post Modern” increasingly in industry chats today, especially from some of our colleagues emerging from the recent National Grocers Assn. Show in Las Vegas.

We’re not talking about the lauded design styles of masters such as Philip Johnson or Michael Graves, but of the new structural elements of shopping behavior.   In short, the Post Modern approach is the new architecture of retail, and marketers need to adapt to it…or start to crumble.

Kantar Retail details this trend in their “Retailing 2020” report, an excellent overview of some of the topics we have addressed in these posts as well, such as channel blurring, segmentation,  customer profiling, and others.

The report’s premise is that the Post-Modern period (which we are entering now) decries the end of Supercenter Era.  Hypermarts and big boxes will give way to “small, urban, ―alternative retail formats, as well as reliance on multi-format portfolios to capture future growth.”

Comparisons are made to Europe, where real estate is through the roof, chains are fewer and competition fierce, forcing retailers to be efficient and effective.  Private brands, direct to consumer advertising and more robust marketing are some of their strategies for survival.

We recently caught up with busy retail-wonk, Kantar EVP David Marcotte, who launched our fascinating discourse with the revelation:  “When clients ask me to show them who’s doing the best job in retailing today, I send them to Mexico.”

He went on to explain that Mexico has embraced the latest in digital with innovative design to deliver the experience their rising-income customers want.  (This merits its separate post:  stay tuned!)  Actually, emerging markets such as all the BRICs (Brazil, Russian, India, China and now, of course, Mexico) essentially leapfrogged to digital over the last few years from their Cro Magnon-era phone services.

Our discussion evolved into some of the key buzzwords that marketers should be familiar with in today’s Post-Modern retail architecture, such as:

  • data architecture, the art of proper intel mining skills; not just collecting it, but creating a compelling and engaging story that links the data sources.  In fact, we believe that having a compelling story to tell  customers is going to be the hallmark of successful businesses.
  • footprint no longer means the spot where the store stands, but the overall influence it has.  In fact, it may mean no store at all, or comprise multi-footprints, including digital,  etc.
  • transparency.  Shoppers are gaining (and now expecting) much greater access to the entire supply chain by following products from your plant to their place.   The good news is that info can mean higher efficiencies for manufacturers, but also result in consumers clamoring for removals of things they don’t like (i.e. the recent Subway ingredient incident )
  • wall-less retailing provides seamless channel transition and thus delightful shopping experience for the customer:  it looks like one big room full of good stuff!

A final thought on this reverts back to our premise of Post Modernism in relation to architecture:  that it  stemmed from the perceived limitati0ns of the Modern Movement that preceded it.  Folks felt that  buildings had become too stark and functional, and did not meet the human need for comfort and beauty.  It’s the same with shopping.

Lost in translation: convert shopper intel into action

lesson #1:
Is your shopper intel lost in translation? (Photo: NapaneeGal)

There’s no question information is power, especially when it comes to targeting shoppers.  Companies  like Kantar and Marketing Lab, among others, specialize in providing insights to help retailers better align their shopper research, store ops, merchandising and upper-management buy-in with vendor products and programs.

The ability, or more emphatically, the willingness of chain management to translate this information into actionable sales steps for their stores is critical.  However, it seems most can’t or won’t do it.

MarketingLab’s recent retail survey reported that 85% of chains have been participating in vendor-funded shopper programs.  However, less than five percent of those feel they are successful in incorporating insights into action. This is a grim rate, indeed, especially given the effort and money involved.

Why do these marketing insights appear “lost in translation”? Did the chain not understand the information?  Was there directive from Corporate on how to best align those with sales goals?  Was the vendor at fault for not providing more guidance?

The answer is probably a combination of all three, but most likely the third:  vendor at fault.  We say that because we, ourselves, have been guilty of this in the past.

We admit we have conducted exhaustive (and pricey) studies of a client’s category or products, matched the findings nicely with a retailer’s customer profiles, then handed the whole kit & kaboodle to the chain’s marketing execs.

With a handshake and a big smile, we’re off.  But when we call on them again months later, we see the  file still sitting on their desks, gathering dust…

This situation is not only a waste of everyone’s time, but goes against the basic premise of the vendor/retail partnership, which is mutual advantage.   It’s not that the chain doesn’t want that intel;  it’s just that their personnel may not have the creativity, knowledge and even less time to review it and execute relevant programs.

It is then incumbent on the supplier to take steps to ensure their valuable support is both appreciated and executed.   We have found that these six simple steps help get action in that area:

  1. Findings are not enough.  Fascinating factoids about a chain’s customer base without relevant implications and proposed next steps is a time-waster.  Specific proposed solutions should be part of every research study.
  2. Work within strategies already in place.  Don’t propose, say, an aggressive mobile marketing campaign when the chain has never done one, or is unsure of its commitment to mobile to begin with.  The learning curve is too steep to ensure timely and successful results for both client and retailer.  Stick with the venues and strategies they are already comfortable with.
  3. Ensure upper-level buy-in.  If the Big Cheese doesn’t like it, or the intel doesn’t fit the chain’s goals, culture or capabilities, it won’t make it to store level.
  4. Taking it to the streets.  Conversely, we have found that field merchandisers — foot soldiers who visit stores frequently– are often instrumental in gaining program execution.  In many cases they are the ones in there putting up the POS, running the customer surveys, guiding department managers, etc.  In short, making sure the program is given life.   Sometimes the influence works upward:  an excited department manager tells Corporate he can’t live without the  program. (Caution:  some chains won’t allow this type of vendor interaction at store level.  Get it OKed first.)
  5. Start small, then roll out (maybe).  Don’t go in with the entire enchilada.  A big program that involves all stores in a chain is a risky proposition for all.  Start with specific stores, districts or other grouping that best align with your target consumer and program.  Test small, then increase  gradually, measuring results along the way.  It may never reach complete roll-out, but at least you’ll have a track record and case history to boast about.
  6. Address the “YIIFM?” Factor.  Competitive and job-security issues are at the top of many retail personnel concerns today.   “What’s in it for me?” is a question often asked or at least implied.  Be sure to sell in the benefits of their having the program to begin with, or otherwise appeal to the self-interests of the personnel involved.  Is it general PR they lust after?  Do they want to gain attention from their boss?  Is it all a vanity effort with no care for ROI? Go with what floats their boat, and thus avoid the sinking ship.