Don’t sacrifice marketing fundamentals for the sake of being first
Cutting-edge marketing technology has its place, but contributor Evan Magliocca says retailers mustn't misalign their priorities.
Retailers are always chasing the next major shifts in technology, customer touch points and platforms. We focus on the competition, staying on top and innovating, and the environment fosters an innate desire to be first. But what’s the real value in being the first to market?
Being first may win awards and a pat on the back from industry professionals, but it usually doesn’t help the brand’s bottom line and often creates some barriers for customers. Being first-to-market on technology also means being the guinea pig for the rest of the industry. Brands that take a more cautionary approach can avoid the challenges, barriers and headaches that the pioneering brands wade through.
Frankly, there’s little motivation to be first. It doesn’t give brands any major benefit, as the rest of their competition catches up quickly by standing on the heads of those that braved the waters. Indeed, some newer brands are chasing the future when they haven’t even established themselves with tried-and-true profit-driving strategies and technologies.
Instead of chasing artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, automation and a variety of other slightly distant futures, brands should instead invest in winning areas that are proven to show returns and are essential to customers.
Win the easy things
Mobile is the nexus point where e-commerce, loyalty, social, digital, email, and even in-store experiences come together. So why do so many brands still have bad mobile experiences?
Slow load times, subpar product pages and labyrinthian checkouts are all too common problems for what should be a central revenue driver. More importantly, mobile is arguably the most important commerce channel today, and it’s assuredly going to keep gaining prominence over the next decade.
Lifecycle email is another area where many brands still lag behind the standard. It isn’t nearly as exciting as AI, but how can brands expect to incorporate machine learning when their email life cycle is nonexistent or extremely fragmented? Issues in life cycle and customer journeys are part of a deeper problem: Most brands still don’t understand their own customers’ behaviors.
Whether that’s an issue with siloed data or sheer delusion about how they expect customers to behave, their programs don’t match up with what customers expect, which means they’re missing the prime opportunity to increase purchase frequency that email offers.
Be rational even if it hurts
Brick-and-mortar locations have been the lifeblood of retail for generations, and some brands are desperately hanging onto that model. So much so that they’re chasing the future to bring customers back to the past.
But it’s unrealistic to think that digital storefronts or augmented reality will lead to an influx of traffic that fixes problems that plague physical locations. Instead of pouring investment into stores, take a hard look at reducing the store footprint and focusing on enhancing and evolving the remaining assets.
Underperforming stores today will be failing stores tomorrow as mobile, e-commerce and voice assistants continue to cannibalize physical locations. Get ahead of the curve with reductions now, so underperforming stores don’t weigh down the brand in the coming years.
Loyalty marketing lifts everyone
There are a lot of misconceptions about loyalty. Many marketers falsely think of it as a technology that churns out points. It’s not. Loyalty is all about data marketing and actively engaging customers throughout the company.
Brands that utilize a churn-and-burn model of points for rewards usually don’t last long. There’s no emotional element, no connection to the customer that shows the brand really wants to help them and engage them.
In most retail environments, profits come from a very small segment of top customers. Loyalty is simply about identifying, acquiring and fostering loyalty among those customers over time. For each brand, that’s a unique challenge, so many brands get it wrong by either not investing in loyalty at all or investing in overpriced platforms that don’t activate customers correctly.
Here’s where loyalty has a true benefit: by acquiring and growing customers that have an outsized influence on the brand’s daily revenue stream. If brands can grow them, they have a steady, incremental stream of ROI and a strong group of brand advocates.
Desperate times don’t need desperate measures
Retail’s decade of volatility is leading brands to opposite sides of the spectrum, as some have come out on top while others have floundered. Every brand has faced challenges throughout the process; brands that are successful now also faced dark days not too long ago.
The solutions aren’t pie-in-the-sky, cutting-edge technologies, however. Instead, brands that survive will make wise, strategic moves in areas that are proven to show results: supply chain optimization, mobile and e-commerce investment, CRM and loyalty marketing and taking a hard look at their store positions.
Brands that take the time to breathe, consider their best options for growth and execute against those options tactically with the customer in mind will come out on top.