Marketers to the Rescue!? Who Will Save Us from the Retail Apocalypse?

Retail Apocalypse

A Sudden Shift

A sudden shift has occurred in the world of Marketing & Sales over the last couple years. Expectations have changed and the weight of responsibility to produce revenue has abruptly transitioned from the Sales Team to the Marketing Department.

Not long ago, the pressure to deliver results fell largely to the Sales staff in any given company. Territory Managers would identify the retail partners best suited to stock new products and then they’d secure promotional placements for prime real estate in those stores.

The role of the Marketing Department was to help retail partners sell through their inventory and place replenishment orders. Two methods were commonly employed to accomplish this.

  1. Run a traditional advertising campaign that created awareness via millions of ad impressions (print ads, television and radio commercials, billboards, social and banner ads).
  2. Design merchandising solutions (e.g., display units) that help catch the eye of customers as they browse.

In the not-very-distant past, the burden to raise awareness of new products was shared between retailers that stocked them and marketers who promoted them.

But today, because of the drastic decline in retail, there are fewer stores to partner with and often the only way customers can discover new products is for Marketers to create epic campaigns that capture their attention.

AmplifyThis is new! Marketing used to amplify the retail presence of their products but now they must be the entire voice.

The definition of success for Marketing campaigns changed as a result of this shift in responsibility. Marketers used to be able to wow executives with reports of millions of impressions of clever ad headlines embellished with striking ad designs.

That bought marketers a few years of job security but bosses are no longer impressed by impressions. They want to see results and that means revenue. If there are 100 million impressions, the CFO wants to see 100 million sold units. Or at least 1 million – after all, that’s only 1%. Reasonable expectations, right?

The Elusive Customer Journey

Every day, marketers are asked to show more direct lines between their marketing assets and units sold. But there’s a problem with this logic – that’s not how customers make buying decisions!

No one goes from an ad to the cart. Much has been written in the last couple years about the death of the impulse buy and the rise of surgical shoppers.

Customers don’t make rash buying decisions anymore. The internet has changed buying behavior forever. When someone sees an ad, even if they have a felt need for that product at that moment, they still won’t click the CTA button to BUY NOW. Instead, they will…

  • Compare your product’s features and price with the competition
  • Price-check your product at different retailers
  • Read a dozen product reviews
  • Watch unboxing videos on YouTube
  • Ask friends for recommendations

And it’s important to remember that in between each of these steps, they’re seeing notifications, alerts, text messages, and ads for other products. And while they’re contemplating the purchase, they find out their teenager needs braces and the car broke down again.

When you think about it, with all the noise and distractions out there, it’s amazing anyone buys your product.

Ten Touchpoints

JoePulizziIn Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi wrote

“According to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research, in 2010 the average customer engaged with 5 pieces of content before making a buying decision. In 2011, that number doubled to more than 10. Google is projecting that this number will continue to increase as customers engage in even more media.”

At least ten touchpoints are required in the customer journey before they are comfortable making an informed buying decision.

But this doesn’t typically happen in one sitting. It might be days, weeks, or months before the stars align and they’re ready to pull the trigger.

Side note: This is why the accuracy of Marketing Attribution software is questionable. The purchase path isn’t usually traceable and I doubt it ever will be. Reality is much more complex than a short, linear path.

So marketers have a problem.

  • They suddenly bear the weight of responsibility to bring in revenue with little help from retail partners
  • Impressions no longer matter (traditional ads are too easily ignored)
  • They can’t draw straight lines from their marketing assets to units sold

Sure, there are rare magic moments when a particular marketing asset goes viral and it aligns with a spike in sales that proves it moved units but what about the rest of the time? What should marketers do when their boss or CFO turns to them to save the day but straight lines can’t be traced from marketing assets to sales? Here’s one idea…

Request a “War Room” Style Meeting

Ask your boss to consider gathering key stakeholders together for the purpose of discussing the changing landscape of retail and how it should impact expectations for Sales & Marketing (it should actually affect every department in the company but this is at least a start).

If you’re able to convince your boss to set up this meeting, it may draw out the absurdity of expecting the Marketing Department alone to suddenly replace all the revenue from retailers that folded.

This meeting might also expose the need for a degree of restructuring, the help of a consultant, new software tools, staff, or training to better equip existing staff. Perhaps you’ll be able to brainstorm new, unconventional retailers to partner with. Who knows what might surface if everyone has a candid conversation about the state of the retail world?

Many companies are proceeding with business as usual. Their largest retailers are suddenly gone but they’re still structured the same way with the same people producing the same goods at the same scale with the same expectations.

A war room is an opportunity to lay everything on the table in an attempt to face the future with an achievable, intentional strategy. It might just be the shot in the arm your company needs.

Wouldn’t it be inspiring if the war room meeting ended with your CEO rising to his feet (like Idris Elba’s in Pacific Rim) as he reassures the company by saying “Today, we are CANCELLING the [Retail] Apocalypse!”).

The future is bright for any company that intentionally and strategically faces it head-on. But those with their heads in the sand will not make it.

But what if…

I hope your company is willing to charge ahead with a clear vision for a strong future regardless of the changes that happen in retail. But if not, if your boss won’t even call for such a meeting, if the leadership prefers to ignore the present state of the market while they attempt to wish the glory days back into existence, I suggest that you start looking for a company with leaders who are agile and up to the exciting challenges and opportunities at our doorstep (or better yet, start such a company!).

In the meanwhile, as you seek out a company worth investing the next chapter of your career in, keep plugging away at your current job. Improve every touchpoint in your Customer Journey. Optimize the Customer Experience. Set specific goals, split test until you surpass them, and record the results so you can quantify as best you can the impact you are making.

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