Marketing and Marketing Communications Challenges For the Midsized Retailer

The consumer started to spend a little more in the first quarter of 2010 and, according to Bloomberg data, Wall Street analysts have upped their earnings estimates for more than 100 U.S. retail stocks. Good news, especially coming from Wall Street.

But, what if you’re not a Big Box store or boutique retailer? Let’s say you have about twenty doors and, while your on-line sales may be increasing, as a midsized retailer the “bricks and mortar” versus “e-commerce” investment strategy still presents a challenge to you.

Consider also the 27 percent increase in coupon redemption, according to Nielsen the first time in 17 years that consumers used more coupons than in the year before. You know you can’t continue to discount yourself into sustainable profitability, so to drive profitable revenue in the short and long term – isn’t it time to re-evaluate how you market yourself and what marketing communications tactics to employ?

Learn The New Marketing Environment
Before you start making any changes, step back and determine what your customers and employees think about your product and service offerings. You probably think you know everything about your existing and potential customers, but other than price, are you really sure you know what’s important to them?

And what about your employees? Fortune magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” issue points out, based on research done by the Hay Group, that these companies actually believe that employees are their most valued asset. They are your true brand advocates and probably know a lot about what may be holding you back from further growth.

For instance, in your retail environment, have you trained your staff effectively to deliver value to your customers? Have you provided them with the tools to create an engaging one-on-one experience? Consider leveraging your staff or bringing in a “local expert” for an evening event and creating co-promotion with a brand that can bring you both new customers.

And a similar evaluation needs to be done for your e-commerce business. What does your website say about you? What do you know about these customers and their needs and interest? How are they different from your in-store purchasers? Are your emails or social media tactics inspiring them to purchase?

Forrester, the tech research firm, believes we are now living in the era of “Splinternet” and must move with caution through the new world of consumer data mining, applications and internet standards. Mobile advertising and Facebook professionals moving to LinkedIn, for example, are just some of the most recent media selection challenges.

Find marketing consultants who can help you answer these questions with clarity, and then help you communicate with your constituents. Look before you leap.

Be Media Neutral
Assuming you have enough employee advocates on the floor and your retail environment is inviting and tells your story and your website is “smokin”, how do you determine the best mix between new and traditional media? Don’t be seduced by media efficiency. Media efficiency must be coupled with media effectiveness.

All of this starts, again, with knowing your customer. For instance, age is one key factor. According to a January, 2010 study by SSRS:

  • Only 20 percent of adults aged 18 – 49 read a print version of a newspaper every day, while 42 percent of adults aged 50+ do;
  • Further, while 34 percents of adults 18 – 49 prefer to get their news online, less than half of that number aged 50+ want online news.

And there’s the medium itself to consider. While total spending for U.S. advertising declined last year by 9 percent to $117 billion, Spanish language television increased by 32 percent, and cable television increased by 15 percent. Perhaps these marketers know a lot about their customers and how to reach them.

Also consider direct to customer events. Webinars are extremely useful and efficient (and soon you’ll start hearing a lot of great stuff about this summer’s launch of the Home Dec Show, a turnkey 24/7 virtual marketplace). But be sure to think outside the box for alternative ways of face to face selling, such as pop up stores or tying in with events, where a customer can see and touch the product (and gauge the sincerity of the person selling it).

With so much competition and convenience just a click away, retailers must deliver experience-based and interactive retailing to differentiate themselves. Depending on the customer segment, know what type of information they want and how they want it delivered. And make sure it connects to your web-based communication and sales efforts. Don’t underestimate the power of customer interaction to deliver profit to your bottom line. Seize the opportunity to create a continuum, not an “either or” scenario.

Find Established Marketing Communications Consultants
As it stands now, the marketing and marketing communications environment is complex. Most assuredly, media fragmentation will continue and exacerbate the decision making process even more. There is much to determine and evaluate, especially for a midsized retailer. Finding the right people whom you can trust to understand this environment and how to invest in it may be the hardest part.

Look for strategic and creative partners with demonstrated ability across retail businesses who aren’t “selling” a one size fits all solution or marketing approach. New and traditional media can work well together but you must find media neutral consultants who can master the challenges of efficiency and effectiveness.

And, fresh eyes may help you see more clearly.