Reach is not impact

This Sunday dozens of brands will pay for multi-million dollar Super Bow ads because those spots will get them in front of what is likely to be the most watched TV show in US history. The odds that more than a handful of these massive budget campaigns will accomplish their objectives sits somewhere between slim and none. Great reach, little impact.

Today, tomorrow and the next day, many thousands of brands will send out many thousands of email and direct mail campaigns to many millions of customers–and most will be ecstatic to get a 1% response rate. Huge reach, very little impact.

Each and every day many of us fret about how many friends we have on Facebook, our Twitter follower count or the number of “likes” we get for something we post. Our often fragile egos may get a temporary hit from multiple retweets or for a bunch of “likes” for our super cute outfit, some random photo of our lunch or the preciousness of our kid and/or dog. But to conflate the number of superficial affirmations we might get with making a meaningful difference is a mistake. We crave more and more reach, but substantive impact is almost always lacking.

As Bernadette so rightly reminds us: “it doesn’t matter who encounters your message, your product, or your service if they don’t care about it.”.

It’s one thing to relentlessly pursue more. It’s another to relentlessly pursue better, more remarkable, truly relevant, deeply connected.

Maybe the people in the tribes we lead want us to turn it up to 11, to increase the frequency, to go for more, more, more. Maybe average or boring is just fine by them.

Or maybe it’s about easing back on the throttle, turning down the volume and choosing instead to uncover and celebrate the people that really matter to us. And then, very intentionally, crafting a message and an experience that deeply resonates with them.

There isn’t only one right way to do this. Your results may vary.

But when we confuse reach with impact, we’re bound to end up in a bad place.

When we ask the question: “who cares?” and the answer is probably only a handful of the people we’re talking to, marketing to, sharing with, then the quest for reach has likely gone to far.

 

Are you done cutting those cookies?

In today’s retail world there are a few truths I hold to be self-evident:

  • Folks don’t need or want much more stuff, so we had better not count on overall spending growing much, if at all.
  • With just about anything available anytime, anywhere, anyway, competing on scarcity of information and access is no longer a viable strategy for most brands.
  • Engaging in a price war is not likely to end well–unless you are Amazon.
  • Consumers are overwhelmed by information and the distracted customer has become the norm. The new battleground is for share of attention.
  • Mass marketing is becoming less effective by the day.
  • No customer wants to be average.

And yet so much of the product we see, the stores we visit, the websites we surf and the marketing we encounter, looks awfully familiar.

Our Boards encourage us to adopt best practices, and by the time we do, the industry leaders are on to something entirely different.

We pick the tried and true, because it seems safe, when it is precisely the opposite.

We choose average because it’s easy to manage and seems to scale. Until it doesn’t and we are left to wonder what the hell happened.

For most of us, the only way to win going forward is to eschew boring and average. We must know our customers better than the competition and use that information to treat different customers differently. We must commit to being intensely relevant and utterly remarkable. We must amplify our signal amidst the noise.

Let somebody else can make the cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

Quitting is underrated 

We don’t have to spend much time among our friends or on social media to run across the never give up, quitting is for losers, in-it-to-win-it ethos. There’s a whole socially acceptable narrative built around the notion that only weak people quit and that failure is never an option.

It’s ridiculous. It’s wrong. And it’s harmful.

Perseverance, grit, determination and hard work are certainly important to achieving our goals. But frequently our best work–the work that matters, disrupts, challenges the status quo–comes precisely because failure IS an option. It happens when we know “this might not work” and we choose to do it anyway.

Yet the best friend of an intentional choice to go out on a limb and take a risk is knowing when it’s time to quit. The point is not to avoid failure at all costs, the point is to fail better. Failing better means failing faster and failing smarter. It means knowing when to stop pushing too big of a rock up too big of a hill. It’s radical acceptance of reality. It means being vulnerable to the idea that despite our best efforts, despite what our original analysis told us, despite knowing that we might hurt someone else’s feelings, despite the real possibility of looking stupid, we simply need to stop.

I loved it when, in her now classic talk on shame, Brene Brown referred to TED as the “failure conference.” She called out the reality that all these great leaders and speakers we look up to had dared greatly and failed–many of them on more than one occasion. It was, in fact, a room chock-a-block with quitters. But not quitters who beat themselves up about it and became victims. They were all quitters who had indeed failed better. They eventually figured out when it was time to stop, learned from their mistakes and moved on.

It turns out that knowing when –and having the courage–to quit is exactly what frees us up to go and try the next big thing.

I wonder what we are all doing right now that’s worth quitting?

I wonder if we can muster up the courage to stop and simply say “no more.”

I wonder what amazing possibilities that will unleash.

 

 

You picked a really bad time to be stupid

Last year I wrote a post entitled You picked a really bad time to be boring, the fundamental premise of which was that in a slow growth, highly competitive, ever noisier world, for our marketing to get noticed–much less acted upon–we had better go beyond average. We need to be truly remarkable.

Now I will admit remarkable is easier said than done. But can’t we agree that there is no reason to be stupid, ignorant, unaware or down right lazy with our marketing? Simply no excuse anymore for one-size-fits-all?

The fact is when a brand treats customers as part of an undifferentiated mass, they quickly lose interest. When we fail to demonstrate basic relevance we have little or no chance to command what is increasingly marketing’s limiting factor: customer attention.

Last week I got a voicemail from a sales person at a local car dealership. His pitch went like this: “Hi this is Dave from (car brand I have no interest in) in (town some 30 miles from me) and I was going through the White Pages (huh?) and came across your name and I thought you might be interested in the great deals we have this weekend on (names type of vehicle I also have no interest in). So give me a call when you get a chance.”

It would, of course, be easy to dismiss this as the misguided tactic of some mom & pop, largely clueless business owner who has found some poor sap to work on commission in the hopes of a hit or two. But this form of batch, blast and hope marketing remains common among many larger, more “sophisticated” brands.

As an example, I recently got an email from a luxury retailer that I may or may not have worked for in the past. The hook was this: “As one of our best customers, save an extra xx%…” Really? I have bought absolutely nothing from you in over 5 years and I’m one of your best customers? This brand–which is the same one that has sent me emails encouraging me to redeem my non-existent rewards points–possesses the data to know what my shopping behavior is and therefore could take a totally different, and presumably more effective, targeting strategy.

When brands make little or no effort to know us, show us they know us and show us they value us, our interest wanes. And it’s rarely long before a brand’s share of our attention starts to drop. In my experience, attention, once lost, is very hard to win back.

 

 

The new retail ecosystem: NRF edition 

For quite some time, we’ve thought about stores, catalogs and the internet as distinct shopping entities. Today the blended channel is the only channel.

For quite some time, we’ve run our retail businesses as a loose affiliation of vertical departments and systems. Today we see that brands are horizontal and that silos belong on farms.

For quite some time, we’ve talked about customers “going online.” Today, most customers practically live online and there is a “nowness” to marketing that we’ve never experienced.

For quite some time, we’ve said that product is everything. Today, product is clearly important, but experience has a way of making product secondary.

For quite some time, the front door of our store was literal and faced the street or the interior corridor of the mall. Today–increasingly–it is often virtual. And dynamic. And you’re probably holding it in your hand right now.

For quite some time, we started to believe that physical stores were dying and that most categories would be revolutionized by “online only” brands. Well, physical retail IS becoming different, but it’s not going away. And–plot twist–pure play retail is on its death bed.

For quite some time, we’ve evaluated store closings on the straightforward four-wall profit contribution and costs of exiting a lease. Today, a physical location is merely one manifestation of a brand, serving to fulfill a digital intent while also serving as a gateway to e-commerce–a relationship portal of sorts.

For quite some time, marketing was mostly one-size-fits-all. Today, as the world grows ever noisier, it’s harder to detect the signal amidst the clutter, the cacophony and the downright boring. The burden has shifted to becoming more relevant, more personalized, more remarkable.

At NRF, we’re already hearing some speakers make some or all of these points as if they are revelations, when they are merely after the fact observations and, more likely than not, strong evidence of a lead from behind strategy.

The new retail ecosystem has been coming into shape for more than a decade. The most salient and actionable points have been obvious for years. That is, if one were really paying attention and truly committed to a plan of action.

As much as I might hope that the really juicy and useful stuff were shared at a conference in a room filled with the competition, alas, my experience tells me otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

Turn and face the strange

Submitted without further comment.

“The other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

–David Bowie

Bailing doesn’t fix the hole

So often it seems that when we find ourselves or our organization in trouble, we pounce on the safe, the familiar, the obvious, while ignoring the root cause.

When I was an executive at Sears I remember how senior management spent the better part of a year working on ways to close stores, slash expenses and prune unproductive product lines. Much of this needed to be done–and we had been through this sort of exercise before–but the overwhelming reason that we were sinking was not because our expenses were too high, but rather because our sales productivity was abysmal and our growth potential was non-existent. Bailing doesn’t fix the hole.

Today, driven primarily by the growing influence of e-commerce, leadership at just about every retail brand is struggling with “right-sizing” their overall store count and determining how big–or more accurately, how small–their stores should be.

Again, this can be a worthwhile endeavor. Yet for many retailers the reason they feel compelled to take an axe to their retail footprint has more to do with a weak value proposition than it does with having fundamentally too many stores or because individual locations can’t be productive at their current square footage. For some, closing certain locations and scaling back the size of existing units will only serve to accelerate their decline. Bailing doesn’t fix the hole.

Eating better and getting regular exercise beats any binge diet.

A customer lost is almost impossible to win back.

Brands can rarely can cost cut their way to prosperity.

As it turns out, prevention is better than remediation.

Eventually we need to address the root cause of our lack of buoyancy.

Of course that presumes we don’t run out of time.