Being Remarkable · Digital · Omni-channel · Personalization · Retail

The fault in our stores

Last week Target became the latest retailer to report weak earnings and shrinking physical store sales. They certainly won’t be the last.

As more retail brands disappoint on both the top and bottom lines–and announce scores of store closings–many may conclude that brick-and-mortar retail is going they way of the horse-drawn carriage. Unfortunately this ignores the fact that roughly 90% of all retail is still done in actual stores. It doesn’t recognize that many retailers–from upstarts like Warby Parker and Bonobos, to established brands such as TJMaxx and Dollar General–are opening hundreds of new locations. It also fails to acknowledge the many important benefits of in-store shopping and that study after study shows that most consumers still prefer shopping in a store (including millennials!)

Brick-and-mortar retail is very different, but not dead. Still, most retailers will, regardless of any actions they take, continue to cede share to digital channels, whether it’s their own or those of disruptive competitors. To make the best of a challenging situation, retailers need a laser-like focus on increasing their piece of a shrinking pie, while optimizing their remaining investment in physical locations. And here we must deal with the reality that aside from the inevitable forces shaping retail’s future, there are many addressable faults in retailers’ stores. Here are a few of the most pervasive issues.

The Sea Of Sameness

Traditionalists often opine that it all about product, but that’s just silly. Experiences and overall solutions often trump simply offering the best sweater or coffee maker. Nevertheless, too many stores are drowning in a sea of sameness–in product, presentation and experience. The redundancy in assortments is readily apparent from any stroll through most malls. The racks, tables and signage employed by most retailers are largely indistinguishable from each other. And when was the last time there was anything memorable about the service you received from a sales associate at any of these struggling retailers?

One Brand, Many Channels

Too many stores still operate as independent entities, rather than an integral piece of a one brand, many channels customer strategy. Most customer journeys that result in a physical store visit start online. Many customers research in store only to consummate the transaction in a digital channel. The lines between digital and physical channels are increasingly blurred, often distinctions without a difference. Silos belong on farms.

Speed Bumps On The Way To Purchase

How often is the product we wish to buy out of stock? How difficult is it to find a store associate when we are ready to checkout? Can I order online and pick up in a store? If a store doesn’t have my size or the color I want can I easily get it shipped to my home quick and for free? Most of the struggling retailers have obvious and long-standing friction points in their customer experience. When in doubt about where to prioritize operational efforts, smoothing out the speed bumps is usually a decent place to start.

Where’s The Wow?

As Amazon makes it easier and easier to buy just about anything from them, retailers must give their customers a tangible reason to traffic their stores and whip out their wallets once there. Good enough no longer is. Brands must dig deep to provide something truly scarce, relevant and remarkable. Much of the hype around in-store innovations is just that. For example, Neiman Marcus’ Memory Mirrors are cool, but any notion that they will transform traffic patterns, conversion rates or average ticket size on a grander scale is fantasy. Much of what is being tested is necessary, but hardly sufficient. The brands that are gaining share (and, by the way, opening stores) have transformed the entire customer experience, not merely taken a piecemeal approach to innovation.

Treat Different Customers Differently

In an era where there was relative scarcity of product, shopping channels and information, one-size-fits all strategies worked. But now the customer is clearly in charge, and he or she can often tailor their experience to their particular wants and needs. Retailers need to employ advanced analytical techniques and other technologies to make marketing and the overall customer experience much more personalized, and to allow for greater and greater customization. More and more art and intuition are giving way to science and precision.

Physical retail is losing share to e-commerce at the rate of about 110 basis points per year. While that is not terribly significant in the aggregate, this erosion will not be evenly distributed and the deleveraging of physical store economics will prove devastating to many slow to react retailers. This seemingly inexorable shift is causing many retailers to reflexively throw up their hands and choose to disinvest in physical retail. The result, as we’ve seen in spades, is that many stores are becoming boring warehouses of only the bestselling, most average product, presented in stale environments with nary a sales associate in sight.

The fault in our stores are legion. But adopting an attitude that stores are fundamentally problems to be tolerated–or eliminated–rather than assets to be leveraged and improved, makes the outcome inevitable and will, I fear, eventually seal the fate of many once great retailers.

PurpleCow

A version of this story appeared at Forbes, where I am a retail contributor. You can check out more of my posts here.

CRM · Customer Growth Strategy · Customer Insight · Personalization · Share of attention · Uncategorized

This time it’s personal

A book that I read more than 20 years ago fundamentally changed my perspective on business overall and marketing in particular.

Peppers and Rodgers “The One to One Future” embedded in my psyche the notion that knowing more about your customer than your competition was a critical component of competitive advantage. And before long “treat different customers differently” became my mantra.

As brilliant as Don and Martha’s book is, it was, for the most part, way ahead of its time. To be sure, many brands and marketers benefitted from its wisdom. But overall, few brands saw personalization as a burning platform and many of the espoused concepts simply could not be operationalized in any practical and cost effective way.

For most, a strategy of uniquely identifying customers, differentiating them by their needs and value, interacting with them to understand their desires and then customizing the experience in a relevant and remarkable way, lingered somewhere between a dream and a nice-to-do.

Yet today personalization is not only increasingly possible at scale, it is rapidly and inexorably becoming a business imperative.

It’s an imperative not because it’s cool or sexy or sounds good at a conference.

It’s an imperative because the battle has shifted from market share to share of attention–and it’s increasingly difficult to be the signal amidst all the noise.

It’s an imperative because one size fits all marketing strategies are well past the point of diminishing returns.

It’s an imperative because we are drowning in a sea of sameness and delivering average products for average people gets you average results, if you are lucky, and gets you fired, if you aren’t.

It’s an imperative because the power has shifted irretrievably to the consumer and the only way to stand a fighting chance is to compete on deep customer insight, intense relevance, remarkability and trust.

That means small is the new big and intimate is the new interesting. And that, at last, the one to one future is here.

 

I will be moderating two very different expert panels on personalization during the next month. Stop by and say “hello” if you can.

On April 20th I’ll be with the Dallas-Fort Worth Retail Executives Association. Pre-register here: http://bit.ly/1Moj5ag  

Then it’s ShopTalk in Las Vegas on May 17th. More information is available at http://bit.ly/1qYKvul  Readers of this blog can use my promo code “sageb250” to save $250 on their conference registration.

Brand Marketing · Marketing · Me-tail · Personalization · Retail · Share of attention · We-tail

I am the captain now 

For a long time brands had the upper hand.

The purchase funnel was relatively straight-forward. Media channels were few and generally well controlled. The consumer’s access to product and pricing information was limited. Distribution channels were highly disciplined. Communication was largely one-way. Marketing plans were often drawn up just once year and any changes required substantial lead times. Mass marketing ruled the day.

Today? Well not so much.

The shift of power away from brands to consumers has been swift and profound. The advent of search unleashed a tsunami of information access that tipped the balance of power irretrievably. The rise of social networks allowed for tribes to connect more easily to share ideas, reviews and instantly understand that people like us do stuff like this. The rapid adoption of smart devices has meant that most consumers now have access to just about anything they want, anytime, anywhere, anyway. We no longer go online, we live online.

Yet still some brands remain seemingly unconscious and horribly stuck.

They continue peddling average products for average people, when no customer wants to be average. With nothing new and interesting to say, they simply shout it louder and more often. Many retail brands continue to rely on one-size-fits-all strategies when those programs rarely get noticed, must less drive any profitable business. In today’s attention economy these efforts remain merely a dim signal amidst the noise.

The power shift away from the brand to the individual consumer and the power of the tribe is upon us. Retail has a new immediacy. Retail is now much more ME-tail and WE-tail than some holistic top down strategy cooked up in a conference room. Don’t kid yourself–you’ve never been less in control than right this very minute. And that’s not changing.

The individual is the captain. The collective “we” increasingly rules the roost. And unlike in Captain Phillips, no one is coming to save us. We can only accept this reality, let go of the past and work with a new set of rules and tools.

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Being Remarkable · Customer experience · Personalization · Uncategorized

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.

 

Amplify · Being Remarkable · Customer Growth Strategy · Personalization

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Amplify · Being Remarkable · Customer-centric · Personalization

Just about everything is noise

The overwhelming majority of the ads that are run are not the least bit relevant to any one of us. In fact, we’ve grown accustomed to skipping through them when we can–or simply tuning them out when we can’t.

Even a well-curated social media stream contains an awful lot of information that we couldn’t care less about.

When we drive down the street–or walk through the mall–there are only a handful of stores we pass that we will ever walk into, much less buy anything from.

And within the stores we do visit–or the websites we traffic–it’s rare indeed that more than a tiny percentage of the product we see actually grabs our attention, commands true interest and captures any of our spending.

The fact is just about everything we encounter is noise. Advertising based upon interruption rather than permission. Marketing programs that are mostly one-size-fits-all, rather than rooted in treating different customers differently. Product assortments that suffer from a sea of sameness. An avalanche of data and a tsunami of stuff.

And the noise is growing. Consumer distraction and disinterest has become the norm.

When we accept that just about everything is noise, when we understand that, more and more, the power has shifted to the consumer, when we embrace the notion that attention is fast becoming the most precious asset for any brand, then we realize our challenge is not to merely copy best practices or do what we’ve always done, but just a little bit faster, cheaper or louder.

The challenge is to deeply understand our customers at a granular level,  to create and deliver something intensely relevant and remarkable and then to amplify the hell out of that sucker.

The challenge is to become the signal amidst the noise.

noise

 

 

 

 

Being Remarkable · Customer Growth Strategy · Customer-centric · Frictionless commerce · Omni-channel · Personalization

Retail’s great bifurcation

It’s not that malls are dying. In fact, many malls are not only surviving, quite a few are thriving.

Despite all the doomsayers, physical retail is not facing extinction. Not only are many retailers opening significant numbers of profitable locations, many of the most highly valued and rapidly growing pure-play online brands are opening brick & mortar locations. These new units are among the most productive of any specialty retail sites anywhere.

Department stores aren’t going away any time soon either, despite the constant buzz of consternation from Wall Street. Several major players are successfully reinventing themselves.

What IS happening is a great bifurcation. The proverbial fork in the road. The increasingly clear emergence of “have’s” and “have not’s. And the looming death in the middle.

“Class A” malls and the also-rans.

Retailers that have a well articulated target consumer and seamlessly meet those customers needs anytime, anywhere, anyway, versus stores drowning in a sea of sameness, offering disjointed service and peddling average products to average people.

Brands that either go big, efficient and cheap or intimate and remarkable, versus those that get stuck in the middle or are trapped in an inevitable race to the bottom.

There are obvious choices to be made. The chasm is widening. The poles are becoming more extreme.

Yet many of us remain stuck. Many brands keep straddling the line.We fail to choose because a bold commitment seems risky, when in fact it is our inaction that is the riskiest decision of all.

Pick a lane. Start driving.

And you might want to step on the gas.

bridges_down_01

Customer Growth Strategy · Me-tail · Personalization

n = 1

I see dead marketing.

Strategies deeply rooted in average products for average people. Campaigns that haven’t answered the fundamental question: “who’s this for?” Promotions desperately (and pointlessly) trying to out-Amazon Amazon. Programs that reek of me-too-ness.

It’s never been a good idea to promulgate the undifferentiated, the uninteresting, the irrelevant. But today that nonsense will get you killed.

When the power has shifted to the consumer, when there is little scarcity of product, information and access, when top-line growth must increasingly come from stealing market share, tried and true, one-size-fits all approaches are dying.

“N = everybody marketing”–i.e. the mass marketing that is the centerpiece of most marketers plans and the overwhelming consumer of their budgets–has the advantage of being efficient and comparatively easy to execute. It also has the pesky little problem of not working very well, if at all.

If you have not embraced a treat different customers differently philosophy, the odds are pretty good that you are falling behind. And every day that you procrastinate it only gets worse.

“But investing in mass-customization and personalization is really hard” you say. Perhaps. But what’s hardest of all–what’s really going to suck–is getting fired or having your company go out of business completely because you fail to change.

True “n = 1 marketing” may be unachievable any time soon for many brands, in every circumstance. But in a world where mass is ending and the power of the individual and the tribe is rising, where being intensely relevant and remarkable is the ONLY thing that creates a signal amidst the noise, for me, it’s pretty clear in which direction you should be heading.

Oh, and I’d hurry if I were you.

Being Remarkable · Customer Growth Strategy · Personalization

The shopkeeper at scale

Today marketers talk about personalization as some new Holy Grail. It’s hardly new.

Years ago, one-to-one marketing was a core practice of local shopkeepers everywhere. You know, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The shopkeepers of yore would uniquely identify their customers, interact with them to understand their wants and desires and then customize their offering to meet those needs. The best customers got the best treatment. The notion of treating different customers differently was common and these shopkeepers enjoyed huge market share.

Fast forward many decades and the shopkeeper model has largely been displaced by national chains that lean heavily on one-size-fits-all business models steeped in efficiency over effectiveness.

Yet as the present reality of slow growth markets becomes clear, as fewer and fewer store openings present themselves, as the easy growth from launching and optimizing e-commerce starts to subside, the tide is turning.

Slowly, we are starting to see brands that understand that the majority of future growth must come from stealing market share. Growing share of wallet in meaningful ways requires a more intensely relevant and remarkable customer experience rooted in a “know me, show me you know me, show me you value me” set of capabilities.

More and more, it’s about understanding how to replicate the old-timey shopkeeper feeling at scale. It’s about using deep customer insight and technology to transcend the self-imposed limitations of the mass industrial model that characterizes so many businesses today.

The good news is that the core technology and other supporting capabilities necessary to become a shopkeeper at scale now exists–and is improving all the time. The bad news is it doesn’t happen unless you make a choice and make a commitment.

Marketing · Personalization

But did it get the right laugh?

During the recent Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special, Mike Myers made fun of founder and producer Lorne Michael’s legendary pickiness by evoking his best Dr. Evil inspired impression and saying  “well, it got a laugh, but did it get the right laugh?”

Of course, it’s easy to challenge–or simply ignore–those who lapse into overly theoretical frameworks (guilty) or who can be relentlessly particular about how something should play out (guilty again).

Then again, it’s also to see marketers who obsess about the size of their database, how many folks their emails touch or the sheer number of impressions from a TV ad, when it’s not reach they really want but engagement and impact.

Then again, social media is filled with people who frantically collect friends and followers–and blindly follow-back themselves–when it’s often merely a meaningless quest to grow a number totally devoid of true connection.

Then again, organizations hold on to mass market strategies, throwing money and time at bad prospects, promiscuous shoppers and demonstrably unprofitable relationships, when a more focused strategy that treats different customers differently is what makes far more sense.

Perhaps asking ourselves whether we’re getting the right laugh isn’t such a silly question.