Being Remarkable · Customer experience · Digital · e-commerce · Frictionless commerce · Omni-channel · Uncategorized

Omni-channel is dead. Long live omni-channel 

“Omni-channel” has been one of retail’s favorite buzzwords for years now. At last week’s excellent ShopTalk conference, several speakers challenged the relevance of omni-channel. This conversation is long overdue.

The shift from a “multichannel” strategy–being active in multiple channels such as physical stores, catalogs and e-commerce–to omni-channel, suggested some form of profound change. It created a veritable cottage industry in related buzzphrases like “seamless integration,” “frictionless commerce” and “being channel agnostic.” To be honest, I’ve been known to throw some of these terms around in blog posts and keynote talks with reckless abandon.

Yet five years or so into this journey, it’s increasingly obvious that omni-channel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many of the retailers at the forefront of omni-channel evangelism–Macy’s being the most glaring example–have only delivered quarter after quarter of disappointing performance. Many struggling retailers have problems that go far beyond merely drinking the omni-channel Kool-Aid. But the fascination with, and massive investment in, all things omni, have in many cases made matters far worse. A recalibration is needed. Perhaps the term needs to be buried.

The first problem is that retailers have been chasing ubiquity when they need to be chasing relevance and differentiation. Clearly, customers are engaging in more channels as part of their shopping journeys and retailers must respond accordingly. But in trying to be everywhere many brands have ended up being nowhere when it comes to a compelling offering. Undifferentiated product, less than remarkable customer service and uncompetitive pricing aren’t helped by extending their reach.

The second problem stems from investing in e-commerce and digital marketing with insufficient focus and prioritization. The majority of retail purchases in virtually all categories start online and, despite conventional wisdom, digitally influenced physical store sales are far bigger than online sales. Many traditional retailers made their e-commerce offering better while underinvesting in their physical stores, seeming to forget that the lion’s share of shopping is still done in brick & mortar locations. Not every aspect of e-commerce or embracing a “digital-first” strategy is important.

The third problem is that a lot of e-commerce remains unprofitable and many digitally-based customer acquisition strategies are uneconomic. The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed. Retailers need to have a well-sequenced roadmap of digital marketing and channel integration initiatives rooted in a deep understanding of customer behavior and underlying economics. Too much of what has been done thus far has been more shotgun, rather than laser-sighted rifle, in its approach, and the generally poor results illustrate this quite dramatically.

The fourth problem is somehow thinking that customers care about channels. Customers care about experiences, about solutions, about shopping with ease and simplicity. At the risk of advocating yet another buzzphrase, “unified commerce” is far more descriptive of what needs to happen than “omni-channel.” “All channels” never suggested a meaningful consumer benefit. And it never will.

Of course, engaging in semantic arguments doesn’t ultimately accomplish very much. But neither does continuing to plow mindlessly ahead, chasing a once bright and shiny object that is rapidly losing its luster.

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

Uncategorized

The magical mystery powers of gratitude

While I am still on a hiatus from this blog for a bit longer, some of you might know that I have launched another blog focused on living a life of passion and purpose. It’s called “I got here as fast as I could.” I hope you’ll check it out. Below is my post on my new blog in honor of Thanksgiving.

For a long time the power of gratitude eluded me.

Sure, there were times when the position of privilege I was born into, or had attained, was obvious. I could appreciate a trip I took, a fancy new thing I bought, a great meal. I’d say “thanks” for a gift or a job well done or some little bit of kindness extended to me.

I suppose I mostly saw gratitude as transactional.

But if I’m honest, much of the time I was focused on what was lacking. The sense that I wasn’t achieving my potential at work and in my life was a near constant. My internal monologue was consumed by thoughts that I should possess more and sexier stuff, dominate my to-do list, achieve greater status, be in better shape, have everyone like me and on and on. I was feeling more than a wee bit entitled. I was rarely, if ever, satisfied.

In 2009, when I was still in the throes of a personal crisis that had rocked me to my core, the therapist I was seeing patiently listened as I recited yet another tale of woe. As I got to one of my favorite (and by then oft-repeated) complaints, he stopped me.  In that somewhat condescending voice all psychologists seem to employ he said “Steve, I wonder if would you be willing to tell me 30 things that you are grateful for right now, at this moment?”

I pushed back. “3o things? I don’t think so.” He encouraged me to just start.

The first few came easily. I had a nice house in a safe neighborhood, a decent amount of money in the bank, a great family. A few more things trickled on to the list with a bit more reflection.

When I stalled at about 8 or 9, my therapist made a few suggestions. “What about the way Charlie (my dog) greets you when you come home? How about the knowing smile on your daughter’s face when you make one of your dumb Dad jokes? How about the fact that you don’t have to worry for even one second whether you’ll have safe water to drink?

He paused to let that sink in. My throat grew tight. “Keep going” he said.

And I did. Spoiler alert: I had no trouble getting to 30.

I left that session feeling better than I had in months. I came, albeit slowly, to see how gratitude is the antidote to my habituated negative thought patterns, the kryptonite to feelings of emptiness and loneliness. I adopted “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough” as a mantra.

My list of things that I’m thankful for is now much greater than 30. The list also includes a lot of actual human beings. It turns out gratitude is relational.

It also turns out gratitude has the power to heal. It turns out that extending gratitude to another person fosters connection–and we all need more of that. It turns out that just waking up today is reason enough to be grateful.

I wish someone had told me that earlier, but I got here as fast as I could.

 

On this day when many are celebrating Thanksgiving I’m grateful to my friend Seth who generously shares his Thanksgiving Reader. Check it out.

I’m also thankful that I have one friend in my life who will tell me the truth even when it hurts and who constantly challenges me to be a better person. And I’m grateful that I’ve been willing to (finally) tell her how much that means to me.

Monday-Mantra-i-have-enough-i-do-enough-i-am-enough.png

Inspiration · Leadership · Uncategorized

Put your ass where your heart wants to be

I don’t know about you, but I have done some amazing things in my life.

Now to be fair, most of these brilliant accomplishments and experiences have never actually left the confines of my mind. Quite a few were grand solutions posited in random conversations (some might even call them “rants”). Others were insightful and meaningful criticisms lofted from the safety of a Facebook comment or tweet. Some were glorious adventures acted out solely through internet research. Still others were “made real” through this blog back when, it would seem, my irony detector was set on “simmer”.

It also turns out that I’m surprisingly good at making (and mulling over) lists. You know, options I’m exploring. Ideas I’m studying. Things I’ll get around to some day. The myriad changes I want to see in the world. Most never make it off the page or out of my head.

It might be genetic.

One of my most vivid memories comes from November of 2003 when I remember sitting in a chair next to my father’s hospital bed. His speech was more than a little bit muddled from the morphine drip in his arm, but he carefully and slowly shared a robust list of things he had always meant to do and places he had hoped to visit. It was an inspiring, thoughtful and heartfelt list. Alas, he never made it out of that bed again. He died later that week.

Too often, it would seem, the disconnect between where our hearts point us and what our actions actually turn out to be can be vast.

We tell ourselves there will be a better time.

We think we can win the game from the safety of the stands.

We say we are afraid of dying but then it occurs to us that perhaps we’ve never truly lived.

We say we’ll begin where we’re ready, whatever the hell that means.

In addition to being a great screenwriter and author of both fiction and non-fiction, Steven Pressfield is a leading voice on the creative process. In his brilliant The War of Artand his follow-up Do the WorkSteve takes on the struggles we all face in fighting through our fear and in battling the dragon that keeps us stuck between our desires, our destiny and living out our heartfelt selves.  He’s written a lot of great stuff, but I really like this:

If you wanna get strong, go to the gym.

If you wanna get fast, go to the track…

…the point is: where the body goes, the spirit follows.

Therefore, move thy butt.

Put your ass where your heart wants to be.

If you want to paint, don’t agonize, don’t iconize, don’t self-hypnotize.

Shut up and get into the studio.

Once your physical envelope is standing before the easel, your heart and mind will follow.

Being Remarkable · Customer Growth Strategy · Customer-centric · Omni-channel · Retail · Share of attention · Strategy · Uncategorized

Retail’s big reset

It’s been happening for a few years now, but the pace is accelerating.

Retailers waking up to the reality of a slow or no growth world.

Retailers beginning to understand that if you don’t garner share of attention, you have little or no shot at share of wallet.

Retailers starting to comprehend that it’s not about the silos of e-commerce, catalogs, social, mobile and physical stores. It’s about one brand, many channels.

Retailers seeing that it’s not only a digital first world, increasingly it’s a mobile first world.

Retailers coming to terms with having too many stores, and being confronted with the cold hard facts that the ones that should remain are often too large and, more importantly, too boring.

Retailers recognizing that continuing to offer up average products for average people is a recipe for either long-term mediocrity or inevitable bankruptcy.

Retailers realizing that most of their e-commerce growth is now coming from channel shift and that much of their “omni-channel” investments are proving unprofitable.

When historically strong brands like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus start taking a big whack at their corporate staffs and pulling back on capital investments, it’s hard to argue that this is just about low oil prices and weak foreign tourist traffic.

The big reset is upon us.

Some get it. But too many clearly don’t.

Change is happening faster and faster. Disruption is now just part of the ecosystem.

If you believe, as I do, that we are in for an extended period of muted consumer spending, that we are way over-stored in most major markets and that the power has shifted irretrievably to the consumer, then business as usual–and relentless, but vague promises to become “omni-channel”–will not cut it.

The discipline of the market will be harsh. Good enough no longer is.

If you aren’t worried, chances are you should be.

And if you aren’t in a hurry, you might want to pick up the pace.

 

 

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.

Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership · Uncategorized

Yeah, but you started it

Overtly acknowledging that someone started something important or invented a wholly new product, process or movement seems like the decent thing to do. In fact, when another person is the pioneer or ups the ante it can be precisely the impetus we need to get moving and be more creative ourselves. After all,  until we’ve started, it’s all really just talk.

But more often we hear it in the negative.

In the past week or so, two US presidential candidates, at opposite ends of the spectrum, employed the “yeah, but you started it” defense to justify a mean-spirited–and in one case, completely erroneously based–attack on their opponent.  Confronted with this logic Anderson Cooper at least had the gumption to challenge one of them by saying “with all due respect, that’s the argument of a 5-year old.”

Exactly.

When we are acting like adults, we respect those that have come before us, we are motivated by other’s initiative and we learn to start before we are ready ourselves.

When we act like children, we get stuck in victimhood and a cycle of defensiveness .

When we have the choice, perhaps we should opt for the one with the best chance to unleash our potential and bring us all closer together?

And let’s not kid ourselves. We always have that choice.

 

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.