Marketing 2013–Striking the Right Balance

By Michael Harris, President & CEO, Marketing Drive

As we get older, we tend to look back with increasing fondness for times past. This sense of nostalgia is especially understandable for marketers, many of whom wistfully yearn for the days of three network TV channels, simpler brand choices and consequently more straight-forward marketing plans. But, just as in nature, creatures that failed to evolve became extinct—so it’s best that marketers keep adapting and move forward.

Today’s marketers face fiendishly complex decisions, particularly those who sell high volumes of their product or service through a retail outlet. Over the last 20 years, brand owners have faced the consolidation of retail outlets, the explosive growth of big-box retailing and a blurring of the traditional food, drug, mass and specialty channels. And, let’s not forget the impact of digital tools, technologies, smartphones, apps and the Web. Overlay the fragmentation of media options, the tsunami of data, and greater competition from the increasingly boundary-less world—you begin to understand why some might pine for those simpler days.

The power that is in a consumer’s hand, from the ability to check reviews (for both the product and the merchant), get real-time price comparisons, consider competitive alternatives, share opinions and instantly purchase; gives the shopper unparalleled influence and authority. Fact is, consumers are in charge and marketers and merchants must adapt.

But, what are the longer-term consequences for how brand owners market and retailers evolve to avoid extinction. The concept of “showrooming” has becoming increasingly topical this year, particularly within the electronics category, but is it a trend that pharmaceutical manufacturers, jam producers, coffee roasters or spirits distillers need to be focusing on? In my opinion, yes—the explosive growth in eCommerce, mCommerce and replenishment services will not only massively change retailing but also how brand owners interact with their constituents.

For retailers, my conjecture is that they will come full-circle. The era of aircraft-hangar-size buildings will likely end and be replaced by a more intimate, localized and personalized experience. Interestingly, during their recent earnings presentation, Walmart noted that their two most important developments were smaller stores and eCommerce.

As human beings, we still instinctively like personal interaction, which represents a massive opportunity for retailers. In this new era, retailers will need not just to be hyper-proficient purveyors of goods and services but demonstrate an understanding and empathy with our innate traits; such as our desire to improve our status in comparison with others, our subconscious desire to bond, our pursuit of learning and understanding, and even our very deep routed wish to defend what we have—our loved ones and resources. Excellent presentation of the desired item at a competitive value is not enough. For enduring success, retailers must provide a richer, deeper, more emotional experience. Sound familiar?  It would to Marshall Field in Chicago in the 1890’s!

But, what does all this mean for providers of branded goods or services? First, embrace the shift from serving two masters (the consumer and the retail merchant) decisively towards a single master—the shopper. This does not mean that brand owners can lessen their attention, service or offerings to retailers; quite the contrary—they have to reimagine it, acknowledge that information flows instantly and continuously, and instead provide tangible value that pleases the shopper and helps the retailer with their transformation. Additionally, brands have to ensure that they have a direct connection to the consumer, that their offerings are plugged into consumers’ always on, always connected ecosystem. But, being plugged in isn’t enough; rather the brands’ presence within it has to be positively valued by the consumer.

So net-net, it could seem that things haven’t changed that much—brands need retailers and retailers need brands. While that is true, what they require from each other has changed. The right product at the right value in the right place remain the foundations for both parties onto which tangible value, personalized service, informed education, enriching experience (retailers) and status, bonding, pride or gratification (brands) must be added. So, as the marketing world becomes more complex, the roles for brands and retailers require a well calibrated balancing act.

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About the Author: MICHAEL HARRIS is president and CEO of Marketing Drive. A leading promotional, digital and shopper marketing agency. He has started and built groundbreaking promotional agencies on two continents, developing campaigns for some of the world’s finest brands that have run in markets around the globe. He can be reached at michael.harris@marketingdrive.com.

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