As marketers, the silver bullet we are all searching for is advertising that boosts sales today while at the same time building long-term brand value. We want advertising that subsidizes its cost via incremental sales, while claiming mindshare that creates a competitive stronghold and emotive connection with consumers over time. The math to successfully create meaningful advertising that accomplishes these goals is simple, right? Just take a meaningful value proposition, find where it with intersects with a culturally relevant theme, present it to the world in a thoughtful, creative manner, and place it in market through the right media channels. Do this and voila! Advertising that moves the needle.
CMO’s and their marketing teams are doing this math all day, every day. But unfortunately the best laid plans, the most thoughtful positions, the perfect messages and world’s smartest media buys often just create a mirage that leaves customers feeling betrayed once they arrive at the stores.
mi·rage (məˈräZH) noun:
Something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.
When CEO’s and CMO’s ask what the biggest challenge faced by marketing is, my answer often surprises them when I say “in-store execution.” Our teams at Zimmerman can dream up a million reasons to drive people to retail stores, but if those people are disappointed once they get there, then all the time, thought and investment getting consumers to the store was worse than wasted. You’ve actually done harm to your brand. Pointless squander would have been a better use of the funds than spending to set-up customers for disappointment.
At Zimmerman, our job is not just to make advertising that is effective in driving a desired consumer action, but to make sure the checks that are being written for advertising responsibly motivate and set-up experiences that operations can deliver. In other words, we help our clients identify what is true about their brand and experience, and make the most out of that rather than (as many brands do too often) advertise for the store they wish they were.
Agencies owe it to their clients to make sure the in-store experience doesn’t contradict the marketing message. Rather it pays it off in a way that connects the entire experience – which is exactly how you drive immediate transactions and long-term brand value. Here are three simple ways to help boost your in-store experience to avoid disappointing customers (none of which require an “Apple Store” sized budget):
Know how to say hello and goodbye. Often getting just these two communications right when a customer walks through the door will go a long way to creating and leaving a positive impression in a customer’s mind. Having a consistent practice, like a simple greeting that is on-brand for hello, and a similar one for goodbye will put you light years ahead of many competitors. My local Ace Hardware nails hello every time I walk in with “What can I help you find today?”
Be good at the thing you claim you are good at – or at least over emphasize it in-store. For example, if low price is your thing, then use premium in-store real estate to create price impressions. Pick your price battles selectively and win them. If assortment depth is your thing, then have the first impression in-store be a popular, expansive assortment. The key point is to be obvious. Our client, Five Below, is killing this by placing their “wow” items under $5 in wheel barrows at the front of their stores, or even in big bins out front.
Master the basics. Clean restrooms, neat inventory, smooth checkout, and qualified service people should be standard in every store. In short, even if you can’t master some elaborate in-store experience, at least don’t blow it in some obvious manner. The up-and-coming convenience store chain QuikTrip is cleaning up in this area with 62% of customers citing it as the cleanest store they have been in according to a recent mystery shop survey by CSP Magazine.
As a closing thought… Retailers have lost nearly all the power in the seller / buyer relationship with customers. Gone are the days when selling a hot product was all you needed for a competitive advantage, and a line of customers out the door – now every competitor has the latest and greatest stuff. Consumers can have nearly anything, anytime, anyplace at the best-in-market price. This is leaving retailers, both traditional and online, with only one competitive lever left to pull – the experience. Retailers that have not embraced this fact and changed are failing all around us. Pouring marketing dollars into driving the masses to a flawed experience will only dig you a deeper hole, instead of digging you out of one.
As retail brand CMO’s, managers, operators, etc., you should seek out partners who will keep you honest. Partners who are willing to hold up a mirror and give you an accurate depiction of your own experience, as well as helping you magnify and amplify the positives in a way that allows consumers to connect the dots between advertising and experience, which translates to top line growth and bottom line efficiency.