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mark healy

I attended a Canadian Marketing Association roundtable recently. The topic was the role marketing organizations play in helping retailers drive results. The panelists were a who's who of Canadian retail marketers, representing the home building space, grocery, motorcycles and the insurance industry.

I was struck by two things during the discussion:

  • How much “old school” marketing still matters in retail.
  • How much of the conversation centred on deep customer understanding.

In other words, the discussion was all about the fundamentals.

I love it when coaches of hockey teams and football teams are interviewed by reporters expecting complicated, technical answers, and instead say things like "we have to tackle better." In the same vein, here are nuggets of wisdom on growth, coming out of a recession, from retail marketers who control massive marketing budgets:

  • “How many of you have gotten out of your offices and gone into a store lately? If you have, did you talk to any customers? Did you ask them about their experience? How often do you do it? We all worry way too much about spreadsheets – we need to spend more time understanding our customers.” – Chief marketing officer, insurance (delivered through retail)
  • “Every Monday, we meet as a management team and look at all the numbers. Categories. Regions. Then we look at this week's flyer. Depending on last week's numbers, we might change pricing on the fly. Last year at this time, in 27 hours we completely changed over 2,000,000 flyers – products, pricing, everything. That's dirty marketing. You have to be able to react that fast these days.” – CMO, national grocery retailer
  • “Do you and your store managers understand the customer segmentation you have in place? ‘Hey guys, customers are not all the same.' The more knowledge of the basics you can translate to your front line employees, the higher the sales success rate will be.” – CMO, motorcycle distributor
  • “We're spending a ton of money on training store reps again right now. It's a stressful job. Customers expect them to not only know where a product is in-store, but how to apply it to their context. But these reps are our brand. The level of product knowledge and customer service has to be really high.” – CMO, home improvement retailer
  • “We kind of lost our way over the past few years. We took our eyes off the stores and forgot about the store experience. We've loosened up our planogram [display] standards, and we encourage our employees with some artistic talent to let loose and create neat structures from cans of fruit and boxes of crackers. They end up creating customer-wow pieces.” – CMO, national grocery retailer

Your growth strategy doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, the folks above would argue it shouldn't be complicated. Thinking about retention, increasing share-of-wallet, and attracting new customers through word-of-mouth – spread by delighted customers counts. Big time.

Unless and until you have nailed the fundamentals, you might want to have another look at any more complex strategies you are putting together.