think tank

It is very clear today that both media consumption patterns and shopping channels are evolving and changing in real time. What was “traditional” just a few years ago is now outdated. As marketers, it is imperative we stay ahead of the curve of these rapid changes to stay relevant today and in the future. To do so, we must not only be students of our own marketplace, we need to learn from others — most notably, grocery product marketers and retailers. It is within this category that lessons are being learned each and every day about the manner and method of engaging with customers and building loyalty and affinity.

Never before has the impact of these changing dynamics impacted an industry more than in the grocery retail sector. We can learn a great deal from the way consumable market players are dealing with this change in shopping methods and patterns. While we may think of ourselves as selling higher end fashion, cosmetics and fragrances; our same customers are juggling family and busy work calendars to purchase groceries and other related items more cost-effectively and efficiently. We cannot expect that these customers will not demand at some point the same level of flexibility and service from the fashion industry. There is a huge opportunity for the fashion industry market leaders to take bold steps leveraging the lessons learned here.

Here are just a few areas to consider when observing the methods being utilized in the consumer packaged goods and grocery retail arena.

Direct-to-Consumer Is In

CPG providers have understood that today’s consumer may frequent supermarkets and online shopping portals to procure goods for the home, but they also understand that today’s consumer also wants to have a direct relationship with brands. Consumers yearn for relevant communication with brands so that they can build trust and confidence with the brand’s ability to serve their needs in a quality way.

Much of this marketing is coming through media that is direct, specifically e-mail and social media. Consumers want you to provide insights on trends, new products and services. They want you to be visible in the communities that they live in and spend time within during their everyday life. As long as you make a contribution to their understanding that is valuable, none of this communication is seen as a nuisance. You are the best “voice” to speak about your products directly to the customer. You can no longer depend on the “channel” to do your selling alone.

Get to Know Your Customer

CPG marketers are doing all they can to learn about the likes and dislikes of their customers. They spend time observing their behavior to understand how they can serve them better. They understand that today’s consumer doesn’t have the time to work hard to buy their product. They are doing all they can to make it easy for the consumer to purchase their products. The more they understand the behavioral profile of their customer, the better job they will do in serving those needs and deliver quality products and services. Stitch Fix is a perfect example of serving the customer need in the fashion industry.

Grocery retail is stepping up in all sorts of ways — meal kit packaging, delivery options, replenishment subscription orders, etc. Do you know your customer’s preferences? What are you doing to make it easy to shop with you?

Service Is Essential

The battle for consumer affinity and loyalty begins at the service level. Within shopper marketing; price used to be a key factor in determining what was purchased or not. There was a time that the entire industry pivoted on couponing. Today’s consumer makes decisions based on the level of service and choice being provided. Today’s consumer is willing to pay a premium for quality services. They want to work with providers that anticipate their needs and provide a service level that reduces the stress they have in procuring products and services.

What are you doing today to serve your customers better? How are you leveraging personal data (do you have any?) to anticipate the needs and/or preferences of your customers before they ask? Are you prompting them and/or alerting them to new products and services that they might be interested in purchasing?

Build Relationships and Loyalty

Consumers today desire meaningful relationships. They will be loyal and become evangelical about products, services and providers when you treat them as your customer and not another stockkeeping unit. You must connect with your customers on a personal level. Do all you can to capture their e-mail address and build a true real-time data warehouse filled with information about their personal preferences and buying activity.

Marketers are abandoning “vanilla, one size fits all” messaging. Your interaction with your customer needs to be dynamic and conversational. Personal shoppers have been the rage within fashion retailers for years. Today’s shopper wants to have that sort of connection with you at every touch point. The brands that do the best job of building those personal relationships will win.

Appreciation Sells

We must make customer appreciation much more than a “boiler plate” thank you card in the box or a script read by a store clerk. Customers can tell the difference between a sincere “thank you” and the alternative. Your level of appreciation for your customers will be measured by your ability to serve the needs efficiently and effectively. The reward in doing so is to build a base of appreciative fans who will spread the good news about the quality of their experience with your company. Spend time perfecting the sincerity of your appreciation.

To stay relevant and viable in the months and years ahead, the fashion industry like so many in our retailing economy, must embrace real-time change. Change is good. There is much to be learned from the ways in which grocery marketers are engaging with the same customers that are purchasing fashion and other products. No need to recreate the wheel. We all must be students.

 Jim Fosina is founder and chief executive officer of Fosina Marketing Group.

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