Alien Invasions and Other Reasons To Reinvent Your Retailer Communication Strategy

The disintermediation of content marketing and all forms of communication is in full swing, particularly in retail. That means that “going to the source” has never been easier.

This is also true for brand marketers and solution providers articulating their value to retailers, yet many forfeit the opportunity without even realizing it.

First, the good news...

Why It’s Never Been Easier, and More Rewarding, to “Go to the Source”

  1. The Retail World is Flat – The hierarchical structures that have long defined retail organizations are collapsing. Thanks to advances in technology and data analytics, retailers no longer need layers of headcount, and most are determined to speed up decision-making anyway. That means easier access to top decision-makers for those who work with retailers.
  2. Missions are Melding – Retailers may be cutting layers, but they are also creating new positions right and left. The phrase “In the newly-created role of…” is becoming retailers’ favorite mantra as they break down organizational silos, hone their content capabilities, and synergize functional areas like marketing and IT or store operations and e-commerce. That means more people can influence or pull the trigger on what you offer, and from multiple perspectives (content, data, marketing, products, solutions and more).
  3. Aliens are Invading – Retailers are hiring from outside the retail field in record numbers. They're poaching talent from digital agencies, tech startups and e-commerce platforms in order to accelerate the acquisition and integration of new technologies. I tell my clients that they are going to start seeing some “aliens” at the table, but the great news is, they will bring a fresh perspective and openness to innovation. There has never been a better time to trot out new ideas and tell a fresh story, so why default to the old one?

Four Communication Breakdowns (and Solutions)

Despite these positive shifts, I find that many brand marketers and retail solution providers are still lapsing into old-school communication habits. When they do, one of three communication breakdowns often follows.

  1. Lost in Translation – As the organizational sands continue to shift at retailer HQ, roles that used to have clout in some cases no longer do. Hoping that your tried-and-true retailer contacts will sell your concepts to actual decision-makers is a recipe for message dilution, misinterpretation and a muted, “meh” version of your value. Don’t waste your resources. Hold out for a face-to-face with real decision-makers.
  2. The "Slow No" – So many companies leave meetings open-ended and hope for the best. As a result, they start getting used to a dynamic I call the “slow no”. They leave a meeting giving high fives to their teammates then...crickets. They're being told “no” slowwwwwwly, sometimes over the course of a year or more. I hear it all the time, “We were ‘this close’” then there was a buyer change, or the strategy shifted or a new executive came in and changed everything or (pick your excuse). These days, when you let things drag out and rely on wishful thinking, you're asking for it. There are just too many variables conspiring against you as every day passes. You must have a clear process, that you control, and walk your prospects through it. Every meeting ends with an outcome and clear next steps.
  3. Left Behind – I’m shocked by the number of companies that still automatically leave behind print-outs of Power Points after meetings with retailers, even without request (gasp!). Presentations are meant to be presented, and leaving behind disembodied slides has the effect of immediately devaluing your content and your presence (…and you showed up why?). More importantly, in over a decade of consulting, I’ve yet to see a single example of a “leave behind” deck selling in a high-volume program after the presenters headed to the airport. Creating high-quality, customized content has never been easier. If you want to leave something behind, by all means take the time to create a differentiated, value-added piece that is intended for that purpose – one that supplements rather than repeats your presentation.
  4. Caught in the Revolving Door – The retail world is flat, aliens are coming, new roles are proliferating AND just to keep things interesting, retailer team members are constantly cycling in and out of positions. Retail’s revolving door started spinning at lower levels a few years ago, now it’s hitting the executive suite. As a result, many companies are finding themselves several degrees of separation away from their original advocates. The guy or gal who originally championed your cause, and who may have even pulled the trigger for you, may have long since moved on, and many fresh faces have since appeared and left. When was the last time you presented your full value story (not just product or solution updates) to your make-or-break contacts? Do they know who you are and why they are even doing business with you? It’s time for a refresh.

Bottom line: the gatekeepers of retail past no longer stand in your way (or won’t for long). Step up. Go direct. Make it count.

Ready to work on your story? Carol Spieckerman conducts platform positioning workshops around the world that arm brand marketers, agencies and retail solution providers with scalable, repeatable tools and tactics for pursuing high-volume programs.