There’s nothing broader and more convoluted than a consumer’s path to purchase right now. Trying to influence and measure it is complex and changing quickly as brands and retailers try new technology and innovative marketing campaigns. Some of the biggest retailers in the world are setting precedent for consumer expectations and those who are afraid to take risks are falling behind. At the Path to Purchase Expo, the usual topics of technology, data, and personalization were all talked about. But, as brands and retailers catch up with one another in those areas, those standing out are realizing that technology won’t save them, digital isn’t the end-all-be-all, and now that these other components are table stakes, differentiation is reached through deeper purpose.
Technology Will Not Save You
Setting the tone for the conference, Alyssa Raine from Walgreens reminded everyone that while we’re exploring the best technological advances to meet consumer needs, the tech alone won’t resonate without some tie into empathy for a consumer’s own experience. Whether training teammates to be beauty consultants with expertise in serving cancer patients or using their app to make doctor visits virtual, Walgreens hasn’t gotten lost in flashy tech for the sake of having it. They’ve emphasized empathy in accordance with the technology. Walgreens isn’t alone, though. In a later session, I found Hannaford and Response Lab’s discussion of how they manage multiple technology partners interesting. Rather than keeping different technological partners in their own silos, Hannaford sets clarity for their partners in the roles they play within the larger consumer offering. This nod to relationship building among providers takes into account the understanding that while the technology is important, so are the people behind it. Helping them work together collaboratively, in turn, leads to a better human experience overall. In the end, as Brandon Witcher from Forrester said, to be customer-obsessed, you have to be data-focused but it can’t stop there. Culture, organization, and metrics all have to be aligned as well.
Channel Variety Matters
Digital is important. We all know that. Yet, when expanding it and having it drive marketing functions, there are still multiple other channels to consider, especially ones that have traditionally worked. The bulk of most retailer sales are still coming through brick & mortar, yet I haven’t seen many retailers present their newest in-store signage campaigns. That is, until I saw Marcy Brewington from CVS outline the re-invigoration of their in-store signage in partnership with Arc Worldwide. For CVS, they’re really considering where in the store their brand should play versus where they give space to their brand partners for messaging. CVS knows they own the customer relationship in the pharmacy area for example. They are the authority there and are building in-store signage accordingly. In other areas of the store, brand messaging may help a customer navigate the shelf differently. Their 3Ps for signage – Position (Where?), People (Who?), Purpose (What do we want them to do?) are guidelines for CVS as they:
- establish role and intent for communications elements to allow for a clear customer journey
- understand and have POV on the brand voice that is articulated at retail
- establish guidelines and standards for execution to ensure an easy and stress-free shoppable environment
Indifference Isn’t an Option
When it comes down to it, with brands and retailers all chasing the same data, channels, and customers, the way companies are winning is by exhibiting their acknowledgment of a larger purpose. Whether CVS using unedited images and real customers in photos or Hershey’s changing their iconic chocolate bar for the first time in 125 years to help kids feel more comfortable making friends, brands are showing up in authentic ways to connect with consumers. The expo’s day two opening keynote, Shabnam Mogharabi of Soul Pancake stated it simply: Indifference isn’t an option. This statement doesn’t mean it’s all touchy-feely, though. Coca-Cola is looking at a new metric called Return on Retailer Relationship that takes into account how their work supports that specific retailer and their needs. Witcher tied operationalizing data to the generation of great customer experience. Components like this still play a part, even when the brand or retailer is showing up in an authentic and purposeful way.
The great opportunities in marketing right now are how to mesh the highly operational component of the business as it relates to technology partners, data collection, and message segmentation with the empathy and authenticity customers are coming to require. While the way forward is complex, the mingling of the tactics with the insights is what makes this business so interesting and brings out the creativity in all of us.