The retail growth machine. Owned by Omnicom Group, Zimmerman Advertising is the leader in building national retail brands. With offices throughout the country and a diverse range of clients in every retail sector, Zimmerman has grown to be one of the top advertising agencies in the USA.
There’s a bit of madness in retail marketers’ chase for numerical fortification: A desire to build arguments as impenetrable as Kevlar and as logical as an anal-retentive Vulcan. This breakneck chase for certainty presumes that with an infinite data set, sharper algorithms, and predicative analytics, we can totally crack consumer behavior and drive retail KPIs with zero marketing slippage. Ha!
Here’s something else that’s true… given an infinite amount of time, a monkey will actually type Hamlet.
So here is what monkeys and data scientists have in common: They’re both theoretically right, but getting it all the way wrong.
The fact is, beyond available data, beyond the 20 petabytes of data Google crunches each day, or Amazon’s 1B gig algorithm model, the way consumers not just think, but feel about an experience, whether on their phone or on the shelf in front of them, can defy measurement.
Consider that sales data might easily tell you that 26% of sauce buyers choose Ragu, 21% choose Prego, 15% choose Newman’s Own, 12% choose Bertolli, and 26% choose other. But shopping lists don’t name actual brands, they just say sauce and 74% of consumers make their decisions within 3 feet of the shelf. Doesn’t this mean we can modify behavior at the moment of truth by making a connection that defies data? And ultimately, aren’t we always forgetting that any data set solely reflects what was, not what could be?
Respectfully, it is true that with enough data and planning, retailers can focus on the wide side of the barn, as it were, knowing that the eccentricities of some consumers will indeed mean slippage in the form of a few wildlings whose behavior flies in the face of the even predicative analytics. The masses, though, will follow the predicative analytics model and in theory the retailer wins. But there’s a chasm between winning incrementally and winning big, and the later comes not just when the data says “this will work”, but when the surprise and delight of the offering galvanizes the consumer in a way that perhaps we didn’t see coming, yet we were able to goose with intention. From breakthrough people (TV stars like Joy of Painting’s Bob Ross or Donald Trump) to breakthrough retail (silly bands or slime), phenomenons happen outside the realm of the calculable. In the case of slime alone, sleepy Elmer’s glue was purchased by Newell brands in 2015 for $600M after decades of flat sales. A single, slimy quarter later, they were up 9% on the kind of trend spike that would have caught Nostradamus asleep at the wheel #ohthatslime.
Amazon’s legendary algorithms know that someone who loves the movie Bohemian Rhapsody would likely respond if they were served an interstitial for a Muse greatest hits download. But are algorithms factoring in the decay rate of burnout on a movie typically viewed more than once and today is the number one choice of airline travelers watching in-flight movies? (Monkeys now need in-flight ethnographies).
Then think about true meaning of retail surprise and delight, which remains the quintessentially underused retail weapon, and often where what is and what could be pass like ships in the night. Conventional analytics would suggest that inflatable floats belong in the pool department. Yet imagine Joe and Jane shopping at a mega box like Sam’s Club: They’re picking up some basic household commodities, when suddenly they turn a corner and come face to a ginormous inflatable pink flamingo large enough to hold ten people. It’s huge, it’s shocking, and the fact that it almost makes no sense where it’s placed in the store makes it even more compelling. Analysts don’t respond well with things that make no sense. But consumers do. They smile. They’re engaged. The entire Sam’s Club Brand is elevated beyond commodity and membership, and into the realm of fun “destination brand.” And all engineered through more of a serendipity coefficient, and less through retail dogma.
The Chinese proverb says, “when men speak of the future, the Gods laugh.” I get the feeling the biggest yucks are reserved for analysts who don’t just speak, but lean on data the way a drunk leans on a light post… not for illumination, but for support. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of data and predictive analytics alike. We’ve built retail empires with both. Moreover, I feel a whole lot better when my big idea bets are hedged with data. But if you’re not also considering X factors, the improbably and profitable unknowns, then you’re just monkeying around.
CES has ended and the trends emerging are clear. 5G is coming, the question is, what does that actually mean? Looking at AT&T, things don’t look promising. TV’s got the standard gimmick upgrades to help drive down the price of last year’s models to the realm of actually being affordable. The main headliners were Google and Amazon, who are now joined by Apple, in the arms race to be the virtual assistant of the future. Who can get their intelligence embedded in as many consumer devices as possible?
Amazon started the war and, with Google, the two are now truly going head to head to win our homes. They are each finding every opportunity to practically give away smart speakers to every consumer. Google has made the claim that they will have 1 Billion Google Assistant enabled devices in the market by the end of this month.
For the past several years, since the launch of the first Amazon Echo, the robust use of virtual assistants has been for the early adopters. While many consumers have a smart speaker in their house today, and after the holiday this number has increased substantially, the usage is primarily for listening to music and making shopping lists. This hardly constitutes what anyone expects out of a virtual assistant.
The Trojan horse has been brought into the home, 2019 will be the year the true power comes out.
More importantly, as this becomes the new way consumers expect to interact, brands need to evolve. My 5-year-old knows how to ask, “Hey Google, turn on the TV” and he expects the TV to turn on. As the technology evolves and becomes more intelligent, consumers will begin to use these virtual assistants as a normal part of their lives. The ability for a brand to personalize the customer experience and mine the data around consumer habits to increase basket and create new transaction opportunities is limitless. A consumer will have curated products and shopping options, if your brand isn’t controlling the conversation, you won’t be in the consideration set.
This is the future for consumer interactions, and it is coming to life this year. If a brand does not have a roadmap for building out Alexa Skills, Google Actions, and their own virtual assistant; it may already be too late.
With the exponential rate of technology change, building out your brand’s virtual assistant today is like building out your e-commerce presence in the early 2000’s. The only difference is, brands had about 10 years to get that right, we now have a fraction of that time.
This is it. The retail event to end them all. When the big, the small, and even the incompetent retailer can literally stumble into their biggest day of the year just by opening their doors. And so begins Lost opportunity with a capital L.
Black Friday (BF) is the second busiest brick and mortar-shopping day of the year. Now, a four-day rite of shopping passage that’s forecast to generate $90.14 Billion (Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined), which is up a jaw-dropping $30.57 billion from 2017.
This particular November, the official opening of retail hunting season opens on Friday, November 23rd, and once again it’ll be a showdown of the big guns while smaller retailers are left shooting blanks. That’s because Black Friday has now become about the no-box big box, meaning Amazon, and little boxes, specifically phones: Yet more than clicking, the numbers say 100+ million souls will be walking into a store on Black Friday, which also kicks off the busiest six weeks of the year for retailers as 30% of annual retail sales occur between Black Friday and Christmas.
BUT WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BIG IDEAS?
Stumbling around in the dark, grasping for heart-stopping, adrenaline-flowing ideas but coming up empty is an epidemic: Best Buy’s big idea was their November 8th start. Yawn. Target had daily deals on kids’ items, also in November. Hmm. Walmart’s breakthrough idea was to offer its best online deals starting 11/21. Really?
C’mon now, it’s time to get creative, get aggressive… get Faustian if you have to, but start tapping that right brain or be left with the scraps or merely expected returns, not epic ones.
• Where are the multi-channel retailers who are smartly taking shoppers off the market early: Register online weeks before and on BF enjoy early admission to the brick and mortar; even deeper discounts; How about an up-close parking spot? This is about more than expanding the holiday window, this is about leveraging the multi-channel mechanism.
• Where is the Petco or PetSmart special discount on black collars and leashes (most popular color BTW) or special deals for Black Labs? Bounce those buyers back for the real pet owner crack… food.
• Given the day before Black Friday is the busiest travel day of the year, where is the rental car ½ price bounce back on all black vehicles, even better as a surprise and delight when you drop the vehicle off?
• Where are the non-traditional retailers who know that while women make 80%+ of all household purchases, dad has Friday off and football is nowhere to be found? And where is the network that gives him Friday football (seems like a fine day to start a traditionally clad in black Oakland Raiders game to drive ad $$)? Where is the consumer electronics store that gets him his new 70″ TV the day before Thanksgiving football instead of the day after? Where is the furniture retailer that gives him free Wi-Fi and coffee (with opt-in registration) and a hangout zone while his wife melts down her credit card?
• Where are the niche retailers leveraging viral ideas on black products to compensate for their lack of media weight: Car dealers offering deep discounts on black cars? Home Depot highlighting Black and Decker? Any restaurant selling Black Angus burgers? Anyone who can release a special edition black anything? Imagine if Apple released a one-off black iPod for a one-day-only BF promotion. They could charge more and still cause a riot, a.k.a. the Double Retail Whammy.
• Where are the BF apps that allow you to build shopping lists, find the best deals on the products you’re looking for, or become the arbiter of BF alerts and deals? Bing has offered a free BF mapping program, but that’s only scratching the surface.
• Where is the innovative layaway program that was about the only real leverage Sears and Kmart had for years and is still a viable sub-prime customer strategy? (A plan that also allows for a Five Black Friday payoff cycle, leveraging the five Fridays leading up to Christmas day).
• Where is the financing plan that puts a blackout on interest?
• Where are the big online ideas? “Black Page” specials? Countdown clocks to banner and pop up deals? “Private sale” registered sites? Opt-in email alerts? Instead of giving every fan a coupon code, make the influencers meet you half-way and then give them a bigger payoff #tippingpoint.
A CALL TO IDEAS
In this pound-of-flesh retail environment, where retailers thirst for traffic is akin to a Bedouin lost in Sahara, at some point they must understand that when the going gets cluttered, the tough gets creative. They spark people’s imaginations and play to their emotions with more than 101 tactics.
This is your day retailers. Your Superbowl. Your coronation. $5 billion dollars will be spent in 24 hours and while you may be a good operator, that’s not enough, not nearly. And while you’re bound to have a good day, are you really up for telling your stakeholders that “good” is your benchmark?
So, if you survive this year, next year plan early and run to your agency, go to your idea gurus, or look within. But see the light… only bright new ideas will shine through the blackout and while many will stumble, you can drive more green all day long with a big idea.
Advertising Week is going on right now in NYC. It is the annual conference to address things that critically face the industry. There are speakers on “How to Have More Sass,” “Bionic Mannequins” and even “How to Be a Pirate.” Wait. What? Don’t get me wrong, this sounds really interesting, but nothing like what the industry really looks like from my desk or what the real responsibility is of advertising every week.
The Zimmerman view of advertising is much simpler in that it has to do two things: 1) Get more people to the retail brand to shop and 2) Pull more people through the retail brand to buy. Everything else is simply a means to the end. Doing so takes extreme focus and constitution. It takes hiring business-first type A’s. It takes developing technology that is custom built for retail – like social media that drives acquisition/monetization and a hyper–local media platform that allows us to activate at individual rooftop level.
This thinking is why we align with so many retailers and businesses that need to generate transactions. They have to fight harder because they are under siege every day. Online clobbers big boxes. Big boxes smacking specialty. Specialty eats mom & pop. As the fight gets tougher, we challenge agencies to get tougher as well.
Hungry and impatient clients can win with the right plan and agency. Five Below has become the fastest growing retailer with stock that has grown from $35 to $135 in one year, Nissan sells more cars and trucks than it ever has, McDonald’s is taking back more market share, Michaels Arts and Crafts leads their sector, Hair Cuttery has massive growth plans and the list goes on. And that is why we have grown into a multi-billion dollar agency obsessed with making the most of every quarter, every month and every single week.
If you wish your agency thought like this, just reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to show you what advertising is really like.
The Cambridge Analytica (CA) controversy may have retreated from the headlines, and Mark Zuckerberg may be (temporarily) through with testifying before Congress – but the dust still hasn’t settled on what this episode has exposed.
Combine the CA controversy with the new, sweeping European Union rules relating to data protection – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – and it’s clear we may be at the dawn of a new era when it comes to customer data.
Brands need to reconsider utilizing 3rd party data and, instead, turn greater attention to collecting data on their own customers and using that data to create better personalized experiences. A recent study found that 87% of online shoppers are comfortable sharing personal information with brands in exchange for a better online shopping experience.
There it is – consumers are asking for better experiences with their personal information at-the-ready for trade. Are you ready to deliver?
For a moment, lets focus on millennials – the generation that will soon have the most purchase power in the US. 63% of millennials are willing to share data with companies in exchange for more personalized offers and experiences. These consumers have demonstrated a willingness to trade their personal information for better experiences (e.g. speed-to-purchase experiences that allow for a 1-2 touch buying process).
Here’s the rub – similar studies have found that 33% of consumers felt that brands don’t care enough about personalizing their experience.
What is going on out there? In an era where “brick & mortar” retailers are struggling to drive foot traffic and sales are being lost to Amazon – many brands are missing an opportunity. Not capitalizing on the data customers want to give leads to less engaging content and experiences compounding an already negative climate.
That’s why we’re working with all our clients to identify opportunities to evolve their approach to collecting their own prospect and customer data; equally important, we are working to do so in an open, transparent manner. We are positioning our clients to be able to deliver robust content and experiences – underpinned by customer data – that lead to higher conversions online, and off.
So here is some free advice…get focused on collecting more customer data (right now) and delivering better content and experiences. Your business depends on it.
“When the fringes get more and more crowded, people turn toward the middle. Having mastered difference, the truly cool attempt to master sameness.”
In 2001, “The Merchants of Cool,” a PBS documentary, raised the question of whether marketers were reflecting teens’ desires or manufacturing new desires. While many marketers were confident that they curate what consumers eat, wear, and want, Douglas Rushkoff, a New York columnist, thinks otherwise. “The paradox of ‘cool hunting’ is that it kills what it finds,” he says, “Trendsetters move on to the next trend the second their hidden gems went mainstream.”
Normcore, a term first coined in 2014, is the latest episode of this on-going hide-and-seek between brands and consumers. It is an anti-trend that rebels against the oversaturated consumer culture through embracing sameness. Normcore encourages people to defy social (media) expectation of uniqueness and instead find freedom by being nothing special.
In 2018, in tandem with other socioeconomic changes — Gen-Z becoming increasingly conservative, millennials regressing back to their Americana identities — normcore is making a huge comeback in all aspects of consumer culture. In fashion, we saw the rise of “dadcore,” an evolved form of normcore that is defined by bleached-out jeans and defiantly ugly “dad shoes”; in IEO, the most popular product of 2017 was not avocado toast but a traditional American burger; in radio, Nielsen reported that classic rock was the fastest growing radio format for a second year. “Personality starts where brands end.” So, as they predicted.
For many marketers, it’s hard not to feel confused by this trend. It seems the more they curate consumer taste on a granular level, the further they are pushing consumers away to a brandless attitude. How can brands respond to consumers’ increasingly paradoxical desires? Here are three rules of engagement for retailers who want to attract a new generation of normcore consumers:
Uniqueness is dead; long live local roots
Normcore is about escaping the illusion of uniqueness and embracing one’s roots. For retailers, this translates to connecting with consumers on an authentic, local level. Amazon continues to expand in surprising ways, yet many local businesses still managed to grow faster than ever, thanks to a shop-local mentality.
Shifting from algorithm-generated categorization to human-created mood curation
Consumers tolerate E-commerce companies harvesting user data to recommend genres of “unique” products, but what they truly long for is an “algorithm-free” retail experience that is nuanced and meaningful. Spotify has capitalized on this trend and gained significant traffic by incorporating human music tastemakers to create genre-nonspecific, mood-based playlists.
Forget personality marketing; think situational marketing
The new social currency is “the freedom to be with anyone.” Consumers expect brands to help them handle whatever life throws at them, and early adopters such as Balenciaga and Patagonia have responded by creating “provocatively bland” products that open up disparate social circles to users.
Normcore is a cultural shift led by a new generation. Unlike their internet-less predecessors, Gen-Z grew up with instant access to every form of cultural subversion, and how they went mainstream. Therefore, they took ownership in the least original, yet most basic things, things that are human, local, and functional. Brands that can hack this paradox will be the winner in this new consumer landscape.
2017 was a nail-biting year for many retailers. With traffic patterns on a downward slope, many brands doubled down and went back to the “come home to mama” channel they knew they could rely on to drive results fast and cheap…Email.
Email traffic for the top four retailers Amazon, Walmart, Costco & Home Depot alone saw a 41% increase in volume in Q4 2017 when compared to Q4 2016, according to Mintel data. Much of this growth looks to be driven by Amazon’s significant membership spike during this same period which is likely why, despite the massive uptick in volume, engagement remained relatively flat with only a slight 0.68% decrease in read rate. Paired with a 1.47% lift in email delivery, overall, a pretty good story.
Other retailers were not so lucky. The pressure to close out comps and traffic to a near acceptable level resulted in another kind of massive uptick in email sending that, after close examination, mimics the type of “yell and sell” pattern one might see on the EKG of a sick patient at the hands of marketers misusing a defibrillator. Email engagement fell in retail and considering that the category suffered a total traffic dip of -7% in 2017, desperation clearly got the better of many. Did retailers sell some stuff with all this sending? Yes. Did retailers win over hearts and minds with email? Probably not. Does it matter if sales were still up by +3.5%? Yes, and here’s why.
When brands put themselves before the consumer with brute force like they did in Q4 2017, a line gets drawn in the sand fairly quickly and if you are not already ahead of the curve, you are going to miss out. From a deliverability standpoint, ISP’s will penalize you and from a consumer standpoint, your relentless campaigns quickly become irrelevant and ultimately doomed to failure by neglect, unsubscribe or that ultimate mark of brand distrust…banished to the junk folder.
If you are reading this post and thinking….”It’s 2018, why are we talking about email?!” Please put those flashbacks of Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail” to the back of your conscience where they belong and listen closely: email has come a long way, everyone uses it and it’s not going anywhere. Programmatic, Chatbots and Voice Search may be dominating boardroom discussion right now but one thing is clear, email is still considered the most effective digital marketing channel, it’s still growing and it’s time to take the goldmine that is 1st party permission based data to the next level. Why? Because, at Z we take the long view and as retail experts we know that optimizing CLV (consumer lifetime value) is how you win. Batch and blast may feel like a win but ultimately, it’s how you lose.
In giving a retailer their email address, consumers demand something in return and it’s much more than a coupon. With Siri and Alexa at our beck and call, consumers demand very similar things in email as on other channels – predominately that brands know: who they are, what they want and when they want it. Capisce!? Simply put, more and more brands are now owning the entire customer journey on this channel and consumers are rewarding them for their relevancy, respect and intelligence in doing so. Sound like a lot of work to earn your brand the attention it deserves? It is, but one thing is clear…less is more when it comes to email. You will not have sustained success in the short or long term without doing a much better job when it comes to automated and segmented sends.
If you recognize your email program needs to evolve, here is what I recommend. First, take one full week off from sending; think of it as a detox for you and your subscribers. And instead work with your team through these simple steps that can make an impact right away and steer your efforts in the right direction.
1. Focus Your People-Hours on optimizing the small percentage of email that actually generates revenue vs. your list-wide deployments.
2. Think Mobile Forward. Make sure your email catches the thumb where 47% of opens happen…on mobile. Test your emails on iPhone and Android (via Native email and Gmail apps).
3. Automate One Piece at a Time. Focus on those most critical phases of your lifecycle and map out what the journey should look like for those audiences. Don’t set and forget your deployments, refine and optimize. Make sure your technology can support your objectives.
4. Keep Content Short and Sweet. If your content is more Blog vs. Pinterest post, reconsider your strategy. Email attention is short these days.
5. Add Real-Time AI to your most critical lifecycle stage to start (hint: think live maps, live polls, predictive purchase and weather forecasts).
6. Re-think your Email Calendar to follow more natural themes that fit into your consumer’s life vs. your promotional calendar.
Lets hope that 2018 will be a more successful year for email evolution – specifically the kind of high impact, low volume sending that brands like Starbucks and Wayfair have championed. We will be keeping a close eye on our inboxes and hope you will be too.
Retail is no place for recklessness. Or making decisions without insight. Or pretending the market is something it’s not. Or thinking only in terms of tomorrow, not the day after. But above all, it’s no place for the fearful. Those who lead by expending all their energy on being risk adverse. Because if you’re afraid to fail, you stand to fail a lot more than you bargained for.
The fact is, failure is merely part of optimization. It starts by letting go. We hold on the tenets of our business for dear life, even as the landscape changes hourly. We tout our brand pillars that support a structure designed and built for a completely different consideration and competition set. And we attach nostalgic meaning to our brand that actually means less and less as people’s habits and lifestyles change at the speed of Alexa.
Yet, as with all things, some brands don’t just persevere at warp speed, they thrive. There’s a reason brands like the NFL, Amazon, and Uber evolve above and beyond their genius or the clarity of their mission. They embrace the virtual amnesia required to fail and change. Ruthlessly. Endlessly. They know in their marrow that the only thing worse than changing and failing, is failing to change.
Amazon started as an e-tailer, and they’re still an e-tailer. But consider their wins and failures in the name of evolution: There’s Prime, which went from 58MM members to 80MM in 18 months, but there’s also the Fire phone, which led to a $170MM write down. When Bezos says, “I’ve made billions of dollars of failures,” he’s not dwelling on mistakes, he’s moved on.
While Major League Baseball holds to their traditions like duct tape, the NFL constantly enacts bold off-season rule changes and the result is all but five teams now worth $2 billion. Five years ago, only one team was even close (how ‘bout them ‘Boys!).
Apple has always stood for technology innovation and design, but despite the Newton, for one, what was once a company defined by RAD programming is today focused on retail planograms. Failure. Reset. Change. Growth.
Uber started as a ride share but delivered a Big Mac to my office today. Tomorrow, Uber’s innovation team may “turn the wheel” a little too hard, lose a little traction and skid into a ditch. But the day after, they’ll be rolling again, just a little smarter, re-accelerating.
If you’re a retailer, despite what you think, your KPI isn’t comp or traffic, conversion or average check. It’s who gives a shit. And to the degree you believe that “you can’t sell a person who isn’t listening,” then you had better be relevant and that means aggressively changing with the market, even if failure is the price of admission.
So, get your head around the fact that the enemies of change are dogma and smelling a few too many roses. You may think you’re a legacy brand, but it’s not just Compaq and RadioShack that went down in flames, it was Rome. Legacy doesn’t equal relevance. You may think that you’ve got a handle on your competition, but that’s the hubris of not realizing that your competition is likely your own satisfaction or stagnation. You may avoid failure like it’s gas station sushi, but you cannot learn from your mistakes if you don’t make any. (Although trust me on the sushi).
Sure, we all drink a lot of Kool-Aid along our journey, which becomes dead weight. Forget everything you think you know. Every phoenix rises from ashes, which is something you gotta love.