1. COMMUNICATE, TELL STORIES, BUILD TEAMS
There exists among many in business at present a focus, if not a fixation, on digital disruption, technological change and the rapid evolution of Artificial Intelligence.
It is important that we do not get ahead of ourselves and the marketplace.
Too often customers and clients are left behind.
When attention drifts from consumers to competitors and marketplace forces, momentum is lost; so too is relevance, competitive advantage and sustainability.
Moreover, substantial and significant changes in consumer and client perceptions, buying preferences and patterns, demand attention, respect and response.
Alignment and balance between all external factors are important, to ensure that gaps do not appear.
That is when leakages in custom, revenue, satisfaction, repeat and referral business occur.
Holding on to what one has got, while leading the way with creativity and innovation is both challenging and demanding.
It is important that customers and clients are informed, involved and supported on the pathway to greater efficiency, effectiveness and fulfilment.
Relationships, while often tenuous, have never been more important. So get involved – and that involves communications, storytelling and team building.
2. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE ESSENTIALS: ENGAGEMENT. EMPOWERMENT. ELATION.
The path to exceptional customer experiences is adorned with digital marketing, social media, on-line, augmented reality and technological enticements. Simple, interactive and tempting.
Physical presences have been upgraded, redesigned, refined, extended and complemented with alluring ambiences.
BEWARE THE SHORTFALL
In far too many instances, that is the extent of the positive experience…. – short of excellence in engagement and fulfilment of customer expectations, aspirations and ideals.
A lack of interpersonal relationship skills, training, delegation, authority, encouragement and celebrations leaves many customers and clients underwhelmed.
As a consequence, satisfaction, repeat and referral business rates flounder and progressively decline.
It is sad that many entities invest in reaching out and connecting with existing, prospective and past customers, but what’s lacking is engagement.
Time, money and resources are needed to develop and maintain the foundations of enthusiasm, pride in the brand, understanding, empathy and commitment to customer needs, wants, aspirations and expectations.
The tide is turning. Migration to digital and social media, automation and interactive on-line interface are being checked, in many instances, reversed, with greater integration and cohesion between mass media channels and personal interactions being achieved to the delight of customers and clients.
Better comprehension of the nature, benefits, advantages and outcomes of omni-channel and multi-channel marketing is resulting in competitive advantage, accelerated growth and enhanced customer loyalty.
In contemporary commerce, winning extends beyond transactions, and one-off sales to increased and appropriately modulated communication via all available channels.
In-store and on-line experiences for better-performing outlets and networks are seamless, integrated and complementary.
SOME THINGS CLICK
Interesting. The findings of an extended series of longitudinal attitudinal studies have revealed that on-line sales increase substantially as a consequence of enjoyable in-store and personal experiences.
Positive personal expectations are created, and when delivered, expedite revisits and repeats, in-person and on-line.
In short, a positive in-store customer experience can (and increasingly does) become a pre-emptive causal (or contributing) factor to increased on-line transactions.
Conversely, closure of bricks ‘n’ mortar stores has a substantial negative impact on local and on-line sales for the business or network involved.
Internal company and network silos are, in the main, counter-productive and compromise performance standards.
Self-interested territorialism is a natural consequence.
With the modern digital era, and in pursuit of great customer experiences, alignment, between physical and on-line presence, is imperative.
The aligned whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.
More importantly, the negative multiplier effect of independence and non-alignment is substantial…. – and often unrecognised.
3. AESTHETICS, A PRIORITISED SENSE
A key primary cause of consumer interest, contact, sampling, consumption and repeat business is aesthetics.
Store and premise upgrades are compellingly attractive lures.
So too, enhancements to packaging.
When a business, product or team member looks good, consumers feel good, and are inclined to visit more often, stay longer, buy more and refer more readily.
The finer points of aesthetics involve colour, texture, lighting, movement and space. Collectively, they influence and determine moods, perceptions and buying patterns.
Style and fashion change rapidly: relevance and contemporary presentations are forever current and aesthetics currency. “Tired”, aged and obsolete aesthetics register and reflect directly on the business, and its business prospects.
Company and product life-cycles have been, and continue to be, concertinaed. Repackaging, renewing and re-energising premises, presentations, packages and people are fast becoming imperatives.
The ubiquitous nature of information and ongoing access to visuals has conditioned customers’ and clients’ expectations, which are progressively enhanced.
Increasingly, kerbside appeal has and is being overtaken by screen appeal, as more and more existing, prospective and past clients undertake their search routine on-line.
First impressions count.
That is why aesthetics is a prioritised sense.
4. DIGITAL – INCREASES REAL COSTS, REDUCES LOYALTY
Digital marketing incurs little direct cost, be it initial or on-going.
Financial outlays based on clicks can be rationalised on exposure counts and developing brand recognition.
Acceptance of those measures is increasingly being qualified.
Given that an estimated 92% of brand name exposures on social media are limited to 2 seconds or less, it is difficult to comprehend and accept that the storytelling related to and about the brand name is effective, comprehensive and retentive.
In the contemporary marketplace, some things are givens.
All groupings are now recognised as NOW consumers, instant gratification is a goal, punctuality a virtue, and responsiveness an advantage.
Not surprisingly, on-line purchases tend to be transactional.
Consumption, satisfaction and value determinations are instant.
Accordingly, for many, re-entry to the buying cycle starts at zero. Brand recognition, preference, insistence, loyalty and ambassadorships are inclined to be marginal and isolated. An expensive, time-consuming reality.
Hence, low direct costs shelter the burden some recurring costs imposed during the process of each buying cycle/transaction.
Little wonder reassessments are being made about the value and cost of the established mass media – television, radio, print and outdoor.
5. CASH IS NOT HYGIENIC
Cash is fast becoming untouchable, for some. In the first half of 2017 cash was ranked third (27%) in the rankings of payment systems most used by consumers, behind credit cards (52%) and debit cards (31%).
Those percentages highlight that consumers do utilise multiple payment systems.
The fall-off in cash payments in the decade since 2007 is significant and substantial – from 69%. Many current purchases are to the value of $20.00 or less.
The profile and nature of payments in general, cash in particular, are evolving rapidly.
The use of, and preference for credit and debit cards is strongly influenced by the mitigation of theft by customers and staff members.
Accelerating the trend is the small but growing number of retail food outlets, noticeably in food halls and at markets, that are limiting payments to credit and debit cards.
In such instances, health is the primary driving force.
In the daily lives of Australians, and consumers generally, currency is the most common and prolific carrier of bacteria and germs, exceeding telephone handsets – which rank second.
Some food retailers are sensitive to the need to avoid mixing the handling of food and currency. It provides a differing perspective on the term, healthy sales.
Several of our high-profile banks will be reassured to know that this trend will not be a process or channel for money laundering.
6. BEWARE “PRODUCT RECALL”
Consumers are becoming increasingly expectant, demanding and in many instances, belligerent.
Overall, they have little tolerance for poor standards, non-responsive staff members and inadequate products, services and applications.
Facts, relationships and past practices have little currency. The key driving force are the beliefs, often held dearly, by consumers and clients. In short, they believe consumer rights reign supreme, and seek to insist on it.
Not surprisingly, rejections and product returns (recalls) are increasing.
They can be, and are, expensive components in the cost of doing business.
Getting it right first time, every time, and concluding clear, unqualified agreements with customers on quality, value and price are increasingly important if one seeks to optimise sales, margins, profits, customer satisfaction and, to the extent possible, loyalty.
Agreements are founded on, and evolve from a meeting of minds.
Getting that right is imperative to achieve and maximise customer satisfaction, and to minimise product recalls.
7. BRAND AGNOSTICS – UNBELIEVABLE
Alas, increasing numbers of consumers and clients are becoming brand agnostic.
True believers, those who are driven to buy and repurchase on faith, are becoming less evident.
Some will contend that the scenario is a consequence of brand democratisation, in which consumers now have greater access to information and channels, regarding brands, products and service.
That is true in part.
More disturbing is the commoditisation of products, services, applications, pricing structures, quality and value measures.
DIFFERENTIATE OR DIE
Exacerbating, and accelerating the trend is the mass migration to social and digital marketing.
With some 92% of exposures to on-line advertising being for 2 seconds or less, there is little scope to project, share and detail the brand story.
Not surprisingly, brand recognition is falling, in some instances precipitously.
CHANGE THE FOCUS
Marketing has always been distinguished from the selling discipline in a number of aspects, not the least of which is time.
Effective marketing of brands takes time.
There are few short-cuts.
Selling can, and often does, satisfy the desire for instant gratification.
That is, increase cash-flows – now.
Investment in time, money, resources and advertising is essential for the effective marketing of brands.
Greater revenue streams, more stable performances and enhanced repeat and loyal business are consequences.
These must be reinforced and underwritten by dynamism in marketing initiatives, including the integration (rather than bland domination) of social and digital marketing.
A fine balance is required, largely based on judgment, belief and conclusion.
In the short-term, look for volatility, promiscuous consumers and heightened price sensitivity.
Over the long-term, the winners will be those who recognise the innate value, advantages, benefits and rewards of distinctive, well profiled dynamic brands.
Agnostics do not believe, but can be effectively converted by astute brand marketing.
8. CLUB MEMBERSHIP RETAILING
Who would have believed it?
The recent public statement by Costco that it is accelerating its schedule of new store openings shows of a broadening acceptance of membership retailing by Australian consumers.
With its arrival in Australia Amazon Prime will provide a compatible membership-based set of advantages and benefits, including free deliveries.
Local consumers have traditionally resisted, and rejected the concept and practice of, paying arrival fees to gain access to lower prices, or for free and fast home delivery.
The business model is not for everyone.
However, increasing sales show strong support and use by a growing segment of consumers.
These recent announcements by Costco and Amazon Prime correspond with global research findings that conclude price now eclipses brand names in importance as the purchasing criteria typically applied by consumers.
That is not good news for established retailers, supermarkets, and for fashion boutiques in particular.
There are also significant implications for shopping centres and retail precincts.
These criteria are now fundamental: the manner, convenience, punctuality and cost of delivering products, services and applications, be it in bulk, on-line, with home delivery or by annual membership fee, is now an integral element of the value-package.
A new competitive business landscape is evolving.
Change is afoot for those who will survive and thrive.
9. UNDERSTANDING NUANCES
In communication, nuances matter. Comprehension and understanding are enhanced by recognition and analysis of, and response to, many of the nuances inherent in the delivery of those messages conveyed.
That paragraph alone highlights a deficiency of big data, particularly when it is analysed by those in a physically centralised and remote head-office.
Local idiosyncrasies, and relevance, are typically unique, different and unique; they can be exclusively embraced by and applied to local marketplaces, consumer groups and individuals.
For example, in new-home construction, references to environmentally compatible by consumers means differences in colours, textures, finishes and materials in different states and localities throughout Australia.
Put simply, a lack of understanding can, and inevitably does, leads to a perception of non-caring and insensitivity.
Centralising data retrieval and collation should, ideally, be complemented with delegated authority for locals to analyse and respond to communication.
As the digital economy evolves, the mantra should be: Look global, act local.
Effectiveness of the philosophy will be a true measure of leadership, in which storytelling, empathy, compassion, caring and understanding is cohesive, embracing and have direct and positive impacts on brands, loyalty, commitment and morale.
10. GET ON WITH IT
You’re on your own.
Well, for business leaders, that’s close to reality.
We can’t, and shouldn’t, rely on government, regulators and many commerce associations.
Politicians seeking, then winning, office often do not honour their electoral promises.
It is understandable and reasonable for many in business to question whether Prime Ministers, Premiers, Treasurers and Ministers have any honour.
The recent Western Australia state election was a timely and, potentially for large numbers of entities, a costly case study.
Promises of no increases in taxes were broken at the first budget.
Increased imposts in payroll and gold taxes/levies were referred by the Premier and Treasurer as being temporary and short term.
Interestingly, their time span is longer than the four-year term of an elected government.
Can one reasonably conclude that the incumbent state government is temporary and short-term.
Few governments create jobs or wealth.
At best, they can facilitate both, primarily by standing back and allowing individual business leaders, entities and networks to get on with the job.
The history of those in business, waiting for elected members to take the lead is littered with broken promises, shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations.
“Attribution Theory” is alive and well in the political spheres.
Politicians are quick to claim to be parents of business success.
Failure is an orphan.
Between election campaigns business leaders and owners need to recognise the prevailing, often government-applied, parameters and optimise their productivity and competitive advantages.
CONFORMITY – OR BUST
On balance, the charter for most regulators is to monitor, administer and enforce compliance and conformity.
In short, to maintain and sustain the status quo.
In the prevailing economy that offers little hope or scope for individual growth – unless one is prepared to ‘push the envelope’, to be innovative, creative and disruptive.
Staying tight, ‘holding the line’ and conforming with the prevailing status quo will inevitably lead to ‘going down with the ship’.
Many sectors are drowning in regulations, which contribute little to striving for and enhancing increased productivity, velocity and volume.
The exceptions, those who are thriving – not surviving – are those who dare to be different.
They are typically recognisable because they are pilloried for operating outside the norm, the established practices.
Wearing the disdain of established competitors comes with the territory.
It is a cost to be borne, one that does not impinge on profits, market acceptance or relevance.
Globally, their identities are established, recognised and supported.
They include UBER, Amazon and Facebook.
Within Australia they are equally successful, profiled and are strikingly non-competitive (that is, they dominate their sector and targeted audiences).
In each instance, discounting, sales and bargains are not the norm.
Lower prices, consistently applied, are.
A different, unique, and, often, exclusive business model has been developed and is employed.
Look no further than the relative performances of traditional fashion retailers and those who have embraced the ideals, principles and advantages of “fast fashion”: reported profit, success and failure rates are striking.
Fast fashion is rewriting business models.
It is not a case of making a fast buck.
Sustainability will evolve.
The late Sir James McCusker, founder of Town & Country Building Society, now part of ANZ Bank, was quoted in the book “The Jindalee Factor – Insights on Australian Entrepreneurs”:
“Rules are for guidance, not obedience.”
Rule setting should be assigned equal importance to goal setting.
On reflection, winners usually write the rules …- and history.
The alternative is ill-defined, and certainly not self-determined, as: one complies and conforms.
Professional trade and industry associations are under pressure.
Membership losses are common.
Value is often difficult to articulate and to quantify.
Astute advocacy by association executives and office-bearers in the political corridors of power can be difficult to relate, or identify as a causal factor, towards increases in revenue, profits and market share.
The profiles of associations’ elected leaders, and the individual entities they represent can be insightful.
Leading, large and established businesses often find advantage and benefit in maintaining the status quo, rationalising such with the term in the common good.
Start-ups, interlopers and disruptors find the implicit glass ceilings unappealing and inappropriate.
Little wonder some choose to go it alone, retain their independence, seek (and often secure) a seat at the table with the political power elite and enjoy media acceptance and visibility, much to the annoyance of peers.
Association executives walk a narrow plank.
Satisfying everyone is beyond the capacity of mortals.
However, they need to make a statement – clear, concise, telling, and refreshingly honest.
Changes in personnel and culture, rather than by-laws, provide a window of opportunity.
Being prepared to confront, challenge and, yes, offend, can be laudable.
That approach is most likely to impact positively on the cash-flows and profitability of existing and prospective members – immediately and continuously.
They are the key performance indicators (KPI) being implicitly applied by association members.
In a marketplace and economy constrained by the intrusion of politicians with questionable measures of honour, regulators who revel in efficiency, profit-sapping procedures and some association executives who see their primary role to be advocacy, with little regard for improving the lot of individual, or group members, now is the time for business leaders, owners and managers to get on with it and go it alone.
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker.