Every year I spend the last quarter meeting with C-level retailers to get their outlook on the direction of the industry, understand their pain points, the things they’re excited about, and anything else they care to share about their processes and operations.
Just five or ten years ago, the more traditional of these retailers might have claimed that what was keeping them up at night were things like, “We don’t have the operational infrastructure we need to support our emerging ecommerce model” or “We’re getting killed online by a digital-first d2c brand that just entered our space.”
This year, those same retailers—who are now fully operational in the D2C space—cited more nuanced concerns, such as “new products aren’t performing the way we’d predicted” and “unexpected brands are expanding into our categories and winning market share.”
But an especially forward-looking answer came from the CMO of an Internet Retailer Top 100 footwear retail company, who said he’s working on “shifting marketing’s focus away from channel performance and toward audience performance.” His theory is that by prioritizing how different audiences are behaving, engaging or performing, marketing becomes 100% focused on the consumer, rather than the channel. This not only benefits consumer experience; it improves business outcomes.
While he isn’t the only retailer thinking along these lines–it’s on the radar of a small but growing group–a focus on how audiences are behaving, engaging and performing would place marketing’s focus nearly 100% on the consumer, rather than the channel. This would not only benefit the customer experience; it would improve business outcomes as a result.
But what would that actually look like? Here are three shifts retailers would need to make in order to make audience performance their number one measurement.
1. Incentivize audience performance with more collaborative team structures and updated compensation models
In retail, as in many industries, marketers are desperate to break down channel silos so that information flows freely across teams. But because organizations are focused on channel performance, there really hasn’t been a fool-proof model–or incentive–for fully merging channel teams into a larger, more integrated unit.
Compensating teams by the performance of their channel can unintentionally create undesired behaviors, such as a channel owner prioritizing their revenue, instead of focusing on driving retention/acquisition for the digital business with a high-value audience type. It also perpetuates bad habits like promoting products that don’t need help or over-discounting to achieve channel sales goals.
When audience performance emerges as a dominant metric, mixed teams, comprised of different marketing disciplines, can all working together in pursuit of creating optimal experiences for audiences across channels.
Rather than compensating teams by the performance of their channel, they would instead compensated them by the performance of their respective audience targets.
2. Organizations would need to democratize their data
For teams to move to a strategy 100% focused on creating high-value audience behaviors, they would need to be able to easily access and work with audience data. Audience data has historically been controlled by central CRM or Data teams, however, making the CMO dependent on the CIO. Marketing’s shift in priorities would inevitably usher in a greater trend of democratizing insights throughout organizations.
Here’s the clincher: Plenty of retail marketers have already wholeheartedly bought into the idea of free-flowing data. But eliminating data siloes organization-wide is more than simply getting executive buy-in and navigating corporate red tape. It requires introducing technology that can store and interpret data with very specific use cases in mind, and then quickly delivering actionable insights to teams in the moment.
3. Workflow would have to change so that marketers can act–or react–quickly
There’s no point in equipping marketers with real-time audience data and insights if they aren’t empowered to act on them in the moment. Retailers will next need to invest in workflows that can be used by non-technical users to act on insights in the moment, rather than being handcuffed to a calendar they set up months ago.
For instance, if a footwear marketer learns that a pair of the brand’s shoes are being worn by Lady Gaga as she’s performing live at the Super Bowl, that marketer needs to be able to quickly isolate the customers who have engaged with the shoe in the past—or are predicted to have an affinity toward them, in order to capitalize on the timely exposure. If it takes a marketer a couple of weeks to test or react to this type of in-the-moment insight, it will be too late for the modern consumer. Getting the data and acting on it quickly is only possible if the data about audiences lives within the same platform where communications to those audiences are managed.
Making audiences central to digital retail strategies isn’t necessarily a new idea. But with updates in technology and changes to workflow, it’s now actually becoming an attainable reality that will benefit consumers’ experiences and make it easier for marketing teams to do their jobs easier. Brands will benefit financially as a result.
Bluecore is a provider of email marketing technology and services.