How do we create teams to support Marketing at Retail projects that become winning case studies rather than road kill? Probably the area from which we can learn the most is the ad world's experience with the internet medium. Retail media, including digital signage, is on the same path, I'm afraid. Afraid, because there are apparently many in retail who are destined to repeat the mistakes of that well-tread and body-strewn path. But for those who have learned from that experience, there's a wealth of knowledge to apply.
I’ll never forget the first major web site that my team created. The brand, a top five grocery store, had been weighing the benefits for creating a Web presence for quite some time. After no less than thirteen presentations, an exhaustive cost analysis exercise, four brainstorming sessions and a dubious $75,000 budget, we got a green light. Or so I thought…
A new, unfamiliar marketing tool pointed to risk for my clients. It wasn’t long before my team realized that if risk was involved, the modus operandi was: (a) don’t own the project and (b) ensure that you got as much control as possible without actually owning the project!
So here’s how it went down. A twelve-member Steering Committee was formed, populated by the various departments the site could “potentially serve”. This meant that I had Marketing, Advertising, Merchandising, IT, HR, Corporate Communications, Procurement, Store Planning and the oh-so-open-minded Legal team to manage. Once again, did I mention that there was no designated project owner or decision maker? Right.
Madness ensued. Three brainstorming sessions turned into seven more strategic meetings (better noted as boardroom brawls!) I could fill up this magazine with war stories, but my favorite was sorting through (12) individual piles of copy edits—400 PAGES EACH—to consolidate and try to decipher for change input. We then had to get everyone in a room to spit, claw and fight over who’s edits would ultimately win—page by page by page. I swear I still have nightmares.
“Allow people to order a birthday cake online? NO WAY!” says Merchandising. “They must come into the store and be reminded to pick up something on the way out! Who cares if there’s a screaming child riding on her leg and fifteen other things on her task list…she’s got to COME IN!”
“Set up the site to offer COUPONS?” gasps IT in pure horror. “Security, call these people out of here!”
“What?!!” Corporate Communications bellows. “Allow customers to EMAIL customer complaints? That’s what the 800 number is for…we don’t want to make it EASY for them!”
Although supposed to be cross-functional, the team was completely incapable of looking past their own departmental agendas, old school thinking and potentially complex challenges to focus on the only needs that mattered: the customer’s.
And because we had no savvy team lead empowered to look out for the health of the project, what was supposed to be a four-month project became eleven excruciating months cashing in at 200% over budget.
The end result? A boring e-brochure with no redeeming functionality whatsoever. The site was up for six months and pulled down into a complete overhaul…this time with a smart team leader. (In case you’re wondering, the Agency ate the costs and was blamed for everything.)
Anything ringing a bell here?
Nine years later, I’m reliving my past but this time working with new tools, technologies and techniques for Marketing at Retail initiatives. After having a few too many meetings witnessing clenched fists, evil-eyed stare downs, underhanded project manipulations and full-on dirty tactics to win budget/control/billings (fill in the issue here), I felt compelled to offer some advice to those that may need it.
People, the potential for building teams to “walk the walk” of customer-centricity and evolve shopping as we know it is thrilling! If we can get past the barriers that are too often holding us back…one of the biggest being the agendas and attitudes of the people behind the projects. And by people, I mean everyone. Internal teams are indeed battling, but there are more than a few vendors out there overselling themselves or pushing their own agendas (to trusting clients I might say) adding to this headache.
So how do we create teams to support Marketing at Retail projects that become winning case studies rather than road kill? Here are some insights from a battle-scarred veteran:
Determine the project’s goal. You can’t have the right team if you don’t know what the intent of the project is. If you don’t have a clear idea of what it is you seek to accomplish, go find the experienced outside help to get you there.
Pick the right leader. To support the initiative’s goals, the leader must be seasoned, savvy, impartial to individual agendas, open minded, willing to innovate and empowered. Most importantly, make sure this person knows what they’re doing. Don’t make the mistake of letting an internal individual or outside vendor smokescreen their way into the seat unless they have the proven skills to be there. You’ll pay for it dearly in the end.
Bring together the right team. To support the strategy, what team members—inside and outside of the organization—should be involved? Think about what skill sets could take the project from status quo to paradigm bending and staff the team accordingly. Every member doesn’t need to be part of every single step, but they can certainly add huge value during key phases.
Weed out the commercial salesmen. We learned when we started working with integrated marketing teams that no one is the best at everything, but many folks are very good at a few things. Staff your team accordingly and weed out the slick “one stop shop” pitches…if they were real the industry would be littered with rock star case studies. Same goes for any team members that operate as technology resellers; insist that they legally disclose any companies that they have revenue share ties with to ensure that you’re getting recommendations based on what’s best for the project.
Commit to “rules of engagement”. This may sound trite, but it’s not. Everyone needs to be clear on how the project is going to be run, expectations for member input and what will and will not be tolerated regarding behavior.
Kick out the bad apples. If, during the course of the project a member creates serious disruption, an unwillingness to support the project’s goals or a tendency to gear the decisions to their own personal agenda, empower the leader to deal with their behavior and dismiss them if they can’t “fall in”. The leader should then determine the need for a replacement.
Determine an escalation point for bad behavior or “stalemate” decisions. Trust me, it will happen. You must have that trusted mediator for the big issues and all should remember that the field will tell you who’s right in the end—if the customer likes it, you won.
Commit to the customer. Whenever you hit an issue or decision that can’t be agreed upon, revisit the following: nothing matters other than creating a better shopping experience for the customer. I don’t care if who owns the new revenue, who pays for it, who sells it, who manages it, who signs off on creative or who benefits from the program the most…the only thing that matters is making it all happen to benefit those walking your aisles.
Everyone repeat this now: there will be no clear answers and field response is a compass to the next move. Innovation doesn’t come with a process manual. It requires hypotheses, tests and evolution. It also requires an attitude rooted in learning what works and continually evolving away from what doesn’t.
Truly, I don’t mean to be running around in a caftan with flowers in my hair preaching that we should all group bear hug and get along! I realize that what I’m saying here isn’t easy. But we all lose if we don’t get around ourselves to create new, positive customer connections. That’s where the ROI is there, for the taking.
There will be no one-size-fits all answers and what we’re marching into is a field mine of complexity. But the opportunities far outweigh the struggle—and the attitudes of those around the table will make or break every single initiative we take on.
Like it or not, every single retailer and manufacturer will belong to one of two camps in the years ahead: those who innovated and won or those who didn’t and lost. I don’t know about you, but I’m gunning for the lightening rod gang and I couldn’t be more excited…even if means a few more battle scars.
Next issue, I'll dig in on the technical lessons learned from the evolution to full measureabilty of web analytics... and how they apply to at-retail.