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3 Digital Strategy Imperatives for the Future of Retail Marketing

By Sarah Cascone

Questions about the future of retail seem inescapable today. Will it be bright or bleak? Dominated by robots and magic mirrors? Or is the human touch making a comeback?

A lot of people like to talk about how retail is undergoing a change unlike any we’ve ever seen before thanks to Amazon and digital. But the truth is, the story of how Amazon has disrupted retail isn’t new. In fact, we’ve seen it play out before with the rise of iconic retailers like Sears, Piggly Wiggly and QVC.

Today, the star of the story is different, but everything else — a new player who disrupts the status quo by changing consumer expectations and raising the bar for other retailers — is largely the same. Except for one major thing — we now live in a digital world.

So we’ve seen this story play out before, and we know there can be a happy ending for the retailers who get it right, but this time around, “getting it right” looks a lot different. Succeeding in the future of retail requires a strong digital strategy, and delivering on that imperative gives a lot of retailers pause.

The Marketing Leader’s Playbook: Building a Digital Strategy to Weather the Future of Retail

Building a strong digital strategy is no doubt important for thriving in the future of retail, whatever that may end up looking like, so what can you do now to lay the right foundation?

This question was one of many we discussed with the retail leaders who joined us at the 2017 Bluecore Explore Summit, and three efforts in particular surfaced time and again:

1) Do everything with the customer in mind

Terms like customer-centric and customer-first have become something of a mantra today, but for as often as those terms get thrown around, truly thinking about what customers want (not to mention making marketing relevant to those wants, or as New York Times Best-Selling Author Jay Baer puts it, making marketing so relevant that customers will pay for it) doesn’t happen as much as we’d expect.

Instead, retailers and their marketers are focused on revenue. It makes sense, businesses need to bring in sales to make money, but maybe it’s time to flip that model.

The retailers that are at the top their game today ask one simple question: How can we delight our customers? From there, they take on new digital efforts like personalization with the goal of making their customers happy. As a result, they manage to build fiercely loyal customers, and sales not only follow, but become stronger because of that.

2) Run at the speed of your customers

Everyone and everything moves quickly today, and your business needs to keep up with that pace. That’s true for every business, but in the retail industry especially, keeping up with the speed of culture is a must.

Running at the speed of your customers is critical because a good product at a good price isn’t enough anymore. The customer experience is now a key part of that equation too.

When it comes to speed, you do need to be careful — especially big box retailers who must answer to shareholders — but that doesn’t mean you have to (or can) sacrifice experimentation. At the end of the day, as Cristina Ceresoli of NRF pointed out to us:

“If you’re wrong, and you’re the first one to be wrong, who cares? But if you’re always the last one to be right, you don’t matter.”

3) Re-brand technology as a competitive advantage

Far too often, retailers view technology as a cost center — as plumbing that’s necessary to keep the lights on but that doesn’t add any incremental value to the business. It’s time to change that.

With all of the capabilities available today, technology can be a true competitive advantage, and everyone from the executive team on down needs to view it that way.

The key to making this happen? Make data the loudest voice in the room. That’s because data wields a lot of power. It can make any case stronger, help “educate up” and even demonstrate the “what’s in it for me” to help marketers form new partnerships within the business. Remember: When numbers talk, people pay attention.

Putting It All Together

Of course having a strong digital strategy will only get you so far on its own. To truly thrive in the future of retail, you also need the right team to bring that strategy to life. And when it comes to shaping your retail marketing team, positivity and passion should count for a lot.

Intrigued? Check out our fireside chat with Cristina Ceresoli, SVP of Retail Strategy at NRF, during which she shares her thoughts about the future of retail, including evolving your digital strategy, uncovering new opportunities and building a rockstar marketing team.

Sarah Cascone

Sarah Cascone

With 10+ years of marketing experience, Sarah has a passion for connecting the human aspect of marketing to business growth. As the Director of Marketing at Bluecore, Sarah’s mission lies in the strategic development of brand awareness to influence company revenue goals and support go-to-market initiatives, with a specific focus on Events, PR, Advocacy, and Analyst Relations.