In Part 1, I quoted Max Ehrmann’s poem Desiderata, where he counseled us to “Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.” In the article I focused on the relentless flow of misinformation, and even disinformation, which retailers must deal with in the age of universal digital media – advising them to be cautious about believing and acting upon what they see in the news.
However, retailers work in the public domain. So, they must not only navigate the incoming news wisely; they also need to use media skillfully as a channel to their customers.
The ultra-competitive world of retail means that retailers need effective communication strategies to maximise positive exposure and mitigate any negativity that creates bad headlines.
Drawing again on wisdom from Desiderata, in Part 2 I focus on how retailers can successfully utilise modern media.
Integrity must be present in all facets of your business, including your communications, as credibility extends well beyond the quality of your merchandise. Leaving moral and ethical reasons aside, it just doesn’t pay to distort the truth. Once discovered, it can leave your brand permanently tarnished. The internet in particular will never let you forget such lapses.
To ensure a sustainable business, never promote what you don’t have and make sure that you can deliver on your promises. Guard your reputation as an important asset.
This simple process encapsulates an effective business model where accurate information flow fuels continued growth:
1. Make sure you understand what your customers want.
2. If you can deliver, make it your mission to deliver well.
3. If you cannot deliver, you may need to change your business model.
4. Once you’ve mastered Point 2, tell your prospective and current customers about it, using the channels that best reach your audience.
5. Make this process cyclical, regularly revisit Point 1 and if necessary start again.
Once you have your truth to speak (i.e. mastered Point 2 above), how can you speak quietly and still be heard above the din and clamour?
In my experience, you need a two pronged approach.
Firstly, consciously use your shop fronts to broadcast your truth. Whether you have brick and mortar stores, a web shop or both – invest in aesthetically appealing and inviting frontage designed to attract your audience. Chain retailers have a massive advantage here – a network of stores, acting like walk-in billboards in prime locations, visible to millions and instantly available to fulfil the purchase impulse when it strikes.
The second path relies on paid advertising. This used to be easy, however the tsunami of marketing messages these days means that people switch off or become cynical. Americans compare it to being forced to drink from a fire hose.
To be effective in today’s marketing environment, your advertising requires a different, indirect approach. Many retailers already propagate original and though-provoking content to reach their audience. Blogging, video and social media have become useful cogs in the marketing machine because they help people find you organically – the exact opposite to traditional advertising.
However, just like traditional channels, the content and social media marketing landscape has become cluttered and seemingly impenetrable – unless you know how to leverage the power of third-party endorsements.
What could be more impactful than having people with ready-made credibility speak your truth for you? Marketers call these people ‘influencers’, as they have the ear of your audience who already admire them, follow them on social media and try to emulate them.
They don’t have to be ‘official’ celebrities. Be savvy and find influencers with a strong niche following, on say Instagram, and reward them for incorporating your products in the broadcast of their daily lives. Then use your own digital channels to further propagate the message.
This approach bypasses a lot of the noise and has a chance of getting straight to the heart of your audience. Back it up with perfect delivery, and you’ll have people talking about you for all the right reasons.
On occasions, being so visible in the public space can work against a retailer – when the media pounces and you make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Handling such situations again requires truth, only this time it calls for self-reflection. If the media reaction has a case, acknowledge the issue, quickly fix it and then announce the correction. If the claims have no foundation, then use the channels at your disposal to respond emphatically – rally your influencers and supporters.
In some scenarios “the best defense is a good offense”, and a well-planned and honest response can also go a long way to help neutralise the negative attention.
Retail success can’t be found standing still. By all means enjoy your achievements, but don’t allow your business to wallow in them and become complacent. If your results show a loss of momentum, make sure you go back to Point 1 to reconnect with your customers and repeat the cycle, so that you can change course as required.
If you persevere with staying connected with your customers, making it your mission to deliver on your promises and speaking your truth with skill, you have a very good chance to prevail.