Monday, April 30, 2012

Similarity is Suicide

While department store marketing sounds like all glitz and glamor, marketing managers in this field know that it is often very difficult to distinguish one store from another. So when the direct competition is selling the same merchandise at the same price, how do you set yourself apart? What can you do to distinguish your store? While Nordstrom has proven (and set the bar high) that customer service is a highly effective technique in customer retention, what else can be added to the marketing mix to generate maximum results? As a student in Northwestern University’s Integrative Marketing & Communications program, I have learned first hand the value of data, and even better, making the most out of data you already have.

While quantitative data has a strong role in marketing, department stores can also benefit greatly from the use of qualitative data. This is data that is often readily accessible and can help determine everything from marketing communications, in-store promotions, and influence what items the store should stock.  Qualitative data is great for large retail establishments like department stores, because these personal insights help with personal selling.  To find out more about the benefits of qualitative and social media data and how it can help your company, click here.

So where is this data hiding? The first source is from store issued credit cards. This tells you a tremendous amount about what people are purchasing, if the item is on sale, their average spend, the frequency they shop at your store, and more. Combining this information with the scanner data, which helps track inventory, provides a very robust set of data on what people are buying and thus what brands should be promoted. It also helps see at the individual level which brands your customers are interested in and allows you to tailor marketing communications pertaining to those specific brands directly to the customer. Segmenting your customers so that they only receive relevant advertisements and promotions forges a strong bond with the customer and tells them you understand them. Next, use tools like Radian6 or NetBase to see what people are saying about your company on social media sites and across the web. You may learn important customer insights that were not known to staff or find a new way to brand your company and products. The Internet has essentially become a large focus group with people freely talking about your company, so take advantage of that! Next read customer reviews. While it’s often tough for marketers to hear, people are more trusting of each other then they are of you. So read the reviews, see what they are saying, and if a product or brand you are carrying only has negative things to say, pull it from the store. Lastly, listen to your sales people, because they are the ones listening to your customer. They are the eyes and ears of the company, the ones who see and hear what works and what doesn’t. They are an invaluable resource. Treat them as such.

Combining all of these data sources is a great way to build targeted, tailored and customized campaigns to your customers, and ensures that you will constantly have the items they are looking for. Managing your customers and merchandise will become significantly easier and sales should improve. So merge together all of your consumer data into one robust database and get a solid look at who your customers are. Next profile and segment the data into unique segments. Then use this information to send targeted information and marketing communications based on their purchase patterns and product needs. And lastly, watch your department store grow.

Alison Solway is a graduate student at Northwestern University studying Integrated Marketing and Communications, and specializing in public relations, communications, shopper marketing, and direct and interactive marketing. Alison will be graduating in December 2012 and can be reached on her twitter handle at @alisolway.