Customer obsession is key to retail marketing ROI

I saw an interesting panel this week at the Experian Digital Summit 2012 in Las Vegas. Bryon Colby, SVP, Digital Commerce at Cornerstone Brands (think Frontgate, Garnet Hill, etc.) and Amy Choyne, SVP/CMO at Kenneth Cole, talked about how their companies strive to enchant and delight customers. Bill Tancer, Experian Marketing Services’ Head of Global Research, moderated the discussion.

Bryon noted what we all already know but need to keep in mind every day: the customers are in control and the best way to improve sales is to improve engagement. He suggested a focus on building brand advocates – they’ve used a “surprise and delight” strategy to convert detractors by initiating a personal contact via Twitter and other means. He said that one-to-one engagement can not only turn around a bad situation but also create a lifetime fan.

Amy noted that while it’s important to speak to the customers, you have to stick to the brand’s core values when you do. Make sure your messages and images stay close to your core. Your programs can and should be influenced by the data you mine and receive, but you never want the data to completely rule the marketing strategy or message. She said it’s a fine balance between data insights and the art of brand marketing. Bryon stressed the importance of not becoming “data myopic” and both suggested spending time in the stores to really understand how the customers are behaving.

Both panelists thought it important to mostly keep their company’s brands separate. In other words, it’s tempting to jump into cross-marketing programs across the sister brands, but you must be very careful to preserve that 1:1 connection each brand has with its own customers; that connection is kind of sacred.

As for social media, both panelists stressed the need to have an authentic voice in social channels. They also pointed out that you can easily get distracted by the next shiny new social object, but you simply can’t be everywhere. You have to think about which social channels you really want to be in (i.e., where your customers are), plus when you want to jump into a conversation and how you sound when you do.

In the end, if you map everything you do back to the customer you will have a greater measure of success. Both have also seen benefit in breaking down silos that exist within the full marketing organization so that there is greater sharing of information, strategies, tactics and successes.