A short while ago, I began work with a small online retailer. The company was a text book example of everything it takes to succeed in today’s crowded retail space. Let’s call the company Cool-Mart. The company seemed to have the right mix of strategy and marketing; specifically, Cool-Mart:
- Focused on a very well-defined product niche.
- Cultivated a very loyal community of customers.
- Delivered best-in-class, high value products.
- Charged reasonable prices for the products sold.
- Developed a number of high visibility partnerships.
There was only one problem: Over the past few years, the company had barely grown and profits were a distant dream.
How did things get to this? The CEO was a smart, charismatic Ivy League educated individual, and the management team truly had its finger on the pulse of the industry. Just about all the major players in the industry knowing who this company was and barely a week passed without some positive mention in the industry press. Strategic marketing seemed to be part of the company’s corporate DNA.
At Cool-Mart’s founding, there was a belief that doing right by customers—and treating them as members of an extended community—would lead to financial success. This was the company’s growth strategy. Sadly, as the company came to learn, this is a necessary but insufficient requirement for success.
My first few days with Cool-Mart were some of the most challenging of my career. There was literally nothing I could think of that they hadn’t tried. By the second week, though, we came to understand the true nature of the problem.
The company strategy was fine, and its marketing tactics were best in class; the company lacked any real marketing infrastructure and decisions were based more on intuition than real data.
The company was unable to grow because it had never built the marketing infrastructure necessary to support growth.
This doesn’t mean that the company lacked a scalable ecommerce platform, CRM, or an ad management system. To the contrary, the problem was that this company had two or three of each. Marketing promotions were ad hoc and based on best guesses.
There was no central repository for information; data was spread across various systems that did not talk to one another, and it was just about impossible to make informed management decisions. Moreover, to the extent that executive insights were available, they required extensive manual intervention.
This was a classic example of needing to work smarter rather than harder—a better marketing infrastructure.
With limited resources and mounting pressure to turn around some key financial indicators, the clock was ticking. To build out the marketing infrastructure, we implemented a 5-step process designed to get fast results without draining company resources or wasting valuable time.
Step 1: Historical data tracking & ROI.
Across five different platforms, we looked at marketing and ad spend and evaluated ROI at the level of channel, campaign, product sale, and customer LTV. The results were quite interesting. Certain channels (like paid search) turned out to be ROI negative at the levels of channel, campaign, and product sales. When we evaluated the LTV of customers acquired through this channel and remarketed via email and other promotions, we found paid search to be ROI positive. We found similar results across several other channels employed by Cool-Mart.
Step 2: Customer experience improvement.
Sales conversions on the company’s web sites were lower than we thought appropriate, and Cool-Mart had two initiatives underway to improve customer experience and boost conversions. Both were expected to take six to nine months to complete. We broke down each initiative into a series of bite-sized chunks and prioritized based on estimated impact on conversion, speed, and cost. We discovered that it was relatively quick and cheap to implement a series of promotions after an order had been placed but before the “thank you” page was revealed. We found that this had a greater impact on sales performance than both of the six to nine month initiatives. The improved promotional flow prior to the thank you page took about two weeks to implement and was done in-house. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better outcome.
Step 3: Marketing automation deployment.
Over the years, Cool-Mart had compiled a pretty impressive customer list. One of the reasons it was so well known in its industry is because of the all-star customers it attracted. Sadly, the company had never implemented any kind of marketing automation. There was no blog, no premium content, no on-going promotions, and no email newsletter. The first time that Cool-Mart attempted to manually implement any sort of regular marketing outreach, approximately 90% of its email list came back with bounced or SPAM complaint messages. The list had grown stale because it had never been cultivated. We implemented a best-in-class marketing automation suite that plugged into the company’s ecommerce, CRM, and email marketing platforms. This gets us to our next point…
Step 4: Future data tracking & ROI.
Despite a relentless focus on the community, Cool-Mart saw itself as a seller of products. Once we addressed Steps 1 through 3, we were able to position ourselves as we were truly meant to be—a company that acquires customers based on amazing content and great deals—and then strategically remarkets to those customers on an ongoing basis. We cleared out the old regime of ad hoc, manual promotions and implemented a series of campaigns based on financial analyses. We determined which products, promotions, and customer segments would prove most profitable with data tracking built into our marketing platform—this meant that ROI would be a function of two to three key performance indicators (KPIs) rather than a two week odyssey of manually pulling and compiling data across various platforms.
Step 5: (Re)launch of marketing efforts.
Once we had the right marketing infrastructure in place, we (re)launched marketing efforts and created a “set it and forget it” set of campaigns. To be sure, Cool-Mart looks at the numbers every day and develops innovative and valuable promotional campaigns, but the strategy, infrastructure, and ROI are all built into the fabric of how they now go to market.
All too often, companies believe that growth is a function of selling more products each day. This may be how one measures growth, but not how it’s achieved. Growth comes when a company understands how best to meet the needs of its customers and then takes a measured, programmatic approach to engaging those customers (and prospects) in order to maximize customer LTV. This requires not only the right marketing strategy, but the right marketing infrastructure. Sadly, too few companies appreciate this until it’s too late.
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