Posts Tagged ‘Marketing’

Flora Delaney Featured in June Entrepreneur Magazine

Saturday, June 20th, 2015
Image credit: Jan Vašek |

Image credit: Jan Vašek |

When writer Michael Bellicove wanted to help his readers understand whether a high tech loyalty system is right for their business, he turned to Flora Delaney. His article helped Entrepreneur magazine readers learn how to be successful and what foundational pieces need to be in place before investing in expensive loyalty programs.

When your business needs levelheaded advice, contact Delaney Consulting. We create clarity.

How Small Businesses Can Listen to Customers

Monday, May 18th, 2015

listeningThere is a wonderful quote that “the plural of anecdote is not data.” Too often retailer and other small business owners get snared into believing that a story or two that rises from the hundreds of customer encounters every day is a full and accurate reflection of customer feedback about their stores or business.

Net Promoter Scores (see our earlier post: Net Promoter – the Most Common Retail Listening Tool) prevent that but they are just the beginning to really understand the Voice of the Customer. To objectively understand how you are perceived in the marketplace, find out:

  • What do your best customers love about you?
  • What most frustrates your unsatisfied (past) customers?
  • How do your customers think about you differently than your competition?

For most managers, the only way to uncover these emotionally charged questions is to hire an objective third party to uncover the answers. Focus groups and intercept surveys are the most robust methods – but also expensive. At Delaney Consulting, we administer online surveys and other methods for uncovering honest customer feedback. Because it is human nature to overreact to negatives and under-react to positives, an outside firm like ours can help a management staff accurately gauge the appropriate responses that are required to elicit the kind of customer support everyone wants. Use caution when relying on internal communication to accurately judge customer feedback. Rarely is accurate data unearthed solely through employee feedback of “what customers are saying.”

Next Post: Using Social Media to Listen to Customers

The Benefits of a Simple Yearly Promotional Calendar

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

CalendarIt is a surprising fact that most retailers and small businesses do not have an annual promotional calendar. There’s a vague sense that they may have a number of promotional offers available to customers through a previous email campaign or a bounce back coupon printed on a receipt, but very few take the time to create a twelve-month promotional plan. A well thought out and executed promotional plan has many benefits:

  • It creates a limited time offer for customers to give them a call to action. (That’s marketing speak for make a purchase.)
  • It can be the foundation of arrangements with vendors to secure better deals or terms.
  • It creates excitement in your store.
  • It provides fuel to your social media and advertising.
  • It can drive specific customer behavior that leads to larger transactions and more loyalty.

A twelve-month promotional plan is as simple as a spreadsheet with months across the top and your marketing and sales actions along the left. If this is your first foray into creating limited-time promotions, consider creating six promotions that are two months each. For each month, create a promotion that is meant to drive a specific outcome. Typical goals would include acquiring new B2B customers, acquiring new B2C customers, (See our post “The Most Basic 2-Tiered Marketing Plan for Businesses”) increasing the number of transactions, rewarding high-value customers with preferred deals, building a stronger community network or donating to charity. Some promotions may accomplish more than one goal, but typically a promotion is meant to drive one primary customer behavior.

We regularly work with businesses who begin believing that a promotional plan will be inflexible and difficult to maintain. Truth is, it provides enormous benefits to every part of the organization and can save marketing money over the year. Contact us today and let us show you how.

Consider including some promotional “safeguards” in your annual plan. These can be last-minute optional offers that you can use if needed to reach your sales goals. Examples include one day flash sale offers that you can activate the last week of the month if sales are slow. Email blasts and social media “fan only” offers can be activated in one day. Other ideas include secondary and tertiary offers targeted at a very specific segment.

An annual calendar can be a foundation to begin negotiations with key vendors. Find out what they would be willing to do to support a specific promotion. Find market niches that your vendors want to penetrate and ask for price rebates or other offers to help you target the same niche. If a vendor has a goal of increasing sales of a new product line or brand and find out what they would be willing to do (underwrite a direct mail brochure, pay for an in-store display, split the cost of a newspaper ad) to help you create a promotion featuring those cartridges.

A promotion calendar can help you strategically think about your business and how to achieve your goals. Setting up a calendar makes it easier to involve other people to help you achieve your goals. A calendar can help you track and learn what are effective and ineffective marketing investments. A calendar can help you stay focused and give your daily activity purpose.

Remember: There’s activity and there’s productivity. Don’t confuse the two.

Why Category Definition is Critical

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 2.31.25 PMFor retailers who follow a structured category management review, the first step is defining the category. The idea of defining a category each year may seem obvious – even redundant year after year.  But the truth is that customers’ tastes and habits change. A review of trends and changing customer behavior can catch newly emerging opportunities so that retailers and vendors can capitalize on new understandings.  For example, a retailer who habitually reviewed away from home beverage consumption as carbonated beverages versus bottled water could overlook the trend for aseptic packaged milk product consumption and water flavor additives.

The implications can transform a retail store depending on whether its management defines their category as DVD Movies or At-Home Entertainment.  In one situation, they are locked into optimizing the DVD category alone.  In the second, they can evaluate Gaming, Cable Television, Satellite Television, even bar ware!  Defining a category is all about drawing boundaries in the same way your customer does.  So, a customer will ask their family “Which DVD should we watch tonight?” less frequently than they will say “What shall we do tonight?”  Consider the differences in these category definitions: Glues and Paints versus Crafting Supplies, Water Fountains versus Water Features, Party Invitations versus Party Supplies. What should come to mind are the changes in product selection and merchandising in the store that will better anticipate customer needs for these categories.

Category definition needs to be grounded in customer insights that are gained from several sources: affinity purchases uncovered through data mining market basket transactions, primary customer observational research and self-reported customer behavior.  Frankly, affinity analyses can be misleading if retailers do not carry a wide enough breadth of product to be a full solution.  For example, if a limited assortment grocer did an affinity analysis on birthday cakes, it may discover that the customers also purchased ice cream, paper plates and candles.  It could, however, overlook that customers purchased the remainder of their needs (wrapping paper, cards, balloons and invitations) elsewhere.  Primary customer observational research is expensive and time consuming.  Self-reported customer behavior is notoriously inaccurate.

For most retailers, the most cost effective way to discover unbiased customer insights is to review the customer research of their top vendors along with customer research from emerging niche vendors. Niche vendors are usually the first to recognize and exploit new customer patterns. Established vendors less routinely recognize changes in behavior. Their focus on current product lines and customer segments can create blind spots.  Take, for example, the difference between established home cleaning mega-vendors and environmentally-focused cleaning vendors like Mrs. Myers and Seventh Generation in recognizing the growing demand for less chemically-intensive home cleaning products.

For retailers trying to glimpse the future and create a compelling selection that will meet the needs of future customer demand, actively sussing out customer and shopper trends through every resource available is an ongoing endeavor.

How to Manage Obsolete Inventory

Friday, February 28th, 2014

question-markFor most retailers, poor buying decisions lead to poor cash flow. Obsolete inventory ties up cash. It requires close monitoring to maintain the appropriate level of stock. Spend time to review aging inventory and make adjustments to prices to sell slow-moving products and free up the cash to purchase more attractive merchandise. When possible automate reporting so that store and shelf inventory older than 60 or 90 days are flagged in your reports so that you can take abatement steps.

For all merchants, taking unplanned markdowns is difficult.  Build a small expense budget each month called “unplanned markdowns.”  Then, when stagnant inventory seizes your cash flow, use a planned markdown strategy on the most troubled products to induce customer sales. The markdown can be offset by the “unplanned markdown” expense line and not have as devastating effect on operations because the markdowns were already built into the budget.  Consider setting aside a specific percent of sales each month that is reasonable to cover unplanned markdowns. Begin with 1-2% and adjust as you gain more insight into this troubling issue. Over time you may need to set a fluctuating percentage as inventory from back to school, end of year and holidays may need to be aggressively marked down. Tracking and managing an unplanned markdown budget should also start to reveal patterns about your buying habits and your customer’s purchasing habits. Typical patterns to look for include  a local affinity for particular colors (Be smart about purchasing items in the local school colors in paper and other supplies.)

Savvy merchants create a markdown plan for stagnant inventory.  Product that is non-seasonal and simply is not selling may go on a 25%/50%/75% markdown plan where the price changes automatically every 30 days until all of the product is eliminated in 90 days.  Seasonal products typically need a more aggressive markdown plan that may be a 50%/75% markdown completed within 45 days.   Selecting a specific back end cap or other store location for the marked down goods also creates a good merchandising practice.  First, it removes poor sellers from the most valuable sales locations in the store. Second, it creates a destination for your bargain-minded shoppers who will regularly shop the discount areas. These bargain hunters can actually accelerate the cash flow and give your store a reputation for having great prices.

A Retail Customer’s Journey

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013


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Many advertising campaigns are built around creating Awareness: Simply letting prospects know you exist and what you stand for – the brand promise. For many businesses, it is a logo, a tagline and an address repeated in as many outlets as possible (including online.) Awareness is the cost of entry to even be a part of a customer’s consideration set when they are ready to make a purchase.

Trial is usually spurred by a promotion or a convenient location.  A promotion is the reason to come into the store NOW.  Coupons, special sales, limited time offers create a sense of urgency and a call to action that get customers to open the door.  Once inside, your brand really comes alive: Greeting the customer, offering helpful advice, an environment that is clean, cheerful and intriguing, a straightforward check out and a sincere appreciation all combine to determine whether the customer will wish to repeat the shopping visit.

Repeat.  Over and over.  For customers, a satisfying first visit leads to second, third and fourth visit only if each trip is consistently appealing. For products with long purchase cycles, the time between visits can be weeks or months.  In furniture, for example, it can be years.  So that impression in the store must be long lasting.  A customer is considered to be in the “repeat” phase for as long as necessary until the customer would say that ABC Store is the ONLY store I go to for my office and printing supplies.  To keep customers repeating, retailers usually continue the promotions that have worked in the past.

A Loyal customer only considers one store to shop for their needs.  One “brand” if you will. They have had such pleasant and consistent experiences, that choosing which store to visit is no longer a decision.  Many brands get to this stage if you think about your own personal favorite brands of toothpaste, deodorant, coffee or shampoo.  Often, these personal brands are held so closely that the decision to buy them is automatic.   It is more about refilling the product rather than deciding which product to buy.  Similar relationships exist in retail when a customer builds a relationship so deep that they literally think of their grocer or bakery as “my bakery” instead of “the bakery.”

Evangelist customers are your best marketers.  They are the people who recommend your store, tell their friends about it and enthusiastically endorse your business.  Clever marketers push loyal customers to become enthusiasts by offering incentives to like us on facebook, review us on yelp or give special friends and family coupons to loyal customers to share out.

But a misstep along the line and customers move backwards along the sequence. It is why stores that were once popular wane because “the service isn’t what it used to be” or “they never have what I want in stock.”  Basic in-store fundamentals that do not meet expectations can ruin years of customer development along the path.  Retailers need to realize that the marketing journey is not just the elements outside the store that bring a customer to a store, but the entire journey.

How to Move Marketing Messages In Store

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

DCF 1.0It is difficult ensuring that marketing communication is shared with everyone so that they know what messages are happening outside the store and  how they are supposed to support those messages within their role. The wrong time for store associates to find out about online coupons or special pricing is once a customer brings it to their attention. A coordinated communication plan is as important to delivering an excellent experience to your customers as any other operational plan. If your store associates know the steps to opening, closing, and stocking the store, they also need to have an operational system to support them learning about the active marketing campaigns in the market.

Begin with a marketing board in the backroom that is updated with all advertising in the marketplace.  Include online offers and customer loyalty campaigns as well.  Clearly highlight the start and end dates for each offer.  Keep the board up to date.

Then, make sure marketing offers, prices and brand issues are included in every staff meeting.  Talk about WHY it is important – not just what to do.  Take your staff through the customer sequence in this article by first asking them if there is a brand of something that they buy automatically (cigarettes, shampoo and coffee are good places to start.)  Or ask them to recommend a place for lunch and WHY.  Explain that the evangelist customer becomes an advocate of the brand when they have gone through the journey and tie how their job supports that journey.  And talk about being the brand and living your brand promise at every staff meeting.  Every. Single. One.

Select a store associate who is in need of new challenges and delegate marketing communication to that person.  Ask them to do half of the staff meeting updates. (Do not have them do it all – or it will quickly seem like it is not important to you.)  Make them the first stop for staff questions about marketing.

Finally, to be clear about the importance of the brand experience in store, put measurements in place.  Your staff will begin to adjust and understand when you consistently share measurements that show the results of their efforts.  Begin with basics.  If you are concerned about sharing actual numbers, you can share percent change versus year ago numbers to begin.  Track the percent of transactions that included promotional items.  Measure a rolling twelve-month customer count or transaction count.  If you have the ability to segregate promotions, you can even show them the impact of specific promotions such as percent of transactions with a coupon or a loyalty program.  There is an old adage in management that what gets measured, gets done.  Show your team that the outcomes are being measured.

It is your role to coordinate the customer experience so your business can succeed.  Because the brand promise really happens “on the front line” – in every interaction between your personnel and your customers.  A brilliant advertising campaign or a highly successful online presence can be sunk if the brand promise is not evident in each store encounter.  Whether or not you choose to use this model and advice in running your business, the truth is that your customers are always on a journey. It is up to you to make sure the journey arrives at your store.