This is a transcript of an interview with Meredith Thompson, Chief Marketing Officer at Gliebers Dresses.
Meredith Thompson (Chief Merchandising Officer): Kevin, let me ask you a question."
Kevin: "Ok, go ahead."
Meredith Thompson: "How do I fit into the internet era?"
Kevin: "What do you mean?"
Meredith Thompson: "Assume we're purchased by a private equity firm, and all of us lose our jobs, as we think is likely to happen. How do I get a job with an internet company?"
Kevin: "Why do you have to get a job with an internet company?"
Meredith Thompson: "It seems like catalog companies are struggling. If I want to have a future, I have to work at an internet company. And I don't think I'm qualified to do that."
Kevin: "Why do you think you aren't qualified to work at an internet company?"
Meredith Thompson: "Earlier this week, I attended the SocialMerch conference in Atlanta. It's the premiere merchandising analysis conference for the online merchandising community. I was absolutely lost."
Kevin: "How so?"
Meredith Thompson: "Let me give you an example. I attended a session called 'Maximizing Merchandising Conversion Rates'. The speaker said that if less than 10% of your website visitors want to purchase your merchandise, then you are a huge failure. And everybody took notes, and they had a big screen with all kinds of comments from folks on Twitter, and they all agreed with the speaker."
Kevin: "Is it possible that everybody was wrong?"
Meredith Thompson: "I doubt it. I mean everybody agreed with the speaker. And our conversion rate at Gliebers Dresses is a lot less than 10%."
Kevin: "Might I suggest that your speaker hasn't worked with a thousand different companies, so s/he doesn't know what an acceptable conversion rate should be? And is it possible that all of the comments on Twitter were from people who also haven't worked with a thousand different companies and don't truly know what the right answer is?"
Meredith Thompson: "Yeah, sure, I guess. The speaker said you have to maximize conversion on non-branded keywords. The speakers said you have to maximize conversion on branded keywords. The speaker said you have to have a mobile marketing strategy. The speaker said you have to offer cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. The speaker said you have to use banner advertising remarketing programs. The speaker said you have to be completely integrated with the social media community in order to survive. The speaker said you have to have deep relationships with customers via mobile marketing, or you'll be finished. The speaker said you have to have big orange call-to-action buttons or conversion rates will decline by 8%."
Kevin: "What did the speaker say about finding great merchandise?"
Meredith Thompson: "Well ... nothing."
Meredith Thompson: "What do you mean?"
Kevin: "Think about the words of the speaker. Not once, according to your comments, did the speaker suggest that a customer purchases something because of the merchandise you have to offer. The reality is that is the ONLY reason the customer purchases from you ... because you have merchandise that meets or exceeds a customer need. Now, there's a lot of truth in what the speaker is saying. But if you don't have great merchandise, none of that other stuff matters. And guess what your job is?"
Meredith Thompson: "No, but the speaker kept talking about satisfying the needs of the MODERN customer. The speaker mentioned how important it is to maximize conversion rate. I have no idea how to do that. Does the modern customer even care about merchandise?"
Kevin: "It sounds like the speaker specializes in social and mobile and website conversion. So those are the things that the speaker is an expert in. Again, you are a merchant. You have to be an expert at getting great merchandise, right?"
Meredith Thompson: "Maybe."
Kevin: "Did the speaker ever work as a Director or Vice President at a non-vendor-based company?"
Meredith Thompson: "Well, no. The speaker has been with an online marketing firm since 2002. But the speaker has a really popular Twitter presence."
Meredith Thompson: "The speaker said that almost all pieces of direct mail are thrown out, that direct mail is dead. The speaker quoted a statistic from Woodside Research suggesting that the Post Office will be bankrupt in 2019."
Kevin: "You'll be retired in 2019, assuming that Woodside Research is so smart that they can accurately predict things that will happen nine years from now. And if Woodside Research is that smart, then they should have been able to predict the economic collapse. Go find a white paper that shows that Woodside Research was so prescient that they were able to identify when the Great Recession was coming and then warned every one of their clients about impending doom and then protected every one of their clients from the collapse of our economy. Until you find that document, listen to their predictions with a grain of salt."
Meredith Thompson: "But until then, I may have to find a job. How do I compete against these 30 year olds who know how modern customers behave? I mean, these people have all of these statistics to prove how customers perform. I don't have any statistics to counter them. They claim to know how to make a campaign spread virally. I try to avoid anything viral, I don't want to get sick!"
Kevin: "You are assuming that these 30 year olds know exactly how customers behave. What they truly know is how customers "click". They don't know why customers do anything. YOU know WHAT customers buy. That gives you a significant advantage over every single 30 year old preaching to you about how you have to market to modern customers. Anybody can become an expert at analyzing clicks, there's free software to allow you to become an expert. Almost nobody has the instinct to know what merchandise a customer will want to buy nine months before the season begins, knows how to source the merchandise, and knows how to present it to the audience in a way that causes her to buy something that she never even knew she wanted to buy."
Meredith Thompson: "Still, this whole internet thing feels really uncomfortable."
Kevin: "Play to your strengths. Every time a 30 year old internet whiz with five years of social media experience blasts you for not pursuing a valid social media or mobile strategy, ask the 30 year old internet whiz to predict for you what merchandise is most likely to sell nine months from now. Stand up for yourself!"
Meredith Thompson: "Ok Kevin, thanks for the encouragement."