June 30, 2009

Dell v Acer: Multichannel and Social Media Considerations

Dell is a social media darling. The Twitterati love to talk about Dell's social media strategy, and enthusiastically call out the fact that Dell has sold $3 million of merchandise on Twitter. $3 million is a good thing!

Dell is a multichannel darling, too. They spent the past few years expanding into retail, leaving their direct-to-consumer and direct-to-business roots behind to align with Best Buy, Staples, and Wal-Mart. Direct + Retail is a long-established multichannel marketing gold standard.

Dell takes full advantage of customization and personalization, all good for the customer!

Dell is doing what leading marketing experts tell companies they should do, in order to be successful.

Then there is Acer. They don't leverage Social Media, they don't follow leading Multichannel Marketing strategies, and they don't offer the Customization that Dell offers.

So how is it that Acer is poised to pass Dell later this year for the #2 computer maker spot?

Use the comments section to explain this unique outcome.

June 29, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: A Visit With An Industry Leading Marketing Consultant

Chip Cayman greeted me with a monster smile and a booming voice.

"Well hello Kevin, how nice to finally meet you! I've heard so much about you over the years, the pleasure is all mine. Please, please, sit down. Is there anything I can get for you, an RC Cola maybe?"

Mr. Cayman looked every bit the part of a consultant that companies routinely pay $100,000 for a simple one-month 'deep dive'. He didn't hide his graying hair. Gray hair can be used to convey experience and leadership. His suit had to cost $6,500, heck, David Letterman would be proud of Mr. Cayman's attire!

Chip Cayman spent his formative years as a Management Consultant at The Richmond Consulting Group, a popular retail, online, and catalog consulting firm that partnered with private equity teams on difficult brand re-invention programs. He capitalized on the dot.com bubble by branching out on his own, advising countless online startups looking to convert big ideas into big paydays.

In the early part of this decade, Mr. Cayman became the leading expert in multichannel marketing, more popular than even Sucharita Mulpuru. He advised the best retail and catalog brand names on channel integration strategies. During the past five years, Mr. Cayman branched out into social media. His Twitter account has more than 27,000 followers. On any given day, readers can sift through insights ranging from "@ChipCayman RT @MarketingExpert247 The best brands cherish deep relationships with customers." to "@ChipCayman It is 5:42am, and it is a beautiful morning for a run. What a great day to be alive!"

Mr. Cayman has a thirty-year relationship with Glenn Glieber. The two have worked together through numerous downturns. One might say that Mr. Cayman "has Glenn's ear".

Chip Cayman: "I have to say, Kevin, I've read through your work, and it is quite impressive. I disagree with a lot of it, but nonetheless, it is intriguing and different. And your blog certainly turns the tables on long-standing industry best practices. Multichannel Forensics is what you call your methodology, huh? It's a clever name for segmentation coupled with a nameflow model, don't you think?"

Kevin: "Oh it's a little more than that. You know, I had an interesting meeting with Meredith Thompson (merchandising) a few days ago. She shared with me some multichannel merchandise results that were bothering her."

Chip Cayman: "You know, merchandising is the cherry on top of the multichannel hot sundae, Kevin. That cherry is the 'surprise and delight' that customers demand as part of a well-executed multichannel retail experience."

Kevin: "Who are the customers who demand this?"

Chip Cayman: "I don't have it with me right now, but in my briefcase (Tumi) I have a recent report from Neptune Research. They surveyed 1,112 likely multichannel shoppers, and those folks, by a whopping 2 to 1 margin supported an integrated multichannel experience that includes merchandise availability in all channels coupled with integrated promotional offers that can be redeemed in any channel, complemented by the same brand persona across channels. You take care of the customer, Kevin, and you take care of the profit and loss statement."

Kevin: "Most of the companies I study are lucky to have between ten and twenty percent of the customer file purchasing from multiple channels in any given year. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on the eighty to ninety percent of customers who have a specific channel preference, and give them a customer experience tailored to their specific channel interests?"

Chip Cayman: "That's the same, tired silo based thinking that got companies in such trouble in the first place."

Kevin: "Name a tired, silo based company that got in trouble because of this thinking?"

Chip Cayman: "Oh, I'm under non-disclosure agreements with my clients. I couldn't possibly share that kind of information. But I will say this. Multichannel customers are the best customers, and the best customers are the most loyal customers, and the most loyal customers tend to be retained at high levels, and it is something like eight times more costly to acquire a customer than to retain a customer. So as you can plainly see, the logic speaks for itself. A brand is well positioned for the future if it offers integrated services across channels."

Kevin: "Like Circuit City and their 'buy online, pickup in stores' program?"

Chip Cayman: "It's a shame they're out of business, because that strategy really set the tone for integrated multichannel marketing in the last half of this decade. I don't think enough time passed to understand the true merits of that program. If Circuit City had the capital to outlast the economic downturn, they may have reaped the benefits of their program."

Kevin: "Meredith felt frustrated that you suggested she feature a successful pay-per-click dinner dress in the catalog, only to have it fail in the catalog channel. Does the same merchandise have to be featured in every single channel?"

Chip Cayman: "If possible, yes. You want the customer to have access to as much of your assortment as possible. The customer demands this, Kevin. Have you ever been in a McDonalds restaurant and tried to purchase a McRib sandwich in the store, but not been able to buy the sandwich at the drive-through window? It doesn't make sense, Kevin. The items has to be in both channels."

Kevin: "But McDonalds allows for regional differences. You can get the McRib sandwich in Austin and not be able to purchase it in Boise. Doesn't that create a bad customer experience, too? Why is channel integration a must, but geographic integration can be and is encouraged to be optional?"

Chip Cayman: "Because certain items sell better in different geographies. You wouldn't sell a snow shovel in Miami in November, would you?"

Kevin: "And similarly, certain items sell better in various advertising and physical channels. So the multichannel brand should be allowed to pick and choose the channels, merchandise, targeting strategy, level of personalization, and promotional offers that best drive corporate profitability, right?"

Chip Cayman: "Interesting. Speaking of multiple channels, do you follow me on Twitter?"

Kevin: "Yes, I follow both your Twitter activity and the articles you post on your blog."

Chip Cayman: "See, that's the next big thing. We're going to see multichannel integration in social media. Your entire lifestream will be integrated by a service. You'll be able to sample my comments on Twitter or my blog articles or whatever comes next, and you'll be able to use a service that integrates all of this activity. That's multichannel power being applied to social media, Kevin. The online folks are really hyped about multichannel integration."

Kevin: "Gliebers Dresses tried everything, and they cannot gain any social media traction."

Chip Cayman: "They don't speak with an authentic and transparent voice. You cannot say '@GliebersDresses Today we're taking 15% off of sundresses, visit the website', and expect magic. It just doesn't work that way."

Kevin: "Then what should Gliebers Dresses say?"

Chip Cayman: "Give people great content, give people something of value, participate in the discussion out there, and everything will take care of itself. It's about them, Kevin, it isn't about you or Gliebers Dresses. Fill one of their needs, and they'll take care of two of your needs."

Kevin: "It seems like that's what everybody says. And yet, for 99.9% of people and brands, the strategy simply doesn't work."

Chip Cayman: "That's because 99.9% of companies and individuals are failing to practice social media the right way."

Kevin: "What is your secret?"

Chip Cayman: "I scour Twitter every night. I have a goal to follow 100 new individuals every day. 85% of those who I follow decide to follow me. That's how you build an audience."

Kevin: "What percentage of your 27,000 followers would you consider to be your 'core' audience, the folks who truly interact with you, folks who would purchase your services?"

Chip Cayman: "Probably 1%, about 300".

Kevin: "So the other 26,700 followers don't really matter --- they're not following you because of your great content, they're following you because you decided to follow them, and you're following them not because of their great content, but because it is a strategy to get people to follow you?"

Chip Cayman: "That's how you make social media work, Kevin. You participate, then others follow you."

Kevin: "You believe that Gliebers Dresses should follow 100 people a day, every day, for a year, hoping for the reciprocation of 36,500 followers. And then out of those 36,500 followers, 1%, or 365, will become core followers who truly care about Gliebers Dresses. And then, what, 10% of those will purchase something ... 37 customers ... and those 37 customers spend $150 each, yielding $5,500 of incremental annual revenue? Is that correct?"

Chip Cayman: "That's one way to make it work. Put outstanding content out there that people crave, use the 'following' strategy, and you'll have a formula for success."

Kevin: "You told your Twitter followers last week that you were enjoying a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart for breakfast, toasted no less. What does that have to do with outstanding content?"

Chip Cayman: "I have 27,000 followers. Kevin, you have something like 700. Your content is fact based, you tell people that Anna Carter might close down their catalog division. Whoopeedee-Doo! Social media is all about being authentic. When I tell people who I am, they are more likely to connect with me."

Kevin: "Would you advise that Sarah Wheldon (marketing) tell her followers that she just ate a bowl of oatmeal, and then came out of a meeting where she talked about the dress code at Gliebers Dresses? Would that make Gliebers Dresses more authentic? And would that translate to increased sales?"

Chip Cayman: "I'm just saying that if Gliebers Dresses makes social media about others and not about Gliebers Dresses, everything else will take care of itself."

Kevin: "Gliebers Dresses is struggling to stay afloat. What other strategies are you suggesting they employ to turn the corner?"

Chip Cayman: "It's all about loyalty, Kevin. I spend a lot of time with the new CFO, Lois Gladstone, we go way back, you know. Years ago, I showed her how loyalty drives profit. Look at Starbucks. They got customers to spend $5 a day, every day, on a cup of water augmented with beans, dairy, caffeine, and sugar. Gliebers Dresses simply needs to find the complement to this strategy in the world of fashion dresses, and everything will take care of itself."

Kevin: "But you don't buy a new dress five times a week. You're lucky to need a new dress twice a year, maybe three times a year."

Chip Cayman: "Yes! So the secret is to figure out how to get the customer to buy a dress three times a year instead of just two times a year. Then the business grows by 50%, and everything is fixed. This is a loyalty issue, Kevin."

Kevin: "Isn't this a merchandise issue? Customers aren't going to buy three times a year unless they love the merchandise?"

Chip Cayman: "If you think Starbucks brews coffee better than everybody else, you're nuts. They know the secrets to customer loyalty, and they exploit those secrets at unprecedented levels. At some level, it has absolutely nothing to do with the merchandise. If you want coffee, stay at home and drink Folgers. Loyalty = Merchandise + Mania. Most companies ignore 'mania', don't they?"

Kevin: "Gliebers Dresses is going to employ a 'buy four dresses, get free shipping for the rest of the year' program. Is this program part of the mania?"

Chip Cayman: "Absolutely! It's a low cost entry point into customer loyalty. The program will create buzz, which will cause loyal customers to spend more, and the buzz will cause more new customers to shop at Gliebers Dresses, which will fix the acquisition problems that you, Kevin, are trying to fix."

Kevin: "Your strategy, then, is this ... increase customer loyalty via free shipping for 4x+ dress buyers, which creates buzz. The buzz percolates through a social media program predicated on following others and providing outstanding content that spreads across Twitter, causing more followers and more buzz. The new followers are then greeted with a wonderful multichannel experience that causes them to want to shop more often, online or via affiliates or paid search or even via social media. The blend of strategies yields a more loyal customer, driving sales increases and profit."

Chip Cayman: "You got it!!! Now you're not going to steal that strategy and cannibalize my business, are you?"

Kevin: "No."

Chip Cayman: "Good. Because I know a lawyer that could make your life absolutely miserable. I've got a guy in Jersey that could silence Donald Trump."

Kevin: "What if your strategy doesn't work? What if Gliebers Dresses follows your strategy to the letter, but customers still won't buy the merchandise?'

Chip Cayman: "That happens, and it means the strategy wasn't truly executed in the spirit intended."

Kevin: "I see. Mr. Cayman, thanks for your time, I appreciate it."

Chip Cayman: "Kevin, thank you. Keep plugging along with that Multichannel Forensics stuff. It's interesting the way you illustrate how customers interact with our businesses. It's different, that's for sure."

June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson and E-Commerce

There's an unlikely combination, huh?

My position on best practices is sometimes misconstrued. I'll support best practices in many instances ... as I always say, if you're failing at something, and you want to become average, employ every best practice in the book. Business results will improve, and your pursuit of best practices will prove fruitful.

The real challenge, however, is the risk/payback involved in best practices vs. the risk/payback involved in creativity/innovation. Best practices are low-risk, and yield modest payback. Creativity and innovation are very risky, failing almost all of the time. But when creativity and innovation work, watch out!

MTV arrived on the scene in summer 1981. The videos represented an odd collection of artists. You might see Gerry Rafferty singing while playing a piano, or you might see A Flock of Seagulls. In fact, if you were a music executive, you'd be well served to follow the best practice of hiring an aspiring band from the UK, and then couple a synthesizer-infused melody with a low-budget video about a band member losing his girlfriend, only to get her back (in this spoof).

The formula worked. Many, many bands followed this best practice, and experienced success.

Michael Jackson employed creativity and innovation. This is a link to Thriller. And Beat it. And Billy Jean. You see elements of best practices forming the foundation of his videos. But on top of all that is raw creativity and innovation. Nobody ever suggested that Broadway-like production was the ticket for a music video.

I am not endorsing, and I am not criticizing Mr. Jackson's alleged lifestyle. However, I do want for you to understand the fundamental difference between passion for best practices, and passion for creativity and innovation. Passion for best practices yields the first video. Passion for creativity and innovation yields Billy Jean, Beat It, and Thriller. Modern e-commerce, in my opinion, lacks passion for creativity and innovation.

June 24, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Merchandising

Meredith Thompson, the Chief Merchandising Officer at Gliebers Dresses, showed me a catalog spread.

"Look at this dinner dress, Kevin. We tested it online, we drove the introduction of the item via paid search. Customers liked it! The item quickly became a good seller, and once it qualified for our cross-shopping algorithm, it took off! I got the item in the catalog as fast as I could. It took us five months to get enough product to feature it in one of the opening spreads of the catalog."

I wondered how the item performed in print?

"In the catalog, the item was a disaster. It missed sales projections by 40%. The customer hated it."


"These experts, they tell us that we have to be 'multichannel'. We have to have the same look and feel in all channels. We have to feature the same product in all channels, at the same price, with the same promotional offers They tell us this is the only way to communicate with our best customers. They tell us our best customers demand this style of merchandising. But here I am, working in the trenches, dealing with real world situations like this. The customer loved it when we advertised via paid search, but she hated it when it was in the catalog."

I asked Ms. Thompson who told her that she had to feature the same item in all channels?

"Chip Cayman. We bring him in here about once a month. Glenn and Chip go way back."

Chip Cayman is maybe the most famous marketing consultant out there. He's recognized across the industry as an expert in one-to-one marketing, multichannel marketing, and recently, social media.

"Chip Cayman told us we were not profitable because we failed to fully integrate all of our marketing channels. He told us we had to provide the best possible customer experience. It all sounded so good. But here we are. We advertised the dinner dress via paid search, and it worked. We advertised the dinner dress in a catalog, and we took a financial bath."

I asked Ms. Thompson if it is possible that the paid search customer is a 'different' customer than the catalog customer?

"That's your job, Kevin. Here's what I need to know. Who's actually running my business? Do I let Google decide? Do I let Chip Cayman decide? Or do I let the catalog customer decide? In any case, I don't have control over my business. If Google decides, then I'm at the whim of the comparison shopper at that very moment --- how would I ever predict what somebody wants? If I let the catalog shopper decide, then I'm destined to follow a 55 year old customer into retirement. If I let Chip Cayman decide, I'll always be average, because I'll never maximize trends in any one channel, and I'll always have inventory issues. And then you have e-mail. You advertise certain items in an e-mail campaign, then the customer goes online and buys whatever she wants --- she doesn't always buy what you advertise. Honestly, I don't have control over anything anymore."

It's a good thing Gliebers Dresses doesn't have a retail channel!

I explained that cataloging was a lot like Top 40 radio, everybody listened to the same songs, everybody was on the same page. Multichannel marketing is a lot like the iTunes store. Customers come from a limitless array of sources, and pick and choose what they like.

"You're not going to give me a lecture about that long tail garbage that we read about --- selling ten million dollars worth of merchandise across twenty-thousand skus?", asked Ms. Thompson. "I don't have the resources to manage twenty-thousand skus. Long tail theory breaks down in practice, unless you're maintaining a zillion skus that have no cost of goods sold. Here in the real world, we have to accurately forecast the sales of each of twenty-thousand skus."

Obviously, that's not what I'm talking about. Our businesses have relationships with a diverse set of customers. In the past, we told them what to buy. Today, the customer is telling us what she wants to buy. This creates uncertainty and inaccuracy. Uncertainty and inaccuracy are fatal to a direct channel profit and loss statement.

"I think the multichannel experts are missing this fact. They're trying to bundle the modern world in to a package that they understood back in 2001." quipped Ms. Thompson.

I don't know if that is true or not. What is true is that Ms. Thompson has to take a stand. As Chief Merchandising Officer, she has to lead the customer, whoever the customer is, into the future.

And I realized that I'm going to have to have a talk with Chip Cayman.

June 23, 2009

Customer Acquisition: Paid Search, Retail, Catalogers

Folks like Bloomingdales, J. Crew, and Williams Sonoma are cutting back on catalog customer acquisition activities. This Internet Retailer article helps outline the high-level discussion about customer acquisition.

Of course, you cannot talk about the real strategic issues in a 500 word article.

Retailers have a huge advantage, one that allows them to make strategic shifts away from catalog marketing. As long as there is some level of website/retail synergy, the website can grow from a very small minority of retail customers organically shopping online. Here's a typical relationship for a multichannel retail brand:
  • Website might have 100,000 customers --- 40% will shop in stores next year.
  • Retail might have 1,000,000 customers --- 5% will shop online next year.
  • Website gets 50,000 new customers from retail (1,000,000 * 0.05), allowing the website to experience rapid growth off of a big base of customers with a very low likelihood of shopping online. This allows the retailer to limit catalog marketing while still experiencing online growth.
Retailers also know that as many as half of paid search conversions happen in stores. This makes paid search a much more cost-effective marketing program when viewed across channels.

This is an area where retailers truly have an advantage over catalogers, and especially over online brands.

One of the most asked questions I receive is how to drive traffic to a website without the aid of stores and without the benefit of catalog marketing. Social media has been proven to largely be a failure at driving sales at a scalable level, and mobile is touted as 'the next big thing', not effective today. Without a doubt, we're in a valley, one where the old-school methods are becoming less and less effective, one where there aren't new approaches that scale to replace catalog marketing.

Many folks I'm talking with are creating strategic objectives for 2010 to find ways to drive new customer traffic outside of traditional analog methods. Retailers, though struggling, have an online advantage that they can leverage for a few years, until online brands and catalogers find new methods for driving new customer traffic.

June 22, 2009

Gliebers Dresses; Paid Search

Our series on how advertising channels work together continues today.

Glenn Glieber (Owner): "... and after seeing the TV ad, I went to the all-you-can-eat buffet for as many scallops as you can eat for $8.99. Those scallops were so tiny, for crying out loud. Who'd think you'd get bad seafood at an all-you-can-eat buffet?."

Meredith Thompson (Merchandising): "Kevin, is that you?"

Kevin: "Yup, it is me."

Lois Gladstone (Finance): "You were going to talk about multichannel marketing today, correct?"

Kevin: "Today I am going to focus on the role that paid search plays in your business."

Meredith Thompson: "You know, I really don't get paid search. Just last night I'm sitting in the living room with my husband (Chet), thumbing through the stack of catalogs we received in the mail last week. Why in the name of Robert Kestnbaum would I get out of my comfy sofa and get on the internet and search for items I want to buy? Who shops that way?"

Roger Morgan (Operations): "Woodside Research says that paid search will be an $11,000,000,000 industry by 2012, so somebody shops that way."

Meredith Thompson: "Sure, if you're looking for a memory stick or a low-cost flight to Topeka, or you want to find out if Jon & Kate Plus Eight are selling branded merchandise then maybe you shop that way. But if you're buying a fashion dress, you want a brand like ours to present the merchandise to the customer on paper, so that the customer can clearly see that we stand for value, quality, and service."

Pepper Morgan (Creative): "Haven't you ever wanted to see if anybody has a similar item at a similar price, so you Google the merchandise your looking for?"

Meredith Thompson: "Not if I am a brand loyal customer. Why would I ever use Google to shop Gliebers Dresses? I know all about Gliebers Dresses. I have the website bookmarked."

Sarah Wheldon (Marketing): "We have a lot of customers who use Google to type in the phrase 'Gliebers Dresses', they use Google to navigate to our website."

Meredith Thompson: "Some of our customers must be brain dead. And then we pay Google $0.40 to direct that kind of traffic. No wonder we're not profitable."

Kevin: "I dug into your database, and here is what I learned."
  • 35% of paid search conversions come from prior customers.
  • 65% of paid search conversions are from new customers.
  • Among new customer conversions, half received a catalog within the past thirty days.
  • All first time buyers have a 30% annual retention rate. After a first purchase happening via paid search, buyers have a 22% annual retention rate.
  • Customers acquired via paid search are most likely to purchase via e-mail marketing next, followed by catalog marketing.
  • Paid search customers are very unlikely to ever use the telephone to place subsequent orders.
  • Paid search customers tend to buy items that are at lower price points than the average price point.
  • You mail 16 catalogs a year to paid search customers, compared with 21 catalogs a year to the average twelve-month buyer.
  • A new paid search customer generates $10 of profit in the next twelve months, meaning that you can lose money acquiring the customer.
  • Branded search is correlated with existing customers. Non-branded keywords are correlated with new customers.
Meredith Thompson: "So what does all of that mean? It sounds like paid search is a bad thing."

Pepper Morgan: "I didn't interpret the information that way. It sounds to me like paid search has a place in our marketing mix. If we can acquire a customer at or just below break-even, the customer will pay us back enough money over the course of a year to allow us to have a profitable relationship with the customer. That's a good thing!"

Lois Gladstone: "I don't like the idea of losing money today based on the promise of maybe making money in the future. That doesn't sound like the right thing to do in the middle of The Great Recession."

Sarah Wheldon: "Goodness Lois, losing money on customer acquisition is an established best practice. If we don't lose money in the short term, we never grow as a brand in the long term. We learned that lesson the hard way back in the early 1990s."

Roger Morgan: "Paid search seems to have a strategic place in our marketing strategy. Based on the data, paid search seems to allow us to capture some sales that are created by catalog marketing or maybe even e-mail marketing. It allows us to capture new customers. And even though the customers are less valuable, we can still have a profitable relationship with the customer. I don't see much of a downside."

Meredith Thompson: "But paid search is sooooooo boring. It's like trying to sell something via a text message. No romance. No ability to communicate our value, quality, and customer service. No ability to distinguish ourselves via outstanding creative execution and presentation."

Lois Gladstone: "And given that these customers are worth less, wouldn't it make more sense to invest the money in different advertising channels?"

Meredith Thompson: "Yes! Like catalogs!"

Lois Gladstone: "It just seems like paid search has no ability to play a role in building a customer relationship.

Kevin: "So those are good comments. You've essentially outlined the role of paid search. For your business, paid search seems to serve two roles --- one, to acquire customers that you wouldn't normally acquire --- two, to help convert customers that are in the process of being acquired from other channels, like catalog marketing --- and three, there's enough long-term value that you can market to the customer in the future, but you scale that marketing back a bit because these customers have lower than average long-term value. And think long-term, folks. As catalog marketing becomes more and more expensive, you're going to need paid search, how else are you going to acquire new customers? Finally, paid search is probably not a relationship-building channel, it probably isn't at the top of your CRM program. Paid search is often a link in a chain of customer conversion that includes offline advertising and your website. Given your data, it is a necessary channel."

Glenn: "Good, thanks for the comments, Kevin. Let's move on to the next topic. Our creative team wants to start a new policy, called 'Tennis Shoe Friday', one day a week where any employee can wear tennis shoes to work. This goes against our dress policy, and I don't think this sets a good precedent if we approve it. I think we need to adhere to certain levels of professionalism, and tennis shoes are not part of the professionalism that I'm looking to encourage. So I want to say NO to this policy."

Roger Morgan: "My distribution center employees wear tennis shoes. Are you saying they aren't professional, because we've stated over and over again that they are the best in the industry?"

June 21, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Multiple Channels

You're listening to the Executive Meeting.

Glenn Glieber (Owner): "... so I say to the guy next to me, 'how many times do I have to watch the same episode of 30 Rock'? I've been on a half-dozen flights in the past two months, and every flight has the same episode of 30 Rock. And have mercy on the folks who sit in Seating Area 4 --- we're all lined up twenty-deep to get onto the plane so that we can find a place for our luggage. Those poor souls in Seating Area 4 have no chance. Travel, what a mess!"

Meredith Thompson (Merchant): "Kevin, is that you?"

Kevin: "Yup, it is me."

Roger Morgan (Operations): "We're interested in your thoughts about multiple channels, Kevin."

Kevin: "Sure, what do you want to know?"

Sarah Wheldon (Marketing): "Well, we believe we are a multichannel company. We have our catalog and all of the heritage associated with that. We have a website, we do paid search, we have an affiliate marketing program, we have e-mail, we use shopping comparison sites, we have a Facebook presence, we have a company blog, we're on Twitter, and we're developing a mobile website."

Roger Morgan: "That's a lot of channels. We're mega-multi-channel!"

Sarah Wheldon: "So why isn't it working, Kevin?"

Kevin: "What isn't working?"

Meredith Thompson: "Why is it that we have all of these channels and our sales are decreasing?"

Roger Morgan: "Every research article I purchase says that if you have all of these channels, then your sales will increase and your customers will be happier. A recent Neptune Research report suggests that 74% of customers prefer brands that offer a superior multichannel experience. So we must be doing something wrong."

Sarah Wheldon: "Obviously, we offer a superior multichannel experience, don't we?"

Kevin: "Define a superior multichannel experience?"

Lois Gladstone (Finance): "I think a superior multichannel experience delivers breakthrough sales and profits".

Sarah Wheldon: "I think a superior multichannel experience allows a customer to shop however she wants wherever she wants."

Pepper Morgan (Creative): "I think a superior multichannel experience offers the same look and feel across channels, the same promotions across channels, basically, the same exact experience across all channels. If you do that, the customer will love you and not become confused. I mean, if we offer a customer 20% off her order in the catalog, then we have no choice but to offer the customer the same 20% off promotion on Twitter, right?"

Lois Gladstone: "But we cannot offer the same merchandise in each channel --- heck, we can barely do anything with Twitter, while the catalog allows for an easy way to visually display merchandise, and e-mail allows you to really focus on just one item. So if you can offer whatever merchandise you want in any channel, then you can have a different look and feel, and different promotions in every channel, right?"

Roger Morgan: "Seems like you would create separate brands if you were going to do things different in different channels. I don't see any way you could be successful if you did things different in each channel."

Kevin: "How would you measure if your multichannel efforts were successful?"

Meredith Thompson: "If our e-mail campaigns and paid search efforts and Twitter presence caused catalog response rates to increase, then multichannel efforts are successful."

Pepper Morgan: "I think you measure total responses across all activities during the course of an integrated campaign."

Roger Morgan: "Do you measure multichannel success on a campaign level, or based on sales and profit generated over time? I think if you don't achieve success over time, then campaign level success is irrelevant."

Meredith Thompson: "I don't think that stuff matters so much --- periphery channels support our main channel, the catalog. I mean, the reason we do paid search is to capture the catalog customer who is doing comparison shopping, right?"

Sarah Wheldon: "We do paid search to acquire new customers."

Roger Morgan: "I thought we rented lists to acquire new customers?"

Lois Gladstone: "Let's take e-mail as an example. Kevin, you said that for e-mail subscribers, we could mail fewer catalogs and generate more profit. But this flies in direct opposition to established industry best practices. Roger tells us that research papers indicate that multichannel customers are best customers. Your advice is to have us send fewer catalogs. That will make the customer 'less multichannel', and by definition, that will result in decreased customer value, right?"

Roger Morgan: "Oh, we don't want to do that!"

Sarah Wheldon: "Do what, become more profitable?"

Meredith Thompson: "If all of the other channels support the catalog, then the catalog will work better, and we'll be more profitable."

Kevin: "Multichannel marketing is a mystery, isn't it? It is our job to determine the role every single channel plays in our business. Meredith believes that other channels support the catalog. Roger believes that multiple channels increase customer value. Pepper believes that channels work in a synergistic manner to communicate a message. Sarah sees multiple channels as a way to acquire new customers. Lois thinks multiple channels increase profit."

Sarah Wheldon: "So who is right?"

Kevin: "Tell you what, over the next few weeks we'll use the Multichannel Forensics framework to understand how your customers interact with advertising channels. I'll come to each meeting, ready to share with you how your customers interact with advertising micro-channels. As a team, we'll figure out the role of each channel in your business."

Glenn Glieber: "Ok Kevin, sounds good, thanks for your feedback. On to the next topic. As you know, we are hosting our annual fashion show next Thursday. I need one volunteer to be the Master of Ceremonies, and I need one volunteer to manage the music selection. Who wants to take some ownership, how about it?"

June 19, 2009

Friday Tidbits

Gliebers Dresses: If you're looking for older articles, just click this link, and you'll get every article.

Eddie Bauer Bankruptcy: Some of you have sent me e-mails about this. One of the biggest challenges of the bricks/clicks multichannel model is debt. Now granted, Eddie Bauer's debt came from the Spiegel meltdown earlier in the decade, but the concept still holds --- you take a largely variable cost model (catalog or e-commerce) and build out a fixed cost channel financed with debt. Yuk. E-commerce is going through multichannel evolution as we speak, as customers migrate from e-mail to social media, static websites to mobile websites, etc. Let the lesson of retail/debt be heard. E-commerce will have very different dynamics without as much debt/fixed-costs as newer online channels invade, but the shift between channels, in my opinion, will happen faster and with very different and potentially unstable consequences --- in social media, take MySpace as an example.

Internet Retailer Conference: Thanks to Internet Retailer for inviting me to speak, I'm always grateful for these opportunities. If you want to see what folks thought of the conference, as it was happening, give this a read.

June 17, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Executive Response To The Strategy Presentation

It is time to Skype-in and hear feedback from the Gliebers Dresses Executive team.

Glenn Glieber (Owner): "... and there she was, Anna Carter herself, standing in the same Starbucks line that I was standing in. You should have seen her face when she found out that I pre-paid for her mocha!"

Meredith Thompson (Merchant): "Kevin, is that you?"

Kevin: "Yup, it is me!"

Glenn Glieber: "Good, glad you are here. We wanted to let you know what we thought of your presentation and recommendations.

Meredith Thompson: "First of all, we really liked the idea of testing smaller catalogs. Honestly, we are still amazed that half of our housefile business will happen if we stopped mailing catalogs today, we don't quite know how to wrap our heads around that. But because Sarah's team executed the test and you sign off on the results, we need to seriously think about the implications. We're not convinced that reducing contact frequency is good, but we do think smaller page counts could be beneficial."

Sarah Wheldon (Marketing): "And we think it is a good idea to reduce frequency among customers with an e-mail address. So we're going to accept your recommendation to reduce frequency from twenty-four to twelve mailings a year for customers who possess an e-mail address."

Lois Gladstone (Finance): "You also convinced us that we must not cut customer acquisition any further. We understand that we lose half of our customer base each year, so we must acquire new customers."

Roger Morgan (Operations): "But we also realize that we're being killed by having $12.95 shipping and handling, and we cannot afford to offer inexpensive shipping and handling to everybody all of the time. So we want to become as competitive as we can, given where our business currently is."

Lois Gladstone: "So we decided that we are going to implement a new program. Any customer who orders and keeps four dresses will receive free shipping and handling for the remainder of the year."

Sarah Wheldon: "We think this strategy gives us a chance to compete with online brands that take market share by offering low price dresses coupled with free shipping."

Roger Morgan: "And it gives us a chance to move volume into the first half of the year, allowing us to not have to lay off contact center and distribution center employees."

Lois Gladstone: "Your data suggested that if we can achieve a 10% increase in productivity, the program will generate a ton of profit over the next twelve months. We need a ton of profit over the next twelve months. Once the business is fixed, we'll be able to afford to go after new customer acquisition."

Kevin: "What data are you using to validate your assumption that you'll achieve a 10% increase in productivity over the next twelve months?"

Roger Morgan: "Here in my hand I have a research report I purchased yesterday morning from Woodside Research. They surveyed 1,129 consumers. 58% of consumers said that participation in a loyalty program caused them to have a more favorable relationship with the brand, and 87% of consumers loved receiving discounts and promotions as part of a loyalty marketing strategy."

Sarah Wheldon: "It could be that this strategy changes customer perception. Our shipping and handling is just too expensive, so this might be a way to re-engage customers."

Meredith Thompson: "And I want to completely eliminate all barriers to purchasing merchandise. The merchandise should stand on its own merits, it shouldn't be harmed by shipping and handling practices. This loyalty program makes it all about the merchandise. If the customer demonstrates loyalty to us, we'll eliminate shipping and handling expense for them."

Pepper Morgan (Creative): "We haven't talked about your micro-site idea, yet. We think there might be merit to that idea. I'd really like to tackle the concept of a micro-site for the 15-39 year old customer audience. I think that is a great idea, one that would be a lot of fun!"

Meredith Thompson: "I'm really concerned about that idea. Kevin, you fail to factor branding into this equation. Gliebers Dresses stands for quality, value, and service. When you create a micro-site, you create a new brand. I don't want to alienate our existing customers. Our existing customers have an expectation of the quality, value, and service that we'll deliver. Why make it hard for the customer to shop this merchandise by re-branding it as a separate micro-site? I don't get it?"

Roger Morgan: "In a recent Neptune Research report, 1,340 consumers were surveyed. 61% of consumers want brands to create an integrated multichannel shopping experience. A separate micro-site takes us in a direction opposite of an integrated multichannel shopping experience."

Sarah Wheldon: "I don't necessarily think that a micro-channel website is a bad thing, it can be a good thing if we can find new ways to market to younger customers. But I'm worried about the catalog opportunity. A separate micro-site might dictate a new catalog strategy, and we don't have the resources to produce catalogs for this customer audience."

Pepper Morgan: "But we wouldn't market to these customers with catalogs, we'd simply find new ways to market to customers."

Sarah Wheldon: "Do we think that these customers are going to magically show up at our website? We have to do something to drive the customer to the website."

Pepper Morgan: "Kevin said that bow-tie-guy's test indicates that half of our sales happen organically, without the aid of marketing. How do you explain that?"

Sarah Wheldon: "We had to advertise to those customers at one point to acquire the customer, and then to develop brand loyalty. All of that advertising created a situation where the customer might be willing to shop today, without the aid of advertising."

Kevin: "Who would own the marketing initiatives for a micro-site?"

Meredith Thompson: "Oh, that one is easy. I'd own the merchandise assortment, Pepper would own the look and feel of the website, Sarah would own all marketing initiatives, and Roger would own site maintenance and site improvements."

Kevin: "Who would own final decisions? For instance, if Pepper wanted to put videos up on YouTube, who would make that call?"

Pepper Morgan: "I'd make that call."

Sarah Wheldon: "That's my call, that's a marketing initiative."

Roger Morgan: "Well I think I own that call. That video shouldn't go up on YouTube, it should be prioritized into my book of work, and my team would publish the content on the micro-site when resources permit it to be published. I want the SEO juice that comes from the video, I don't want YouTube to get that. Since I'm accountable for making our site natural-search friendly, I should own the decision to have the video on my site."

Lois Gladstone: "I'm not certain we have the budget to put broadband-quality video on our website."

Pepper Morgan: "If I had to wait two months to put a video up, when I can publish the video on YouTube this afternoon, I'd publish the video on YouTube this afternoon. And then I get around expense issues, it doesn't cost us anything to publish the video on YouTube."

Sarah Wheldon: "And who would market that video for you? That's why this is in my area of responsibility, this is why I need to own this process. I need to make sure that catalogs and e-mails support the video via a multichannel advertising strategy."

Pepper Morgan: "Honestly, I don't need your advertising support, and I cannot wait to publish the video three months from now so that we can add a page to the catalog to market the video. As part of this launch, my entire team will develop a social media presence, and we'll advertise it ourselves. I don't think we need traditional marketing to market this video, we'll do it ourselves."

Sarah Wheldon: "Social Media doesn't work. We only have a couple hundred followers on Twitter. Two hundred views on YouTube doesn't do anything to drive sales."

Pepper Morgan: "Twitter doesn't work if all we do is offer followers 20% off promotions. Twitter will work if we speak to the 15-39 year old customer the way she wants to be spoken to.

Glenn Glieber: "Kevin, you can clearly see here how time-consuming these new initiatives are. We've just wasted an entire executive meeting flapping our gums about something that we may not ever implement. We need to focus on 2% solutions that grow the core brand."

Kevin: "Maybe we can agree to disagree. What you just demonstrated to me is that there is not a clear online marketing leader at Gliebers Dresses. I heard four individuals proclaim partial ownership of a potential online marketing program. This makes it very hard for Gliebers Dresses to move into the future. At the end of this discussion, you discounted the new program, not based on the merits of the new program, but based on how much time you spent taking about disagreements over ownership of the strategy. As a result, you focus efforts on areas like catalog marketing, areas that are slowly becoming less productive, but have clearly defined roles and responsibilities that allow you to work without friction."

Meredith Thompson: "But that's how we've always acted around here. We have vigorous discussions. We allow all voices to be heard. This makes us better. This isn't a dictatorship, Kevin, a multichannel business requires a matrixed approach to management, one where all voices are heard. Leaders have to be good at working in a matrixed relationship."

Glenn Glieber: "Well, another perfectly good hour has been shot on ideas that we may never implement. Kevin, we listened to your recommendations. We're not going to cut back on customer acquisition spending, and we are going to start a loyalty program with the $800,000 you helped save us by reducing catalog mailings to customers who have an e-mail address. I'd say you more than paid for yourself, so we'd like to keep you around for awhile and tap your knowledge as we run into future challenges. We'll chat next week!"

Team: "Thanks Kevin!"

Kevin: "Thanks everybody, have a nice day."

Glenn Glieber: "Ok, it's on to the next item on the agenda. The November catalog currently has 140 pages. I'm hoping to save a few dollars by cutting back to 136 pages. Pepper, could you come up with a creative strategy to still feature 140 pages of merchandise within 136 pages, and Sarah, could you forecast the impact on sales by offering 136 pages to the customer instead of 140 pages? Thanks, everybody!"

June 16, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Strategy Presentation

It's time to share my recommendations with the team at Gliebers Dresses.

Glenn Glieber (Owner):
"... and so we have arrived at consensus. All employees who use the supply requisition form (SRF) for a new computer monitor and obtain a signature from a member of the Executive team will be eligible for a flat-screen LCD monitor."

Meredith Thompson (Merchandise
): "Kevin, is that you?"

Kevin: "Yup, it's me."

Glenn Glieber: "Kevin, your work has been indispensable during the past thirty days. You've given us plenty to think about. We don't always agree with your opinions, but we do appreciate your feedback."

Kevin: "Well thank you!".

Glenn Glieber: "Given your feedback, we'd like to bring you back on a frequent basis to help us work through our day-to-day challenges. Are you up for that?"

Kevin: "Certainly!"

Glenn Glieber: "Good! Now let's start going through your recommendations."

Kevin: "Please take a look at the following slide."

Kevin: "I listened to all of your feedback. I interviewed each and every one of you. I combined your ideas with my geeky math. My recommendation is to stop over-mailing catalogs to customers who participate in your e-mail marketing program. I recommend walking these customers down from twenty-four catalogs a year to twelve catalogs a year, even though the data suggests we can mail zero catalogs a year. This allows us to not take too dramatic an action, one that could hurt the business if the analysis and test results are wrong. I created a series of equations that will tell you which e-mail subscribers can support fewer catalogs. I will work with Boris Feldman to help implement those equations. We should be able to act upon this within fifteen days."

"This strategy allows you to save $800,000 a year in marketing expense."

"Next, I am asking you to spend an additional $1,300,000 a year on customer acquisition, and I strongly recommend that you spend that money equally, between catalog marketing and online marketing, if not skewed more to online marketing. This means you are going to spend an additional $500,000 a year in marketing. This is money you can find, find $650,000 for the rest of this year and test different strategies, spend $1,300,000 more next year."

"Using this strategy, profit will increase by about $500,000 per year, and sales begin to grow. As profit grows and you get the courage to expand the strategy, I strongly recommend that you re-invest the profit in customer acquisition. Over five years, this strategy generates an additional $2,500,000 in profit, that's nothing to sneeze at."

"I advise against implementing a loyalty program at this time, simply because the numbers do not support long-term profitable growth based on an assumption of a 10% lift in customer performance due to the loyalty program. It would require more money to fund the discounts and promotions associated with a loyalty program, money that Mr. Glieber communicated is not available. I do acknowledge that there would likely be a short-term profit bump, maybe several million dollars of profit during the first year, if the program truly generated a 10% increase in sales per customer We cannot make an accurate guess as to the sales increase in year one."

"I would advise you to strongly consider testing smaller catalogs, 48-64 page catalogs that replace 124-148 page catalogs. Many companies find that it is most profitable to send three 64 page catalogs than it is to send three 148 page catalogs, or just one 148 page catalog. Times are changing, and a small contact can be more profitable than a large contact. Small contacts can also be more productive than remail catalogs (catalogs where the guts of the catalog are the same, but the covers are changed to make the catalog look different). Small contacts could have a targeted merchandise assortment, mailed only to the customers who like the merchandise in the targeted catalog. I can work through these scenarios if you would like for me to."

"I advise leadership to seriously consider who on the Executive team owns online marketing decisions. It is obvious to me that Ms. Thompson (merchandising) owns the catalog, and that all decisions stem from her leadership. Decades of meetings caused your organization to know exactly what role each leader is supposed to play. In the online channel, however, I sense that roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined. Marketing owns promotions, online marketing strategy, e-mail marketing, blogging, and Twitter. Operations owns the how the website is coded, they own maintenance of the website. Creative seems to own things like video marketing. All areas of responsibility are dependent upon each other. It seems that any individual can recommend making website improvements or changes, and those changes are implemented or not implemented based on a collaborative arrangement between operations and other departments. Your business appears to be multichannel, in that your merchandise and marketing strategies are aligned between channels. You do a nice job of making things look multichannel to the customer. That being said, I believe that your online channel would benefit from having an "owner", one person who is ultimately accountable for all online initiatives."

"I bring this up, because I do not perceive there to be a vision for the online channel. Given that the future growth of this business happens online, regardless of the advertising channel that drives customers to the website, it seems really important that the website have a leader who drives website best practices, future social media and video opportunities, and current catalog and online marketing conversion performance. I believe that having a leader who drives online performance will result in a better conversion rate, which reduces the need for spending money on new customer acquisition. Honestly, this isn't my idea. This is your idea, many of you voiced this issue to me in one way or another. I'm simply in a position to be able to say it back to you."

"There is one other recommendation I'd like to offer to you. I'd like for you to consider launching a micro-site, one that focuses on customers age 15-39. You can call it whatever you like, but market it to customers age 15-39, not to customers age 55-60. To me, this is the place where you get to experiment. Try marketing without a catalog. Try your social media experiments, try your video marketing experiments. Try optimizing the website with established website best practices. Use this as a place to test the ideas and concepts you've always wanted to test. And given that your audience is 15-39, you'll have a better chance of having new marketing ideas work, because you'll be speaking to an audience that is receptive to new marketing ideas. Roll out your Quiceanera strategy and Sweet 16 strategy and mobile marketing strategy and any of these new strategies within this audience, and see if you can grow this business. If you want to promote these businesses in your catalog, go ahead and do so, but focus on the micro-site as a unique entity that you are trying to grow using new marketing strategies. Any strategies that work can be considered for the primary Gliebers Dresses website. Should the primary business continue to struggle, you may find that this effort gives you a viable business that can be grown in the future."

At this point, the room sounded very quiet. A thousand thoughts run rampant through my mind, positive and negative. "They hated this" ... "Maybe the video connection wasn't working properly" ... "Maybe I've just been fired" ... "Maybe this is the most brilliant strategy they've ever heard."

Glenn Glieber: "Kevin, there's a lot of information you shared here. Would it be ok if we bring you back in to our meeting tomorrow? We'd like the opportunity to noodle over your thoughts for the rest of the day, and then speak with you tomorrow. Is that acceptable to you?"

Kevin: "Absolutely."

Glenn Glieber: "Thanks, Kevin. Our next topic is our leadership luncheon next week, where we reward our best employees for great performance. I'd like to recommend we order box lunch sandwiches from Rhondas. Our choices are Roast Beef, Ham, Chicken Salad, Tuna, and Vegan. What would all of you like to have?"

Roger Morgan: "Can I have a BLT sandwich?"

Internet Retailer (IRCE) Presentation Tidbits

Here's a few things you might find interesting from my presentation today. The session was about the web's growing importance and impact on catalogers (and retail stores). The audience was heavily skewed to catalogers. Lou Weiss of The Vitamin Shoppe did a very nice job of discussing the topic from the standpoint of a CMO in the trenches!

Question #2: You are triple-booked for a meeting at 10:00am. Which of the following three meetings would you attend?
  1. Meeting to determine if October catalog is 116, 120, or 124 pages.
  2. Meeting with paid search vendor to go over Spring 2009 performance.
  3. Meeting with e-mail marketing team to go over versioning for upcoming campaign.
Audience overwhelming responded for #2.

Question #8: You are working on your CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) succession plan. Which individual is most likely to be considered.
  1. Catalog Marketing Director with 24 years of experience.
  2. Online Marketing Director with 8 years of experience.
  3. Social Media Manager with 2 years of experience.
Audience overwhelming responded for #2.

Question #9: You are required to downsize one position. Which position will you eliminate?
  1. Catalog Marketing Director with 24 years of experience.
  2. Online Marketing Director with 8 years of experience.
  3. Social Media Manager with 2 years of experience.
By a narrow margin, the audience voted for #1, then #3.

Question #13: If you stopped mailing catalogs, what would happen:
  1. Your business would close.
  2. Your business would be damaged.
  3. Your business would be more profitable.
  4. Your business could grow.
Almost nobody in the audience voted for #1, maybe 1 or 2 people raised their hand out of 250 folks.

June 15, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Setting The Table

There are six members of the Gliebers Dresses Executive team.

Each team member has a different perspective on the state of the business. Some, like Lois Gladstone (Finance), are convinced that a loyalty program will make a big difference.

Notice that most of the Executive team members have not truly played their cards. Glenn Glieber, the owner, said that he likes free marketing. He did, however, rule out aggressive customer acquisition strategies due to a shortage of cash. Sarah Wheldon (Marketing) and Meredith Thompson (Merchandising) expressed their love of catalog marketing, though neither offered a viable solution to return this business to profitability. Both Pepper Morgan and Roger Morgan privately shared ideas with me. Neither leader shared a solution publicly.

It is possible that members of this team will not be thrilled with whatever I propose.

I cannot do anything about merchandise productivity. I can recommend optimal marketing spend levels. Clearly, the best improvement in long-term profit happens when two strategies are implemented.
  1. Dramatically ramp-up customer acquisition spend, especially online, but also in catalogs.
  2. Significantly cut back catalog marketing when the customer opts-in to receive e-mail marketing messages. The data suggests that catalogs could be cut back from 24 a year to just 6 a year.
The data show that as customers continue to migrate online, they become less loyal. This trend cannot be avoided, it is simply a consequence times that are changing.

The data also showed that online marketing synergizes with catalog marketing. When you send a catalog, the customer uses search to comparison shop, so there is some level of co-dependence between marketing strategies at Gliebers Dresses.

There is a belief that shipping and handling fees coupled with an outdated distribution center are hurting customer loyalty. I can run scenarios on what might happen if shipping and handling prices and delivery options are changed, though without reasonable test data, this will be hard to do.

What I am going to recommend to the Management team is a solution that represents a compromise between the best strategy (a 50% increase in customer acquisition spend) and the current mindset (reduce customer acquisition spend).
  1. Increase customer acquisition spend, per year, by 20%, about $1.3 million per year.
  2. For customers with an e-mail address, I will recommend reducing catalog contacts from 24 per year to 12 per year.
  3. While I won't recommend it here, profit will undoubtedly increase by adding a second e-mail marketing campaign per week.
This strategy increases five-year profitability by $2.5 million dollars (click on the slide above) ... that's a nice return on investment considering that my projects typically cost between $9,000 and $40,000, depending upon the size of the company.

This strategy does yield marginal growth, though I doubt the level of growth is going to be enough to satisfy management.

At some point, however, there is an opportunity for a 'bigger' discussion. My strategies help optimize the direct marketing contact strategy and the online marketing strategy. My methodologies illustrate where the business is heading. I was able to demonstrate to management that some of their strategies would have had catastrophic consequences, so there is a lot of value in running those scenarios for management.

The 'bigger' discussion is about the target audience that Gliebers Dresses markets to, the merchandise assortment, and the tools that Gliebers Dresses uses to market to the target audience. If Gliebers Dresses truly wants to grow and be profitable, then Management will have consider the impact of following the Baby Boomer audience into her 60s and 70s. There are a lot of customers age 15 - 45, customers that have different needs, and are not necessarily as responsive to analog marketing (i.e. catalogs). The latter audience requires a different marketing and merchandising mindset, doesn't it?

The 'bigger' discussion is hard to have, because the management team has to fix the business now. The 'bigger' discussion is scary. It requires a thoughtful long-term plan, a re-evaluation of strategy, marketing practices, consideration of demographics, and an assessment of the merchandising assortment. It may require a new customer service platform. It can tear employees away from the jobs they love to do.

With those thoughts in mind, I prepare to present the recommended strategy to management.

June 14, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: A Change Will Do You Good

It is Monday, and that means it is time to Skype-in to the Gliebers Executive Team meeting.

Glenn Glieber (Owner): "... and she says to me, 'Don't you stand behind your product?', and I said 'Of course I stand behind my product. But you bought the dress in 1997 and now you want to return it? Go return it at L.L. Bean, they'll give you your $79.99 back.' I know times are tough, but that kind of behavior ain't right. And then Harriet jumps on her blog and says we don't honor our returns policy, and I'm getting phone calls from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about our lack of ethics. What is wrong with people?."

Meredith Thompson (Merchant): "Kevin, is that you?"

Kevin: "Yup, it's me."

Glenn Glieber: "Nice to have you here, Kevin. You mentioned that you're going to start leading us out of the wilderness. Let's give it a shot and see where it takes us.

Kevin: "What I want to do today is tee-up the recommendations I'll make later this week by sharing with you important test results from your marketing department."

Pepper Morgan (Creative): "What test, Sarah?"

Sarah Wheldon (Marketing): "Boris Feldman ran a test, a year-long test, to measure profitability when catalogs are not mailed and when e-mails are not delivered to customers."

Pepper Morgan: "Cool!"

Meredith Thompson: "What? We didn't mail catalogs to customers? Are you serious? Is that the reason our business is in the toilet --- because marketing is busy treating our business like a giant petri dish? My customers love seeing my assortment, we need to get it in front of her!"

Roger Morgan (Operations): "Bow-Tie-Guy might have done something interesting. I recently read a Neptune Research report that says multivariate testing is critical to the success of an e-commerce brand."

Kevin: "Take a look at the slide I forwarded you (click on the image at the top of this post). Boris Feldman created four test segments. One segment was treated normally. One segment was not allowed to receive catalogs. One segment was not allowed to receive e-mail campaigns. One segment did not receive any marketing all year long."

Meredith Thompson: "Oh my God. No marketing, all year long?".

Kevin: "Yes, that's correct. Now take a look at the last column. The last column reports the average annual profit generated by a customer. Which strategy was most profitable?"

Pepper Morgan: "Zero catalogs and fifty-two e-mail campaigns. Holy cow!"

Meredith Thompson: "This is insane. The most profitable strategy a catalog brand can employ is one where the catalog brand sends zero catalogs? Honestly, Kevin, you're nuts, no offense. Why would you even bother to share this with us?"

Sarah Wheldon: "That's why I never shared the test results with all of you. I don't trust the results at all. We're a catalog brand, and the results suggest a catalog brand should stop mailing catalogs."

Kevin: "We might be getting ahead of ourselves. In no way am I saying that you should stop mailing catalogs. I'm simply sharing the test results. I went back and ran my own scenarios. The two most profitable potential combinations were 6 catalogs and 52 e-mail campaigns, followed by 6 catalogs and 39 e-mail campaigns. The data simply suggest that if the customer already volunteered an e-mail address to Gliebers Dresses, then Gliebers Dresses can reduce catalog marketing expense and generate more profit in the process, because the customer is telling you she wants to receive advertising in a digital form."

Roger Morgan: "Isn't it an established best practice to be 'multichannel' with your marketing activities? In other words, we really should be mailing catalogs and sending e-mails to customers, because that's what multichannel customers like. And the more multichannel customers you have, the more successful your business is. It's that kind of circular logic that makes a multichannel business like ours thrive."

Kevin: "The data suggest that multichannel customers might like to hear from Gliebers Dresses across multiple advertising channels. The data also suggest that there is an opportunity to 'optimize' the number of contacts, saving expense while generating additional profit."

Pepper Morgan: "Kevin, can you talk a bit about the other columns in the table?"

Kevin: "The test tells us many different things:
  1. If catalogs aren't mailed, demand shifts into e-mail marketing.
  2. If e-mails aren't mailed, demand shifts into catalog marketing. In other words, e-mail marketing and catalog marketing are not complementary. They cannibalize each other.
  3. If catalogs are sent to the customer, the customer goes online, and uses paid search as a research tool. The more you spend on catalog marketing and e-mail marketing, the more the customer uses paid search, costing you more marketing expense.
  4. If you market more to the customer, then the customer uses affiliates and banner ads and portal advertising more often.
Sarah Wheldon: "Isn't that nuts? The more we spend, the more the customer uses other tools, causing us have to spend more? I'll bet Google likes that! No wonder I keep reading articles suggesting we should increase marketing, not decrease it, during challenging economic times."

Kevin: "Here is the single most important finding in the table. Everybody please write this fact down. If you do not market to these customers, customers will still spend 50% of the money they would spend if you marketed to them all year via catalogs and e-mail marketing messages."

Roger Morgan: "What?"

Kevin: "This is a good thing, folks! If you stop marketing altogether, your customers will continue spending half of what they used to spend. Your brand is strong enough that half of your sales will just happen, without any need for marketing whatsoever."

Meredith Thompson: "I knew customers loved our merchandise!"

Glenn Glieber: "I love free marketing!"

Roger Morgan: "You mean customers hold on to the catalogs for years, or they bookmark our URL in Firefox?"

Kevin: "Or they are simply loyal to your brand. Whatever the reason, the customer keeps spending some money. I call this the 'organic percentage'. Your organic percentage is 50%. This means that there are customers who are more profitable when they receive much less advertising. We can save money with these customers, and re-invest the money in different programs."

Lois Gladstone (Finance): "Like a loyalty program. This would be a great way to fund a loyalty program! We send fewer catalogs to customers, and then re-invest that money in loyalty programs. And then we can keep spending money on customer acquisition, like Kevin recommends."

Pepper Morgan: "Didn't Kevin show us that our business still falls off the cliff if we do a loyalty program?"

Lois Gladstone: "That's if we cut back on customer acquisition. I'm not saying we cut back on customer acquisition. I'm saying we stop mailing so many catalogs to customers with an e-mail address, and then we re-invest the money in a really good loyalty program, and we keep spending money on customer acquisition like Kevin says. That's how we'll get out of this mess!"

Glenn Glieber: "The program could have points, you know, you get 10 points for every $100 you spend. And then we'll have double point days, you buy a Quinceanera dress and you get 20 points for every $100 you spend. Buy a Wedding dress, and you get a 100 point bonus, because it is your big day."

Lois Gladstone: "And once you hit 150 points, you get free expedited shipping for the rest of the year. I only fly on United Airlines because I get to sit in Economy Plus once I hit 25,000 annual miles. There's nothing Delta could do that would cause me to switch. That's the kind of thing I'm talkin' about."

Glenn Glieber: "This thing could go viral, too. You earn 25 points for every customer you recruit to join the loyalty program. It's like really inexpensive new customer acquisition, and Kevin said we needed to keep the gas pedal pushed to the floor on new customer acquisition."

Roger Morgan: "We'll give 25 point bonuses if the customer uses a new channel for the first time. You take that online-only customer, and you give them 25 bonus points if they purchase using the telephone. Then, the customer is multichannel, and is worth so much more. This thing really is multiplicative, isn't it? And the customer wins, because she earns points that launch her closer and closer to free expedited shipping?"

Glenn Glieber: "Maybe we just do free expedited shipping, all day, everyday, every customer."

Lois Gladstone: "We've run the numbers on that one. It doesn't work."

Sarah Wheldon: "Are we saying that what is broken with this business is customer loyalty? I think that's what we're saying. And if that is what we're saying, then we're saying that the issue with loyalty isn't our merchandise, we're saying that the issue is marketing, that if we just had some catchy marketing strategy, we'd be fine. So our way of addressing the problem is to come up with a loyalty program that, in reality, isn't a loyalty program, but is a game that allows some customers to pay less to have merchandise shipped to them. Which means that we don't believe our problem is a merchandise issue, and that fundamentally, we don't believe our problem is a marketing problem, though Kevin says we can mail fewer catalogs to customers with an e-mail address. We believe our problem is our customer service, it is the cost we charge a customer to have a package delivered to her in a timely manner. What we're really saying is that the cost of great customer service is prohibitive to us, and that cost causes us to be uncompetitive, so customers are leaving us for other companies. Isn't that what we're really saying?"

And for a brief moment, the room is quiet.

Lois Gladstone: "I think we're saying we have to fix this business, now. Since it takes nine months to develop a new line of merchandise, we have to look at alternatives, you simply don't fix merchandise issues overnight. And because free shipping and handling all day everyday is fatal to our business model, we have to find another strategy."

Meredith Thompson: "I don't believe the issue is with the merchandise."

Glenn Glieber: "Ok, folks, we need to wrap this up. Kevin, can you bring your recommended strategy with you to Wednesday's meeting?

Kevin: "Certainly. I will present my strategy for optimizing the current marketing plan and a plan for acquiring new customers."

Glenn Glieber: "Good, we'll see you Wednesday. Now on to the next agenda item. It's come to my attention that some employees are eating Teriyaki at their desk for lunch, and that other employees find the odor offensive. So beginning today, no employees are allowed to eat offensive smelling foods at their desk. Roger, will you draft an e-mail communication from the entire Executive team, outlining this new policy."

Meredith Thompson: "Define the foods that smell offensive?"

June 11, 2009


Starting Sunday Night (June 14), this blog moves:
If you are a Firefox/Safari user, and you type in the old blog URL, you will be re-directed to the homepage of the new blog.

If you are an Internet Explorer issue, things may not work so well, as Google Blogger / FTP / Internet Explorer don't seem to play well together. I haven't been able to find a solution to this problem. I apologize in advance for any potential issues.

June 10, 2009

Gliebers Dresses: Chief Operations Officer (COO)

I knocked on the office door of Roger Morgan, Chief Operations Officer at Gliebers Dresses.

The walls of his office were covered with giant sheets of paper, and the smell of magic marker permeated the office. Within seconds, I had what felt like an ice cream headache from the odor of the markers. Boxes and parallelograms dotted the giant sheets of paper, all connected by a series of complex, multi-directional arrows. The flowchart documented the path an order takes from being captured in a call center or online, to the distribution center, and then to the corporate data warehouse.

Mr. Morgan closed the door behind me. I secretly hoped that the room was well ventilated.

"Take a look at this, Kevin!" Mr. Morgan showed me a Powerpoint slide he created earlier in the morning.
  • Call Center Employees With The Largest Average Order Values In 2008 Generate Average Order Values Of $148 In 2009.
  • Call Center Employees With Normal Average Order Values In 2008 Generate Average Order Values Of $139 In 2009.
  • Call Center Employees With Below-Average Order Values In 2008 Generate Average Order Values Of $136 In 2009.
"I've been tracking this metric for the past three years. Our best call center employees consistently outperform everybody else. My five best call center employees generate an incremental $350,000 demand, $100,000 profit, each year. They're so good at their job that they literally encourage customers to spend more."

"I thought about your data from last week --- you said that telephone customers have better annual retention rates than online customers. Your findings match my findings. Telephone customers have bigger average order values than online customers. And the biggest telephone orders come from the best employees. Online, there's almost no human element, outside of live chat. The human element is so important to a direct business. Pepper says e-commerce is stripping the human element out of business, maybe she is right."

Glenn Glieber personally hired Mr. Morgan in 1991 as a COBOL programmer. Mr. Morgan became Chief Operations Officer in 2000, after Gliebers Dresses made it through the Y2K challenge with almost no need for incremental programming support. I asked Mr. Morgan about the craziness surrounding Y2K.

"I have a successful career because I wrote code that included a four-digit year instead of a two-digit year. Attention to detail makes all the difference."

I wondered how the Operations guy gets things done at Gliebers Dresses.

"Nobody ever listens to the operations guy. People complain a lot. We process 450,000 orders a year, and we make a significant mistake on 0.05% of the orders, 225 in total. But that's almost one order a day. So every day, I get a lecture from somebody about how my team failed."

I asked Mr. Morgan what he meant when he said that "nobody ever listens to the operations guy."?

"There's a lot of problems with our business, obviously. I listen to customer calls every single day. I hear the 61 year old woman asking questions on the phone, telling my employees that the merchandise is too young and trendy for her. I read customer comments on Twitter, suggesting that our website is old fashioned, very Web 1.0 --- and I know I have to balance that feedback with the fact that our 61 year old female shopper will be freaked out if we migrate the website out of Web 1.0 mode. And I hear all of the complaints from marketing and creative about how they can't innovate given our platform. That drives me crazy."

What, exactly, is driving Mr. Morgan crazy?

"We don't optimize what we already do. Why don't we have ten versions of an e-mail campaign, based on prior buying behavior? E-mail sales will instantly improve by 25%. That's low hanging fruit, put bow-tie-guy on that one or let my team do it."

"We argue about placement of the shopping cart like it is the single biggest deciding factor in determining how our website performs. If we simply followed shopping cart best practices, we'd improve performance by another 10%, it's that simple. I've got twenty ideas from Woodside Research and Neptune Research that we could implement right now, each would improve productivity by 5% - 10%. I really think we could dramatically improve the productivity of the website if we simply followed established best practices. We don't have to innovate. We simply have to execute better. Our conversion rate could improve from 8% to 12% if we just plugged the holes in the purchase funnel.

I asked Mr. Morgan if the website was his area of responsibility, then why wasn't he implementing his own ideas and reaping the benefits?

"Because we sit in these meetings and argue about how much conversion would improve if we had a forty second greeting video featuring runway action from Milan instead of taking the customer directly to the homepage. I prioritized that idea at the bottom of the book of work, and by burying it down there, it will never get done. I could implement ideas, but then my Executive team partners call me a 'cowboy', and they won't partner with me on anything else. Trust me, I've been there! So I need to navigate the political waters on these things, using Woodside Research and Neptune Research to back up my ideas. I have a lot of ways we could improve productivity, right now."

I asked for an example.

"We talked earlier about shopping cart abandonment. Our abandonment rate is 68%. The customer finds out that shipping and handling is $12.95, and buh bye, she's gone. We lose a lot of new customers because of shipping and handling. You wouldn't need to be here talking to me, no offense, if we somehow solved that problem. We'd have all the new customers we needed."

How do you fix the shipping and handling problem when your company is not profitable?

"I don't know how we can compete. Finance analyzed this thing to death, we cannot increase sales enough to cover the profit we'll lose by giving away shipping and handling. And honestly, the folks at Zappos don't have free shipping, they have $3 shipping per item. But they get you your shoes in one day. We can't get our merchandise out of our distribution center in two days. In fact, our entire distribution center needs a multi-million dollar overhaul, we need robotics and the whole nine yards. We should have a distribution center closer to our west coast customers. We cannot afford a west coast distribution center when we're not profitable."

I asked Mr. Morgan how to get out from under the problems the company faces.

"I think we go with Glenn Glieber's advice, we find fifty 2% solutions. Let's just follow best practices, and recapture the incremental revenue that's leaking out of the bucket. A simple improvement in the conversion rate, from 8% to 10%, would result in a sales increase of maybe seven million dollars. SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS! Who wouldn't like to see that money drop to the bottom line? Now we have two million in earnings before taxes, and we take that money and reinvest it in the infrastructure of the business."

Fifty two-percent solutions. Seems like we all have fifty two-percent solutions. And somehow, business performance doesn't change a whole lot. Sometimes, simple implementation of ideas can be the secret sauce.

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