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POP MARKETING & BRANDING

Reveries released the results of a survey on building brand identity at retail. Looking at issues  such as which in-store practices work best, and to what degree retailers help or  hinder manufacturer branding initiatives, the study offers some insight into the  complex world inhabited by not only retailers and product manufacturers, but  also a slew of different marketing, advertising and research agencies. By diving  into the numbers, we unfortunately see a lot of the same old trends at work,  like ongoing contention between retailers and manufacturers, and the continued  under-emphasis of retail marketing in favor of traditional advertising. However,  the data offers a glimmer of hope for those of us interested in advancing the  state of in-store marketing, along with the possibility that we might all be  able to get along after all.

To begin with, the overwhelming majority of  respondents  83.2%  feel that retail venues are a good place to build brand  identity. This isn't that surprising, s.e a large portion of them are either  retailers or product manufacturers who have an interest in making retail  marketing work. However, only 12.4% indicated that retailers were generally  helpful with the process. Far more  30.8%  suggested that retailers tend to  hinder their brand-building activities, or at best, move between periods of  helping and hindering (41.4%). On the flip side, manufacturers fared little  better. Only 28% felt that manufacturers were more likely to help than hinder.  While far better than the opinion of retailers, this result is still pretty  poor.

The survey also asked which in-store programs have been effective  for manufacturers, and found that product packaging, POP displays, and special  events are delivering the best results. Product packaging ranked #1 on the list,  which makes a lot of sense when you consider that pretty much every product sold  has to come in some sort of package (and offers ample possibilities for  experimentation). Newer options like kiosks and in-store TV networks score lower  (20.2% and 13.1% respectively). But that's actually pretty impressive, given  that older and more established practices like product circulars scored about  the same. And of course, these newer technologies also have smaller installed  bases, so fewer people have had the opportunity to evaluate their performance  and make a decision -- especially when compared to old retail marketing  stalwarts like POP displays and special offers.

Overall, the Reveries  survey paints a fairly well-accepted picture of the retail marketing space, and  sadly, a picture that would have looked very similar five or ten years ago.  Marketers and manufacturers continue to use several types of in-store programs,  and some amount of channel conflict seems to be the norm at the retail level.  Still, there's plenty of room for improvement, and the survey results suggest  that the tide may be changing. The good news is that nearly three quarters  (72.5%) indicated that their companies have retail strategies in place. The bad  news is that fewer than half (44.5%) say that retail marketing earns the same  respect inside their organization as traditional advertising. That obviously  needs to change if manufacturers and retailers alike hope to take full advantage  of the unique benefits of marketing at retail. Considering how much data there  is indicating the benefits of a solid retail marketing program, this is purely  and simply a cultural -- not economic -- issue. Big agencies still have a hard  time sharing the spotlight with the in-store guys, and for all of the great  displays that we see in POPAI's OMA contest every year, making a TV commercial  is still a more enticing endeavor, and thus still draws the lion's share of  funds and respect.

But brick-and-mortar retailers continue to struggle  with challenges like .reased competition within their verticals, more pressure  from purely on-line retailers, and ongoing uncertainties about the economy.  Retailers know that in-store tactics work. Product marketers know it too,  and a Reveries survey from last year showed that more than 70% of them were investing in retail and alternative media. At some point,  somebody with real clout in one of these camps is going to take a stand and make  their agencies build better-integrated campaigns that feature a compelling  in-store component, or else somebody from Madison Avenue is going to realize  that there's a lot of money in-store, and they're in a great position to sell  new products and services to their existing client base. There's simply too much  money on the line for that not to happen. But that's not to say that nobody is trying to improve the situation right now. In fact, some the  biggest companies on earth are already working hard on solving the retail  marketing problem. P&G has made lots of noise about their retail marketing  plans, and both Wal Mart and Target are known for their in-store networks that carry brand building and promotional  content. WPP's Media-edge,  is entirely devoted to studying the nuts and bolts  of shopper behaviors (with an eye towards improving retail performance), and  VNU & Nielsen has an entire in-store division now. Finally, well-established and  funded research groups like the ISMI and POPAI continue to advertise the power  of marketing at retail.

For all the work of these big entities, it's also  clear that the groups in the Reveries survey are taking a more aggressive stance  towards marketing at the store level. When asked if they were ready to maximize  the building of brand identity at retail, 44.3% of respondents indicated that  they were, with another 29.3% saying that they "almost" were. While simply  participating in a retail plan is one thing, the goal of maximizing performance  through the creative use of different in-store strategies is entirely another,  and to hear such a resounding drive to do this is very encouraging. It's also  interesting to look at some of the reasons why other respondents indicated that  they weren't yet ready. These reasons include:

  • "The brand organizations are not structurally aligned to maximize shopper  marketing at retail. Brands don't understand how to activate brands [at]  retail."
  • "We lack top management commitment, .entive alignment, staff, training,  tools and information resources adequate to the task. Current client base (not  the firms, but the current staff contacts we have) is not particularly  up-to-speed on this area of the business."
  • "Knowing what's good for building a brand and pulling the trigger and doing  it are two different things."

Clearly, it's the lack of knowledge,  experience and understanding about building effective retail branding strategies  that is holding many companies back. While boutique firms specializing in retail  marketing continue to proliferate, I think the best way to really grow the  discipline (in terms of both acceptance and respect) will be for the bigger  agencies to take the reins -- possibly in partnership with some of the smaller  but more experienced firms. Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and WPP each have  several agencies that could become retail marketing powerhouses, especially  s.e some of these agencies already focus on store experience. The agencies just need to cultivate the  right alliances and know-how, and decide to focus on opportunities with  appropriate clients. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but keep in mind that these  top media companies already have relationships with a huge share of the world's  top retailers and marketers. To date, they've remained pretty silent. But we're  fast approaching the point where in-store marketing projects are too big and too high profile to keep ignoring.

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