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Part 1 of 2: 12 Ways Brands and Retailers Can Partner More Effectively Online

July 22, 2015
Keith Anderson
Written By
Keith Anderson

Part 1 of 2: Guidelines for Brands

As the eCommerce channel continues to grow, it presents huge opportunities for brands and retailers that can find new ways to partner together—while presenting big obstacles to those who can’t. I recently spoke to two industry experts, Tim Dorgan of CROSSMARK and Chris Drumey of United Biscuits, to hear their thoughts on how to strengthen the online partnership.

This post is a distilled version of guidelines for brands from Tim Dorgan of CROSSMARK and Chris Drumey of United Biscuits (as well as my own observations) which were presented at a recent webinar. There are 6 guidelines in all, with an additional 6 for retailers which will follow in Part 2 of this series.

1. Think creatively about your e-retail channel

Source: Asda, Amazon Fresh

With the online channel, you’ve got so much more flexibility and opportunity to be creative than you do with brick-and-mortar. In a physical store, a supermarket for example, you’re constrained by the difficulties of adjacencies. You can’t necessarily group the items for a pasta dish together, such as pasta, which is in the ambient (room temperature) section, while tomatoes and fresh vegetables are in the produce section, and meat is at the meat counter. A shopper has to go all over the store to get these items, whereas online, you can group them together in a single banner—and even get the shopper started with a great pasta recipe that inspires them to buy.

The brand team has to come up with ideas like this to help drive sales on the e-retailer’s site. Now the retailer won’t think all your ideas are great, but if you go in with a good understanding of how your strategy dovetails with theirs, there’s a good chance they’ll want to implement what you’re suggesting.

2. Dedicate digital teams to work with e-retailers

Brand teams make a big mistake when they think their eCommerce channel will simply grow organically over time, and all they have to do is ride the wave. Growing your brand presence online requires diligent planning up front, and assigning a dedicated digital team to work with e-retailers full time. You can’t simply look at digital as something that comes after you do your offline planning, and then simply cut and paste to formulate your online strategy. The brands that are doing the best and will continue to do so are the ones that are out front with their planning.

As an example, consider a TV shoot being done by a CPG. They’ve got all the actors and the production crew in the same place at the same time, at a cost of thousands of dollars. But are they thinking ahead and shooting extra footage with a related story line to post on the e-retailer’s site to generate additional interest? The retailer would love it, and both the retailer and brand would benefit financially, but all too often, this type of planning ahead doesn’t take place.

One more point: We’re now seeing the emergence of brand eCommerce positions as a career path for the best and brightest to a degree we’ve never seen before. It’s where Shopper Marketing was 15 years ago, still at an early stage, but evolving into a place for the very highest achievers.

3. Recognize each retailer model is different

It’s vital for brand people to understand the e-retailer’s business model. This seems obvious, but we’ve seen many instances where this isn’t the case. For example, when I (Tim) was at Peapod, we were approached by a brand that claimed to have conducted useful research that could really help us if and when we partnered with them. But on closer inspection, we discovered they had no idea of how our business model worked.

They’d conducted a lot of their research in areas where Peapod didn’t operate, so many respondents had no idea they could do full grocery, temperature-sensitive shopping that enabled them to add items like ice cream and milk to their cart. Instead, these shoppers only knew the Amazon model, which permitted dry goods like cereal, cat food and detergent only. The brand simply didn’t understand how our business model was different.

4. Supply retailers with accurate, current product content data

It’s important to realize that shopper’s buy according to what they see—by sight. They look for the purple package that has their favorite detergent, and it’s shaped just so, indicating that it’s the amount they always buy. They don’t necessarily know they want the 16 ounce package—that’s not how the shopping experience always works. That’s why it’s so vital to supply your retail partners with accurate, updated, high-quality product visuals to display on their site. Likewise, your product data needs to be current, accurate and complete … so buyers aren’t confused and therefore feel comfortable making their purchase decision.

Imagine the consequences of adding a peanut extract to your product, not listing it, and having someone have an allergic reaction. There are numerous lawsuits going on right now for precisely this type of problem. And in terms of pure frustration—nothing is as exasperating to the retailer as when the brand team supplies low quality or inaccurate product content.

It comes down to this: brands have three action steps: 1. Generating the correct content 2. Loading it onto their digital access platform, and 3. Loading it on the retailer’s site. If the right data or visual isn’t used in each of these steps, it will have a huge impact on conversions.

5. Participate actively in a retailer’s trial programs

Volunteer as a trial partner for the e-retailer you’re working with. It will help you gain early insights that may prove useful later on, boost your visibility, and strengthen your relationship with the retailer.

Of course, if you’re willing to invest shoulder-to-shoulder with the retailer, you’ve got to be willing to forego an immediate impact on your brand’s sales. It may take years for you to receive payback on your investment, or it may never occur at all. But, at the very least, you’ve demonstrated to the retailer and to your other strategic retail partners that you’re willing to invest and be a partner. You’ve shown that in the right circumstances, you’ll put the retailer’s goals and needs ahead of yours. Unfortunately, many brands are myopic in this regard, and miss a chance to generate great publicity and be seen as an innovator.

6. Capitalize on the connection between online media and online sales

It used to be that a brand would run a TV spot or put up a billboard, and it would be several days or weeks between the time a consumer saw it and finally walked into the store. Not anymore. Now consumers are hearing about products, researching them, and making the actual purchase in the same online session. There’s a direct link between an online media buy and an online sale. The two are directly linked.

So…it’s inevitable that brand teams are wondering how they can best direct shoppers toward the online sale in this environment, either by driving traffic or using a Buy Now button. With the Buy Now button, the brand people need to realize that this is a case where the code hasn’t been cracked yet. There’s still a trust issue when online shoppers see the Buy Now button or banner and are asked for their password, which they might not want to share. So we’re still talking about the potential in this area, which we’ll probably see played out over the next decade. It’s a challenge and opportunity the brand team needs to be prepared to address.

For a more detailed look at brand and retailer guidelines, download our recent White Paper: 12 Breakthrough Ways Brands and Retailers Can Partner More Effectively Online. Or click here to view the full recording of the webinar.

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