Marketing Strategies for Retail Success

Marketing Strategies for Retail Success

Sun Tzu famously opined: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” If he’d been alive today he’d have wept at the state of modern marketing, including that within the erotic retailing sector.

So, what’s wrong? Put succinctly, there’s an obsession with tactics. There’s social media, content marketing, sales promotions, PR, events and advertising by the bucket load. Tactics, tactics and yet more tactics. It’s as if nothing else exists in marketing.

A good marketing strategy, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, targets “real” identifiable segments, its offerings are tailored to these segments, offers something unique, is mindful of the future, and is in alignment with your SWOT Analysis.

Don’t get me wrong: some of it is first rate but there’s a mighty big elephant in the room: a distinct lack of strategy preceding all this glitzy, sexy, tactical execution.

I can’t help but imagine a few people from a small and new erotic manufacturer or retailer sat on a sofa in a coffee shop talking about their marketing ideas for the coming year to a marketing consultant.

Consultant: How are you going to achieve your marketing objectives for this year?

Communications manager: Oh, Instagram.

Consultant: What about Instagram?

Communications manager: “What do you mean ‘what about Instagram?’ ? It’s Instagram, dude. We upload lots of images, lots of product shots, some virtue-signalling, inspirational quotes — no doubt bland, meaningless and annoying — to communicate with, and y’know … that’s our marketing.”

Oh boy.

Of course, it’s easy to be seduced by all the sexy antics and creativity and conclude this is all there is to marketing. The problem is that without any overall strategy it’s just noise. It might be sexy and well executed, but it’s still just noise.

Marketers often refer to the “business battlefield.” Imagine your social media folk, content creators, ad copywriters and PR people being the “grunts” on the ground, replacing weapons with words and images. They’ll be slaying the enemy with superior content and engagement.

But wait. There’s no strategy guiding them. Nobody has told the grunts they’re fighting the wrong battles, using the incorrect weaponry for the task, and they’ve been wrongly positioned. And there’s a fair to good chance they’re not even engaging with the right people. Yes, there’s a leadership in place and there’s troops on the ground. There’s just no generals or command structure to be found to decide the overall approach to achieve the objectives by selecting which battles to be fought, with which weapons and at what time and place etc. etc. Yep, this is the strategy bit.

This is the extent of marketing nihilism that has sadly become prevalent throughout the industry. Far from progressing and becoming more sophisticated in our attempts all that’s happened is that there’s an increasing amount of noise — because, “… yo, communications is all it’s about.” No, it’s not, dammit.

So why has this come to be? One probable factor is the lack of trained marketers who are au fait with the marketing planning process. By the way, I’m of course not saying that someone can’t be a marketer without a marketing degree and relevant experience. But I’m definitely saying that he or she will be better with one.

From my own conversations within the industry there’s a definite knowledge gap, a lack of awareness of strategy per se, as well as strategy as a concept. There’s also confusion about the differences between aims, objectives, strategy, and tactics (and believe me, this is evident across many industries).

Additionally, dedicated marcoms practitioners are also talking about strategy services. There’s content marketers talking about content marketing ‘strategy’, social media pros talking social media ‘strategy’. But this is misleading: it refers to communications strategy, not marketing strategy which must precede it. How many social media “strategists” or copywriters will be familiar with, never mind cite, the likes of Porter’s generic strategies or Ansoff’s profit matrix? I’m betting very few.

For the record, I’m most definitely not criticising communications professionals (unless they’re deliberately trying to demean the importance of marketing strategy). Social media, content marketing, advertising and PR and all the other perceived ‘sexy’ stuff is essential to creating awareness, interest, desire, and driving action. But without the guiding marketing strategy that explains how you’re going to achieve your marketing objectives, it’s a recipe for disaster.

A good marketing strategy, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, targets “real” identifiable segments, its offerings are tailored to these segments, offers something unique, is mindful of the future, and is in alignment with your SWOT Analysis. This all needs to be done before engaging with specific communications agencies or consultants responsible for the tactical execution.

It’s easy to imagine an owner who having formulated his or her objectives, immediately leapfrogs the strategy making part, in the rush to get active on social media or pay for advertising. As everyone is so at home on social media it’s inevitable that communications (and not the wider discipline of marketing) becomes prevalent.

My heart goes out to sole traders and micro-businesses spinning multiple plates, but I’ve yet to come across an erotic business boasting limitless time and money to expend. Strategy outlines the approach to achieve marketing objectives that takes into account such parameters as time and money. With so many business owners constantly being stressed by one or both of these, it’s time marketing strategy reclaimed its rightful place in companies large and small.

So, what can be done? Firstly, brand owners and retailers have to acknowledge and own the key role — and steps required — of marketing strategy, which in turn decides which aspects of the communications mix will be used. Review existing marketing activity: is it communications heavy? Has there been a rush to be active rather than auditing and analysing and objective setting? If so, change it. Get that marketing strategy formulated. Whether it’s by self-learning, retraining existing marketing and communications staff, or getting external assistance, just do it.

There’s another great advantage to this. When you have formulated your marketing strategy and it’s time for the tactical implementation you’ll be able to give whoever’s responsible for it the best present ever — a proper brief with all the segmentation, targeting and positioning details you could ask for. No more wild assumptions, second-guessing, or pulling rabbits out of hats! Doesn’t that sound great?

Yeah, sexy marketing strategy. It matters.

Brian Gray is the founder and head consultant at Lascivious Marketing, based in Glasgow, U.K. With two decades of marketing experience in a variety of roles and industry sectors, Gray helps manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers in the erotic industry improve their marketing performance through strong brand creation, better customer understanding and insight, tailored marketing planning and communications through focused effort. He was also involved in the XBIZ.net London Gathering networking events in 2010. Brian can be contacted at lasciviousmarketing.com, found on Twitter @lasciviousmktng and XBIZ.net or phoned on +44 (0)141 255 0769.