You can’t go online today without seeing another tragic story about the demise of a once stalwart brand. Brands, particularly fashion brands that hit their peaks in the early 00s, have been taking it hard. Retail has always been competitive, but as the habits of shoppers, particularly millennials, shift and change, the landscape is changing with it.
In the 90s, brands enjoyed a sort of uber-dominance. Malls sprung up everywhere, and in them, stores like Gap, and its subsidiaries (Banana Republic, Old Navy) were packed with young, eager shoppers. Styles and fashions became ubiquitous. Trends that once spent months trickling down from the coasts to the center of the country could suddenly launch simultaneously everywhere.
Combine brand ubiquity with the proliferation of big box stores like Home Depot, Walmart, and Barnes and Noble and you have the perfect storm for an easy transition to online shopping. It didn’t take long for Amazon to sell more than books, and shoppers were already accustomed to one-and-done purchases. Instead of pulling into the crowded parking lot at the local shopping center, they logged onto the site of a single seller with the same set of expectations: getting all their shopping done in one spot.
The Mall is Now Virtual
Mall culture created an expectation for convenience, one that’s been met and surpassed by online superstores, namely Walmart and Amazon. If brands didn’t see this coming: they weren’t reading the tea leaves. Fashion has always been a fickle game, and those physical retailers that overexpanded are seeing an inevitable retraction. The future for brands requires a tectonic shift away from focusing on ubiquity. Smart brands today are focusing, instead, on what survival looks like.
Those forward-looking companies understand that the rules for surviving and winning online aren’t really new--they’re just different. The web has been a great leveler for all kinds of brands and retailers, especially because data and research, once the domain solely of super brands, is now more economical than ever. It’s easier now to expand your digital footprint (far more cost-effective than a physical presence). The key, though, is investing in the right digital tools that empower brand survival.
Three Brand Pillars of the 21st Century: Experimentation, Focus, and Maintenance
There’s no question that the threefold impact of the recession, the shift towards online-only shopping, and the mobile revolution has decimated physical retail. The smart brand, though, is going to survive (take Nike as an example) by leading in the online marketplace. No matter where your customer finds you, that retail channel is never going to be a substitute for quality, customer experience, and discoverability. Granted, Nike has a marketing staff that is larger than many companies. Smaller brands, though, can compete online with strong habits, sensible data, and responsive brand marketing.
Because this landscape changes faster than any other retail environment in history: change is the only constant. NOW is the time to invest in resources, get aggressive, act quickly, test all the time, and remain hypervigilant. There may be some things that could impact business very quickly, like optimizing product names, descriptions, and images. Pinpointing the exact issues to fix, though, requires a deep dive into your data with a partner who knows what kind of needle to look for in the haystack. Regardless: follow and act on the insight the data gives you, but know that every brand, even the biggest in your vertical, is playing the same game you are. Whatever you do, it’s important that you do it now, and be ready to change it all up tomorrow.
You know how you’ll know when your campaigns are working? When you implement them, study them, and respond to them in a steady and observable timeframe. Give your team plenty of runway before and after every tweak to your campaigns, product landing pages, and search terms. Learn as much as you can every day about which products are moving and why. There are big lessons to learn from even the smallest pieces of data. The more you maintain your focus on those areas, the faster you’ll see changes to your bottom line and an uptick in your conversions.
Maintain Your Product Pages
If we could recommend one simple piece of advice: maintain and obsess over your product pages. How well are your product pages laid out? Are your product names adequately optimized? Do you have enough product information above the fold? How are your customer reviews holding up? How many times are you missing sales because items are out of stock on big retailer sites?
Using physical retail as a model: it takes a lot of resources to keep a store in good shape. Shelves have to be restocked, floors cleaned, racks of clothing reorganized. There’s never, in the history of retail, ever been an era where you could simply set it and forget it. Product listings require as much, if not more, maintenance than a showroom ever did. It’s okay if you have to seek some help. We work with some very large brands that, even with seemingly unlimited resources, still needed insights. The bottom line: everyone uses third-party analysis and expertise in this space, including gold-standard brands with several generations behind them.
Brand management is as complex now as it’s ever been. Staying at the forefront of online retail is unquestionably complicated. It’s a language that all brands have to become increasingly fluent in if they have any intention of surviving.
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