Over the past several years, tech retailing has undergone a dizzying course of changes. Just when pundits were finally getting tired of reporting a retailpocalypse, COVID came around to wreak additional havoc on brick and mortar – while ringing up record online sales of CE products for a nation working and playing from home. As the latest “new normal” in retailing moves into focus, we think one emergent idea will stay constant. The power of your brand statement is the new driver for all your omnichannel efforts.
The Wilder West
When I last wrote about omnichannel here prior to the pandemic, I talked about how focus on your customer’s experience was the through line that carries across shopping, social media and all the rest of the touchpoints where they will encounter your products or services. That’s still true, but as mentioned, the retailing landscape has shifted since COVID, which moved 61% of CE purchases to e-commerce. The competitive atmosphere online is markedly different than the finite in-store world. The opportunities to fully control the customer experience are less certain.
Manufacturers used to stand out from the competition on a show floor through slotting and end caps. We don’t see those in-store tools going away anytime soon. In fact, variations of these same fees are a mainstay of Amazon’s Vendor Central program. But context is everything, and brick and mortar is going to get less of these dollars over time. In a physical space, manufacturers compete against dozens of other products. Online, it’s hundreds or thousands. Popping up a logo everywhere you can isn’t practical or effective.
Media Is Now a Distribution Channel
Outside of the aforementioned slotting with Amazon or the like, how can you master the uncontrollable spaces of social media that influence a purchase decision? Are customers saying good things or bad about your brand on Facebook? How well do your products present on Instagram or Pinterest, where image is everything? Who’s been unboxing your products on YouTube? What are they saying there?
With so many web sites now earning affiliate fees for e-commerce sales, it's almost as if omnichannel has become a new dimension of distribution, albeit one that overlaps with advertising, public relations and social media strategy. So much business is moving online, from research through purchase, that customer perception (everywhere) has become more important than ever. It’d be easy to pigeonhole this brand-building as plain old marketing, and at heart it is, but it’s also more than that.
Brand Is the Differentiator
Brand reinforcement today is more than visibility; there’s a lot of noise out there. Popping up your name everywhere you can makes an impression, but not necessarily the one that you want to make. Not every online forum is civil or knowledgeable. Not every influencer is accurate or even helpful. You probably never thought that a self-proclaimed tech critic broadcasting from a bedroom could be one of your best “salespeople.” You probably also never thought that a single inaccurate user review could ruin an entire quarter. Well, here we are. What’s your go-forward?
In this shifting landscape, manufacturers need to continually check, re-check and refine their brand building efforts. How vivid is your brand message? Does it conjure anything besides a name? How durable is it? One web site’s “trusted” is another’s “old fashioned.” How are you differentiated? Are you just another logo, or does your brand help change a purchase decision, or even the price? How can your brand help immunize or counteract your products against negative buzz?
It’s time for manufacturers to fully embrace the omni in omnichannel.
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David Kaplan was the recipient of the 2019 CTA TechHome Leadership Award. His work at the executive level has involved the complete commercial cycles of the high technology industry with a focus on audio technology and channels, including expertise in purchasing, merchandising, and new product introduction.