Retail marketing: How to prevent daily operations from killing innovation

Retailers know how important innovation is, here’s how to use organisational effectiveness to keep it progressing while still achieving daily operational success.

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It is not uncommon for Marketing departments to be overwhelmed by operations, especially in what we characterise as a marketing-intensive business. Plans for innovation and improvement can get unintentionally neglected. A survey by Danish agency Republica reported that 6 out of the 15 marketing departments of Danish omnichannel retailers are so busy with daily operations they do not have time to innovate or focus on long-term development. CEO Niels Henrik Eriksen reported his concerns: 

“All companies have something that runs daily and every week that needs to go out. They keep the machine running. But it takes focus away from taking a step back and thinking long-term. We can see that more people would like to if they could, but the operation steals that time.”

Innovating operations

When it comes to retailers achieving success, they need to be adept at simultaneously planning consumer campaigns and executing them. While planning Halloween, a consumer marketing team could be executing the Spring campaign, getting started on Christmas and launching a new product range all at the same time. It can be intense and doesn’t leave much time for innovation or transformation. There’s a plethora of media channels today and likely many more to come. It may not get any easier, but it is possible to have a strategy in place to manage it. It is completely possible to balance both planning for the future, whilst still achieving day to day success. 

Freeing up time when everything is urgent and important is quite a challenge, particularly if the processes are quite arduous, out of date or not well optimised. Eriksen advises “do not let lack of resources become an excuse - you can easily innovate and develop without having dedicated teams for it.” We’re very much in agreement when you know how. The question is less about what needs to be done and more about how it is done. In a marketing-intensive environment - like retail - it has always been about how you are managing the volumes and the complexity you are faced with.

Organisational effectiveness is the optimal management of technologies, people and processes.  By connecting the necessary people, competences and processes through the right systems, any team can do more, better and much faster. Managing this effectively is what will free up the time and resources needed for innovation and control over operations.

People first

For organisational effectiveness to work in the context of retail marketing, it is all about people. Without their support, any new ways of working will struggle at best. 

Change management and leadership are two critical components. Training and support is a prerequisite. Including those with seasoned experience can in particular support and advise on incorporating innovations into existing operations. Even if you are in search of Best Practice, allowing for input is crucial for the change process. At the same time, the digital natives early in their careers can also support with bringing in new ideas, whilst learning the operations.

Technology can set people free

The role of technology in effective operations is about optimising the tools needed. Operations can only be optimal if the correct tools are in place and doing what they need to do efficiently.  Achieving optimisation will depend on several factors, what needs to be achieved, the tools available and how they’re integrated into the organisation’s operations. 

Whether reviewing your existing system or seeking a new one, to attain organisational effectiveness, the systems selected will also need to be aligned. The system you select will have a significant impact on long term operations because depending on the organisation’s needs and how it expects to evolve will make a difference.

Before pursuing a new system, start with getting the processes right and get them digitalised.  For many organisations, the number of solutions have become unmanageable, disconnected, inefficient and a burden to the organisation. To resolve this, more and more organisations are now consolidating their tech stacks with the help of foundational platforms. Foundational platforms consolidate the tools into one suite or platform and then coordinate and manage them together as a group.  Working with a foundational platform will make life easier both for the marketing teams using the service and the technology teams managing them. The tools within the service can still change as needed, but the foundational platform secures consistency and efficiency. 

Process

Process is where time and resources can be freed up. Search for tasks that are tedious, resource heavy, faulty, complicated, antiquated, causes bottlenecks or just high in volume. You will find that some parts of your process can likely be optimised and/or automated. Could spreadsheets be moved to more intelligent connected systems? How many spreadsheets or databases exist? Could data entry be automatically uploaded? 

Based on the work we’ve done with our own clients, we estimate up to a staggering 50% of employee time can be freed up through more optimal work processes. See the case study of our work with Danish DIY retailer jem & fix.  With the support of appropriate technology systems, automated tools can take over a number of routine marketing activities, streamlining resource-heavy processes and executing campaigns faster. 

Operations will always be an incredibly important challenge for a marketing intense organisation that retailers are in. It won’t go away. You will need a strategy to tackle and manage problem areas. A best practice is not about avoiding operations - it is about taking on the challenge.

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