Working Through Proper Channels

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Working Through Proper Channels

By Peter Breen - 11/15/2018

“Buy Now” buttons on digital display ads have become so commonplace that I rarely notice them anymore.

That wasn’t the case even a few years ago, when the internet’s strengths as an advertising medium and a sales channel were all too often considered separately, leading many advertisers to run pure branding campaigns as they’d always done through mass media. It took some more time for packaged goods marketers to respond accordingly to the fact that potential sales were literally just a couple of clicks away.

Now for some reason, I’ve been noticing digital ads more often lately. Maybe it’s because they’ve become so relentlessly intrusive: It’s hard not to notice when the product spotlighted on your Facebook feed is the same one whose website you visited one minute earlier. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

Another reason might be the diversity of sales channels that brands are promoting these days. Most digital ads still connect consumers with the usual retailer suspects (a recent ad for Unilever’s Dove from an entertainment website offered three choices: Walmart, Target and Walgreens). But a growing number are increasingly giving would-be shoppers more modern alternatives.

A mobile ad from Nestle Purina dangling discounts on a bulk purchase through home delivery service Instacart also caught my attention recently – filling my iPhone screen entirely, such as it did.

And then there are the steady moves into direct-to-consumer selling, among the latest being Procter & Gamble’s new “Razor Maker” effort, which lets consumers design their own handles to be manufactured via 3D printing at a Boston factory – and perhaps, someday, in their own homes? (That’s surely a topic for another day.)

It seems as if the consumer goods marketplace now has more channels than DirectTV. And while that’s a great development for on-the-go, convenience-hungry consumers, it’s a nightmare for brands trying to plot a comprehensive yet cost-effective marketing strategy. Trying to be all places at all times sure can be a budget buster.

The solution, at least strategically, is to stop looking at the various sales channels that are now available and focus more on the one all-important common denominator across all channels: the consumer.

“There is only one channel. Everything else is just process,” was the notion offered by Christopher Devous, vice president of information technology at lifestyle apparel maker The Antigua Group, while leading a discussion at CGT’s League of Leaders meeting in October.

Devous was outlining the need for consumer goods companies to align newer e-commerce capabilities with their traditional brick-and-mortar practices, but he took the concept at least a few steps further by proposing a future in which consumers won’t just receive products straight from the factory but will work directly with the product designers themselves. (Now that could be a topic for another decade.)

The underlying idea here is to realign traditional go-to-market strategies, to move from efficiency-driven, product-centric organizations designed for the effective production and retail distribution of mass quantities to insights-driven, consumer-centric operations built to respond to true consumer demand – with the agility to continue changing right along with those demands.

To do so, consumer goods companies must confront what many industry experts acknowledge is the greatest challenge they’ve ever faced: rethinking and restructuring every aspect of their organizations without damaging the traditional activities that still drive the vast majority of their businesses. In terms of the current conversation, it requires them to continue driving growth through existing channels while successfully adopting new channels – and, as the case may be, ultimately moving beyond channel-focused operations entirely.

That’s an incredibly tall order. But it sure does provide a lot of topics for another day.

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