When I joined Tesco (then a struggling U.K. supermarket chain) as a young marketer, retail was at best a marketing outpost. For a career in marketing you were supposed to join the likes of Procter & Gamble or Unilever. I remember my family and friends thinking I was crazy to join them.
However, as it turned out, the marketing challenges I encountered in retail are faced by every marketer today.
For a start, I soon learned that a retail brand is not created through advertising, but by the customer experience of shopping the store: from the cleanliness of the parking lot to the demeanor of the employees, customers read the store body language and sense what the brand is really like.
This is now the reality for most brands, as the volume and variety of touchpoints have multiplied through digital technologies.
I also quickly learned that when your brand is defined by customer experience, you better make sure your customers feel appreciated and your employees live and breathe the brand. Even then, word of mouth was the single biggest driver of visits to the store. Today of course, social media has put word of mouth on steroids.
And once Tesco launched its Clubcard loyalty program in 1995, I came to appreciate how data can be used not just to target new customers but also to improve customer experience and strengthen loyalty. In today's world of big data, this should become second nature for every marketer.
These challenges resulted in a very different approach to marketing. Much of the effort was focused internally on improving the customer experience and shaping the culture of the company, rather than just on advertising and promotion. Today, this approach is becoming the new normal for marketing everywhere. With their experience, retail marketers should be leading the way.
Do you see this happening? What other lessons might marketers learn from retail?
Simon Uwins is a former CMO of Fresh & Easy and Tesco UK, and author of "Creating Loyal Brands" (2014). Find him online at www.simonuwins.com.
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