Determine value and turn on BS detectors, says Vitamin Shoppe CMO: IRCE 2011

Retailers must determine their brand value before they can determine the best channels and strategies needed to interact with consumers, said Lou Weiss, CMO of The Vitamin Shoppe on June 15 at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in San Diego. He added that retailers must provide “portable context” to ensure that a consumer’s brand experience is uninterrupted across channel.

“Customer behavior is evolving more rapidly than retailer behavior,” said Weiss. “The proliferation of technologies gives consumers the opportunity to change how they interact with retailers. The consumer is getting further away from us everyday. They may not be able to hear us. That’s not a comfortable place for a retail marketer to be.”

Weiss said that retailers used to focus on consumers based on how they shopped. Consumers that focused specifically on store circulars, free-standing inserts and catalogs, he explained, were unlikely to cross channels to make purchases. Today, buying decisions are made across several channels. In order to confront this complexity, said Weiss, brands need to understand their value to consumers.

“The one constant is the notion of brand,” he said. “It will always be the North Star for us to figure out how to sort through the morass of choices.”

Because consumers use multiple stop, start and restart points, he explained, the conversation consumers have with brands “lives in the consumer’s head.”

“We need to bring the context of the conversation with the consumer [across channel] to have a more intelligent conversation,” he said. “Portable context means that just as the consumer has in their head all the information from this conversation, so too can the retailer to make it more portable.”

Weiss likened portable context to retargeting, as well as Amazon’s Kindle, which knows the location (or page) on which the consumer stopped reading.

In order to do this successfully, argued Weiss, brands must understand the value proposition of investing in different technologies and how these capabilities can best serve the brand.

“A wise marketer once said to me,” said Weiss, “before you sell them the pill, you have to sell them the pain.”

He said brands must be honest about what they “own” as a brand and not what they “have.”

“We assessed that and built a nice long list. We were proud. Then we turned on our BS detectors and realized we didn’t own those things in the mind of the consumer,” added Weiss. “Our color palate is similar to our competitor. Our tagline was knocked off by another competitor. Our list was much shorter but it allowed us to focus on who we needed to be and where to invest time and money.”

Since that assessment, The Vitamin Shoppe has added live chat, mobile inventory look-up, and quick response code functionality. The company has not focused on “checking in” or “Groupon-type offers,” explained Weiss.

“We all intuitively know that this notion of channel is going away,” said Weiss. “I’m much more interested in ensuring that our consumers know what they can do with us as a brand. How they interact is immaterial to me so long as they have the experience they want.”

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