The past few years have been very good for the e-commerce industry, and really any business that earns significant revenue from online sales.
The COVID pandemic sent established brick-and-mortars rushing to accelerate their digital transformation plans and sell more online. They plowed eye-watering sums into digital marketing channels despite often shaky evidence for digital ads’ effectiveness and, more recently, a broader decline in ad spending.
Some benefited greatly from this shift, but many spent the second half of 2022 wondering whether they’d made the right call. As normalcy returned and consumers sought out in-person experiences once more, brick-and-mortar retail’s prospects brightened.
We’ll never truly go back to a pre-pandemic landscape, in marketing or sales or any other domain. But brick-and-mortar retailers can look to what their digital counterparts did right and apply those lessons in the real world. This brings us to the increasingly critical importance of marketing automation to brick-and-mortar retailers’ success.
Why Modern Automation Is Essential to Brick-and-Mortar Marketing
Digital marketing opened up strategies for automation by leveraging technologies to streamline and optimize various marketing processes, from lead generation to customer engagement. While brick-and-mortar brands have embraced digital marketing trends, the same can’t be said for automating trade marketing operations. To be able to compete and survive alongside direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, brick-and-mortar brands must adopt automation, here are some reasons why:
1. Good Data Is Difficult to Come By in the Real World
Measuring marketing performance is easy in the digital realm, where most every impression and click is trackable and attributable. In the real world, marketing performance is much more difficult to quantify. Even knowing what to measure, performance-wise, is a challenge.
This is the top trade marketing pain point identified by Brand Regulator, a trade marketing automation (TMA) software solution for brick-and-mortar brands. While it’s true that sales-based metrics can hint at what’s working and what’s not on the physical collateral front, insufficient market and consumer data can make more precise comparisons difficult.
Brand Regulator also notes that larger brands in particular may suffer from ineffective marketing automation, resulting in a lack of coordination between regional directors, HQ-based planners, and retail locations. The end result is often an incomplete or outdated representation of in-market activations, making effective campaign analysis and scalability near impossible. Collecting up-to-date data and generating accurate reports in trade marketing relies completely on the use of automation.
2. Standard CRMs and ERPs Aren’t Up to the Job
Brick-and-mortar retailers often see CRMs and ERPs as low-cost, out-of-the-box alternatives to specialized tools designed for in-person marketing automation. But these solutions — such as Salesforce and alternatives like HubSpot and ActiveCampaign — have limitations. This isn’t because they’re not good products but because they’re designed for one type of digital marketing or another rather than retail trade marketing.
What invariably ends up happening when brick-and-mortars try to use standard CRMs and ERPs for trade marketing automation is a daunting, time-consuming customization process that often does only some of what its stakeholders envisioned.
3. Trade Marketing Campaigns Have Many Moving Parts
Trade marketing campaigns are much more complicated than PPC or affiliate-based or even social media marketing efforts. Brick-and-mortar marketers have to consider:
- The various iterations of physical collateral involved (often a dozen or more pieces per campaign)
- Keeping this collateral’s physical footprint straight (more on that below)
- Designing and approving new collateral (a multistep process that many marketing departments struggle to manage in-house)
- Managing orders for new or replacement collateral
- Orchestrating fulfillment for collateral orders, from printing to shipping to installation
- Managing trade marketing budgets within the context of a broader marketing strategy (another multistep process that can overwhelm in-house planners without adequate resources or expertise)
Given these and other demands on your marketing department (and others), sensible marketing automation isn’t just “nice to have.” It’s practically essential for success. Automating high-volume, repetitive functions frees up your core team to focus on more creative or complex functions and decisions that demand more brainpower.
4. Physical Marketing Collateral Has a Complicated and Constantly Changing Footprint
Managing all of the above is extremely difficult without scalable marketing processes and robust automation wherever possible. Throw in the fact that your physical marketing footprint is constantly changing and it’s all but impossible to keep straight using only spreadsheets, shared folders, and ad hoc communication.
For example, one of the biggest pain points for large-scale trade marketers is basic quality control, including:
- making sure the right fixtures show up in the right retail locations
- ensuring they weren’t damaged in transit or installation
- overseeing that they’re properly installed per brand guidelines and the marketing team’s instructions
All this requires a huge volume of detailed, dated photos. Simply switching from a “text HQ after install” system to an “upload to a shared folder accessible to install teams, marketing, and location management” system can save dozens of person-hours per month while dramatically reducing error rates and measurably improving performance tracking.
Brick-and-Mortar Marketing Shouldn’t Be So Hard
It may seem like history now, but in 2020, intelligent marketing experts were talking about the end of the retail shopping experience. But we see now, there was really never an end in sight to speak of. Sure, eCommerce received a boost during the pandemic, but we’re now living through a reversion to the mean. 2023 is shaping up to be brick-and-mortar’s comeback year.
Yet we can’t pretend as if nothing has changed. The pandemic did drive home the importance of a multichannel sales strategy and did demonstrate the benefits of digital marketing automation at unprecedented scale. Brick-and-mortar retailers — including those skeptical of marketing automation software and practices — should apply these lessons to physical trade marketing as well.
Marketing automation is no small investment. But for brick-and-mortar sellers who thrive on loyal and engaging customer relationships that are still best cultivated in person, it’s worth every dollar.