Retailers face lots of challenges, profit margins are small, inventory needs to turn, and the competition is fierce. Getting customers into the store and keeping them satisfied should be everyone’s focus to boost sales and enhance profitability. Retailers faced with flat or declining sales need to take a closer look at their marketing and customer service experience.
Since food co-ops are owned by the community, their mission to serve members and support the local economy through the co-op enterprise requires attention to education, outreach and relationship-building. Given all there is to manage and what’s at stake, marketing planning is crucial for success.
“One of the things I see with the intensified competition is that there is a powerful need for focus on the customer and the in-store experience. This means inviting people in, sharing food and recipes, taking an interest in who they are and what they want and giving them what feels like the ‘inside scoop.’ Consumers want to be part of the story you are telling, not just told it,” said Patricia Cumbie, marketing planning consultant. A marketing planning process will help identify the most important elements of that experience, create intentional goals to replicate that for every customer, and a blueprint for implementing that.
A solid marketing plan will help provide both long-term and short-term guidance as well as enhance organizational focus. “I understand why some businesses don’t put enough intention into marketing planning. It takes time and resources. Yet this work is very necessary and important to long term success. Going through the marketing planning process often reveals areas for operational or communications improvement, that if addressed, can constructively impact your marketing efforts and positively influence the bottom line,” she said.
Cumbie said that no matter how big or small your cooperative is, planning can be tailored to organizational capacity so that you can reach your goals and build on marketing success. Whether your approach is a traditional full-scale plan or a targeted one, the process of creating and implementing a marketing plan can help with managing multiple demands, communication platforms, and interdepartmental relationships. “Seek professional assistance. It’s worth the investment,” she said.
An essential element of marketing planning is to evaluate the competition and your place in the market. Understanding that helps you do the work of developing strategies for communication content and the right in-person and online platforms for promoting the co-op through social media, events, PR, and the in-store experience. “It can be one of your greatest assets, something co-op leadership can continually refer to for guidance.”
Marketing planning and implementation (let’s not forget that what is planned for needs to be carried out) offers a lot of benefits. The best marketing plans are those that are professionally facilitated and developed by a team of people, usually the marketing director, merchandizer, and store department leaders. Working on marketing planning together results in people being aligned on goals to increase sales and profitability, and breaks down operational and communication silos. Another important aspect of marketing planning is that it helps provide structure for communication and accountability—who is contributing what to do their part in implementation.
Clearly doing this work well is a lot to manage, as it involves many moving parts: the customer experience, staff training, content creation and a defined promotional calendar with events and collateral materials, all while needing to build in flexibility if something changes quickly. “That’s why marketing departments need planning support and training to manage or direct people, and they also need the skills to implement multiple ongoing projects,” Cumbie said.
Rebecca Torpie, marketing consultant added, “Something I’ve noticed is that marketing managers are not always developed as managers in their organizations. They have to have both marketing experience and management skills to be effective.”
Good leadership backed up by strong systems allow people to work together as well as provide ways to more effectively tell their co-op story internally and externally. “Marketing planning is also about creating systems and an efficient department for people to be able to do their jobs. When systems don’t exist, those important stories about the co-op don’t get told,” Torpie said.
So, what are some of those critical skills and systems necessary for strong co-op marketing? First and foremost is the development of a marketing plan. No matter the organization’s size, putting in place these foundational systems will help marketing be more organized and efficient:
- Development of a marketing plan
- Implementation of workplans for promotions
- Coordinated communication with internal and external stakeholders
- Strategy for staff customer service training
From Torpie’s perspective, one of the most important aspects of systems design overall is building in clarity for decision-making. “When you are working together to create systems you can also build in ways to make decisions together.” She added that clear channels for decision-making help save people time and eliminate potential frustration when working with multiple groups of people.
“This is an important capacity issue,” she said. Without adequate systems in place, marketing efforts can easily become diffuse and unfocused, or the effort put into it is not as effective as it could be because it is unsupported. For co-ops to use their resources wisely, Torpie does deep dives into marketing department work. “I can help people assess what is going on, both at the project level and organizational level. When you are not working on an ad hoc basis you can systematize. That will help you connect your stories and reach out to more people.”
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