Alexa, What's My Marketing Strategy?

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Alexa, What's My Marketing Strategy?

By Peter Breen - 01/03/2017

Famed American philosopher Homer Simpson once called alcohol “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” I sometimes feel the same way about marketing technology.

Digital technologies and communications channels offer marketers an unprecedented, once unimagined ability to personally, directly communicate with consumers to build brand affinity and influence purchase decisions: Amazon Echo and Google Home are even paving the way for a day when marketers may literally talk directly to consumers. 

But technology also offers an equally unprecedented and almost certainly unimagined ability on the part of consumers not only to control their own purchase decisions, but to block marketers from having any opportunity to influence them: They can “Subscribe & Save” and never give another thought to which brand of laundry detergent they should use – or another thought to when, where or how to buy it. 

Unfortunately, the technological ease with which consumers can now be reached directly seems to makes some marketers feel as if their jobs have become easier: Schedule a bunch of programmatic ad buys and retarget the bejeezus out of anyone who comes near your website and, congratulations, you’re directly reaching your target audience – throw in a “Hey, Peter” or directions to a nearby Walgreens and you’ve effectively personalized the message.

However, “targeted” doesn’t always mean relevant, and “personalized” doesn’t always mean personal. The more marketers utilize technology to automate their communication parameters, the less relevant the message often becomes. Then, we’re simply finding new ways to continue bombarding consumers with the same old unwanted advertising.

A glaring example of this is the practice employed by at least a few newspaper websites that run splash ads inviting visitors to view a retailer’s weekly circular before they even get to the home page (see image). So we’ve not only modernized the experience of viewing the circular for consumers who like that shopping tool, we’ve also modernized the annoyance of getting rid of it for the people who don’t. Progress works in mysterious ways.

I was similarly troubled  in early December when I opened up my Skype app to find an ad from Walmart promoting a Wi-Fi-enabled Black & Decker slow cooker; the Wi-Fi lets you start the appliance remotely, so your pulled pork will be ready for serving when you get home from work.

In this case, the advertised product is most certainly modern (welcome to the Internet of Things). And the delivery vehicle is pretty modern, too. What’s missing, again, is relevance and personalization.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to good, old-fashioned mass advertising. It’s still necessary, and it still can work. Walmart nearly monopolized Skype’s ad inventory during the holiday season, oftentimes with eye-catching streaming video and other rich content. There’s no reason why Walmart shouldn’t try to sell me a Wi-Fi-enabled crockpot even if there’s no evidence that I want one – I very well might need some gift ideas three weeks before Christmas.

It just concerns me that marketers might be too willing to let the programmable, automated aspects of technology lull them into a sense of satisfaction. Taking full advantage of these new media requires more thought than that.

There’s a concept we teach in Path to Purchase Leadership University’s Digital Shopper Marketing course that examines three stages in the “digitization” of consumer-facing tools: First, you recreate the analog version, like posting a digital copy of the weekly circular. Next, you adapt the tool to the new environment, like adding click-through or add-to-list capabilities to the circular. Finally, you abandon the traditional model to recognize both the inherent qualities of the new medium and the evolving preferences of shoppers.  In many cases, marketers are still stuck in stage two.

Research consultancy IDC Manufacturing Insights predicts that nearly all growth in the consumer goods industry over the next 10 years will be driven by companies that find ways to successfully engage directly with consumers. For IDC, engagement doesn’t refer only to marketing and digital communication; it also means direct fulfillment, ongoing replenishment, direct sales and customized product. Check out for a possible glimpse into the future (and visit Shopper Marketing sister publication Consumer Goods Technology at for more of IDC’s forecasts).

Attaining that level of engagement requires a lot more than targeted ads and token personalization. It demands a full understanding of customer needs and behaviors – you know, the insights that shopper marketing delivers – and a readiness to disrupt existing business models to address them. This will not be easy, but it will be necessary.

Homer Simpson also once said, “If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.” Homer would be a lousy marketer.

NOTE: Peter Breen is editor-in-chief of Consumer Goods Technology. He can be reached at 973-607-1300 or [email protected].

Originally published in Shopper Marketing, January 2017

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