High-Flying Buzzkill

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High-Flying Buzzkill

By Bill Schober - 12/26/2018

While browsing Reddit in early December I spotted a drone-taken photo of our little neighborhood. I thought it was pretty cool; a detailed, high-resolution image from a perspective attainable only via flying camera. I sent this curiosity over to my wife as our house was partially visible in the distance. 

“Ugh,” Madame replied. “Another invasion of privacy.” I wasn’t necessarily surprised by her response, but I was by the fact that the vast majority of Reddit commenters were also negative, complaining about intrusiveness, safety and noise and warning the poster about breaking FAA regulations.

“Well, buckle up, folks,” I thought, because the great and powerful Jeff Bezos says that a world with Amazon drones landing on everyone’s doorstep is upon us. I could have used one recently, quite frankly, considering that Amazon’s delivery of new Christmas lights never showed … the app said it did but also admitted that the app often gets ahead of the truck ... and then, Amazon.com said to check back the next day and we’d see what’s what then.

So I’m waiting for a truck. And it looks like we’re all going to keep waiting for the drones. A quick Google search reveals that Bezos said drone delivery would be ubiquitous within five years on Dec. 1, 2013 – five years ago already. Talk about a buzzkill. 

The good news is that on Dec. 1, 2014, you all (via our 2015 Trends survey) predicted this when you rated “drone delivery” as the futuristic concept “least likely” to have an impact on shopper marketing. Drones are depicted as commonplace in movies nowadays, and yes, a few companies like 7-Eleven and Walmart have flirted with them for drop-shipping to consumers or moving merchandise around stores. But deep down, weren’t you skeptical all along? I remember John Mount of Coca-Cola wondering how a drone that can’t lift a Coke 24-pack could ever hope to deliver full basket orders. 

Which brings us to the 2019 Trends survey. Some things haven’t changed: Amazon and Walmart again cast a giant shadow over the proceedings. But instead of drones there are even scarier-sounding sci-fi concepts taking hold such as artificial intelligence, voice-enabled engagement and augmented reality. 

But the really big buzz among CPG marketing executives is around digital advertising platforms and their effectiveness in targeting shoppers, measuring results and delivering ROI. Oh, and how open the operators – Kroger, Target, Walmart and Amazon – are to data sharing. This level of CPG/chain interconnectivity is a far cry from the world I charted in my first survey back in 1994; that edition’s big “A-Ha” was that most marketers never bothered to measure – even rudimentarily – any of their retail activities. 

Occasionally our survey questions may be a little ahead of their time. For example, we asked CPG marketers if they plan to work with any of the 11 digital content providers Walmart recently designated as “Connected Partners.” Two-thirds of respondents said they “don’t know,” which probably means they hadn’t even heard of the program yet. Nevertheless, I suspect we’ll be tracking its progress over the next few years. 

One area that is decidedly behind the times, however, is the CPG/retail industry’s “glass ceiling” for women executives. When it comes to women’s advancement, this industry segment, at least by some accounts, trails all others in U.S. business.  Some of the reasons why are shared by our respondents: “boys club,” “old-school mentality,” and “commitment to family first” are among the more predictable cliches. One answer, however, struck me as distressingly emblematic of the times we live in: “Organizations prioritize confidence over competency.” Think about it. 

And while there are no delivery drones hurtling toward our doors just yet, doorstep delivery does have a role right now. One out of four survey respondents said they are already developing and shipping specially branded e-commerce packages direct to consumers or through online retailers. In-store displays were part of a First Moment of Truth (“deciding on the product”) activation; the doorstep delivery/unboxing presentation sets the stage for the Second Moment of Truth (“experiencing the product”) on a path-to-purchase loop. 

While the context, objectives and messaging must be completely different, a well-shaped doorstep delivery/unboxing experience does rely on classic P-O-P material specification savvy, manufacturing capabilities and design skills. Indeed, I believe this burgeoning market niche, which really has only begun to coalesce in the past 12-18 months among the biggest players, represents one of the most upbeat industry narratives in many years. 

There’s no doubt that the P-O-P producer base has consolidated from my early years when there were 400-500 players (fully integrated forest product suppliers, full-service producers, brokers, design shops, subcontractors, etc.) out there. Today it’s probably around 100, according to one industry observer, who said it wasn’t due to lessening demand. Rather, there’s a financial barrier to entry in the form of multi-million-dollar digital-printing systems that are nonetheless considered table stakes. Luckily, personalization via digital printing will be an essential tool in a doorstep-delivery marketing program. 

This is just one of many fundamental industry, marketplace and Institute changes that you can look forward to seeing in 2019. Rest assured that I’ll be here at my doorstep watching for them too – and probably those damn’d Christmas lights as well.

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