An omni-channel world needs omni-discipline agencies.

When one of the world’s biggest retailers makes a statement, the retail industry listens and when one of the world’s biggest brands makes a statement the marketing community listens. So when the guy in charge of brand at the world’s biggest retailer makes a statement, well that is really interesting. That guy is Andy Murray, SVP of Creative & Marketing, Walmart U.S and he was speaking to the Bentonville Bella Vista Chamber’s WalStreet supplier group.

Mr Murray has been in the role for a little over a year and is already credited with advertising that is challenging traditional perceptions of the retail giant. Going into his second year he identified three areas of focus:

  1. Build shopper marketing
  2. Elevate in-store experience
  3. Curate sharable content

That might not be new for marketers at top retailers, but the way he is going about it is. His team now vets every creative idea on how well it will play out in social media and will want to see how a key visual will be used on Pinterest and story board for YouTube. He is building a creative engine that puts the idea first and media second.

Retailers are evolving to create omni-channel experiences for their customers that seamlessly exist across channels, platforms, environments and devices and success is measured in 3 human behaviours; searching, shopping & sharing. That is pushing the boundaries of creative to connect emotionally and deliver brand equity in every interaction. But are the creative agencies ready to deliver?

Almost every communications agency still defines itself by discipline and that could be advertising, design, digital, social or shopper marketing. Some might claim to offer an integrated range of disciplines, but most still lead with traditional media. As a result clients are exploring different models, including lead agencies and holding company solutions, others just see their agency partners becoming less and less relevant.

For change to happen agencies must stop looking in at the industry and start looking out at the behaviours of real people and the complex relationships they have with their client’s brands. They must understand that there are differences between consumers and shoppers, but that switching mindset happens with a click. People have become used to clicking through brand images on-line and finding themselves in a retail environment. The H&M superbowl spot this year enabled them to do that with their TV remote and Asos have curated social content to make it shoppable with their #asseenonme campaign. Arguably the virtual store that Cheil created in an Seoul subway in 2011 was actually shoppable outdoor. We are seeing the convergence of media and retail. Technology has created Agile Consumers who do not care if something is advertising, digital, and direct or shopper marketing, they just want the best possible experience when they interact with brands and shop for solutions.

Putting experience at the heart of the creative process means not just partnering art directors and copywriters, but retail and brand strategists together with UX specialists and the list goes on. That means breaking down the traditional ways of working in favour of a more agile approach that recognises the value of everyone. And to do that you cannot claim to be media neutral or even media agnostic, you have to remove ego.

Agencies that continue to define themselves by discipline and use language like ATL & BTL are looking backwards not forwards, The smart clients don’t budget this way anymore, they understand that the omni-channel world is as applicable to media and marketing as it is to retailing and they are looking for ideas that solve their business challenges. The challenge for agencies is that to deliver for this new reality they must become omni-discipline.


Never underestimate the power of ‘new’ in retail

First published in Retail Week, 11 December, 2014 | By Simon Hathaway

Cyber Monday, Black Friday and before that Singles Day have all featured large in recent weeks – accompanied by the inevitable slew of new stats on how much we are spending online and with what devices.

Perhaps the most pertinent number comes from the IMRG, which estimated that Britons spent £1.32bn on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend and usage of smartphones and tablets was up 4,000% on 2010.

Reading all this, the average person would find it easy to imagine a future with very few shops – but like most in retail, I doubt that. Here’s a small, but significant, reason why.

I had a very simple mission on Black Friday: to get to Selfridges, buy three jars of personalised Nutella and get out.

What should have been a very quick path to purchase was in fact an intertwining journey of pedestrian avoidance, dodging buses and taxis, being abused by cyclists, before finally giving up as I realised that buying this ‘can’t-buy-anywhere-else item’ was going to involve an hour in a queue.

As my walk down Oxford Street on Black Friday proved, the shopping fervour was stronger than ever. What drives us there is the lure of the different and the pull of the new.

Shoppers have always been frustrated at Christmas and Hollywood has even made films based on the challenge of buying that must-have new toy. Of course being the first with ‘new’ has almost become a sport and seeing the tents outside the Apple store on Regent Street, two days before the launch of the iPhone 6, is testament to the positive emotional response that can be driven by ‘new’.

According to research from Nielsen, in-store discovery is one of the largest drivers of new product awareness (72%) and outperforms traditional communication; TV is 59% and print advertising comes in at 54%.

‘New’ is probably the most powerful word in retail.

As we all strive to define our future in retail, struggle with price competition and transform to deliver the customer the convenience of omnichannel services, we must not forget what makes the store exciting and what makes people want to visit.

Those that are on a simple mission will move in increasing numbers to convenience and online solutions, but many more will continue to visit stores to find what is new.

New season has always been big in fashion and those smart clothing retailers are now turning their collections faster and faster. The speed that they can get new lines to market is what makes them successful.

But it’s a bigger challenge for the big boxes, especially those stores who must rely on suppliers and brand owners to bring them new. This calls for greater collaboration between brands and retailers.

Selfridges is very good at this. I have my Nutella now – three jars cost £12, about three times what I’d pay at Tesco. But it is unique, and new. If you’re doing the traditional crystal-ball gazing to divine the future of bricks and mortar, you could do worse than build a temple to ‘new’.