Addressing retail marketing’s secret waste

As ‘cause marketing’ and brand purpose become increasingly hot topics, brands and retailers are scrambling to flaunt their sustainability credentials. Consumers are demanding more sustainable practices, concerned about the profound impact of global warming and the damage single use plastic is wreaking on the environment – and brands want to grasp the opportunity to play into the narrative.

However, while many businesses claim to operate in an environmentally-friendly manner, they often harbour a dirty little secret. Current practices in retail marketing create a huge amount of unnecessary waste. This is damaging to the environment, the usual beneficiary of sustainability drives, but also to campaign ROI, the marketing manager’s primary concern. It also undermines – or at least renders hypocritical – any messages they can deliver about their brand’s environmental credentials.

So why does retail marketing have such a problem with sustainability? The primary reason is the disjointed approach brands take to retail marketing. They tend to focus on cost management when producing display materials for mass-market use, which means they miss of the nuances necessary to make them work in specific locations, countries and retailers.

Shamefully, the production of non-compliant material results in around 30 per cent of all in-store display executions ending up in landfill sites. A solution must be found – and the right one will be formed from a combination of technology and good old-fashioned human expertise.

The compliance conundrum

The waste produced as a result of non-compliance in retail displays has triggered a move among brands to reduce their use of traditional cardboard and paper. Indeed, their use has dropped 20 per cent in the past two to three years alone.

Instead, brands are increasingly embracing digital point of sale materials. Multiple retail case studies have found that digital displays have generated savings of 30 to 60 per cent in marketing costs over time. They are also easier to optimise cross-market and cross-retailer, more sustainable to run, longer-lasting and, to top it all, easier to judge on effectiveness.

However, the use of digital presents new challenges. Retail brands must work out how to create activations that work across markets and retailers, while simultaneously learning how to best leverage the latest digital tactics. A great digital retail ad is much more than a re-formatted brand TV spot.

In order to employ more sustainable practices and optimise marketing spend, retailers, therefore, need to avail themselves of extensive knowledge around markets, sectors, categories, digital formats, cutting-edge technologies and procurement. No mean feat.

Of course, printed materials still perform jobs that digital can’t, and many retailers won’t be able to scale digital displays across stores in the short-term. So, alongside throwing new tech at the sustainability problem, marketers need better intelligence about how to leverage print material, too.

Consultants for change

All too often, the knowledge retailers require to scale activations in a sustainable and cost-effective way sits outside of their internal teams. In these cases, external help is required.

Retail marketers should look to enlist the expertise of specialist advisors who can transform their global marketing execution by clearly mapping the entire retail marketing picture for any campaign. They should have knowledge of local retailers, compliance practices and nuances of culture and language to ensure that all retail materials are created or adapted in the right way first time. They should also establish KPIs for every component of the campaign to identify where wastage is occurring and work to actively improve practices in future.

Outside experts can also assist with the evaluation of existing procedures to help identify where digital point of sale activations will reduce long-term costs and drive effectiveness. Moreover, they should be in a position to advise if print, or a combination of print and digital, is going to get the best outcome from an activation in any given instance. By reviewing marketing procurement spend, a consultant can provide recommendations for models that will boost cost-efficient behaviour.

The elephant in the room here is, of course, resource. It’s all very well saying that marketers need to find all this local knowledge, but doing so is a job in and of itself. That’s why it’s crucial to identify a partner with access to the right global talent, the capability to manage its operations, and clear, real-time reporting platforms to show how marketing executions are performing in every region.

Sourcing practical, independent advice around harnessing technology, activating at scale and reducing waste is an effective route to transforming retail marketing execution into a sustainable process, enabling marketers to focus on creativity and innovation. With the right people at work, retail marketers can wave goodbye to their dirty little secret.

by Steve Pitts, business director, TAG

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