Market it… and They Will Come

Market it… and They Will Come

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Ok, so you just left PMA with your head spinning as you realized how rapidly this industry is changing…again. You now understand the pressing need to bring new products to your store in order to match the ease and innovation already available through online photo sites. You already sense that even loyal customers do go over to the other side and order creative products you don’t offer, (and if you don’t know it, you better believe it). But you also recognize that when you bring the same services, your customers stay with you and support you. So there’s work to be done as you have little time to prepare for summer.

In case you missed the buzz at PMA, (or couldn’t get away, for which there is actually no excuse), the products I’m speaking of are the products that will replace the venerable 4×6 print. Products like photo books, photo cards and collages. It’s not that the 4×6 is gone – in some stores it may still be growing – but these new products are a lot more personal and expressive, and that many customers feel bored with the 4×6. Sometime in the next year or so you may in fact begin to see 4×6 print volumes drop and the idea is to have multiple new products ready.

Tough decisions

To get started, you first have to settle on the right technology – the right way for customers to place orders, and the right output. Perhaps you’ve already made that decision or perhaps you’re still evaluating your choices. But either way you’re making an investment and you need to feel good about ROI prospects, and it seems you’re feeling pretty confident, right?

Stop and listen to this reality check. Getting your customers to accept new products, even those they love, or should love, is very difficult, and it may in fact be easier to move a mountain. It’s hard to explain why customers turn down what’s good for them but that’s just the way it works, and as retailers we’ve seen this time and time again. How many times have we come up with brilliant new features to add to our business only to have them flop? Take store hours for example, how many of us have added the most convenient late hours only to have very few customers ever take advantage of them? And how much sure-to-be-loved inventory has died on our shelves?

People with M.B.A degrees would claim these are examples of not listening to our customers – instances where we failed to hold a focus group, (or an advisory panel, which is actually a great and simple idea retailers can manage), or maybe just a case where a product was positioned wrong. This makes sense but perhaps not in specialty photo retail where, in my view, most great ideas fail because of bad launches or worse yet, no launches at all.

Let them know

Just yesterday I walked into a retailer’s shop and noticed that a very expensive kiosk they had purchased months before was sitting idle. What? How come a few months ago this machine represented this retailer’s future and now the power cable was unplugged? How does a smart retailer go from associating dollar signs with a certain technology to complete resignation?

The answer is a bad or no launch. This one went something like this: the retailer got the kiosk and trained only one staff member. Some samples were printed and placed on the counter, although none of the staff could describe what they cost or exactly how to order them. Then, when not a single customer used this kiosk a certain resignation set in with the entire staff – and the owner – and any excitement they initially had vanished. No one had actually noticed the unit was off, and no one could say when the machine was last turned on.

But even when a launch is well planned and executed products often fail. It’s just hard to introduce a new reality and to get customers to bite. It takes speaking to your customers, explaining, merchandizing, coaching, and a lot of tweaking and retrying. I have a friend who is VP of marketing at a large fortune 500 company and her rule is to always try every marketing idea three ways, and three different times, until it sticks, (I guess even an M.B.A does not guarantee success the first time). It comes down to this -if you believe a certain product or service is so great for your customers then put some attitude behind it.

Keep the faith

This means a number of things. First, create a culture of change in your company (read my February article for more on this). Then, expect a significant passive resistance to a product. In other words, expect customers to ignore it. Forget ROI for the first year and think in terms of creating a core customer base for a particular service. This is significant – first, so that you and your staff can hold your faith in the product and learn to position it, and also because marketing is viral, and a core group of evangelists can turn on many new users.

Let your customers know how important you think a product or new service is, and put some weight behind it. Make it the focus of your communications for a long time, say all of 2007, and never waiver. Employ e-mail newsletters, integrate the product in store displays, make sure staff is suggesting it, use store events, etc. Know your message is being heard and probably well received, and that you are building a critical mess of future users. And pay close attention because you’re changing too, and by the end of 2007 your days will be spent making very different products for many new customers. yy

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