BrainTrust Query: Navigating Retail’s White Out
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the newmarketbuilders blog. The article first appeared on the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA) blog.
Identifying and seizing white space opportunities was once a lot easier, back when retailers stayed in their lanes and relied heavily on brand marketers for direction and differentiation. Today, it requires hitting a moving target, as retailers continue to market their own brands and opportunistically jump into new categories, services and business models.
In my experience, suppliers and brand marketers miss out on white space opportunities by going to one of two extremes. Either they cede control and give retailers complete authority over how opportunities are defined or they myopically pursue initiatives based on outdated assumptions or legacy relationships.
The sweet spot is in developing collaborative models that enlist retailers’ evolving perspectives. The following are a few tactics for uncovering white space and engaging new decision-makers:
Visiting stores and following news releases on store openings and volume achievements should still play a role in your retail strategy, but doing so will only give you part of the story. Dig into financial calls and quarterly releases on retailer websites, and make a list of recent acquisitions, brand partnerships, new hires, top initiatives, and the buzzwords and phrases that have been assigned to them. In my experience, very few companies take the time to explore developments that they can’t directly connect to their interests or current contacts.
Connect the Dots
Map out the commonalities between developments and incorporate the themes you discover into your retailer-facing discussions. If a retailer has just acquired a video-streaming service, launched an app, and hired a digital guru, for example, you can bet that their white space will focus on engagement, and that entertainment will be part of the mix. In contrast, a retailer eliminating several middle management roles is most likely trying to speed up decision-making and foster agility. Leverage those themes in a way that showcases synergies with your brand values and collaborative processes.
Keep an ongoing record of organizational changes, key new hires, and partnership plays. Put new faces on your list for your next trip out to retailer HQ, and commit to conducting at least three “listening sessions” with people outside of your usual contact base. These meetings should be pitch free and instead focus on drawing them out about their responsibilities, goals, and the ways that they envision brands and suppliers playing supporting roles. Incorporate the insights from your listening sessions into future meetings with your contacts, both legacy and new. You may be surprised by the influence that your new contacts have over decisions affecting your business.
What are some obvious and less obvious strategies for brands to identify white space opportunities in the retail space? How do you see retailers’ evolving organizational structures changing the way new opportunities are identified? What additional collaborative models make sense in today’s environment?