4 Retail Marketing Myths Debunked

Over time, the retail marketing industry has come to rely on certain truths. Over the last few years, the new customer journey has changed some of these truths.

Unfortunately, many marketers are still stuck in the past, and are too busy chasing incremental improvements on the old model to see that the game has changed.

It’s time that we started talking about a new model for retail marketing, reflecting a new mobile and social consumer.

Myth 1: The aim of retail marketing is to remain ‘top of mind’ for customers, as customers almost always buy their preferred brand.

Truth: Today, customers are always on the lookout for new products, are in charge of their own customer journey, and have all the information they need at their fingertips.

As a result, marketers need to make sure their brands are always findable and delivering customers relevant and personalized messaging across the devices they use.

This is the exact opposite to how it has worked in the past – the ‘TV era’ when brands would invest heavily in broadly-focused creative designed to reach as many people as possible with the same message.

Myth 2: Retail marketing is a zero sum game. Brands compete for the same audience through the same channels, and one brand’s success must come at the expense of another.

Truth: Contextual marketing matters. What a customer is looking to achieve will depend on which device they are on, the time of day and where they are browsing from. Everyone can win.

If a customer is looking to complete a high value purchase, such as a vacation or a car, they may start their customer journey with research on mobile in the morning, but they won’t feel comfortable completing such a large purchase on a mobile device.

However, if the customer is at home browsing on a tablet or a desktop, they have different choices. They are more likely to consider completing the purchase there. Conversely, if a customer wants to purchase a low value item such as a HDMI cable, they may find it more convenient to convert via a mobile device.

In light of this, marketers need to be able to measure and model how each device contributes to the conversion process and adjust spend in real-time accordingly.

Myth 3: The customer journey is linear. The effectiveness of a mobile marketing ad campaign can be measured by numbers of buyers through the mobile channel.

Truth: Customers interact with brands across mobile, tablet, social, email and offline channels, and paid and earned media: and they hate inconsistency!

It’s essential to be able to deliver consistent messaging to a customer across the devices they use. Recent research found that 71% of customers react negatively to inconsistencies in brand messaging across devices.

Marketers should focus on ways to deliver consistent messaging across devices, while integrating the message into content designed for the specific device or app platform that you are targeting.

Marketers should consider the relevant message for each context: in-feed ads need to be attention grabbing and creative, while push notifications should offer a clearly defined call to action. What are the technological capabilities of different devices, and how does this alter your message?

Myth 4: Marketing is all about the ‘big idea’ – the creative is what really matters.

Truth: Today, data rules. Media planning has moved from being about vague demographic pen-portraits to detailed customer profiles and continual optimization.

While the creative still matters (for techniques such as native advertising it matters a lot), but today’s marketers are leading with data and looking for strategies that can achieve replicable success.

Advertising used to be about moments of creative genius like this:

Today, it’s about a different kind of genius. It’s the ability to interpret data and develop campaigns based on algorithms. IBM has used Watson, its in-house cognitive computer that learns and makes decisions on the fly to organize its online ad campaigns.

The move proved so successful that Watson will be used for all of IBM’s programmatic campaigns by the end of the year: a big move for a company that spent $53m on digital advertising in the last year. At scale like that, saving fractions of a cent per impression can really add up. I wonder what the “Mad Men” in the smoke-filled ad agencies of the 1950s would have made of today’s programmatic world.


Technology has profoundly disrupted retail marketing, but old truths die hard. When you’re planning your next campaign, be prepared for a world where:

  • The customer is in control of their own journey
  • Customers make decisions based on context and device
  • Customer messaging has to adapt on the fly
  • Brands are leading with data


Published by

Kristian Carter

Kristian Carter is a marketing technology advisor (MTV, Global Radio, Coca Cola Japan, Uniqlo, Tesco, Automic, Featurespace, MidVision), and has had work featured in The Next Web, Forbes, Huffington Post, and TechCrunch. Kristian has been called a “social media maven,” and has spoken at conferences including LikeMinds, Media140, WebTrends due to his expertise in targeting the youth market. He is a graduate of Oxford University, receiving a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

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