Ana Andjelic is a brand strategist and sociology expert.
Recently, the chief marketing officer of a well-known coconut water company discussed with me the repeated efforts of her company to shift toward more sustainable packaging. The problem is both systemic and one of corporate communication. Packaging suppliers are not innovating fast enough, if at all. Currently, the different packaging options available do not chemically bond well with the beverage and can be harmful for humans, despite the fact that the packaging material is good for the environment. And consumers are in the dark when it comes to the company’s vast sustainability efforts.
Herein lies the hurdle of innovation: The entire value chain needs to be involved. A company cannot innovate if its suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and packaging partners are lagging behind. CMOs often do not have the authority to innovate, at least not in reality, as their roles do not encompass the entire value chain. But innovation is a growth engine, not a project — and today, it’s more urgent than ever.
Understanding the mandates and priorities can help. These mandates are usually consistent and revolve around the following four areas:
Increase digital revenue
There is a big DTC-versus-wholesale conversation going on today, mostly because a lot of retail brands in the fashion, beauty and apparel spaces are seeking to make their owned-and-operated channels their core sources of revenue. At the same time, their distribution is set up for wholesale, and while declining, the majority of their revenue still comes through third parties. Digital revenue is not limited to e-commerce; increasingly, it includes social commerce, customer acquisition and retention tactics, online aggregator partnerships, integration of content and commerce, inventory management, customer relationship management, membership and loyalty programs, customer database management, and clienteling in stores.
Improve customer experience
Customer experience, or CX, seems to be the hot term of the moment. Companies from Forrester to Havas Media are talking about creating and capturing value from superior customer experience, and with good reason. According to Ipsos, customer experience is the top reason consumers choose a brand, though there are very few brands set up to successfully deliver it. Customer-centrism is still not the focus point of many legacy organizations, so it is not surprising that the best examples of CX come from digitally native brands that have been around for less than a decade. They understand that in the “retail everywhere” context, there are opportunities to add value and convert users at every single customer touchpoint, digital or physical. And all those touchpoints form a relationship that the brand needs to invest in and nurture.
Reduce operational costs
A number of retail CMOs across industries have told me the biggest challenge they face is having too many reports and sitting atop of a siloed organization. Clunky and outdated organizational structures cannot support demand for responsiveness, which is today’s business’s mandate. Instead, they are relics from a time when departments were added based on every new technology that emerged and changed the business (e-commerce! Social media!). Rather than a number of departments all pursuing their own agendas, working with their own agencies and not coordinating their efforts, they should be driven by the strategic organizational answer of how to use new technologies for sustained business and brand growth. Undoing a legacy organizational structure is much harder than being set up from the get-go for customer-centrism and responsiveness, so it’s not surprising that upstarts lead the way here.
Launch new products or services
This is often the first step when thinking about innovation, though it should probably be the last one, once the digital revenues are increased, customer experience is improved and operations are streamlined. New products and services are the natural outcome of overall corporate transformation for growth. However, there is the danger that new products and/or services won’t be adopted on the organizational level, and that they’ll remain isolated in a silo. One example is the number of abandoned or underutilized retail labs.
Today, every company is a growth company, and this is especially true for retail. With retail everywhere, customers are expecting cohesive and streamlined shopping modules no matter where they are, whether they’re on WhatsApp, on TikTok, on Instagram or perusing content. These are all potential growth opportunities for companies that are operationally set up right, that put customers at their center, that have a healthy digital revenue, and that constantly and strategically introduce new products and services.