I was recently speaking with a distributor in the food and beverage category who told me something that stuck in my brain: the biggest challenge CPG brands are not thinking about is that, once the supply chain is back at 100%, the retail environment will shift again and many marketers will be disappointed.
Our conversation turned back to the deepest days of the pandemic, when consumers couldn’t shop in their usual ways, and everything from ingredients to packaging to reliable trucking was in short supply.
Of all the players in the CPG space, it’s possible that retailers learned the most about their businesses. And that learning happened in real time. They recognized that having shelves fully stocked doesn’t guarantee turn. And now that consumer buying habits have largely stabilized and the supply chain has nearly righted itself, retailers have a lot more questions, more power, and more options to fill each and every slot in the store.
Retailers Are Calling the Shots
Let’s say Big Snack Brand X has six slots at Retail Chain Y. They pay for slotting and promotional exposure, and they’re only selling 10 packs a week. Challenger Snack Brand Z has just one slot and doesn’t pay any premium to Retail Chain Y, but they’re selling 100 packs a week. Retailer Y is searching for Every. Single. Dollar. And will bump Big Snack Brand X out of the way to make more space for Brand Z.
Retailers are analyzing performance slot by slot. And they need to know that they’ll make as much or more out of every slot with every new brand they choose to stock. What’s more, they’re open to bringing in new brands because they believe discoverability is a lure for shoppers.
In short, there’s now a ton more churn on store shelves than there has ever been. And whether you’re a global brand with tons of sway or a mid-sized brand challenging the big guys for space, you have a short window of time — maybe six months — to prove that every SKU in your lineup is delivering big for the retailer in every store, in every slot.
How Are You Serving Your Retail Partners?
The amount of work it takes brand leaders to get their products on shelf is no longer the heavy lift. Now retailers expect you to push hard on marketing activities once you’re in their mix: “What have you done for us lately?”
Expect to field questions about your marketing support and your own supply chain. They want to know you’re building relevance with a growing audience and that you can keep up with demand.
Here are 7 strategies your brand team can deploy in this time of retail upheaval:
1. Focus on building a strong brand resonance, identity, and user experience.
Retailers want to know you are driving traffic to their stores for purchase. At minimum, leverage social media and influencer marketing to increase brand awareness.
2. Invest in building a community of loyal customers through events and engagement.
People don’t buy products; they buy brands. And when the brand is on a powerful mission that connects deeply with consumers, they’re not only loyal — they’re evangelists. Retailers want to know your audience will buy your products, no matter what.
3. Continuously gather customer feedback about your product, your community, and your mission.
And be willing to make improvements accordingly as necessary. Retailers expect that you have a crystal ball that shows your audience’s wants and needs.
4. Stay ahead of trends.
Offer sustainably sourced, environmentally friendly, or healthier products (or all of the above) to meet changing consumer demands.
5. Offer unique, high-quality products that stand out in the market.
Seems obvious, yes. But sometimes less is more; fewer superior products instead of a whole suite of commodity products.
6. Stay agile and be willing to adjust strategies quickly in response to market changes.
While our businesses are largely back to “normal,” the pandemic taught us that another disruption, whatever the cause, is always right around the corner. Retailers want to know you are ready for any contingency.
7. Pay attention to the needs and feedback of your key retail/distribution accounts.
Or switch them up if your existing accounts aren’t a good fit for your brand’s goals. Invest time and energy into creating true partnerships with your retail partners. They can be your biggest allies.
Be Strategic, Think Entrepreneurially
Consumer brands that didn’t support their product during the past two years may be in for a rude awakening as supply chains return to normal and the retail environment resets. Just because your product got on shelf doesn’t mean it will stay.
We expect that incumbent category-leading brands will regain positions of strength in the retail environment. While challenger brands that may have benefited from increased placement and potentially a sales bump may face unexpected loss of relevance, loss of placement, and increased costs.
To thrive, managers and marketers with mid-sized brands (either independent or part of a large portfolio) must think entrepreneurially. Now is the time to deepen your investment in building consumer awareness by leveling up your brand positioning and re-emphasizing the brand’s WHY. Armed with values-based strategies, a brand manager has the potential to gain unfair advantage and loyalty via social media, influencer marketing, and e-commerce.We’ve been urging brands of all sizes to have big ideas and make bold moves since the very beginning of the pandemic. Brand strategy, marketing strategy, and sales strategy all have to be aligned. And your whole team has to be actively looking — and ready — for opportunity instead of waiting for it to appear.