Conor Ryan
Conor Ryan 10 July 2018

To Stay Competitive, Retail Marketers Must Swap Agency for Specialist

Today's retail market is being described as one of “the most challenging and competitive in 50 years.” As evidenced by high-profile store closures and bankruptcies, retailers are struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving customer journey.

Consumers are in a constant state of content overload and connecting with them is tougher than ever. To efficiently reach them, it is imperative that retailers deliver personalised experiences, seamless transactions and stunning creative that cuts through the noise.

It's becoming clear that retail marketers cannot do this alone. In order to revamp their strategies and remain relevant in the current landscape, they must call on experts and implement new technologies. This brings the age-old marketing question into play: Should retailers lean on their full-service agencies or tap specialists to solve for these challenges?

With surmounting pressure, there's little room for trial and error. While full-service agencies tout their ability to do it all, specialists provide the in-depth knowledge and tools to keep retailers competitive.

“I first experienced this in the mid 2000s when running Thomas Cook’s Paid Search programme”, said Danny Barrasso, a seasoned digital marketing leader who has innovated for brands such as Hilton Worldwide and New Look.  “We were only able to achieve scale and significantly better ROI when leveraging an SEM strategy. The same is the case 15 years later with complex platforms like Facebook & Instagram, hence the rise of Facebook Marketing Partners like StitcherAds”.

Specialists come with focused skill sets, flexibility and adaptability

Specialised partners bring focused skill sets to the table, which is crucial in a competitive and challenging environment.

A full-service agency is usually spread thin across a large book of clients, varied service offerings, multiple media channels, and vertical solutions. Agencies cannot innovate as quickly as specialists that are completely focused on a single channel. Without a particular capability focus, agencies miss opportunities to optimise, meaning revenue is left on the table. In order to navigate retail’s confusing landscape, marketers need to tap teams of people who understand the ins and outs of one area of retail marketing, (e.g. Facebook and Instagram ad automation) rather than a team that claims to “do it all”.

In addition to that in-depth knowledge, retail marketing specialists are typically more flexible due to their focus and size. Every retailer is different and requires customisation to reach their unique customer base. It's certainly possible for a focused team to meet those customisation needs – and quickly. Full-service agencies generally do not have the underlying tech, the integrations or the expertise required to meet those requests.

“It’s staggering how much some of the bigger media agencies think they can get away with charging unsuspecting clients, many of whom are being asked to reduce their marketing costs,” Barrasso said. “It’s fundamentally a broken model. Retailers need to move away from their over dependency on generalists & assemble an all star team to get the most out of their marketing budgets and work with specialist partners to drive stronger results”.

Retailers benefit from specialists’ ‘partner status’

Digital channels are an integral component of creating seamless and personalised experiences. Consumers are always-on and they are moving at the speed of light. From Google to Facebook to Pinterest to Snapchat and beyond, retailers must innovate on these platforms and they need to do it rapidly.

Specialised partners often work directly with these platforms to obtain partner status. These designations give specialists access to alpha and beta features – allowing retailers that work with them to get a leg up in the game. These marketers can test new features before they become widely available, and are able to get ahead and stay ahead of their competition.

Overall, the ability to innovate greatly increases by working with a specialised partner over an agency.

The technology is in place

Retailers need the right technology in place to create, track, measure and optimise their campaigns. Whether it’s deploying personalised creative at scale or visualising omnichannel campaign performance, the tools need to be in a unified platform and they must be intuitive.

The StitcherAds platform, for example, helps retailers measure the in-store impact of their online media spend. Not only do our clients benefit from our team's in-depth knowledge on building better Facebook and Instagram marketing campaigns, they also use our platform to act on those insights. They can use the technology to segment in-store customers or lookalikes in online media campaigns, deploy location-aware omnichannel ads, and personalise creative based on local insights – among other things.

Specialists typically exist as technology-first platforms, so clients have direct access to these proprietary systems. Meantime, full-service agencies usually need to pay for the technology they need to manage campaigns – rolling those costs into client fees. If they don't go that route, they attempt to replace tech-enabled automation and optimisation with much more expensive manual efforts.

Working with an agency in this capacity ultimately makes it more difficult for retailers to take campaign management in-house down the road. With the agency as a middleman, retail marketers become dependent on them to manage their campaigns. This is not sustainable.

Big retailers need to be flexible and move fast

Managing a larger number of specialised partners vs. one full-service agency can be daunting. However, this is a small price to pay in a competitive market. Specialised partners are focused and have the ability to move quickly and efficiently. This is more necessary than ever before. Retailers that do not adapt to today’s customer journey will lose market share to competitors that do.

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