By Andrew Banks, founder and Managing Director of Squeeze Digital Marketing
Without doubt one of the biggest failings in recent years is not one specific marketing campaign but the failure of a number of businesses in one sector to spot digital marketing as an emerging channel - a failure that ultimately led to their downfall.
Rewind the clock back ten years and home shopping was rife. Brands like Empire Stores, Kays and Great Universal were well known and respected household names in their own right, operating on a tried and tested business model. Most families had a ‘book’ or at least knew an agent who they could buy through.
Coming back to today none of these brands exist in their own right, having struggled to survive and then being acquired in one way or another by the Shop Direct Group. These brands now trade under a single brand as K & Co.
Having worked with some of these brands prior to their acquisition, it is clear that the one area they failed in spectacularly was their grasp of digital marketing and how much impact it was to have on their sector.
In theory, they had everything required to survive and thrive - they knew how to plan ranges, buy products customers wanted, had the operational infrastructure to deliver and the buying power to dominate. These brands should have become the early big players in e-commerce.
What they lacked was the knowledge of the new marketing channel - digital. By not fully understanding how big a change digital would be, and more importantly by just looking at digital simply as another marketing channel as opposed to the shift in consumer behaviour is was to become, these brands misjudged the biggest marketing change in recent times.
Compare what these brands were in 2000 - established, independent, successful, profitable - with what ASOS was - a start-up with £2.4m initial funding but an understanding of online. On paper the established brands should have flown - and out-smarted the likes of ASOS - but that did not happen.
The lack of understanding of how big a shift digital marketing was to be in traditional retailers allowed smaller more dynamic start-ups with that understanding to flourish.
Things have improved - but there are still gaps
Retail now seems to have adapted well and has a good grasp on the more direct digital marketing tactics such as email, SEO, PPC etc.
When new tactics or channels appear there will always be mistakes and some campaigns will always fail as retailers try and test new things.
Social media is the relative new kid on the block for digital marketing and as expected there have been some pretty spectacular failures, such as the early Skittles campaign.
What Mars got right with the campaign for Skittles was their understanding of the viral capability of social media. Build something unique, something engaging, something that makes people say ‘wow’ and it will spread through the openness of social channels. What they completely misjudged was that this openness and viral nature could, and did, completely back fire.
Skittles built a website that in simple terms overlaid various social media channels. When you went to their homepage you saw an overlay of Twitter Search showing any results for the word “Skittles”. Through this they started to control aspects of social media - they did something so unique at the time that everyone started talking about Skittles and this spread massively across the various channels.
What Skittles had not prepared for was when this openness backfires. As soon as the campaign became successful and traffic to their site rocketed, a Twitter campaign boomed with users tweeting messages along the lines “Skittles give you cancer” and ultimately taking over the Skittles website with these types of messages.
What lessons can be learned?
The speed at which digital marketing became prominent took many retailers by surprise and it continues to develop at the same pace. We are still seeing campaigns that suggest some retailers still do not understand what digital really means.
Digital should not be looked at just as a marketing channel – it is a fundamental shift in how we communicate and interact with everything and everyone around us - and that is the point many businesses have missed.
Many businesses have focussed on catching up on how to use digital as a marketing tool, however because digital has progressed so fast, and because consumers have so dramatically changed the way they communicate as a result, these businesses are still getting left behind.
There are of course some great successful businesses who really get digital, have it at the heart of their business, live and breathe it all day long and are now disrupting markets. These are the ones to watch.