Size counts—and in New Zealand, so does salesmanship

Global trends, macro forces, cool websites and articles that get forwarded around the office and don’t pertain to new-born babies birthed by the chick in accounts generally tend to refer to the latest, coolest and, if the authors are to believed, ‘will change the face of marketing/retail/research/strategic thinking/toasting bread’ theme. But the issue with these wonderful insights is the relevancy to us here in New Zealand.

Augmented reality looks great in Amsterdam and Times Square, but somehow I don’t think it’ll fly in St Lukes shopping mall. Foursquare (the cool location-based social network) is being adopted by retailers all over America offering discounts to members and other quirky customer interaction strategies. It’s brilliant and works on every level except … how many people would it work on in New Zealand? Not many, if any (sorry, couldn’t help it).

Flagship stores are wondrous and fantastic pieces of real estate that inspire the consumer and build brand loyalty but we don’t see Nike, Adidas, Apple or even a local brand like Huffer hassling their PR company to announce their launch. Why? It’s not because we’re not cool or innovative, or even because we don’t want to. It’s basically because it doesn’t make financial sense. On a simple business case, computer most definitely says no.

So if we can’t afford to be cool, can we do old school really well to compensate? Take QVC shopping channel for example. It’s about as unsexy as it comes in terms of pushing the boundaries or utilising technology. But hold on a sec. In a depressing American retail market, QVC is selling stock and doing it well. In a recent Atlantic article entitled ‘Six lessons in successful retailing’ it quotes the insights gathered from studying the QVC model and behaviour. Tell a story, provide social cues, improve status, make the transaction easy, inspire story telling and know your data. Putting the data thing aside, the rest can be summarised in two words: ‘Good salesmanship’.

The recent Ethical Consumer guide from our cousins over the ditch is designed to help shoppers to NOT buy stuff they don’t need and ut states as its number one strategy: “Ask yourself, do I need it?” Apart from the blatantly obvious answer which is, of course, you don’t need a brand new flat screen or another packet of biscuits that are on a two for the price of three special, you want it—and want is far greater than need.

Again, the counter to this anti consumerism message is great salesmanship, or, as we prefer to call it today, ‘customer service’. However, while the rest of the world is thinking about how to use technology to enhance the customer experience we can only wish we had the customer base—or the budget—to justify taking the punt. Our sales technique comes down to clever marketing campaigns above the line. Fingers crossed the retail staff aren’t hungover or our ‘yellow ticket’ special price point works.

But what about the salesmanship? What about the simple yet effective story telling that QVC has proved to be such an effective tool in a slow market and has managed to counter the ‘do I need it’ argument. We may struggle to justify the investment in a flagship store but what about flagship staff? How about using people to sell our products? It’s a novel idea due to its simplicity but due to our size it’s still financially viable to talk to people with people, creating stories by passing them on, creating status cues by treating consumers with a degree of personalisation, justifying the want by standing in front of them and saying so.

We may be small and we may have a long way to go before we really become cutting edge in using technology in retail but maybe in our case it really is a case of working harder and not smarter because the smarts don’t justify the cost or ROI, whereas working harder just might make you stand out.

So is great salesmanship the ultimate in experiential marketing or PR? Or is experiential just another form of salesmanship? Regardless, the fact remains that human nature thrives on attention and experiential marketing in its best guise is the ultimate in lavishing attention on consumers, so maybe we’ll be looking at more and more experiential teams and brand ambassadors as extensions of our sales force.

  • The CAANZ Marcomms Leadership Group is charged with highlighting and developing the value of PR and experiential communications. Members are drawn from independent agencies or marcomms divisions within larger agency groups that are involved in a wide range of marketing communications including public relations, ambient, activation, experiential or events.

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