5 Tips for Dealing with Unsuccessful Retail Programs

It happens even to the best brands. You conceptualize and execute a retail campaign to get your product into customers’ shopping carts, only to see lackluster results. The campaign, to put it bluntly, flopped.

It’s a frustrating position to be in, but how you handle and respond to program flops can help you learn and improve future campaigns.

That’s why it’s important to conduct a post-mortem on every unsuccessful campaign. David Hoos of The Good says that taking this step will enable you to “analyze what worked and what didn’t.”

“The biggest mistake you can make is not learning from your failures. If you don’t, you’re doomed to repeat them. To some degree, every campaign is a grand experiment and the deeper goal, whether successful or not, should be to gain insights and improve your marketing for your next campaign.” – David Hoos, Marketing Manager, The Good. 

Here are some pointers to help you conduct better post-mortems and ensure that you subsequent campaigns don’t suffer the same fate.

1. Conduct post-mortems as soon as possible

When done, here is content other readers find helpful:

Aim to conduct post-mortems as soon as you can, so the information is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Don’t wait weeks or months after the campaign to do this.

In fact, if you could do post-mortems while the program is active (i.e. conducting them after every phase or milestone) you might be able to “un-flop” a lackluster campaign by quickly identifying problems and changing course.

Unless you do it on time, in full, at every site, you are not executing at all

2. Have the right information

Conducting an effective post-mortem analysis requires the right data. Before anything else, gather all the information about the campaign, particularly around results. This could include data around sales, inventory, brand lift, customer sentiment, and more.

In addition to facts and figures, it’s important to gain qualitative insights into the campaign. Send a questionnaire to the people involved in the program (i.e. from planning all the way to execution) and get their input.

Some of the questions you could ask include:

  • Which aspects worked well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What difficulties did you encountered with planning or executing the program?
  • What are the things we can do better next time?

This step of gathering information and team input should be conducted prior to the actual post-mortem meeting, to prepare everyone and set the scene for a productive talk.

3. Don’t go into the process looking for something (or someone) to blame

While the purpose of a post-mortem is to identify things that went wrong, the ultimate goal is to gain insights that will improve future campaigns. You won’t be able to do this if you set out to assign blame.

This process is “about reviewing the work and the result for purposes of team and personal improvement. It needs to be constructive. Therefore, it’s important that your team is in the right mindset: positive and learning-focused, not defensive or hypercritical.” – Kyle Eliason, Senior Client Partner, Portent 

A good way to do this? Be sure to bring up the things that went right in the program, and not just the misdirection. And when you do talk about the mistakes committed throughout the campaign, do it in a constructive manner, that highlights the solutions.

4. Pinpoint and understand your errors

Identifying errors is just one step of the post-mortem process. You also need to understand them. Doing that starts with classifying any mistakes or misdirections that took place.

Joshua Feinberg, Chief Thought Leader, Vice President, and Co-Founder at SP Home Run Inc. says that flops are a result of any of the following: tactical errors, strategy errors, and buyer-in errors.

Tactical errors typically occur at the execution stage of the campaign. For brands and retailers, these could be things such as a sign not being set up correctly or products that aren’t displayed properly on the shelf.

The best solution to these types of errors? “Improve your processes and checklists. And have another set of eyes double check your work,” Joshua advises.

That’s why task management is incredibly important when planning and executing your retail programs. You need to have a system in place that enables you to create, assign, and monitor tasks. This helps ensure that each task or job is completed and nothing falls through the cracks.

Tasks web lookAnd when your program is live, be sure to check that everything is going according to plan. It’s easy to tick things off a to-do list, but whether or not that “to-do” was done properly is another story.

When it comes to retail programs, conducting store audits is critical. Retail audits help see to it that tasks are completed successfully and that they’re up to your standards.

Strategy Errors

Strategy errors are “big picture” mistakes that typically involve the product itself or the overall messaging of the initiative. Insensitive merchandise (such as Nordstrom’s offensive Hanukkah sweater) or tone-deaf campaigns (such as Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad) would fall under this category.

You can prevent strategy errors by getting to know your audience.

“There’s no substitute for actual buyer personal development. Without it, your content strategy can end up making some horrifically misguided assumptions.” -Joshua Feinberg, Chief Thought Leader, Vice President, and Co-Founder at SP Home Run Inc.

When planning your programs, never lose sight of your customer. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is known for having an empty chair in meetings to represent “the most important person in the room” (i.e the customer). It may behoove you to do something similar. Continuously remind yourself and your team of who you’re talking to in each campaign and put them at the center of your planning sessions.

Communicate, execute, and verify is how good hospitality becomes great

Buyer-in Errors

Buyer-in errors occur when a campaign isn’t backed by the whole team. According to Joshua, “Maybe you didn’t let the creative run long enough to get statistically significant data. Or, maybe your boss or client has wildly unrealistic expectations about the budget or timeline it takes to be competitive. Maybe there are internal saboteurs that want to see your marketing campaigns fail for their own selfish career interests.” 

His advice is to ensure that “buy-in starts at the top,” citing David Packard who famously said, “Marketing is far too important to be left only to the marketing department.”

5. Summarize and disseminate key issues and learnings

It’s all too easy to have a post-mortem meeting and then walk away without a second thought. Don’t let this happen. Be sure to follow-up with a summary and a plan outlining the steps that you’ll take going forward.

This follow-up could be in the form of a presentation or a word document that details:

  • The program objectives (and which ones were achieved and weren’t met)
  • Results
  • Qualitative feedback
  • Things that went well
  • Things that didn’t go according to plan
  • Errors and key learnings
  • Things to implement in future programs

Send this follow-up document to all stakeholders and revisit it when planning and implementing your next program.

Final words

Dealing with unsuccessful campaign isn’t the most pleasant experience, but the post-mortem process can pave the way for successful programs in the future. So be thorough with your analysis and get every stakeholder (and if possible, partners) on board.

About the author:

Francesca Nicasio is a freelance writer and content strategist who’s dedicated to writing about retail trends and tips that help merchants increase sales, improve customer service, and be better retailers overall. Her work has been featured in top retail industry publications including Retail TouchPoints, Street Fight, Retail Customer Experience, VEND, and more. She’s also a featured thought leader on LinkedIn, and is followed by over 300,000 professionals on the site.
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