When you think of marketers, you likely don’t think of them using military strategies as one of the tactics in their business. But, that’s exactly what marketers at some of the top e-commerce companies in the world are doing. Businesses are using the flank military strategy to win over customers. The flank military strategy is a strategic and concentrated movement where someone surrounds a particular area to achieve an advantageous position over an enemy. But how does this apply to marketing?
New entrants to a retail space, or any brand looking to seize market share from dominant competitors, will uncover powerful traffic sources that may be under-leveraged or unknown to category leaders. We often see dominant brands in an ecosystem investing most of their time and resources into only the largest sources of traffic, such as Google, Facebook and massive affiliate websites. But new entrants are finding success with hugely powerful specialty blogs, niche websites, and highlight targeted affiliates. Previously, some of these websites could have been deemed too small or unimportant. The flank military strategy helps new entrants build brand awareness, grow revenue and eventually prepare brands, both financially and from a branding perspective, to start going head-to-head with traditional players on larger marketing and advertising platforms.
It’s now easier than ever for anyone to start a website and start selling something online. This means that everyone is a competitor, and there are new competitors added every single day. This information is especially important as we approach the holiday shopping season, as it can represent as much as 30 percent of annual sales for many retailers. So when planning out a holiday marketing strategy, it’s never been more important to look at all of your competition. Big box chains who think they’re only competing for customers against other big box stores are wrong, and they will lose a huge mass of potential customers.
How did this happen?
This type of strategy has been impacting stores for a long time, but it’s steadily increased over time. Let’s talk about Walmart versus Target. When Target started trying to take Walmart’s customers, specifically in the ‘90s, they didn’t even scare Walmart. They couldn’t compete with the size of the Walmart footprint alone. They couldn’t offer the things that Walmart did, and Walmart didn’t think they’d ever lose customers or market share to someone like Target. So Target picked a couple of categories they wanted to dominate – financial services and fashion. One by one, Target started beating Walmart in these categories, and more. They peeled off one layer of customers at a time, and converted them from Walmart-lovers to faithful Target shoppers.
It’s no surprise that these days everything is online. From ordering fine jewelry to toilet paper, you can do it with the click of a button on your computer or your smart phone. And while major retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon are winning a large share of the marketplace, they’re not the only brands that companies need to be concerned about.
Examples of category killers
Let’s take a look at men’s shirts. Who do you think sells the most? Macy’s, JC Penney, Nordstrom? Well, you’d be right. But, there are new entrants to this space who are using specialized blogs to reach a nice audience ahead of these top department stores. Bonobos, Club Monaco and UnTUCKit are gaining traction on these stores by gaining traction on these stores to the tune of 18 million people. While Nordstrom is getting traffic from more than 475 million people, and yes, that’s a lot, why would they want to miss out on the other 18 million people who could be potential customers? That’s a lot of shirts, and a lot of money in their pocket.
Savvy retailers are building partnerships with new-age media partners, and it’s paying off big. UnTUCKit is the only competitor in the men’s shirt space that’s leveraging Barstoolsports.com – a highly targeted and widely followed sports media company. This is turning into a highly profitable decision for them, driving more than 6 million people to their website in the past 12 months alone.
The bottom line is that new entrants are competing – and winning – across a variety of traffic sources. There’s opportunity everywhere – including social media (both paid and organic). Users consistently show that they’re willing to engage with new brands, especially when the offering is new, exciting or different.
How can department stores prepare?
Now that we know the problem, how can department stores prepare for these category killers and protect their business? They must focus on three main areas: margin, traffic and brand/relationship, and defend these areas at all costs.
- Margin: If you think that your only competition is other big box retailers, you will dissapear. It’s important to know which categories your store controls, and make sure you keep controlling those categories.
- Traffic: Know which traffic sources are driving people to your website, and know which of those people are turning into customers. Also thinking about which products you are selling that are bringing actual foot traffic into the store. Utilizing tools with prescriptive attribution and analytics will help determine these traffic sources, and help you make the most impactful use of your marketing dollars.
- Brand/relationship: Keeping a positive reputation with your customers is key. Customer service isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago – it’s evolving, and you have to be evolving with it. Each time customers see evidence of design and technology that makes their lives easier, they expect to find it everywhere. Don’t lose your customers due to poor or outdated customer service.
Identifying your competitors is a much more difficult task than it once was. It’s important to stay aware of all emerging competitors, and diligent about finding the right ways to target the right type of customers. Keep your focus specific, know your customers, and cater to them, and win this holiday shopping season.
Recommended Read: 2018 Checklist for Marketers: Social Media Intelligence