What – and How — Will You Prioritize in 2023?

First, thank you for your business. All of us at Interline, AIM and MarketNet appreciate the opportunity to have served you in 2022 and will look forward to serving you in 2023.

But, what do we do about this upcoming year, with its promise of recession and other disrupting factors?

While I’m sure you have been thinking a lot about prioritizing all you have to do, I’d like to offer you a few suggestions from The State of Fashion 2023, a 73-page, 452-footnoted report from The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company who should know about such things.

The Business of Fashion (BoF) is a media company recognized around the world for its authoritative, analytical point of view on the global fashion industry. McKinsey & Company is a global management consulting firm founded in 1926 by University of Chicago professor James O. McKinsey, that offers professional services to corporations, governments, and other organizations.

And before you ask what the fashion industry has to do with what all of us in B2B sell, fashion faces the same economic, social and environmental pressures we all face.

How their executives will respond to these disruptions offers us some high-level thinking. BoF’s and McKinsey’s report contains suggestions for their responses. Reading them gave me something to think about, and I wanted to share some of their ideas with you for this coming New Year.

As Albert Camus said, “It’s not the soundness of the argument that’s important, but for it to make you think.”

So here are a few of the many Executive Priorities the report offered to the fashion industry. I think you’ll find an eerie similarity to what we ourselves are facing in our B2B markets.

Pricing

BoF and McKinsey say: Build pricing muscle with greater pricing capabilities to adapt to a high-inflation environment and protect top lines. Craft custom pricing strategies that account for fluctuations in customer purchasing power and maximize impact across the product assortment.

Our Comment: Pricing is always a struggle, isn’t it? How DO you price anything these days? Our recommendation to our clients in several research projects this year was to price for VALUE. Discovering your value to your customers keeps you relevant, and pricing becomes a secondary consideration. As one executive told us, “We don’t care about the price. We sell AROUND the price with value-added things our customers not only appreciate, but enhance the actual price they pay for our product.”

Regional Risk

BoF and McKinsey say: Identify regions that are continuing to drive growth amid economic uncertainty. Adopt an increasingly nuanced, localized approach to marketing and merchandising, empowering local teams to facilitate region-specific opportunities and respond quickly to events on the ground.

Our Comment: In the work we’ve done this past year, we’ve shown repeatedly there is a marked difference in how products are bought in different regions of the country (and the world of course, but we’re concerned about U.S.). Specifically, a zip code analysis of income levels has shown that there is a way for manufacturers to differentiate sales strategies. Instead of pricing by product line, one client examined pricing by regional trends. Coke did this years ago when they automated their machines to raise the price of drink when the temperatures rose. Another examine is shaping your marketing the same across the board isn’t as effective as targeting to a high-income zipcode differently than say mid-level incomes. Or, analyzing where construction projects in a specific market are happening leads to overlooked opportunities. Research can help sort this out.

Profile Customers

BoF and McKinsey say: Analyze how customer groups in different demographics and locations are shifting their behaviors and adjust strategies in response by introducing new channels, pricing strategies or product categories. Evaluate how new models like resale, rental and repair can be integrated into the value proposition to allow customers to combine responsible and affordable consumption

Our Comment: The idea of “renting” out your products isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. 20 years ago we did a major piece of research for company that had this idea for their products, and the market was “so-so” on the idea. However, in a couple of test markets, the idea took off. Unfortunately, the client lacked the internal infrastructure internally to pull it off, so like other ideas, it fell by the wayside. Perhaps it’s time to think about reselling, rental and repair now. Or, examining how your customer groups are behaving can uncover interesting new channels. One client set up a reward program for end users and rewarded them with credits for future purchases. End users, we learned, really don’t want to switch their brands, and appreciated the reward for being loyal to their installed base.

Understanding Use Cases

BoF and McKinsey say: Gather insights on post-pandemic customer habits to identify how a product fits into their new routines and requirements. Encourage creative teams to reimagine the product category with as much diversity in terms of colors, shapes, products or materials as any other category.

Our Comment: The understatement of the year is COVID changed everything. Another understatement is that we will get back to normal. Breaking the economy for two years has caused ruptures in the way we all do business, so it makes sense to start finding out how people do business these days. One client used distribution through the traditional hardware distributor showroom channels, but realized that’s no longer the path. He concluded that the designer was the key to hardware sales through specification influence. Creating a “to the trade” line of hardware brought successful expansion into high-end residential homes, while keeping the commodity line in place at the distributor level when showrooms started opening up again. What are your customer habits that are changing? That can’t be changed? Answering these questions leads to new ways of marketing.

Multichannel

BoF and McKinsey say: For most brands, Direct-to-Customer (DoT)channels should be reserved for the most loyal, high-value customers and combined with other multi-brand retail and marketplace channels to drive growth. Map out which physical stores continue to deliver ROI, leveraging physical touchpoints as opportunities to bring the brand to life for customers and build an emotional connection.

Our Comment: Of course, everything depends on how you define who you customer is? B2B path to purchase is riddled with influencers, each of which can disrupt a sale. “Secret Shopping” is an effective means to discover the benefits of multi-channel marketing. Your ability to understand how information about your products flows might be what you think it is, but the proof is in the actual demonstrate of that information flow through tactics like secret shopping. In today’s disruptive environment, it’s never a linear path. The question is always, how much emphasis to you place each part of the path? Only exploring those paths anonymously will help answer that for you.

Speed and Flexibility

BoF and McKinsey say:  Brands and manufacturers should establish strategic partnerships to make investments required to future-proof their operations, achieving greater agility and visibility and reducing environmental impact. Strategies like vertical integration, nearshoring and small-batch production enable brands to better respond to shifting market and customer demands while reducing inventory costs.

Our Comment: Marcus Luttrell the “Lone Survivor” Navy Seal said: “SEALs place a premium on brute strength, but there’s an even bigger premium on speed.” He knew that moving quickly, neatly and efficiently were the keys to a successful mission. One marketer stated it clearly: “You need agile research and tools to do navigating today. We can’t wait for research that takes eight weeks anymore, because by that time, it’s out of date.” To move faster, you need people and tools to produce insights enabling you to take action immediately. How can you address this issue?

Creative Capabilities

BoF and McKinsey say: To support the demand for higher volumes of fresh content in diverse formats, brands need to hire for, or outsource, creative production capabilities. Offset the reduced ROI of existing paid digital marketing channels with alternative approaches like content marketing, influencer collaborations and retail media networks.

Our Comment: The explosion of digital information paths has resulted in splintering recognized media outlets. Today, everyone is a media outlet. The problem is content – original content. There’s just too much data, and the “noise” it creates blurs the “signal” you need to get your message through. We find that original content exists in hidden areas within companies – areas that are often overlooked as “status quo.” However, what’s “status quo” to you may be relevant and fresh to your target markets. How do you find these hidden areas? What’s the best way to message them?

There are more, of course, but these stood out to me. Hope they “made you think.”

May you continue to prosper in 2023 and beyond!

Happy New Year!

Authored by Jim Nowakowski from Interline Creative Group

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