Managing Change Strategically in the Dynamic World of Digital Marketing

Learn how to keep calm and carry on amidst the chaos of today’s ever-changing retail marketing environment.

Manage constant change in retail marketing.

Forget death and taxes. The only sure thing in retail marketing these days is change. And the CMO who can’t keep up with the frenetic pace — particularly when it comes to digital marketing and data — risks failure on a grand scale.

In fact, Forrester® has predicted that, in 2017 alone, “CEOs will exit at least 30 percent of their CMOs for not mustering the blended skill set needed to drive digital business transformation, design exceptional personalized experiences, and propel growth.” And the Harvard Business Review has said that “the secret to survival will be the ability to transform on a dime.”

Unfortunately, keeping up isn’t easy — but it is stressful. And, as we all know, stress is often counterproductive to performance. Luckily, we have insights that can help you stay calm amidst the storm and keep your — and your team’s — productivity running high, while keeping your company on the innovative edge.

Foster a Mindset for Ongoing Changes in Marketing Strategy

One of the most important steps you can take in working to lead change with calm confidence is simply to accept that change will happen. In a sense, this falls into the category of, “If you can’t control it, don’t sweat it.” After all, you can’t control the world around you, and you can’t control what the powers-that-be in your organization will do next.

What you can control is how you react to change — and part of that is how you prepare for it. For instance, you can work to develop or revise processes and policies so that they’re adaptable. Whenever possible, try to imagine potential marketing changes and corresponding adjustments: If that happens, then we’ll need to shift our path and do this.

Further reading: See how CCG helped ULTA® Beauty adjust on the fly during its search for a new loyalty platform.

In addition, it can help to take a positive perspective when you think of any change in marketing strategy. Instead of dwelling on what you might be leaving behind, identify the positive aspects and opportunities. For instance, Kristine Steuart, CEO of Allocadia Software, suggests using the word “transformation” instead of change, because it helps you and your team focus on the ultimate outcome rather than the day-to-day work.

Pick Your Battles

When you’re surrounded by change, most people have one of two reactions: ride with gusto into every battle — or pretend there’s nothing going on out there. Neither one is effective long-term.

  • People who attempt to address every change essentially allow change to take the driver’s seat. They become reactive, and quickly find their attention split and their productivity diminished.
  • Those who pretend change isn’t happening essentially put up a defensive wall to block out change. In doing so, they risk bypassing innovation and missing opportunities.

The trick is to do a little bit of each. In a Quick Base article, organizational psychology practitioner Eva Rykrsmith calls this strategy “mode switching.”

  • In your “walls up” mode, practice mindfulness and focus. During pre-determined periods of your day, give your full attention to one specific task at a time. This is a good place to check in on your regular routines and established processes to make sure everything is running smoothly and essential work is still getting done.
  • In your “gung ho” mode, loosen your focus and allow yourself to observe what’s going on around you — at work, in your industry and in the world. This is the time to watch for opportunities that you may want to act on.

Which brings up an important point: Every opportunity to change your marketing strategy or methods is not one that your company needs to jump on. As retail CRM technology and marketing tactics change on what seems a near-daily basis, you would easily get swept off your feet trying to catch every wave. Instead, evaluate each trend for the impact it could have on your company, how well it meshes with your brand and whether you have the resources to embrace it.

In the meantime, don’t abandon successful tactics simply to pursue the next big thing. If a strategy, channel or message has proven successful for you over time — particularly if it helps differentiate your brand and provide a competitive advantage — keep doing it.

The reality is that those “next big things” often take a while to catch on and truly become a standard or essential part of the mainstream. For instance, the Harvard Business Review points out that the computer mouse was “shown to be a definitively superior graphical user interface” as early as 1965. But it didn’t truly become the universal standard until 1995 — three decades later.

Outline Your Action Plan

Once you (or the C-level suite) have identified specific changes in marketing strategy or methods for your company or team to act on, it’s time to create a plan. Begin with broad strokes — where you’re starting, where you want to end up, and major actions or milestones along the way. Don’t get caught in the details yet. Give everyone a chance to understand and absorb the big picture first — it’s generally less overwhelming.

Then begin to break each of those primary goals into a step-by-step action plan. Make sure to set yourself and your team up for interim wins along the way — and celebrate those individual victories. It will go a long way toward keeping morale high and maintaining the momentum needed to see the entire project through to the finish.

Developing this plan and truly understanding the end goal of your transformation project will also help you lead with conviction and purpose. That, in turn, will help create an aura of calm and help your team gain confidence in your leadership.

Draft Your Team

You may have noticed we’ve referenced “your team” several times. There’s a reason for that: Rarely does change impact just one individual in an organization. At the very least, there tend to be ripple effects throughout the company. More than likely, even if managing the change is your responsibility, you’ll need a team to implement it.

If you have the freedom to pick your own team, start by analyzing your action plan and identifying different skill sets required to meet each interim goal. Then start designating responsibilities. In many cases, when you are making significant changes to your marketing approach and initiatives, your in-house staff may not have all the talents you need.

In that case, don’t hesitate to look to outside specialists for temporary assistance. In general, the expense will be worthwhile in terms of the expertise you’ll gain and the efficiencies you’ll realize versus trying to bring your team up to speed while simultaneously implementing change. In fact, your contract with the specialists can include team training.

Further reading: This national footwear retailer launched its innovative loyalty program with help from an integrated, third-party team of CCG experts.

Quick Team Building Tip

On a side note, Allocadia’s Steuart recommends creating a team of “futurists.” These are people within your organization who have a real knack for keeping up with trends and can help you identify opportunities for strategic change. Ideally, these are also people who can help to lead and execute transformation projects.

Once you have your transformation team, make sure to keep in touch with them. Provide regular updates on progress, challenges, new directions and achievements. Just as important, take the time to truly listen. Ask everyone for opinions and ideas, and give the feedback you receive true consideration. Doing so not only makes you look (and act) like a thoughtful, team-based leader, but can also can head off frustration, bring fresh thoughts to the foreground and evoke a team can-do spirit that waylays stress.

Take Care of Yourself

Change tends to bring with it feelings of uncertainty. Even when you have a solid action plan and a specific end goal in sight, you may have lingering worries about whether this is really going to work out the way you’ve planned. Unfortunately, such uncertainty is hard on you both physically and mentally.

In fact, “not knowing” can be worse for you than flat-out bad news. In one study from the University of Michigan, people who had feelings of insecurity (in this case, related to their job) had poorer health and more depression than people who actually lost their job or faced a life-threatening illness.

When you’re faced with the uncertainty inherent with change, make sure you place a priority on your physical and mental well-being. Follow healthy dietary habits, include physical activity in your daily routine and take mental breaks (whether it’s meditation, a good book or sitting on a park bench) to disengage from the stress. And don’t become a hermit — mingle with co-workers (and don’t just talk shop) and get out with your social circle. All of it will help you embrace change without getting burnt out. And that means better performance, greater productivity — and a smoother transition from here to there.

Strategic Change Management in Action

Here are three examples of companies — from a century-old, high-end department store to a newcomer who started with a single product — that have managed change in their marketing strategies or approach to strategically push forward their retail enterprises.

Master of Change: Nordstrom

Transformation: From a mall-centric chain of brick-and-mortar stores to offering customers a diversity of shopping options.

Insight: Based change initiatives on core value of prioritizing service to the customer, with a focus on their digital presence to attract younger customers. Investing in people and skills related to technology, mobile, data analytics and supply chain.

Upshot: Created a foundation for ecommerce growth, increased customer base, allowed retailer to expand into new markets.

Master of Change: The Home Depot

Transformation: Shifting from growth based on square footage to a model that integrates digital and in-store shopping.

Insight: Took a stance contrary to modern retail wisdom by focusing on products considered unfriendly for e-commerce.

Upshot: Notched $9 billion in annual revenue without adding a big-box store in the U.S. during the past three years.

Master of Change: Casper

Transformation: Went from a single mattress product to a multi-product line that includes an innovative dog mattress, and expanded internationally from its New York base.

Insight: They make creative thinking and innovation part of the company culture. And they take it seriously: Before launching the dog mattress, they conducted dog sleep studies, talked to canine psychologists (who knew!) and created more than 100 prototypes. And they created a highly efficient team concept that can get a new international presence operational in 10 weeks or less.

Upshot: The three-year-old company has consistently garnered press in top national outlets. The new dog mattress is selling briskly. And the expansion teams are busy around the globe, including Canada, Germany, Austria and the U.K.

Yes, You Can Handle Marketing Change Management

The next time you feel overwhelmed by waves of change in your marketing world or any area, take a deep breath and keep calm. With these strategies on your side, you can lead change management with confidence and help your retail business stay on the edge of innovation.

For 40 years, CCG has been helping organizations weather the storms of change. Our agency offers turnkey retail marketing services and capabilities, including strategy, digital marketing, database solution sourcing, analytics and creative. How can we help you build your customer relationships and meet your retail loyalty marketing goals? Call us at 800.525.0313 or email us today for a personal discussion.