By Matt Pillar, editor in chief
Several years ago, I received an e-mail from Lori Schafer, executive advisor for retail at SAS institute, inviting me to join her network on LinkedIn. I didn't have a LinkedIn account, nor did I want a LinkedIn account.
Mind you, Lori's was one of a few invitations in those early days that came from people I actually valued my connection with. But I didn't see anything wrong with talking with her on the telephone, meeting up with her at shows and conferences, and exchanging e-mails. I really wasn't looking for another communication channel to manage. So I responded to Lori's e-mail with a message like those I'd sent to many other LinkedIn connection requests back then — Thanks, but I'm not really into LinkedIn. I don't see the point. We have three phone numbers and two e-mail addresses for one another. Do we really need this too?
Lori responded graciously. She didn't call out my ignorance. She knew I'd come around, as she had.
A short time later, I dipped a foot into the social media fray. She had already jumped in head-first, but not on a mission to figure out how social media could change her life. In a true example of the kind of foresight with which people like Lori Schafer are blessed, she sought to understand how social media, and more recently the combination of social media and mobility, would change the dynamic of the consumer-retailer relationship.
Last year, armed with volumes of data, experience, and detailed use cases, Lori and Bernie Brennan — longtime chairman and CEO at Montgomery Ward and prolific retail consultant and investor — set out to write a book on the topic.
BRANDED! How Retailers Engage Consumers with Social Media and Mobility, was released last week. I received my copy a week ago today and started reading it in my driveway before the UPS truck even pulled away. I strongly recommend you read it, especially if you're among the majority of those retail execs that are either still skeptical that social media is anything more than a time drain or who have tried it and failed.
The book is full of detailed case studies on the social media trials and successes of some of the biggest brands in retail. These provide huge value, but they're not the number one reason I recommend the read. I recommend it because its authors provide such clear and compelling insight into how corporate culture parlays into social media strategy, and how strategic social media initiatives can provide valuable intelligence on brand and product standing.
I talked with Lori and Bernie about the book last week. As we discussed it, they both reiterated some advice they give in the book, advice that can only come from two industry veterans who have seen the comings-and-goings of many tech and retail trends and fads.
Bernie implores you, the retail executive, to bring people in who know more about social media for retailers than you do. He also stresses that if you're treating social mediums as you have traditional mediums for all these years — solely as a vehicle for advertising and promotions — you're not only missing the point, you'll probably fail. I suspect this is the most common mistake retailers make — ignoring the huge opportunity that social media affords for true two-way engagement with consumers.
That's where Lori applies her expertise and sees major opportunities for retailers to learn and improve. She emphasizes the importance of measuring, monitoring, and analyzing the conversation that's taking place in social circles and using that data to improve decision making at multiple points, from marketing to merchandising to inventory.
Bernie illustrates the impact that social media is already having in the retail industry. He points to a time when brand power was relegated to the manufacturers, not retailers. He says that's changing rapidly due in part to retailers' social media initiatives, and he warns that sitting on the sidelines is not an option for competitive retailers. "This is not like the Web, where you can sit back for five years and let other people get hurt," he says. "You can't wait on this one, you need to get in now."
BRANDED! How Retailers Engage Consumers with Social Media and Mobility showed me that retail success in social media requires not only urgency, but the proper frame of reference from the start. Lori and Bernie provide that frame of reference in this book. Read it, and you will "get it."
You can learn more and get your copy where the book is being socialized: The book's official Web site at www.brandedretailer.com, @brandedretailer on Twitter, and Branded! Retailer on Facebook.