It’s been a bad week for some retail businesses. Profits at John Lewis were down 77% compared to last year. Fashion chain, New Look will be closing 60 of their 593 stores and Toys R Us went into administration as did Maplin Electronics.

There are different reasons for the woes that affect the four companies mentioned. Squeezed incomes for shoppers, a move to online retailing, steep increases in overheads and debt levels are all factors.

Another factor at work and one that applies to Toys R Us is that of not being relevant to the market anymore. This trait has killed many other retailers in the past 12-18 months as you can see from this list

Keys to staying relevant

These stories of previously highly successful organisations are wake-up calls to anyone running a business irrespective of size.

The big question is, how do you stay relevant to your client base? Both the current one you have now and the one that you will need to have in the future. Here are three suggestions.

1. Spend time where your audience spends time

Listening to and interpreting what clients and prospective clients tell us has never been more important. We have to ensure that we hear what they are really saying.

Early warnings for instance.

A perceived slip in your build quality may come in the form of a brief mention from the client. Something dropped into a conversation that you might miss because it was touched-on briefly, almost casually. In fact this could signal that the client feels that they need to upgrade to a “better” supplier.

Jump on any comments like this. Don’t let them pass without examination. Find out exactly what the client is referring to. Get to the bottom of all seemingly small issues. Then stop them from happening again within your production system. Check that the client is happy with the changes that have been made and is aware that you have acted on their concern.

Listening can also help you to pick-up early signals about a changing event strategy, one that might reduce or remove your company’s involvement.

To head-off both scenarios, you need lots of contact with your clients and prospects and the thinking time required to fully process the information being received from them.

2. Do what you do better - keep innovating

Could Toys R Us saved themselves?

Maybe, but they would have needed to make changes to their business model some years ago.

A faster move to online would definitely have helped especially if it included  a combination of excellent choice, keen prices and smooth delivery all built-in.

Cutting the size of stores would have slashed those crippling overheads. Making the remaining stores experience destinations would have added a new dimension to the business.

Partnering with other retailers who have cut toys departments down or out of their stores may also have been a positive move … All good ideas in hindsight.

The lesson? Keep innovating within your business.

Innovations don’t always have to be huge game changers but a constant stream of small tweaks and improvements can lead to market leading products, services and operational systems. 

And when the culture of a business is focused like this, big ideas are also more likely to be discovered.

3. Look at what other industries are doing?

One industry’s standard way of doing things can be a breakthrough innovation for a business in another field altogether.

One of the easiest industries to “borrow” from is retail. Many of the design trends within stores can be applied to exhibitions with a little bit of fine-tuning.

An example is the use of digital screens now widely used in events for Wayfinding and visual impact. These are now common in many venues and shows but they first came to prominence in the retail space.

Screens are also used in retail for creating interactive experiences, smart rooms and displays. These things are now being seen within shows and on stands.

But it isn’t just tech products that can be adapted. How does the trend for smaller store formats translate to shows? Stand space costs have never been higher in leading events, sometimes in markets where the audience is actually getting smaller due to consolidation. Ironically, many retail shows fall within that category. 

How should exhibitors adapt their stands and budgets to meet this situation? How can they test new shows and new markets with smaller but professional displays, increasing their footprint only once an event is proven?

Retail is just one industry to look at. Others, like airlines (moving people), online (Amazon- all encompassing ordering systems), theatres and museums (set design and signage), and others can be learnt from and adapted and in so doing, bring innovations to your business.

What's this got to do with Marketing?

Everything, because this is all marketing. It is the continual focus on improving what you do and offer to keep your business current and relevant to your client base.

Marketing is communication

Marketing is also the science of communication with an audience.

It’s about how your business goes about communicating the unique way it does things. The values that you bring to your work and client relationships.

This is what my friend Somi Arian, a huge advocate of content marketing, calls original content vs. promotional content.

Promotional content is what most companies do. They promote the features and benefits of the product or service they offer. It’s me-too marketing.

Much more powerful and rare is original content.

Original content is less focused on what you do or sell and more focused on the people that your business serves and the issues that they have to deal with in their lives.

It’s more powerful because this content or if you prefer, this market positioning, resonates and attracts the audience that you serve best. Businesses that appreciate the values and benefits that you bring to their situation.

This is the core quality that not only makes your business relevant, it keeps it that way too.

Further Reading:

BBC News: 6 Reasons behind the High Street Crisis
Inc: The Biggest Challenge we all Face is Staying Relevant to our Market
Harvard Business Review: Four Strategies for Staying Relevant
Vend: 12 forecasts for the retail industry in 2017
Cloudtags: What is Omnichannel?

The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ESSA, its members, board or staff. Our members represent a broad range of views within the event industry, and we have provided this section of the website for their opinions to be openly heard and discussed.

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