Failing to Plan or Planning to Fail?

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\"RR_PlanningI want everyone out there to raise their hands if your company has a solid, well thought-out, five- or 10-year plan!

If you do, then you’re all good, classically-trained students — and your college business professors, your company and your mom are all proud of you. You’re also doomed!

Making a plan and sticking to it in order to achieve your goals is not a bad thing in and of itself. It was clearly the road to follow 10 years ago when mainstream retailing shifted at a glacial pace.

But if it’s set in stone without the flexibility to turn on a dime then all you’re doing is freezing your assets. Think of it in terms of games. The retail industry is playing a very cerebral, strategic game of chess, while consumers are playing checkers and bouncing all over the board.

Agile Retailing

The past decade, and even the past couple of years, has given rise to a world in which “agile retailing” has become the real benchmark of success. This will get more intense thanks to Generation Z, those mysterious 12-18-year-olds who are in what’s been termed a “constant state of partial attention… shopping in mobile time” and toggling across multiple screens. Researchers have been found they have a lower attention span than the average goldfish.

These are the people who would rather have their wallets stolen than their phone. The result is that few of them are influenced by traditional ads. They are even getting away from traditional gender identifiers by using the term “ze” instead of he and she.

But this isn’t a story about Gen Z per se. It’s about the need to change quickly; to do things in a more interesting and dynamic way and recognize that business plans can be obsolete in weeks not years.

A couple of recent examples might include Target’s living lab stores to speed up product and brand development Ikea’s Space 10 and Lowe’s Holoroom VR headset. And don’t forget Amazon, which is constantly accelerating its pace of change. If you look at supermarket retailing, Wegmans has been the archetype of adaptive retailing with what’s been termed a “rolling remodel\”.

Embracing “Beta”

Basically, retailing and marketing needs to be in a perpetual beta state where nothing is set in stone, changes are made rapidly and frequently and goal setting is a short-term, moving target.
This can be difficult for retailers whose founders or entrenched management who run the business by habit don’t have the skills, vision or guts to make changes when necessary. Or, don’t have the sense to hire someone who does.

Advertisers too, would have a better shot at it by broadening their spending plans not just shifting money from one platform to another. This was underscored in a new study from the Advertising Research Bureau, which found that companies’ return on investment for ad dollars could be boosted as much as 35 percent by using multiple ad platforms to maximize reach and relevance.

There are extremists out there who say that the rapid pace of change means there’s no sense to having any strategy at all. I find this attitude blatantly ridiculous.  Every business must have a plan or die. But remember it’s a living, breathing document that embraces change.

New Eyes

At times, planning for change is best left to others and over the years, I have been an advocate of well-run leased departments for a number of reasons including lower inventory and labor costs, but also to diversify into areas where in-house expertise may not be readily available.

This isn’t a cure-all and the idea of turning over valuable floor space to a third party might be anathema for all you control freaks out there. But it has worked for discounters and retailers like Macys, J.C. Penney and Bloomingdale’s for decades, turning these venues into mini-malls that have enhanced the customer experience at a time when online pureplays are taking a bit bite of sales. No one planned for this 10 years ago.

The French novelist and essayist Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Time to get a vision test!

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