How can brands win in the technology & consumer electronics sector post-covid & what do they need to do to get their strategy right for 2022?: An expert’s view
6 September 2021
Author: Kirsty Whyte
During the pandemic, technology emerged as a key theme and lifeline for many as the world evolved. A shift to online shopping and digital services meant a demand for new technology and new ways of working. For brands this meant being agile and adapting to meet the new needs of their consumers, in order to succeed. Post-lockdown it appears that technology is here to stay and will play a pivotal role in brand strategy for FY22 and beyond. This week, we interviewed our inhouse tech experts to find out how the technology sector has shifted for them and what opportunities brands can embrace for the future. Hear insights from Kevin Hook, Account Controller for Microsoft, Will Wilkinson, Account Manager for Intel, Daniel Sherwood, Regional Account Manager for Microsoft, and Lucy Croucher, Account Manager for Beko on why it’s important to adopt an omni-channel approach and the importance of considering digital engagement moving forward.
The technology retail sector has seen significant shifts over the last 18 months due to the pandemic. What do you think are the biggest changes that have occurred and what should brands consider when they prepare their FY22 strategy?
Will Wilkinson, Account Manager - Intel
The main shift during the pandemic from a tech perspective is that the consumer has had their eyes opened to the possibilities and capabilities of tech. A lot of people invested in technical home improvements because they were spending more time at home and working from home. The capabilities of the efficiencies of technology became more familiar and consumers became more comfortable with buying online. We’ve seen a shift towards people feeling more comfortable making high value purchases online without the hands-on physical experience of seeing, touching and handling the product. As this happened, retailers profits spiked and sales online went up exponentially throughout the pandemic. When brands prepare for their FY22 strategy they need to have adequate resource to cover that omni-channel approach. They should be considering their online arm and covering areas such as live chat, online forums and having specialists online to pick up Q&A. However, mastering the bricks and mortar side is also important because when stores opened again we saw the demand was still there. People had missed face-to-face experiences and wanted to get advice from experts in store. Therefore for brands, there needs to be investment and energy put into the physical side too, incorporating an omni-channel approach with online, in store and everything else between.
Dan Sherwood, Regional Manager – Microsoft
With non-essential retail taking a bit of a backseat during the pandemic, these retailers were unable to trade in the traditional way that they were used to. They were forced to innovate quickly or run the risk of losing significant revenue and profit. This led to retailers such as Dixons opening their shop live system, where they can have one way video chat with consumers to help advise on products, secure sales and drive attach on their products. Then you’ve got retailers like John Lewis and Harvey Norman, who both run a live chat function on their websites. This is a text-based tool that pops up in the corner of your screen to interrupt the consumer journey and offer an extra level of support for consumers that normally would rely on coming into store and speaking to professionals who work in the on the sales floor. When thinking about that big shift, brands should consider how today’s consumer journey is different – online vs face to face. There are some similarities but there are also many differences. They need to prepare retail colleagues with skills and product knowledge across all channels including chat to ensure that their consumer experiences are best in class no matter how consumers decide to shop - be it physically or online.
Lucy Croucher, Account Manager - Beko
We've realised that being digital and working in a digital capacity is effective for brands to give them a better reach. I have a small team of four that work under me and being able to pivot between an in-store environment versus a digital environment is really important. We do a lot of product training for colleagues and as you can imagine with four different brands and four different primary categories, there are lots of different technologies that are in those products and lot of people to be trained on these. There's only so much you can do and so much reach you can achieve solely in brick and mortar. So, I think that being open to working in a digital capacity in addition to the retailers allowing their colleagues to attend online and offline training sessions to better themselves is crucial.
What approach should brands take post-covid and are there any new opportunities they can take advantage of? (Please highlight any products or services that will be important to brands in FY22 and why)
Dan Sherwood, Regional Manager – Microsoft
It’s a case of how do brands really target and interact with that consumer base? One thing we work with clients on is looking at how we influence the consumer journey. Not only whilst there on the shop floor or purchasing online, but we talk to them before to influence their journey prepurchase. That could be through social media campaigns or anything that we can use to help grow fans and influence with the brands that we work with. The sales process during the purchase is our bread and butter, which we've done historically with clients both in grocery and tech. However, it’s the aftercare that really makes them fans of the brand and drives them to purchase more. Looking at platforms like Amazon and Argos where you've got the ability to leave reviews and to ask questions is something brands need to consider. Looking at support in that area and not just thinking about where the products are sold, then moving on to the next consumer. With things opening again, the appetite for face-to-face launches and training events will start to increase again. Brands should keep their eye on the market and the trends that their competitors are using, ensuring they’re agile and flexible enough to switch on different options when required.
Kevin Hook, Account Controller – Microsoft
The big step forward for brands is to make sure they’ve got that digital presence online that flows in to store. For us as a business, we help brands create studio environments where they can achieve a home setup that looks like a store or a “dark store” as it’s known within the tech sector. This means that wherever you're executing from, to the consumer it looks like you're in a store format. Then when a consumer looks or engages online before walking in to store to pick up their product or do further research, it flows through and looks the same without being disjointed. That’s something that brands are asking for and what an agency wants to be able to offer. It's not just a case of using a mobile phone device or an entry level camera. You need a built-up studio environment with the correct lighting, the right equipment and more which takes a lot of funding and technical know-how to be able to do it.
Lucy Croucher, Account Manager - Beko
Brands should be open to a team that isn’t just in-store focused. We know we need to move forward from that and have that hybrid model between digital and face to face. They also need to think about social and how people digest content and learn. My team are about producing the kind of fun and engaging video content that you would watch on Instagram or on Facebook. You're still getting the standard technology product information in, but we need to think about how people in real life digest and view content now. We watch 60 second digestible Tik Tok videos and want to watch stuff that is fun and interesting. Brands need to have that consideration that it’s not just about training in its traditional market. They need to ask, how do we get social involved? How do we evolve? Because that’s how people are retaining their information today.
Will Wilkinson, Account Manager – Intel
Consumers want that in store experience but what that means may have changed recently. Therefore, brands need to figure out what the secret recipe is for giving customers that perfect experience. Is it pop-up stores? Or solely down to marketing and placement in-store? There’s a real emphasis on making sure merchandising and compliance is on point, with a real opportunity for brands to have best in class merchandising in-store vs their competitors. The aftermath of covid means people will still be working from home to some extent with the introduction of hybrid working and they’ll continue to invest in the work from home set up. They will continue to follow the same habits from a shopping point of view. The best execution across an omni-channel approach is what brands should take advantage of.
How can agencies best support brands to maximise sales in this new retail environment?
Kevin Hook, Account Controller - Microsoft
Over the course of the pandemic, McCurrach have double downed on building our toolkit to enable the team around us to have the breadth of knowledge to be able to expand our services. We were fortunate enough to ensure some of our employees were equipped with home studios and green screen technology to assist our clients over the past 18 months. We’ve brought in talent from outwith our business to upskill our teams, re-investing money in equipment and people. We started the journey 18 months ago, tackled it 6 months in and have been able to obtain a virtual portfolio to showcase now that brands are back looking in the market. This puts us ahead of our competitors as we’re not starting fresh post-covid.
Will Wilkinson, Account Manager - Intel
Agencies can support by being as hyper agile and flexible as possible in their offering. If you look at the teams we have in tech, we have specialists across the board - trainers, data analysis, content creators and people that specialise in digital. We’ve upskilled our teams to meet that omni-channel offering so that we can support brands online and digitally with an agile, hybrid workforce. Through that agility we can scale up and scale down our offering in accordance to what the demands of retail are and what the demands of our brand partners are. Our activation offering is going to be really important as well - whether that’s a sales team, a mystery shop, or an experiential team. With in-store being an experience now, we can offer our clients something that is innovative and on the forefront of new ways of working. We’ve got people within our teams who are social experts, influencers or streamers creating digital content and exploring ways to work across Instagram, Tik Tok, You Tube and all the big social platforms. When it comes to maximising sales it’s all about winning hearts and minds and building communities, so that when store colleagues are talking to consumers, they’re always showing the brand preference for our client over competitors.
Dan Sherwood, Regional Manager - Microsoft
For agencies it’s important that they take their time to analyse the market and to gather retail insights from all channels to ensure that they are doing the hard graft and identifying the opportunities for the brands they represent. It’s about being proactive and identifying opportunities in advance. Agencies have a long history of working out in the field, through traditional field marketing but they need to look at the broader aspect of their client’s operation. They may be looking at selling products in store and that's one of the key points of purchase, but there are all the other areas that build into the process too. You’ve got their marketing and social media teams and everything that sits around there. How can agencies help to give clients added value and not just look at field sales? Agencies need to challenge themselves on their current operational structure. They need to think of what their remit currently is and offer solutions beyond what they've done in the past. That’s going to help maximise sales as it trickles down towards store level and make everything slicker. The more that agencies can embed their people within their clients’ operations, the more that you become a valuable asset to that brand and the more influence you can have with them.
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