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  • Writer's pictureDiana Sheehan

Storytelling Secrets for Retail Success: Beyond the Me-Focused Approach


With over two decades of experience in the industry, my journey began in field sales with General Mills in 2001. I walked into meeting room after meeting room, with brand-led PowerPoint decks and concise one-pagers, all in pursuit of convincing retailers to embrace the latest brand extensions, line items, and groundbreaking innovations. Throughout my career, I've engaged in crafting these sales narratives, working extensively in sales, category management and consumer insights. The critical element for all brands and all products: to succeed you must bridge the gap between brand distinctiveness and retailer priorities.


However, what rings true across industries is that our brand and product sales stories tend to be excessively self-centered. Our presentations emphasize the product's benefits, our brand's purpose, and even delve into the intricacies of our supply chain. As marketers and brand owners, we naturally gravitate towards showcasing our own remarkable qualities. Whether we're steering a global, billion-dollar brand or launching a fledgling startup's inaugural product, our focus remains resolutely fixed on explaining to our potential buyers just why our creation is truly exceptional. Yet, this self-assured perspective often falls short of engaging our customers on a deeper level, failing to tap into the aspects that resonate most with them.


When contemplating the realm of retailers, it's imperative to consider their perspective when delivering a sales pitch. What might capture their attention?


1. Contextual Comparison: How does this product stack up against its counterparts within my category?

If you're fortunate enough to possess access to point-of-sale, loyalty card, or panel data, it's paramount to infuse your sales presentation with a comprehensive overview of the broader category narrative. However, even without the luxury of sales data, alternative ways exist to craft compelling brand stories. Visit a store to explore how your brand aligns with innovative assortment and distinctive signage, drawing contrasts with competitors. Supplement your narrative with open-source secondary research from reputable sources such as NielsenIQ, 84.51, or McKinsey though leadership. Capitalize on contemporary AI tools like Google's Bard and ChatGPT to extract valuable insights that can bolster your storytelling.


2. Category Trends and Growth Trajectories: Does your brand offer distinctive value or trend-focused?

A wealth of insights lies at your disposal to reinforce your narrative—industry publications, discussions with buyers and other suppliers, and even simple observations of store shelves. While investing in insights from providers like Mintel or Euromonitor is an option, foundational insights are often a Google search away.


3. Addressing Retailer Realities: Why should your product earn its place on their space?

A common pitfall is fixating solely on your brand's attributes. Remember, your product's shelf presence likely required displacing an item with proven performance. Illustrate how your brand's presence can enhance category performance and differentiate your customer’s assortment.


4. Alignment with Broader Initiatives: How does your product resonate with the retailer's corporate strategies?

In a rapidly evolving landscape, retailers juggle intricate challenges like AI integration, extended reality experiences, sustainability, and eCommerce expansion. Acknowledge these corporate imperatives, for they are pivotal to your buyers' evaluations and even compensation. Be attuned to your retailer's priorities—sustainability commitments, retail media networks, technology integration, and supply chain optimization—seizing the opportunity to align your brand narrative with their overarching objectives.


5. Fulfilling Consumer Demand: How does your product resonate with the key consumers?

While tackling this question often requires investment, budget-friendly alternatives exist to build narratives rooted in consumer insights. Established brands deploy exhaustive primary research involving online surveys and focus groups. However, innovative approaches can also yield powerful stories. Leverage social media comments and reviews to highlight consumer preferences. Engage client lists with DIY surveys through tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms if possible.


Many companies offer abstracts of internal research to connect with potential clients. A simple online search will unveil invaluable information on almost any topic. For those seeking tailored insights, options like PDG Insights offer affordable solutions, from virtual focus groups to omnibus survey alternatives, intended on supporting emerging brands with limited budgets.


In summary, the journey of crafting compelling retail sales narratives requires a shift from self-centeredness towards aligning with retailer priorities, category trends, and consumer interests. By embracing these multifaceted perspectives, brands can build narratives that resonate, engage, and ultimately drive success in a dynamic retail landscape.

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