Two Minds are Better: The Manufacturer-Retailer Marketing Partnership

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Retail is inherently a partnership between retailer and manufacturer. Specialty retailers are, in the simplest of terms, liaisons between manufacturers and consumers. But the responsibility of manufacturers doesn’t stop when they create the goods and deliver them to stores, just as the responsibility of a shop doesn’t end when the customer walks out the door.

Manufacturers and retailers rely on one another in equal measure, and the most successful of both operations cultivate a symbiotic partnership with one another in all aspects of their respective businesses: designing, buying, display, consumer research, and marketing.

Of all the areas in which retailers and manufacturers could work (and thrive) together, marketing is one of the most oft-overlooked. Manufacturers run marketing campaigns; retailers run marketing campaigns; rarely do they collaborate. In that lack of collusion—as with all of manufacturer and retailer divides—both parties miss a valuable opportunity to access each other’s separate audiences and metrics in order to grow their community of buyers together. When the two parties collaborate, the results are reliably positive: a 2013 study found that the most collaborative retail and manufacturing companies experienced an average 3.7% increased revenues.

So, why does marketing in particular matter? We think that’s obvious: it’s the first step of a sale. The more minds you can have contributing to the engagement of your customers, the better. And because your audiences are unique, they’ll want and need marketing that’s curated to them. Why do manufacturers relinquish all marketing of their carefully created products to retailers? And why do retailers trust manufacturers to market the products they carry without any input?

When retailers and manufacturers instead work together on marketing campaigns, the result is cross-channel and cross-audience communication that engages potential buyers with the right products at the right time. It’s a process that begins in tandem with buying. Once the products are chosen, the manufacturers should facilitate the delivery of education and resources to the marketing (and entire) retailer team. By providing promotional materials—we’re talking product photos, blurbs, reviews, etc.—to the marketing team once the buying orders are complete, the manufacturer guarantees the retailer team will have ample time to prepare their own marketing materials that will coincide with the arrival of the products. That means the marketing team can build excitement for products before they arrive with accuracy and style, rather than rushing to market items after they arrive with inaccuracy. And by providing educational materials—product details, stats, etc.—to the retailer, they guarantee that sales staff (who are kind of like marketers themselves) have ample time to prepare to actually sell the product knowledgeably.

Now, back to those marketing materials. Manufacturers will create their own promotions, as will retailers, but that doesn’t negate the creation of collaborative materials. Working together on the creation of marketing campaigns unites creative teams and brings together audiences. Retailers know how to sell to their own audience (hopefully), but manufacturers know how to market their products to appeal to their own fans; together, you’ll do both. If you’re an outdoor retailer, for example, and you work with Cotopaxi on a lifestyle shoot that highlights their product in your own store or town, you’ll foster new brand recognition among your respective audiences and foster a sense of trust in each brand. Don’t just wing it; bring in senior leadership in order to get the best minds working together to create truly engaging marketing campaigns that will drive sales of that manufacturer’s product in your unique store. And don’t just work together on the creative pieces, but collaborate on the functionality of the work too (like social media campaigns around the content).

Collaboration also means working separately. Both companies will have access to individual, advanced analytics. Though you don’t have to share everything, it’s important that you reunite to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and why. By measuring the performance of marketing and products, you’ll be able to refine not just your buying and manufacturing plans, but your marketing plans for the future.

In order to succeed, manufacturers and specialty retailers need to collaborate for the long term. Rather than hold onto decades of tiffs and tensions, manufacturers and retailers should work together to engage their audiences and inspire sales in new, innovative ways and through collaborative campaigns. Two minds are always better than one.


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