06/04/2010 12:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Channel Enablement: Manufacturers and Retailers Pursuing Common Ground

Marketing professionals use a term called "channel enablement." It's the art and science of helping retailers sell your products -- in the store and on the Web.

In the past, channel enablement meant making sure the retailer had all the data sheets for your products. And ideally, they also had your shiny brochures and catalogs for the display racks.

But shopping has changed. Shoppers do a great deal of online research to learn more and to save time and money. That means manufacturers and their retail partners must evolve their marketing and selling to cater to the preferences and behaviors of today's shopper -- both online and in the store.

Yet, all the while, the overall goal remains the same: Making sure it's easy to differentiate and buy their products.

Replicating the in-store and online shopping experience
Consumer research from industry groups and at companies like HP has revealed some interesting things about shoppers:

  • There's a difference between consumers and shoppers.

  • Shoppers don't read. They scan.
  • Shoppers expect in-store "look and feel" to be similar to your Web site.
  • They expect your Web site experience to to be interactive.
  • Consumers are different from shoppers Retailers and manufacturers have typically thought of the people buying their products as consumers -- people using their products. They would hire agencies to create marketing materials expounding product benefits and product usages without a great deal of consideration for the in-store environment.

    But research shows that when we shop, we have a different mindset and different needs than when we are using the product at home or in the office.

    When we go to the store, we begin shopping the moment we get out of our car. We want to find what we're looking for amid a sea of products, all of them vying for our attention with the same bright colors and displays. It's a sea of sameness.

    As shoppers, we want to easily find, learn about, differentiate and select our product with confidence.

    This requires manufacturers and retailers to change the way they market -- they have to consider both the consumer of their products and the shopper of their products to effectively and efficiently satisfy their customers.

    Shoppers don't read. They scan.
    Shoppers -- online and in the store -- want to quickly determine if a product is right for them. They don't read word-for-word. They scan -- words, sentences, paragraphs, entire pages -- looking for the key specs and features that they need.

    This has major implications for how you present your information to shoppers -- online and in-store. Shoppers need quick, easy-to-scan bullet points and bite-sized chunks of text -- broken out in clearly labeled sections for easy scanning and understanding.

    Online and in-store "look and feel" should be the same

    Most people who buy consumer electronics do online research and then go to the store for the purchase. Research has shown that shoppers have good recall. They expect things to look the same in the store as they saw it online -- the displays should look and feel just like your Web site. Shoppers don't want to start the research all over again in the store after they've searched online.

    Bring the product to life online

    Beyond the value of speaking to a salesperson, people like to shop in the store because they can see and demo the product. Online shoppers want a similar experience -- with detailed images from all angles and video demos detailing product features and benefits.

    Getting manufacturers and retailers on the same page

    Selling your products via retailers means using their channels -- their stores and their Web sites.
    Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola for years have led the way in understanding the psychology of shoppers -- and converting their channel partners into believers. In the retail world, this is also known as "shopper marketing."

    Improving collaboration between manufacturers and retailers is the focus of a task force formed last year: the Retail Commission on Shopper Marketing. Strategic advisers to the commission include Campbell's Soup, Clorox, Kimberly-Clark, and HP -- the only consumer electronics company on the board.

    Convert your channel partners to shopper advocates
    Convincing your partners that you know how to ideally sell your products can sometimes be complicated.

    Here are some real-world things you can do in working with your channel partners:

    • Do your research. Know your shoppers. Share your knowledge of shopper behavior -- with the retail staff and, if possible, the retailer's executives.

  • Provide your retailer with product information for their Web site and stores in a format that you know your shoppers want.
  • Be active in professional organizations like the In-store Marketing Institute and eMarketing Association. It's a great way to build your knowledge and share best practices.
  • Lead the change -- the payoff is there. Think long-term and keep plugging away. Find retailer evangelists to help convince others in his or her organization.
  • And remember: Know your shopper and keep it simple -- online and in the store.