Creating a Customer Communication Plan in Retail: Steps & Objectives

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

You can't effectively promote your retail operations without a communication program in place. This lesson will teach you the important steps necessary to building a program that meets your objectives and stays within budget.

What is a Retail Communication Program?

Ted is a small business owner trying to do big things. He has decided to implement a special ''Christmas in July'' sale to usher in a whole new line of products he'll be selling in the store. Ted sets his prices and stocks his shelves, prepared for the onslaught of customer traffic. And .... nothing happens. Where are all the people he envisioned coming through his door?

Ted has made one pretty serious error in his promotional strategy. He's forgotten all about creating a retail communication program, the tool that will help him get the word out about his sale! And, while it may be too late to set his communication plan in motion for the current sale, Ted can start developing a plan for the future by establishing his objectives and plotting his budget for successful implementation. Let's take a look at the four steps necessary for building and executing a retail communication program.

Creating a Retail Communication Program

Being able to communicate effectively with your target audience is important not only for success today, but also longevity tomorrow. A business that cannot master a customer communication plan likely won't be able to sustain business growth and success. Let's take a look at the steps required in developing a retail communication program.

Establishing Objectives

The very first step in building your program is deciding what you want to accomplish. These are your objectives, or goals. The great thing about goals is that they can be broken down into daily, weekly, monthly, even yearly objectives that you want to meet. And, you get to set these for yourself! What you hope to accomplish will probably be completely different from the goals of the store across from you or even your competitor across town.

Objectives can be divided into two main categories: short-term and long-term. For someone like Ted, a short-term objective might be getting more traffic into his store or making more money. Long-term, Ted might be focused on developing stronger relationships with customers to increase loyalty or opening additional retail locations. Short-term objectives are things you want to accomplish in the not-so-distant future, while long-term objectives may be goals you have for your business over the next one, two or five years.

If you want to be successful in setting objectives, be SMART. That is, choose objectives or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. For Ted, saying that he wants to see a sales increase of 500 percent in the short-term would not be achievable (even though it's very specific).

Communication objectives may vary based on your position in the retail environment. Large companies and vendors are going to be more focused on marketing their products, with little regard for where they are purchased, whereas small retailers like Ted are going to need to set their communication objectives to get people into a certain location to shop. The breadth of merchandise available, which is narrower for vendors but broader for retailers, is also a challenge when constructing communication objectives. For someone like Ted, who wants to promote his new product line and also draw attention to the sale on his existing products, it can be difficult to determine how to focus the promotion efforts.

Building (and Allocating) a Budget

Once objectives have been set, it's time to determine what the budget for the communication plan is going to be and how it will be allocated, or distributed. Without money to facilitate pushing your message out via television, radio, print and digital media, promotions never get off the ground.

Most retailers use one of three types of budget determination methods to figure out how much to spend on the retail communication program. The marginal analysis method looks at a budget by comparing how much the communication plan will cost relative to how much benefit can be realized as a result. The objective-and-task method relies on setting a budget based on the objectives of the campaign. The rule of thumb method relies on previous sales and communication activities to set a current promotional budget. From our opening example, Ted might opt for a marginal analysis method because it helps ensure he is making money on his promotion efforts.

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