In a time where brand advocacy and employee engagement are essential for business success, retailers, especially, are plagued by communication challenges. Communications in major retail organizations are typically top-down — with a big gap between the executive team and brick-and-mortar store managers and associates. And that gap is where critical information and brilliant initiatives go to die.
The role of a modern store comms team is to make sure that doesn’t happen. And they do it by getting the right information to the right people at the right time.
The importance of a strong store communications team
Picture this: A major retailer has to execute a manufacturer recall that affects thousands of a particular product across its 400 locations. It’s up to the retail communications team to get the word out to store managers and associates quickly, so they can get the recalled product off the shelves. But simply pressing “Send” isn’t enough; store employees have to see the message, read it, understand its content, and then act on it.
If that process breaks down at any point, stores won’t complete the recall, putting customers in danger and the retailer at risk for fines. So what does it take to keep that from happening?
The Characteristics of a Great Retail Communications Team
It goes without saying that great communications teams are composed of great communicators. It takes skill and talent to take the big picture from the C-suite and transmit that message in a way that’s easy to understand. Beyond that, the members of a great communications team need the following:
- A team mission and strategy that align with the overall business strategy
- A clear approval and prioritization process for different message types
- An analytical approach that allows the team to determine how to tailor a message for a particular audience
- A creative approach that allows the team to develop fun, engaging messages for the intended audience
- The ability to adapt quickly to fulfill urgent requests
- An awareness of the latest tools and a willingness to explore new technologies
- The ability to measure team success by tracking KPIs that align with organizational KPIs – for instance, task completion or open rates
- The ability to quickly revisit past communications
This list is part talent, part experience, and part tools, but it adds up to a recipe for success.
How to structure the store communications process to maximize effectiveness
While the roles and responsibilities of a retail communications team haven’t changed much over time, the pace and complexity of the business world have increased steadily, and there is more competition in the retail space than ever before — especially when you consider the disruptive effects of online retailers. That’s why it’s so important for communications teams to have a coordinated approach to message development and delivery.
Thankfully, developing an effective store communications process isn’t as hard as it sounds. Follow this guide to build a strong team that will help your organization keep up with both competitors and a constantly changing business environment.
Step One: Establish a Protocol
A well-defined protocol can offer much-needed visibility into how messages are created, approved, and distributed. It can also help you avoid common pitfalls like conflicting or overlapping messages from different departments, as well as communication overload in the stores.
- Identify the types of messages you send as well as the rules that apply to each type. For example, things like pricing changes and planogram updates might go into a bucket labeled “Standard message; no approval needed.” Product information intended for employees to share with customers might go in a bucket labeled, “Product information; product manager approval needed.”
On the other hand, messages about a vendor change that requires store employees to pull one vendor’s product, substitute it with another’s, and send the original stock back to the warehouse or the vendor might go in a bucket labeled, “Operations critical; requires approval from heads of store ops and supply chain.”
- Decide how much editing you’ll do before you send messages to the stores, and where the bar is for sending a message back to the originator. If you just clean up typos and spelling errors, for example, you can probably go ahead and send the message out. If you change anything about the content, you’ll probably need to send the message back to the person who requested it to make sure you got it right.
- Decide how much lead time you’ll require for editing and approvals. Do you expect standard message requests 24 hours before they need to go out? What types of messages merit exceptions? And how will you handle messages that are deemed “emergencies” but haven’t been through the usual approval process?
- Decide how to communicate with a sender whose message has been vetoed. Most people are too busy to write messages just for the heck of it, so assume that they’re heavily invested in their project. How will you talk through the problem?
- Figure out how to disseminate the message to the right people at the right time. How many times a day will you send messages out? Are there certain types of messages you’ll only send once per week?
Step Two: Define Responsibilities
After establishing the ‘how’ in your communications protocol, the next step is to determine who is responsible for which tasks. Having well-defined responsibilities offers a clear picture of task ownership, better accountability, and a straightforward approval process. Here are some questions to consider as you’re determining which responsibilities fall to whom:
- Who should create which types of communication? Some organizations think it’s best to have one point of contact, so they send everything through the manager of store communications, who then assigns messages to writers. Others find it most efficient to assign a permanent writer to each functional area so that the writer can build subject-matter expertise.
- Which individuals are responsible for approving or vetoing specific messages? Decision-making authority is a high-level consideration, so it’s not something a store comms team will likely decide. But it is important for the team to have a list of executives and their areas of responsibility.
- What is the backup plan if those individuals are not available? Ask the authorized decision-makers to give you a “line of succession,” so that things don’t come to a standstill when they’re not available.
- Who is responsible for ensuring that messages from HQ reach both store managers and store associates? Is this something the store comms team is supposed to check? If so, how often? Or does this responsibility belong to IT?
- Who is checking that directives from HQ have been executed? Does this task belong to multi-level field managers? Or is the store comms team supposed to follow up? If so, how?
Step Three: Implement the Right Tools
Having a strong communications strategy and clear responsibilities is critical, but if your team isn’t able to execute on that strategy, then all your careful planning was for naught. Tools like Retail Zipline can help make your communications strategy a reality and ensure everything is streamlined and everyone is in the loop.
Consider the following use case:
Brandon Panepinto, Senior Product Manager at Gap Inc, spoke about communication challenges at NRF 2018. In 2015, only 25-30% of Gap’s next-day tasks were carried out on time. But after implementing Retail Zipline, that number has climbed to over 90%. HQ has confidence that directives are being heard and implemented, and store managers and associates feel informed.
A strong retail communications strategy is within reach, no matter how your organization is structured. Let Retail Zipline help you accomplish your goals: Request a demo today.