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Internet killed the video store: Blockbuster's lesson for marketers

Internet killed the video store: Blockbuster's lesson for marketers Mike Kinsella

Think back to 1992. A magical time when Seinfeld and The Simpsons were dominating the airwaves, George Bush Sr. was rounding out his term in the White House, collecting Pogs was all the rage (unless you were more of a Beanie Baby person) and cell phones were roughly the size of small briefcases. When you wanted to see a movie, but didn't feel like going to the theaters, you probably headed over to your local Blockbuster.

And why wouldn't you? With more than 2,800 stores worldwide at the time it was the undisputed leader in the video rental market. In fact, things were so successful that two years later Viacom would purchase the chain for $8.4 billion.

But a shift was starting to happen. Al Gore's internet was starting to take hold and things were becoming more digital, whatever that meant. Still, in 1992 the internet communicated only about 1 percent of all information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks. By 2000 that number would grow to 51 percent. And yet with business booming, Blockbuster figured that adapting to the new digital world was something they could worry about later.

Of course we all know how that decision worked out: In 2010 Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy to wipe out around $1 billion in debt and in 2013 it closed all of its remaining U.S. stores.

A similar shift is happening today, changing the foundation of how retail marketers connect to their customers. The Experian 2015 Digital Marketer Report  found that only 11 percent of marketers are moving beyond single-channel marketing programs to optimize their marketing across multiple channels for the consumer. In spite of this, Gartner finds that 75 percent of customers want to receive personalized marketing with relevant offers. The opportunity for retailers who personalize marketing across multiple channels is substantial; those that do see 40 percent more consumer transactions. While Blockbuster's chance to adapt and stay ahead of the competition dissipated over 10-15 years, today's retail marketing landscape moves much faster. The ability to capitalize on the opportunity highlighted by Experian will likely be gone in the next couple years.

Retail marketers are at a crossroads: should they take the Blockbuster wait and see approach or should they connect their various customer data sources and deployment channels on the single user level so that they can personalize campaigns across web, email, sms, and apps from a single interface? For every Target, Home Depot, or Starbucks that's leading the way, there are 10 other retailers I'm talking to saying, "Improving our personalization strategy is on our radar, but our company isn't ready for it yet. Maybe in the next 1-2 years."

Which begs the question: why the delay? If we have data today that shows that we can drive up to 40 percent higher conversions, why wouldn't we make this change? Ripping out countless existing systems in order to integrate all the data and create singular customer profiles certainly seems like an incredibly daunting, expensive, and time-consuming project. But what if the solution isn't so complicated and difficult?

Given that most retailers are already collecting extensive consumer data across their CRM, email, web, app, and other channels, the key is finding a partner that can interoperate with your existing data sources and deployment channels. If that partner can ingest this data to create single customer profiles, it can begin to analyze which content, channel and offers are resonating with each customer. This data naturally leads to automated recommendations for higher performing segments, channels and content, making your marketing communications more effective and increasing your conversion rates.

Just as Blockbuster could have extended its success into a whole new era by seizing the opportunity the digital-era provided to evolve with its customers, today's retailers have an enormous opportunity to get ahead of 89 percent of the competition. However, with each day that passes, that window of opportunity gets a little smaller. While personalizing your marketing content across multiple channels may seem like a complex and expensive problem to try to solve, a partner that can interoperate with your existing systems can help you connect the dots to establish a single customer identity. And as for the cost, getting started may not be as prohibitive as you may have thought.

Mike Kinsella is an account executive at Persio.

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Mike Kinsella is an Account Executive for Persio, a multi-channel marketing and decisioning SaaS platform used by leading retailers such as EXPRESS, JoAnn Fabrics and Stage Stores. Persio delivers custom, personalized campaigns across email,...

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