Account-specific marketing has become a real part of today's consumer goods business. For manufacturers to gain the attention needed to differentiate or grow a brand, they must work with retailers. Account-specific marketing is understanding needs of the manufacturer's customers, as well as the consumers'. It is creating a business partnership with retail customers by developing programs that are mutually beneficial and that will support both the manufacturer's and the retailer's 'brand images.' When manufacturers first realized that they could benefit by marketing to accounts, they began to develop programs to address this need. At first, these programs just involved a "flexible fund" or "special programs budget" that was held at headquarters and doled out as worthwhile opportunities surfaced. Account specific marketing (or regional/local marketing) then exploded in popularity. The number of programs multiplied and manufacturers could no longer manage the effort on an ad hoc basis. As a result, programs were developed that tried to balance flexibility and decentralized decision-making with financial control and brand objectives. These were only modestly successful. In the 1980s, retailers were beginning to develop consumer promotions of their own -- promotions that were much more "account specific" than trading stamps or flatware. As far as this went, it was fine. But these retailers were also experts at generating funds from manufacturers by "selling" things like shelf space and warehouse slots. Retailers figured out that if they wanted to defray the cost of their promotions, they could "sell" participation to manufacturers. Eventually, those dollars manufacturers had allocated to the field to develop account-specific programs were being used to buy account-specific programs -- and manufacturer's salespeople became purchasing agents! Unfortunately, many retailers began to view these programs as a new revenue stream, much like slotting or ad space. As a result, many programs delivered little or no benefit to the manufactuers' brands other than the goodwill generated by transferring dollars from the manufacturers' pocket to the retailers' pocket.
All of the good reasons for both manufacturers and retailers to collaborate on account-specific programs still exist. So how can we capitalize on these opportunities in a way that benefits both parties? Here's a list:
Establish clear objectives for these programs that meet the needs of brands.
Make sure the objectives are understood by all associates involved in programs.
Get an equally clear understanding of the account's "brand image" and the kinds of activities they believe would support and grow that image.