Strategy
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Strategy

It all starts here.

Highlands has a proven track record of working collaboratively with the world’s best brands. Together, we create, develop, and implement strategic plans that are actioned quickly and cost effectively. Working alongside your leadership team, we will maximize the short and long term success of your brand. And, because we actually help deliver the strategic plan, we make sure it’s something that really works - in the real world.

Experience tells us that no program is identical to another.  Therefore, we don't offer a cookie cutter, one size fits all solution for our clients.  Rather we promise to have robust and repeatable processes to help work things out.

At the core is our REPEAT process.  Together, it guides us, keeps us on track and drives us toward the best possible outcomes.

Research - Evaluate - Plan - Engage - Apply - Track

Articles
Bill Beard Blog plane 1

A Day in the Life of Strategic Account Manager: Bill Beard

Bill Beard likens his job to that of an air traffic controller.

He can’t lose sight of the prop planes or the Boeing 747's, and they both require his sharpest focus so they don’t come crashing down.

The Highlands Strategic Account Manager, based in Florida, works exclusively with a Mega-Reseller (or Mega, for short) in the US.


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On a typical day, Bill starts his morning like most of us do

:

waking

up early, enjoying that first cup of coffee and clearing out the bulk of his email before leaving for the office.

He tackles, what he calls, his daily business: pricing changes, UPC discrepancies, answering questions about products and connecting a client to the Mega before moving on to logistical, legal, content and supply chain issues.

After another cup of coffee or two, Bill then reviews more strategic initiatives like: laying out and complying with promotional calendars, aligning goals and strategies and taking advantage of all the tools available in the four channels (digital, commercial, contract and retail)

With 

the change from morning to afternoon

also comes yet another shift in focus
. Bill calls these larger picture things: meetings with Highlands marketing team, or clients themselves, or merchants, or the client’s replenishment team, or launching a new opportunity or closing a new opportunity. This is the time that he delineates for greater follow up pieces.

For Example: New client onboarding has a particular process. Bill is continually aligning himself with the Mega’s strategies and finds the niche that each client will fill in order to be approved.

Each client’s product line he works with is strategically built. He doesn’t just load in new products, he solves customer pain points and provides real solutions in the current offering. This builds incremental sales and doesn’t steal sales from another supplier.


Bill Beard Plane v4


What he says further differentiates his work are the other offerings that come with a Highlands partnership: back-end support, a qualified, seasoned and national field source and a marketing team that is the best out there. It’s a lot of collaboration and team effort. He doesn’t work in a silo


Bill Beard Plane v4


However, what really makes Bill special is his relationship with the Mega. He doesn’t just get meetings, he absolutely engages in the business. Bill’s deep understanding of the account’s landscape and goals allows him to provide assets that are easily executable and give them solution-based proposals.


After heading home, Bill rounds out his day

by spending time working on the Client’s intranet system. This includes anything from: updating pricing, to working on forecasting, to uploading new items and content, to pulling documents for EDI compliance guidelines.

Clients depend on me to manage the portal for them. The Mega trusts me because they know I have the experience.” 

And with more than 30 years in the industry, Bill has unmatched experienced working with this account. Add that in with the rest of his team at Highlands and he’s providing a total business solution - bringing value to the clients, as well as the Mega, by successfully launching new, innovative products and technologies that will enhance the customers shopping experience resulting in greater sales growth and a stronger partnership for both organizations.


Bill Beard Plane v4

Bill Beard

Strategic Account Manager

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Optimizing SEO using Google

December 18, 2017 

As 2018 approaches, it’s no secret that even your Grandfather knows how to Google search, be it bunco rules or Velcro strapped Reeboks. When it comes to buying a product or service, most of us perform a Google search. Often, I perform a Google search to check product reviews and compare prices between different online selling portals (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.).

Consumers may not be familiar with the channel they end up buying the product from, but they know they’re on the hunt for the best product at the most competitive price. With the amount of results a Google search can provide, it’s important that your website appears when a consumer searches for whatever product or service they need.

Many studies show that customers start the online search on a particular website but they end up buying from an alternative. This alternative website may not have been available or known to them when they started their hunt. This relays the fact that it is very important to increase your product visibility on multiple websites. 

Trend of Online shopping (source: bigcommerce)
51% of Americans prefer online shopping
96% of Americans who have internet access have shopped online
67% of Millennials prefer online shopping
95% of Americans shop online yearly
80% of Americans shop online monthly
30% of Americans shop online weekly
5% of Americans shop online daily

Statistics show that 54.5% online marketing is done through Google. 

Optimum ways to make Google work for you:

- Product Feed: Keep it updated. The products should be ready for pick up or shipping.
- Product Details: Maintain accuracy with respect to the product specifications. If Google finds these to be inaccurate, the product may not be listed long enough to catch anyone’s attention.
- Keywords: When seeking to purchase a product, the general population searches using few words, such as: name of the product, description of the product, weight, size, color, etc. These are the keywords. Be sure to use them in the product listing. This will increase the likelihood of your item showing up in the search.
- Images: The image within a listing plays a key role. It should be catchy and the customer should be attracted to click on it. Hire a professional photographer. Save your images using key words relevant to your product or service.
- Mobile Friendly: Make your website mobile friendly and get the customer to the desired page with minimal clicks. Little to no time lapse increases the chance of customer return. 

Today, there are many tools which will provide the information about an audience and what exactly they are looking for. Keep an eye on this data as it will provide you the impressions, click rates and information about the competitors. We suggest enhancing your product and website according to the trends. Google shopping is also offering local market inventory. You can sell to customers closer to your vicinity and also provide home delivery. 

In addition, Google is constantly updating itself to reach more customers. Think less, trust us, and get your products a space within Google shopping. Don’t forget, “the best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”


Gordon-Christiansen-2



integrated model

Integrated Digital Marketing & eCommerce

December 4, 2017 

You’ve spent thorough time sorting out your Amazon strategy.  Great, well done.  That means your eComm strategy is set, right?  Well, maybe not.  Amazon, whilst being important, is only part of the journey.  In this blog, we’ll scope this out a bit further and give you food for thought about a more holistic approach. 

In a recent review, (source: Business Insider) 56% of US, German, UK and French shoppers prefer Amazon as a point to search for the product. Customers go to Google to search for a product but still, Amazon enjoys loyalty from customers. In the US, 36% check Facebook reviews or Facebook advertisements for buying a product. Blogs, Bing, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and blogs are the other sources for a product search but not a big number.

first stop- amazon

The survey says:
  • 22% say that “if they find a product suitable on Amazon, consumers do not look at other sources.” 
  • 51% say that “though there is information on other websites, they prefer Amazon to explore alternative ideas, compare product features, prices and get more information.” 

Below is another survey conducted in Q1 of 2017 (source: Business Insider). This survey reveals that Amazon is the first stop in the marketplaces where customers stop to purchase.  
first stop- amazon

The chart clearly explains Amazon as the first choice to search for buying a product. Amazon not only enjoys loyalty from the customers, but it’s also the place where customers can get enough information about the product that they’re able to make an informed purchase decision. 

So, this confirms the importance of Amazon today: highly important but certainly not the whole story.

Let’s look at the ecosphere available to you.  Amazon, E-Bay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, reseller sites, retailer sites, your own site - they can all reach the customer. Some will sell your product, some will generate interest or even leads.  But how do you choose the correct platform for your business and how do you maximize sales?  It’s not an easy decision to make, however, it is easy to invest incorrectly.

Take a very common scenario: you’ve built a great website and now all you need is to gain traffic.  You’ll invest in SEO.  You’ll invest in PPC campaigns.  However, the channel strategy doesn’t allow you to sell direct so you’re gaining interest but don’t know if you’re generating sales.  One idea might be to partner with a tech-savvy organization called Commerce Connector, which creatively connects your brand with loyal and committed retailers and e-tailers. Commerce Connector can also be imbedded into your social media feeds. 

Social media can be a minefield. Which works best? What does success look like? Do re-Tweets help sell more product?  Do ‘Likes’ improve your bottom-line?  Well, maybe.  Having brands that consumers genuinely engage with on social media platforms is more than half the battle.  Do you have that kind of brand?  If you do, then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat may really help.  They have a multitude of success stories. 

B2B brands struggle with the kind of emotional attachment to really make social media pay dividends.  That said, there are plenty of success stories on LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.  

If you’re a retailer, the metrics are straight forward; footfall, conversion and average transaction value.  It’s no different online.  What is different is how you get people into your “store” (wherever that may be) and the techniques you’ll need to maximize conversion and value.

The first step to a successful online strategy is to truly understand who your customer is and how they will find you.  Then, work out ways to get their attention and move them toward a sales funnel.  My guess is that one solution will not be enough.  Choose wisely!



Elephant-Room

Suggestions for the Future

August 7, 2017

My last blog addressed the “At Work” elephant in the room - that much has changed and managing through this is brutally difficult.  Whether things calm down is unknown.  To me, these are Darwinian times where strength is not determined by size, but the ability to leverage deep expertise with extraordinary agility.  The following suggestions should help set the stage for evolutionary fitness.

  • Provide a well-thought consumer journey.  First, you must understand what, where, why, and how customers buy products.  Thankfully, it’s not hard to collect and analyze data to determine these drivers.  Then, leverage this insight into powerful programs that boost sales and margin.  The more you can help distributors succeed, the more you become invaluable to their broader success - and your volume.
  • Think Mobile First.  We all understand that catalog, in-store and online must be aligned so offerings are priced accurately, branded accurately, and easily purchased.  Many forget to customize their online presence to be smartphone and tablet-optimized.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 26% of online purchases in 2017 will be done on a mobile device.  While online sales have grown by 95% over the last five years, sales from mobile devices have grown by a massive 362%!  If your site isn’t optimized for smartphones or tablets, you’re probably losing sales!
  • New products and new markets.  Smart companies make their products obsolete before their competitors do it for them.  Continue to innovate and expand on what sells, and ration what does not.  And look beyond your borders and traditional routes to market.  Changing buying patterns and technology gives you the opportunity to compete and address new audiences.   
  • Be Social.  Today’s younger workforce spends untold hours posting on snapchat, Instagram, you name it.  If your content is worthy and well-placed, it will be found and shared - all of which drives traffic to your site!
  • Consider in-store technologies.  NFC (Near Field Communications) and in-store digital helps drive online sales while shopping in-store.  Augmented Reality is the next big leap in human interaction with technology.  Explore how this might work for your business.

Those that have incorporated some or all of these recommendations are seeing positive results.  That said, integrating these new processes was not without fear.  Departing from the tried and true is uncomfortable.  It’s also required.  The key is a willingness to try, and to fail fast should they not deliver.  

To us, staying the course and waiting for positive results imperils your future as slow and lumbering only makes you a target for extinction.  

Bob_Ogara
Bob O'Gara
CEO

Sales and Marketing

Sales vs. Marketing

July 18, 2017

We’re asked the difference between the two all the time. Ask a salesperson and they’ll say, “it’s everything that goes into convincing a customer to buy. Great product, competitive pricing, compelling story, support materials, online portal, customer service - everything. Ask a marketer and they’ll likely say the same thing.

So, what’s the difference?  

To me, marketing is about converting mindsets while sales converts wallets. Effective marketing deploys programs to convince a prospect that there “just might be something to this product worth a second look.” Once that altered mindset enters the store, it’s up to sales to close the deal. How the tasks get divvied up doesn’t really matter - just that they’re deployed in a unified, compelling manner.

To answer that question more thoroughly, marketing leverages research to create a brand story, conceives programs to create awareness and induce trial, and then executes supporting materials. Sales leverages relationships, deploys support materials, and actively presents product benefits and pricing programs to the prospect to secure the deal. This process is very effective within growing, robust markets like technology, wine and spirits, commercial construction, etc. where customers are willing to pay full price. Unfortunately for categories suffering decline or major transformation - like Office Products - this process is not working any more. 

Why? Because product benefits within mature categories are often similar, which makes price a key differentiator. When price wars erupt, someone else is always cheaper and the consumer has become trained to shop for a better deal. This kills margins, encourages consolidation, and eliminates innovation.  The only way out of this dysfunctional whirlpool is to change how you sell, not what you sell.

To us, a successful program can never be about price. Ever. It’s about value. At

Highlands

, we apply a rigorous process we call IPEO.
  • Insight
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Optimize
While I won’t give away our proprietary steps within each process, the output provides a clearer picture of the audience, how to best reach them, aligns with objectives, invests in the right programs, and measures results so we can optimize for even more success.  

In time, all programs eventually lose efficacy as competitors are not lazy. They’ll adjust to our efforts to stem our successes. That’s when we must start anew - develop a better product, consider new distribution channels, discover new audiences, deploy better programs, leverage technology more effectively.  

The truth is that sales and marketing are best viewed as tactics that emerge from a strong, insightful, strategic plan. Without a plan, and highly coordinated sales and marketing tasks that emerge from it, it doesn’t really matter if you define either one. Because in immature categories, those standing apart or unwilling to adjust will have far more to worry about than titles or job descriptions.


Gordon-Christiansen-1
Gordon Christiansen
Partner. SVP Marketing


change_or_fail

What Can We Learn from our Past?

July 5, 2017

“The one constant in life is change”
 
Versions of this quote go all the way back to Heraclitus (ancient Greek philosopher), and that truth shines vibrantly today.  Those unwilling or unable to embrace change will be passed by those who do.  Interestingly, this truth is at odds another familiar adage:
 
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”
 
This implies we should replicate past successes -- and avoid past failures -- to assure a secure and profitable tomorrow.  But if the only constant is change, how do we smartly leverage the past when tomorrow’s rules are different and constantly changing?
 
It’s potentially a paralyzing conundrum.  “Old school” leaders rely heavily on experience and past success to guide their path forward, which works great when category fundamentals have not dramatically changed (e.g., construction, trucking, hospitality).  Granted, each of these categories has added new products and technologies into their business models, but you still go to hospitality - it does not come to you.  Distribution and delivery of construction materials has not changed, though online ordering is common.  Since end-user purchase patterns are not significantly different, these business evolutions simply add speed and convenience to an existing model. 
 
That’s not the case with the ‘At Work’ space.  This has suffered through seismic change because end-users have dramatically changed how, what, and where they purchase.  No longer do they all show up at the same location, at the same time, to fulfill a day’s work.  At Work is now a melting pot of the gig-economy, outsourcing, work-from-homers, computers/laptops/smartphones, which has led to massive consolidation.  Add-in high-speed Internet, e-commerce and social media, and it’s an entirely new paradigm that mandates a new business model.
 
So, what can we learn from our past?
 
First and foremost, make sure you’re going forward from a sound base.  Just like your predecessors, you must fully understand the basics - clarity of purpose, customer first, what are the drivers, where do margins exist, etc.  
 
Going forward, which technological advances and business models best serve today’s new workforce realities?  I firmly believe the future is an extension of what we used to do - but with dramatically different strategies and tactics.  If we imagine it more complex than that, moving forward becomes paralyzing.  We simply leverage valuable expertise and experience AND embrace the discomfort of new.
 
My next blog will discuss some future-forward suggestions we’ve found helpful in today’s dramatically evolved market.  It’s not as daunting as you might think.

Bob_Ogara
Bob O'Gara
CEO
Aligning-for-growth

Aligning for Growth

June 12, 2017

Sometimes market conditions change, sometimes you have to change the market conditions.  Regardless of which form of market transformation you face, successful navigation through choppy waters requires alignment.  That’s a broad term, so what do I mean by ‘alignment.’

In one sense, alignment is a go-to-market term.  Alignment of tactics and message across all touch points.  Making sure your point-of-sale programs are aligned with your online efforts.  Making sure your email campaign syncs up with your Groupon programs.  Making sure price points and product assortments are optimized across all platforms.  Tactical alignment is critical, but that can fall apart if there is not alignment of mindset.

Mindset alignment means those developing the strategy and isolating the opportunity fully grasp the reality.  It also means those on the front line (sales) can accurately explain the needs of the market.  The more you align mindset, the better the chances for success.  Those that are truly aligned and share the same vision can adjust to unforeseen situations with near flawless clairvoyance.

In business, going against a large player with a traditional approach is a recipe for disaster.  You’re walking right into their trap as they are massive and built their success on size and scale.  That doesn’t mean they cannot be beat!  To win, you must commit to a changed approach and align to it.  

In our experience, smaller players have a real opportunity as their business model is not predicated on massive in-store traffic.  Buyers have not stopped buying.  On the contrary, they’re buying more than ever.  It’s just that they’ve changed their buying patterns to include a healthy dose of online.  The mega retailers are too committed to their historic approach to adjust.  Much like an aircraft carrier; it takes a long time to turn.

Speaking of naval history, the Battle of Trafalgar is a great example of aligning to a new strategy against a much larger opponent.  That battle pitted an outnumbered British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson against the combined French and Spanish armada.  Rather than line up and blast away at each other (where success always went to the larger fleet during this battle of attrition), Lord Nelson saw an opportunity to change market conditions.  He explained his plan to his supporting captains, who then implemented the tactics that forever changed naval warfare.  

Lord Nelson split his battle ships into two parallel lines and T-boned their opponents in two spots, breaking their ranks and leaving them open to their soft spots.  In the end, Lord Nelson sunk or captured 19 enemy ships and lost none and over 13,000 enemy sailors were killed or injured compared to 1,500 for the Royal Navy.  This battle forever sealed Britain’s naval superiority and protected the homeland from imminent invasion from Napoleon.

Sometimes conditions change.  Sometimes you have to change the conditions.  To win in either scenario, alignment of mindset is the first condition that must change.

Bob_Ogara
Bob O"Gara
CEO 
Highlands