Traditional Retailers, It’s 15 Minutes to midnight. How to Strike Back at Your Online Competitors.

Customer Obsession does not equal Customer Centric.

I am not one to use such CW Superhero rhetoric in a title, but we are at a significant inflection point in traditional retail. Many traditional retailers have Investment Firms or Venture Capitalists hovering over their business models and or owning the retail outlet directly. These venture capitalists are demanding that retailers launch and execute on not only a digital transformation but also a Customer-Centric Transformation. With this said, here is a list of opportunities, we see in our practice to help Traditional Retailers strike back at their once only online competitors. There are many significant opportunities and it’s not too late, but action is required.

From Merchandising to Customer Centricity.

  • Stop thinking of your business as primarily a merchandise operation. That is a very dated paradigm in which the customer experience is not fully accounted for. Instead of jamming in tech and analytics functions such as broader business analytics under merchandising, take a step back to make sure the customer journey you want to drive is what the customer wants in the context of the retail experience respecting all of the traditional pillars of stable retail yes. What this means is consider revamping your org structure with new C level roles in Data Analytics and Digital rather than just planning, allocation, and merchandise. You need an Integrated data-driven experience strategy as you will need to compete on analytics to drive the experience.
  • Create an integrated, connected data infrastructure by having a coherent data strategy. Without a CDO and clear customer enabling data strategy, it is not clear if traditional BI data modeling in today’s retail environments can get you there alone. You need to deal with the digital exhaust data coming off of mobile devices and social media platforms that need to connect both offline and online marketing. You need to resolve your customer’s identities across channels such as social, and you will be driving prospects and customers across your paid, owned and earned media. This is a very complicated endeavor, but one if mastered can create the competitive advantage you seek over your online competitors. You need to connect the dots in a vastly more complex digital and retail ecosystem.
  • Start viewing your CMO as more critical than your Head of Merchandising and Allocation. The fact that you see marketing and analytics as support areas will be your demise. Yes, it’s time to turn up the strength of the language if you want to win. Related to this theme you need to view merchandise and promotion spend on an ROI basis with other forms of marketing spend. Come up with a framework on what to invest in based on the customer journey you want to co-create with your customers.
  • Continue testing big data and business analytics to help optimize the merchandising mix but think of these AI and data capabilities as the brain behind your merchandising planning and not some adjunct to the buying process. For example, create an Omni-channel segmentation using customer behavior to understand buying trends and combine this with good social and customer VOC to ensure you know both the “what people want” and how they buy. A right blend of quant and qual is needed more than ever before. The Analytics function including digital and social intelligence needs to inform enterprise-wide strategy and not just one aspect such as mobile geofencing or beacons for example. There needs to be a Strategic Intelligence Strategy to drive your customer experience strategy.
  • Many large retail stores are very disorganized and give the impression of being a mess which hurts the brand image and makes the consumer want to buy online and stay home. This works against your omnichannel efforts. Walk into some stores where clothes are pilled up and or thrown all over the stores.
  • Restructure your marketing channels under the CMO. The direct mail team and the digital team should not be in separate verticals doing their own thing. This creates customer collisions which should not be happening in the age of the customer where customer-centric technology is available to solve this. If there is inertia to do this consider replacing leaders as needed as you can’t afford this type of rivalry in your company.
  • Use analytics to help you optimize your merchandise mix between national brands and private label. This is not apparent from the customer experience that we are seeing. Broader use of Business Analytics and Optimization can help with these business problems but think about optimization across the enterprise.
  • For your digital transformation consider bringing in executives from other related fields such as retail banking, online advertising, and other consumer-facing businesses. To break the mold, you need additional points of view. You already have enough institutional knowledge of your business, but that doesn’t appear to be fending off competition.
  • Broader use of AI to bring a cost leadership position. For example, according to porters classic strategic choices of Cost leadership, differentiation and focus. Choose one strategy to reap the benefits of AI. For instance, can customer service be handled on social media and what role can chatbots and virtual assistants play? In Porter’s strategic choices this would help with cost leadership. What part do smartphones play in the omnichannel and in-store experience and more?
  • Ensure you are using recruiters who can find transformation executives and who know the disciplines you are recruiting for.
  • Some of the early work in digital analytics has been great but how does digital intelligence help the entire enterprise across all channels to better enable customer engagement. Tag Management and other identity resolutions systems are not always in place to measure the interaction between social media and other marketing efforts.
  • Continue to leverage your in-store advantage but use data and analytics to further target and segment to provide customers with an indeed customer-centric experience, not just a customer-obsessed experience. Customer Obsession without customer-centric data and knowledge does not drive step change and double-digit growth.
  • Consider Revamping your own compensation models to attract top talent. If your online competitors are paying mostly in-stock consider paying a bit more in cash to attract top talent and learn the various models of your competitors and use that knowledge to your advantage.

These are some of the issues we see in our practice to help take traditional retailing to the next level. We hope this article provides several provocative ideas for you to take your retail customer experience to the next level.

Upon earning a Business Doctorate in Mid-Career: What it means and what can you do with it?

My Doctoral Experience: Part I (of a two-part article). 

The purpose of this article is to explain to business professionals the scope of obtaining a doctoral degree; I will briefly discuss the distinct types of doctorates and discuss my experience in a practitioner-based program. Later, in this article, I discuss the benefits of achieving a doctorate and some of the potential career paths.

Introduction and Gratitude:

I am pleased to announce to my network that I recently completed my Doctorate in Marketing with my research concentration in Marketing Analytics. I had the great fortune of being able to earn a Doctorate in Business while working, which made the trials and tribulations of such a venture extremely challenging. The quintessential achievement of a doctorate means that you have mastered a subject entirely. With that said, I am forever grateful to Pace University for creating a program that is extremely rigorous and AACSB accredited and well rounded. Also, I had the great honor to have two very famous authors in analytics and loyalty marketing on my Dissertation committee: Dr. Tom Davenport and Dr. Terry Vavra. I am incredibly grateful for their participation on my committee. I highly recommend all the following practitioner books for those interested in analytics, CRM, digital marketing and customer satisfaction and engagement:

Top Books by Thomas Davenport

Competing on Analytics(Revised)
Analytics at Work
Only Humans Needs Apply
Enterprise Analytics
Big Data at Work
Keeping Up with The Quants

Top Books by Terry Vavra

The Customer Delight Principle
After Marketing
Loyalty Myths
Improving your measurement of Customer Sat
Customer Satisfaction Measurement Simplified.

Not being that familiar with doctoral programs, early on, I learned that earning a Doctorate in NYC adds to the competitiveness of the programs and the caliber of the students and faculty that you meet along the way. I benefited because many of the professors at Pace have their degrees from top schools and there is a level of competition for students between these Manhattan-based schools Pace, CUNY, Fordham and a variety of others. A doctoral program is about 20 courses or 60 credits. The cost of Doctoral programs can run from $75k to $150k depending on the program. The time to obtain a professional doctorate can range from 3 years to 7 years maximum. I finished in approximately five years. It is important to point out that while a majority of doctoral students complete their coursework, a smaller percentage finish the dissertation, mostly because of the motivation and self-discipline required to drive the writing of a manuscript mostly by yourself. So, for folks who hold a doctoral degree either Ph.D. or D.B.A or D.P.S. the level of rigor, research discipline and significant statistical knowledge that is acquired is a benefit and a significant differentiator over M.B.A. or M.S. holders who have become highly commoditized as of late. While many practitioner roles in marketing and analytics do not require more than MBA, I would encourage prospective employers to look at the level of statistical knowledge and evidence-based process that doctoral candidates learn about and how it may be beneficial for specific roles like the Chief Data Scientist or other quantitative and technical roles.

Alphabet Soup: Ph.D. (Research-Based Doctorate/Academic) versus D.B.A./D.P.S. (Practitioner or Executive Based on a Research Discipline). 

Very often I am asked is one type of doctorate; academic versus practitioner better than the other and my point of view is it depends on what you are planning to do with it once achieved. When one is evaluating which path to choose it is vital to understand or try and forecast how you might use the doctorate when you finish. If your lifelong goal is to pursue a tenure-track academic career, then a research-based doctorate, like the Pace program, has some advantages over a purely practitioner doctorate. The fact is there is not a consensus in 2018 which one is better because it depends on many things, including what you are going to do with it. Most Ph.D. programs seek to prepare candidates for a career in academia to educate students and conduct research.

Career Paths after completing the Doctorate:

Some schools hire traditional tenure-track academicians, clinical professors (non-tenure track but usually former practitioners) and adjunct faculty (part-time faculty with full-time professional careers) solely based on holding a doctorate. Which path a student wants to take will often dictate the type of doctorate one will pursue. One thing to point out is that there is a wide variance in both Ph.D. and DBA/DPS degrees and much overlap, so some Ph.D. programs look more like DBA/DPS programs, and some DBA/DPS programs look more like Ph.D. programs.

Some professional doctoral programs such as DBA/DPS take a broader scope and breadth of their curriculum, for example, having students take courses in all aspects of the business from management, to finance(somewhat like an MBA and Ph.D. program combined). Said differently some professional doctorates take a multi-disciplinary approach that gives students a flavor of theory and research in a variety of functional areas while others allow them to specialize in one area. With this said, there had been much debate in practitioner and academic circles which program type is better, a purely research-based Ph.D. or an executive doctorate such as a DBA/DPS. To provide more clarification, it is essential to point out that some doctorates focus on research to create new knowledge while others on research to solve organizational problems by applying theory to practice. The former is more likely to focus on quantitative research methodologies which the latter are more likely to focus on qualitative research methodologies. Again, not all PhDs are one and all professional doctorates the other. One developing trend that is happening now is a merging of Professional Doctorates such as the DBA/DPS and Ph.D.’s in that Business doctorates whether professional or academic both now require original research and a full dissertation which is based on a research study written in a manuscript form.

AACSB Accreditation is more critical that the School Brand

What is most important in choosing a doctoral program, believe it or not, is not necessarily the schools brand name but whether the school is professionally accredited by the Premier Accrediting body which in the case of business is the AACSB, which Pace, CUNY, NYU, Fordham, and Columbia all have. Why does having the premier accreditation like the AACSB matter one might ask? It ensures a substantial level of rigor to the program and makes them somewhat more comparable across the board by creating standards for doctoral education. I also learned that accreditation could create a significant barrier to entry for those desiring to teach at an accredited university. For example, AACSB requires a certain percentage of faculty to have earned doctoral degrees and be productive scholars. This discourages schools from hiring full-time faculty who do not meet this requirement. Most Ph.D. programs and some professional doctorates require students to demonstrate the ability to conduct research and the skill to use a variety of multivariate statistical methods.

Components of any Doctoral Program

The goal of the students pursuing a doctorate is becoming a bonafide expert in a field. Doctoral programs require them to think about the world quite differently and in the framework of theory and research. Most doctoral programs have at their core the following elements.

  • Reading and understanding the theory to become expert in one or more academic disciplines.
  • Research methods courses that focus on research design, measurement, and evaluation.
  • Advanced statistics courses that develop skill in applying techniques like analysis of variance, regression and correlation analysis, factor analysis, cluster analysis, and structural equation modeling.
  • Conducting research and writing many papers in a chosen field (such as marketing). Some require developing an article for acceptance at academic conferences or publication in scholarly journals.
  • Creating and defending a dissertation, which is similar to writing a treatise. Depending on the program, it can either develop and test theory to create new knowledge or apply theory and analytics to investigate and solve a practitioner problem. It demonstrates the expertise a student develops throughout the doctoral program and provides a platform for future interest and study.

Doctoral Program Requirements: My experience from Pace’s Executive Doctorate.

Ok, now the next question, what does one study in a Business Doctoral program, regardless of the assorted flavors and program names. Here are some of the elements and I would argue are quite common in academic doctorates and practitioner doctorates (PhDs, DBAs/DPS).

  1. All programs have a massive research component. The program at Pace had me reading, analyzing and critiquing over 150 journal articles in my chosen major/research area, which was Marketing and Analytics. These critiques were due every week, sometimes twice a week, so it was not unusual to be up after midnight to submit them online. In addition, to reading over 150 journal articles (and this was the kind of reading that could cure insomnia, for example very esoteric topics and very high-level concepts in addition to very detailed methodologies and testing results). The doctoral student must write between 2-3 research papers in every class they take during their coursework, which included reading between 15-30 articles to understand the theoretical basis for any article (Not light reading, the kind of reading you have to re-read like 3-5x to make sure you understood what the heck they were saying in some cases).
  2. Since a dissertation is in effect like writing a book it helps you build and demonstrate competency in your chosen filed. By building competence or expertise in a topical area and then identifying the dissertation, you can prove and defend that expertise. Mine was Marketing Analytics.
  3. Development of critical thinking through reading, summarizing and discussing the scholarly literature. Reviewing the literature enabled us to better understand research methodology and, we were required to comment on testing approach as well as having a point of view on the analysis.
  4. All reasonable programs prepare you for publishing research results in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals. As most good programs are emphasizing research, Pace’s program required a one-year publishing tutorial where the student is required to submit a paper to a national conference and ultimately a scholarly journal. This included co-authoring an article with a published author and learning SPSS, AMOS, SEM and Factor analysis and other supporting statistical analysis in excruciating detail including programming these tools oneself. I had the good fortune of having my paper accepted at a National Conference right out of the gate. This demonstrates the rigor and competitiveness of a doctoral program.
  5. Comprehensive Exam (Including a Written and Oral Exam): A written – 6-hour exam on over 150 articles in your discipline (mine was marketing) and an Oral Exam: A 3-hour cross-examination (by two tenured faculty members). The purpose of the examination is to certify your competence and currency in an academic discipline.
  6. You are invited to form your committee with 5 Ph.D.’s (3 internal to your school, 2 External Experts)
  7. Dissertation Proposal Approval: 3 hours and 3 Chapters of your manuscript. Intro, Lit Review, Methodology Proposal. Approval to collect data. The format is a 3-hour in-person presentation with the five members of your committee. Your committee provides you with valuable feedback and suggests alternative ways of approaching your methodology.
  8. Dissertation Final Defense Meeting: 3 hours with your committee. The entire manuscript including the Analysis and Results and Discussion, Directions for future research, implications for theory and practice. 150-200 page paper(“book”). Depending on the methodology may have dozens of analyses: factor analysis, ANOVA, mediation and moderation tests that all lead to proving a structural model and measurement model. Takes about a year or 2 to write this.
  9. If you are still alive after all this you get a piece of paper that says you are a Dr. This is a mammoth life-altering task and is the pinnacle of academic achievement.

The following are the courses that one takes over the five years to complete the doctorate.

Coursework by Year

Year 1

Doctoral Foundation Seminar in Management
Explorations in Business Research

Doctoral Foundation Seminar in Finance and Economics
Doctoral Foundation Seminar in Marketing

 Year 2

Regression Analysis
Publishing Tutorial 1

Selected Topics in Multivariate Analysis
Publishing Tutorial 2

Year 3

Concentration Seminar
Research Design and Measurement
Doctoral Concentration Seminar in
Corporate Finance (FIN 821) or
Consumer Research (MAR 831) or
Organization Behavior (MGT 835)

Concentration Seminar
Doctoral Foundation Seminar in Cross Cultural Management
Doctoral Concentration Seminar in
 Capital Markets (FIN 822) or
 Marketing Management (MAR 832) or
 Strategic Management (MGT 836)

Year 4

Dissertation Seminar 1
Candidate passes doctoral comprehensive examination
Doctoral Program appoints a dissertation committee

Dissertation Seminar 2
Candidate presents dissertation proposal to committee for approval

Year 5

Dissertation Seminar 3
Candidate collects and analyzes empirical data

Dissertation Seminar 3
Candidate completes and defends a dissertation

Explaining the Value of a Doctorate:  

Doctoral Degree benefits for careers in Academia or as an academic practitioner.

The doctorate brings more credibility to academic research. The credibility is clearly based on the fact that research doctorates inculcate the knowledge and skill necessary to conduct research worth publishing. While not the primary intent a doctorate may lend credibility to consumers of professional books, if they see that the book is written in a manner that is well researched by a doctor. The doctorate does distinguish you from your colleagues as it is a rare degree in the U.S. The next benefit is to acquire research skills and to be competent observers of the world and doing analysis and applying them to practical problems. It does remain to be seen if access to jobs is increased, but in data science and specific fields, doctoral marketing holders are often preferred given the statistical training of doctors.

How does a Doctorate Help a Consulting Practice?

While the doctorate helps with providing expanded opportunities in teaching, it also allows autonomy to do consulting. Having a doctorate lends credibility to a consulting practice or in my case a Chief Analytics role or a CMO role in a corporation. While not required, very often clients want to send their PhDs to talk with you (doctoral holder) in the event you are working on any projects that are methodology driven so that they can review the work and ensure senior management that the consultant’s practice is sound. Clients and firms have a higher regard for the consultant if they know they have a doctorate as they very often understand the rigor of going through such a program and they know that they can expect detailed research and analysis and often a more value-added focus.

My Dissertation, Articles, Plans for Future Research

In conclusion, I will briefly discuss my dissertation topic, the expertise I developed and my research plans. My dissertation topic was regarding Marketing Analytics. Marketing Analytics is a relatively new but increasingly prominent field in which data tools are applied to quantify and monitor marketing performance and customer information to optimize investments in marketing programs and maximizing customer interaction. My dissertation is a B2B study, in which I established a set of predictors that help determine the degree to which a firm’s marketing function is analytically driven. The research builds on extant theories of market orientation by establishing the presence of a new construct known as Marketing Analytics Orientation (MAO) through qualitative and quantitative research methods including factor analysis and structured equation modeling. Firms in the study are scored on the MAO Index, and the characteristics of the more analytical firms are discussed. Furthermore, the study explores the relationship between the factors that comprise Marketing Analytics Orientation (MAO) and Marketing Performance (MP). I am in the process of publishing various parts of this study in scholarly journals. The study provides the opportunity for future research into the drivers of how analytical marketing organizations are and the impact analytics has on marketing performance and other campaign key performance indicators and market level performance indicators such as company stock price.

Please check back here if you are interested in reading my Dissertation on the adoption of Marketing Analytics or other related articles. This will take some time to appear as I am working on publishing now.

I hope this addresses the universal questions of why pursue a doctorate and its’ potential benefits aligned to several career paths.

In future articles and Blogs, I will explore ways in which Industry and Academia can further align for success. (Part II of this series on Education)


Dr. Tony Branda