To the Last Dollar: The Brand’s Best Practices for Q4 with Marc Yount
Every six months, the retail clock seems to reset and there are new industry timelines. KPIs are harder to calculate. Brands are feeling the pressure to outperform from years previous. In the final months of 2023, it’s possible to still make a significant impact on your bottom line.
Field Agent sat down with an in-house expert, Marc Yount, to dig a bit deeper.
Yount, President and Chief Commercial Officer for Field Agent Inc., has been in the CPG industry for 20 years, giving brands visibility, solutions, and winning formulas for lasting success.
Throughout the interview, he answers questions based on the following trends in the marketplace in 2023.
- Consistent Q4 principles
- Pain points while closing 2023
- Mitigating cost pressure sensitivities
- Driving e-commerce
- Standing apart from competitors
What are some tried and true principles that you see repeatedly for brands as they approach Q4?
Whether we like it or not, Q4 gets a reputation. High stakes, high sales, high pressure. With that, I think there's a sense of feeling out of control. Almost, honestly, like taking a test.
Brands have done all these projects throughout the year, but now’s time for the big exam. “Pencils down” is the mentality. “I hope the score on the test was good. I hope I pass. I hope it goes well. I hope my teacher likes me,” — well, that’s besides the point. It’s true, though: many people go into the holiday season and Q4 with the hope that the year’s work was enough to drive the outcome they need.
Brands cannot control full execution or customer behavior. You can't control logistical problems, macro economic trends, or global virus spreads. And, that feels vulnerable. So the one thing that brands can count on every year is that you have to rely on all the work that you put in Q1–Q3.
Another hard and fast truth is that Q4 is not a full quarter. At least, it doesn’t feel that way with vacations, holidays, and kids out of school. Not only are there commercial pressures in Q4, there's personal pressures. We're all real people. And guess what? Real people start to get stressed about holiday shopping, traveling, hosting, and cooking when November rolls around.
At best, you’re going to get two months of real availability out of the fourth quarter.
Let’s talk about real pain points in Q4. Can you diagnose some retail headaches that come around this time of year?
Many brands feel like they can't make changes, and that causes a real pressure. The pace of making change at retail can be slow. Ecomm might be an exception to that, but frankly, that too can be very tedious. Trusting outside third party companies with logistics and supply, plus limited imports, slow manufacturing, or inventory issues? People's hands are gonna be tied. It’s an honest question that many come to us with: What can I even do to impact my business now that I'm in the middle of this season?
In 2023, specifically, it’s been a metaphorical roller coaster of macroeconomic and geopolitical hurdles. That means serious ramifications for the retail environment — they go hand in hand.
The surge of engaged customer behavior in the post-Covid era was remarkable. With increased purchasing and money hitting our economy, buying habits went up. Thus, categories increased their output and their total sales. Then there were logistics issues, inventory issues, then inflation issues. Well, about a year ago, people started really looking at their P&L with customer spending.
Now, brands are facing a cost pressure with retailers saying, “no more price increases,” and having to be more efficient with POS and not just keep raising prices.
With interest rates going up, student loan payments coming back, and talks of recession again for the third time in two years, the cost pressures in the environment are greater than ever.
At the end of the day, it makes it really hard for the manufacturers and brands to keep doing what they've been doing under more budget constraints.
So, what are some ways that brands can really mitigate this cost pressure sensitivity?
Some of it's going to be on the supply chain: the demand planning and manufacturing side of operations to get product to the shelf. The next big bucket of money that comes after the cost of producing the product is typically in the marketing channels — driving consumers to your brand with awareness and trial in a crowded market space.
Since most people reading this may not have access to impact the supply chain cost side of things, figuring out how to impact areas of marketing, consumer insights, store operations, and sales operations is key. Talk to consumers the right way to understand what they want and don't want. And in these upcoming seasons, price sensitivity is a big deal.
- Are you doing studies to make sure you understand what prices make sense to your shoppers?
- Are you understanding if you crossed the threshold by the way you're pricing something at the shelf? Does it make more sense to have a smaller pack?
- Is there messaging you could change?
- Is there a packaging update to implement?
On the operations side, the hottest topic I hear about right now is stock and availability at the shelf for the customer. It matters, especially in your big retailers who are going all-in on OPD — where their employees at the store are the ones picking items off the shelf, the same place the customer gets their item.
In focusing on one area for store operations, look into visibility: a product’s availability and what it looks like on the shelf. Truth be told, retailers are going through the same pressures in Q4 as everybody else. Brands need to understand whether their items are actually available: not in some inventory number in a system, or somewhere in the back room. By not understanding what the customer actually sees, the consequences may be loss of sales, lost space, and competitor wins.
How brands can affect their e-comm, how they go to market, and the way their consumers see their product online?
It comes down to the business professionals who are willing to make the changes they can make in Q4.
There are very few areas where you can do that, but here’s one of the biggest catalysts of change: e-comm. The digital shopping world has given brands the ability to A/B test, try new messaging, and change digital images much faster than you could change a real package. Generate content on your item page, change the content on your item page, and learn what moves the needle.
Field Agent helps brands in this area with one of our fastest growing products, which is generating online reviews on your product. If there's some newer items or items that don't have the type of content quality score your retailer partner needs — Ratings & Reviews is an opportunity to bolster your online sales.
If a shopper arrives on an item page with the right advertising, the right search optimization, and the right digital images? Great. But what's really going to convert them in most cases is going to be what other customers are saying about it.
Maximize your ability, not just go fingers crossed into Q4, but to actually drive sales by having fresh, quality, honest reviews on your items. We all know this helps impact conversion. Get ahead of the game by sharing with your retailer partner or internal team to display how your team was driving business in Q4 with some creativity.
Raising your reviews is the perfect way to impact sales in the last stretch of the year because you don't need much lead time — especially with Field Agent.
What are some very practical ways that brands can set themselves apart or above their competitors in this last seasonal stretch?
As most people go into Q4 feeling out of control, tell yourself that it doesn’t need to be the case for you and your brand. You can still do things to impact your business at retail.
The differentiator is the person that comes to the table with data-driven information on what's truly happening in-store and online, then implement change. Do a study to understand what your customers think about price and the middle of a cost pressure season in Q4. Add reviews to your items. Help increase sales for your retailer partners online. Check on the availability of key items at the shelf and on planograms.
We're all planning for next year, but be proactive in the middle of the hectic. Take a small step this week to communicate results of what you’re seeing at the shelf. This mentality helps prepare even more effectively for the beginning of the year.
Companies and brands probably have less visibility to what's actually going on at retail. Defy the average competitor by being data rich. Use Retail Pipelines to get an accurate picture of what’s happening on-shelf. You can't get on a plane and travel the whole world to do a million store walks, but you can visit your retailers across the nation with our tool to see your item on shelf, virtually from your desk.
Utilize Field Agent’s powerful crowd of over 2 million everyday shoppers as a cost efficient way to get unparalleled visibility to make the most of Q4. Talk with an expert to see how to make the most of 2023, or start shopping Field Agent retail products on the Plum Marketplace.