The “last mile” is usually thought of as a supply chain challenge: how to best deliver products the final leg to individual customers.
Yet the last mile is also a marketing challenge. The last mile for you is the first mile for your consumers. The shelf is where many consumers discover your product, and where most purchase decisions are made. How your product appear on that shelf (either physical or virtual) matters.
In the real world, our products never look as amazing as they do in our offices. In the real world, our products sit on dusty Kroger bottom shelves or cluttered e-commerce stores next to thousands of other products vying for attention.
This dynamic is what propelled Apple to build Apple flagship stores. The Mac will always look better in an Apple Store than a Circuit City.
We can’t all build our own flagships like Apple, but we can think more creatively about the last mile so that we don’t get lost in the clutter. When the Cranium board game first launched, it bypassed the usual channels, Toys R Us and Target. Instead, Cranium launched in Starbucks. Starbucks wasn’t a board game retailer, but it had Cranium’s target audience already queueing for lattes. As a result, Cranium didn’t fade on a cluttered shelf next to all of the other game launches that year. Starbucks as a distribution partner literally put Cranium on the map.
When I helped launch the Method brand in the UK, I came across a web grocer called Ocado. Ocado is not the largest retailer in the UK, but it excels in helping brands with the critical “last mile” to reach consumers. Many brands overlooked Ocado because of its size. Yet Ocado offered what traditional retail couldn’t. Because it had no physical stores, the Ocado assortment was not limited by shelf space. Because it had no physical promotion sites, it could tailor and feature products to the right consumers at the right time.
Method often had a tough time breaking through the clutter at larger retailers. So we over-invested in Ocado. We took the time to learn what Ocado could offer, and wound up with even greater exposure on Ocado than some of our biggest CPG competitors.
I learned that we need to be just as creative in the last mile of our products and ideas as we are in the first.
If you’re interested in more on “the last mile”, I gave the following 30 min talk at the Ocado Supplier Conference a couple years ago (the first 12 min is the story of Method, so tab ahead if you’re in a hurry).