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“Meet the consumer need now” With Natalie Krickovic

Meet the consumer need now — Changing shopper behavior, which initially was the comfortably paced adoption of increased digital shopping, has now been accelerated with the pandemic. Consumer-centric focus has been around for some time; however, now more than ever this north star carries increased weight. Life, for the foreseeable future, will not be easy, […]

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Meet the consumer need now — Changing shopper behavior, which initially was the comfortably paced adoption of increased digital shopping, has now been accelerated with the pandemic. Consumer-centric focus has been around for some time; however, now more than ever this north star carries increased weight. Life, for the foreseeable future, will not be easy, and consumers have become more and more ruthless when it comes to making buying decisions based on a multitude of criteria beyond product features, for example: “Can I get next-day delivery?” With lifestyle and budget constraints heavily in place, meeting their needs on all fronts will be key to win. Organizing quickly is a must, before others figure it out first. Loyalty is both a major risk and a massive opportunity right now.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Krickovic.

A key acceleration point in Natalie Krickovic’s retail career was leading a fully Walmart-dedicated event agency team in Toronto, Ontario. Natalie focused the agency on finding meaningful connections between the CPG brands and Walmart’s key priorities, ensuring strong Walmart shopper relevance and that unified business deliverables were met.

Natalie was then invited down to Bentonville, Ark., to stand up a new U.S. Walmart demo program with Advantage Solutions. She led the grocery business development team and worked closely with local suppliers to model new exciting programming with a heavier focus on retailtainment and omni-channel tactics.

As retail activation was evolving, both in-store and online, Natalie took a lead client role with an internal Advantage Solutions shopper agency team, IN Connected Marketing. In this role, Natalie worked with top-tier CPG brands, advising on shopper activation and retailer relationship strategies across multiple retailers with a total omni-channel lens.

Most recently, Natalie has joined Bold Strategies, a full-service eCommerce agency, as Bold’s Senior Director of Strategic Services. Natalie is able to leverage her extensive experience working with top-tier retailers and more than 100 brands to assess business needs and structure the right eCommerce solutions for big and emerging brands alike. Natalie has a particular passion for partnering with developing brands to help find the right path to win.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My plan from day one in business school was a career in finance. After graduating, I took a role at a bank and realized quickly it was not a fit and I truly did not enjoy the work. I love being creative and telling a story, and at that time, processing trade transactions was just not delivering.

I was living in downtown Toronto, where rent is relatively expensive. I decided to get a part-time job doing on-premises and in-store sampling events. At the start of each program, we would have amazing downloads from passionate brand managers and then were set loose to engage with the public, delivering their message and story. I quickly realized this was turning into a career pivot point. Shortly after that, I joined the management team of Mixer Inc., a boutique Toronto event agency and spent the next five years working directly with Diageo, Canon, Kraft, and Dyson developing exciting brand events.

When Walmart Canada began a partnership with Shopper Events, I joined as employee №2 and had my first experience setting up a team and new business, along with working with the world’s №1 retailer. The rest, as they say, is history. I still giggle (and cringe) when I think about my time at the bank.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Years ago, I was part of a very lengthy and very trying RFP at an incumbent agency. Over six months, we kept the day-to-day operations running impeccably (as if our lives depended on it) while going through multiple rounds of submissions, meetings, and negotiations. Many of us agency folks out there have been the team fighting for the business or fighting to retain it, and know it’s a full-court press where every element is analyzed, second-guessed, and discussed ad nauseum. In short, this was not our day. We lost the bid, and as a fully-dedicated agency, our jobs were lost as well. What made this the most interesting moment in my career were the extreme highs and lows and the incredible commitment my team had. Everyone had their battle stations, whether it was RFP contributions or day-to-day operational excellence. The maniacal focus to press hard over six grueling months was aided by 100 percent team transparency on the reality of the situation and ongoing exposure of how we planned to tackle each stage. It took away the fear, it gave everyone focus, and thankfully, we had also staffed up with all the right people who were not going down without a fight. We closed the door without having one person abandon ship and delivered incredible work we could be proud of. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not enough. This was truly one of the most trying moments of my career, but I will always remember how amazingly committed my team was. It was truly incredible.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I was an on-site lead event execution for a CPG’s national sales meeting, which was a behind-the-scenes, “making things happen”, “wearing black and hustling around” kind of day. As we were nearing the end of the final session, my client’s plans changed on how they wanted to wrap up a closing game on the main stage. After hours of running around, I was asked to come up to stage as a support game show assistant to the company lead because he was concerned he might not hit on all the key game execution details.

There I was in front of thousands of my clients, looking like I might have been to battle and back (well, because truly that day was grueling). I’m sure they were utterly confused as to who this stranger was and why I was there. That being said, I did my best to make up for my appearance with a lot of stage presence and gusto, later getting an insane stress migraine in my room.

I think the takeaway here is to really consider as many possible variables on “game day” or “go live” or that upcoming important meeting. Amazing opportunities and moments can pop up; however, anticipation goes a long way for how well you deliver and how strong you feel during the process.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are currently in beta with an offering called Glacier Box, which is an end-to-end turnkey solution for shipping refrigerated or frozen products directly to consumers. This offering is currently live on Amazon marketplace, and we are building toward a Walmart marketplace rollout and a dedicated DTC site where a variety of frozen/perishable food will be sold. There is so much opportunity to develop specialized fulfillment capabilities and we see this category as a major priority.

Eventually, Glacier Box could also be leveraged as a sampling platform, opening up access to frozen/perishable brands that have been limited to only in-store sampling.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I feel like mini cyclical or temporary burnouts are hard to avoid when you layer all of the responsibilities we are balancing. I haven’t figured out the secret sauce, other than reminding myself I will get over the imbalance hump. It’s really important to take ownership of how you manage the volume as best you can, and be smart and realistic on prioritization versus trying to get everything done all the time. That’s almost impossible, it’s like doing laundry: it is never-ending. Focus on what is important and what needs really deep engagement, and take care of your people to ensure they are able to mobilize and support. I think it’s a fine balance on giving yourself grace and being able to rally and grind when appropriate.

I’m also a big believer in some kind of outlet beyond work and family that is personal and gives you an independent sense of belonging — whatever that is, to each their own. I found tennis recently and enjoy smashing a ball to release any stress. Last year, I ran. At some point, it was more yoga.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Julie Walker. Most definitely. Julie was a previous leader that took a chance on me when I was on the greener side. It sounds cliche, but I was incredibly honored to step into a country lead role in Canada, where I worked my tail off to deliver for Julie and myself. This move gave me a ton of cross-functional exposure, business acumen polishing, and confidence to lead. I will forever be thankful for the opportunity, her coaching, and how much she was invested in my success. Julie is an incredibly smart, well-loved seasoned executive that truly invests in her people. I was lucky enough to be one of them. This role set up a lot for my career including a move to the U.S., where I’ve since had incredible opportunities and have met some wonderful people along the way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve definitely kept my experience with Julie in mind to pay it forward with fellow colleagues and direct reports, creating meaningful relationships and supporting them in developing their careers.

An area I have a lot of passion for that I would love to contribute more time to is Dress for Success. I took part in an event last year that was incredibly inspiring and shared stories about women that were supported within the program to get back on their feet, find wonderful employment opportunities, and rediscover their self-worth. I would love to get active within this cause in a counselor/advisor role. It’s such a wonderful initiative.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

1. Meet the consumer need now.

Changing shopper behavior, which initially was the comfortably paced adoption of increased digital shopping, has now been accelerated with the pandemic. Consumer-centric focus has been around for some time; however, now more than ever this north star carries increased weight. Life, for the foreseeable future, will not be easy, and consumers have become more and more ruthless when it comes to making buying decisions based on a multitude of criteria beyond product features, for example: “Can I get next-day delivery?” With lifestyle and budget constraints heavily in place, meeting their needs on all fronts will be key to win. Organizing quickly is a must, before others figure it out first. Loyalty is both a major risk and a massive opportunity right now.

2. Design an evolved channel strategy driving benefits beyond sales conversion.

ECommerce channels were already becoming an elevated priority ahead of the pandemic; however, COVID-19 broke the system and forever shook up the weight of why this channel matters. The surge of online shopping uncovered a need for better systems and resourcing, while clearly demonstrating the sizable potential for brands. As far as the right channel mix, the two big guys, Amazon and Walmart, account for approximately 60 percent of volume and are key players to consider. More and more direct-to-consumer websites, via partners like Shopify, are providing brands a direct alternative route to their consumers, where loyalty can be nurtured and learnings can be leveraged across the total ecosystem. In addition, Instacart continues to rise as a growing opportunity for brands with extremely high adoption rates over the last few months. Thankfully, eCommerce ramp-up can be quick, and it is a place where test and learn poses less of a risk versus traditional brick and mortar. That being said, it’s key to properly assess the category and competitive environment to ensure you have the right portfolio, channel, and marketing strategy to be successful.

3. Innovate customer experience strategies and look for new ways to connect.

There are some standout retailers and brands that are starting to pivot and innovate on their experience strategies as they understand the importance of a deeper connection with customers and how that translates to brand advocacy and enhanced customer lifetime value. As traditional social connection and experience is greatly limited — now more than ever — humans are yearning for it.

Time to figure out new ways in.

Walmart recently announced the launch of parking lot drive-in movie events with opportunities for brands to partner and get involved. This is a great example of an adapted and relevant experience activation that surprises and delights customers. Experiences can also take a more digital form. Shop Hasbro’s Bring Home the Fun site content provides a multitude of solutions for parents to keep kids occupied that include playtime tips, brain stimulation activities using toys, and suggestions on how to cope with increased stress. Experience strategies are definitely challenging with this new landscape, but when the connection is made, it will be all the richer — and likely we’ll get more creative long-term on what experience can look like.

4. Identify and activate earth-conscious operational efforts.

Taking care of our planet is a global priority, and there’s no denying consumers are mindful and researched when it comes to making purchase decisions. Operationally, corporations are implementing elevated measures to reduce carbon footprint, protect water resources, minimize waste, and deliver lower-impact, cleaner products. These measures are now feeding into marketing strategies and retailer/CPG partnerships, bringing the story front and center with consumers because it matters to them. Many of these measures have been evolving and developing for some time; however, internal silos have kept them off the radar of many marketing teams. As consumer expectations continue to elevate, it may be as simple as having some internal conversations around what can be shared, how we can partner, to drive more awareness around the great things already happening.

5. Celebrate diversity and represent our community in a way that matters.

Plain and simple: We all want a voice. We all want to be represented. Corporations are starting to get the fact that identifying their brands with a more diverse audience brings authenticity and deeper loyalty. Brands and retailers are finding ways to celebrate diversity, whether it’s highlighting body positivity via real woman models, creating a sports hijab for kickass female Muslim athletes, or featuring LGBTQ families in ads. Be a part of a better tomorrow, where acceptance and inclusivity rule in an authentic way and deepen the connection between your offering and a more diverse community.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

An area I am very passionate about is reducing waste within online grocery pickup/delivery services. I love and religiously use grocery delivery for convenience (and currently safety); however, I would love to see efforts around better sustainability measures that remove the use of plastic bags.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalie-krickovic-a3abb55/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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