Putting the brakes on marketing spend in the wake of the Toys “R” Us closure will only result in a crash
By Harold Chizick
In this time of crisis brought on by the imminent closure of Toy “R” Us, I needed to remind myself the toy industry’s annual revenues have been sitting at around $21 billion—give or take a few million—for at least the last decade. That figure has remained constant through the closures of Zany Brainy, FAO Schwarz, KB Toys, the downsizing of Learning Express, and even the implementation of tougher COPPA legislation. And it’s also worth noting (or reminding ourselves) that two other things are predictable right now—the holiday season will still come this year and kids will still play with toys.
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the closure of Toys “R” Us has wounded the industry. And our natural instincts may be screaming to duck and cover, pull back on spending, and hopefully ride out the storm. But any good marketer will tell you that the companies and brands that reject that impulse—and opt to double-down on their marketing efforts—will be the ones to emerge from this crisis bigger and stronger than ever. In other words, while it feels counter-intuitive to speed up when hitting a rough patch, the ones who slam on the brakes as the industry collectively starts hydroplaning will be far more likely to crash.
With the latest reboot of retail and the looming dominance of e-commerce, marketing tactics need to be fine tuned. It’s now up to brands to find new and more innovative ways to increase consumer awareness, tell their stories, and get the eyeballs that will convert to sales. So with one of the toy industry’s key retail outlets closing its doors, shouldn’t the priority be letting consumers know everywhere else they can buy your product—whether that’s through PR, advertising or boosted social media—on every platform going? Pulling back on getting your marketing message out there should be the last tack to take right now.
Frankly, the toy industry hasn’t witnessed anything like this in ChizComm’s five-year history, so I don’t have a quite-comparable example to offer, but the advice we’re giving our clients is to power through. While everyone zigs, let’s zag and stand out by doing things other companies aren’t doing.
So you’re asking, “How do you do that, exactly, Harold?” Step one: Start building your digital footprint, both through earned and paid media. Community building, influencer outreach, and increasing the brand’s output of engaging and creative assets will be more important than ever when it comes to earned media. As budgets get smaller, the strength of your influencer relationships and content will grow to be a pillar of budget-friendly marketing.
When it comes to paid digital media, it’s all about optimization. Anyone can pick up the phone and get a Google rep to tell you how to put together a paid digital marketing campaign. But while they’ll help to get you started, that rep will not tell you how to read the analytics and adjust campaigns to optimize brand spend on a daily basis. You need to know where your money is going and that every dollar you’re spending is driving towards not only the right target, but also the most eyeballs as efficiently as possible. As always with digital marketing—content is key.
Community engagement will also be crucial for brands, not just within their own digital platforms, but also wherever the audience is and with other brands that also engage the target consumer. Being there at every turn and replying from a customer service standpoint in an authentic, real way will give the public comfort and trust in your brand that they used to get by picking it up at Toys “R” Us.
There is no silver-bullet marketing tactic to get the industry through this. Rather than looking for a single solution, it’s more important than ever to have a fully rounded marketing plan that ensures maximum exposure and tells your consumers exactly where to find your products. The push for discoverability is at an all-time high and there’s only about six months until the holiday season kicks into high gear. I say now’s the time to step on the gas.