marketing investments 2021

Retail’s Big Show Has Gone Digital: What Should Tech Vendors Do Now?

NRF, the National Retail Federation’s annual expo, has always lived up to its nickname of “Retail’s Big Show.” For the past 20+ years, Ketner Group has braved New York’s frigid January weather to help our clients make the most of retail’s signature event.

That’s ancient history now, of course, for NRF and every other industry event. Almost overnight, virtual events have replaced physical events, and 2021’s January NRF is now a two-week digital event, with a physical expo to follow in June. Since no one knows what to expect from the new format, it’s opened up a huge void in sales and marketing that retail tech vendors are scrambling to fill.

This has also freed up new marketing budget for some companies, since their NRF 2021 budget may go largely unspent for the remainder of the year. We’re actively working with many clients to help refocus their marketing activities in the absence of NRF, and here are four recommendations to consider.

4 marketing investments instead of nrf 2021

1. Double down on PR

As we wrote in a blog post this summer, this is not the time to go dark on PR. Companies have typically viewed NRF as a prime event for new customer and product announcements, and we see no reason why this should change.

After all, retailers will have set their priorities for technology investments, and they’ll want to know more about your solutions, customers, technology direction and understanding of the challenges they face in 2021 (and there will be plenty, coming off retail’s most disruptive year in decades).

So start planning your PR strategy and campaigns now. This includes press releases, thought leadership content, editorial briefings, media relations campaigns and more; if you have a robust pipeline of announcements, get started this fall and keep your foot on the accelerator pedal through January.

2. Step up your analyst relations program

Retailers’ technology priorities have shifted dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, and they will be looking to industry analysts to help them prioritize investments and vendors.

This fall and winter will be critical times to refresh your messaging and conduct analyst update briefings. It’s important to understand key analysts’ viewpoints and to demonstrate how your solutions help retailers meet the challenges of the new, post-COVID world.

If you’re not currently investing in analyst services, this may be the time to redirect some of your NRF budget, to ensure constant access to analyst research, strategic direction, inquiries and feedback.

Research projects can pay big dividends, too, whether it’s with a traditional analyst firm or through a market research group such as Researchscape, who we’ve partnered with on multiple occasions.

3. Remember: content is still king

In the absence of face-to-face meetings at events, content is more important than ever. Conversion rates are six times higher for companies that use content marketing, according to Aberdeen Group, and fresh content will drive greater engagement on your company website and provide fresh material for your lead nurturing and content marketing programs.

Content comes in a wide range of formats, including blog posts, infographics, customer case studies, ebooks, whitepapers and more.

Repurpose your content when it makes sense, in order to get the most out of your content marketing investments. One long-form piece of content can be condensed and reused for blog posts and thought leadership articles for media, for example, and also be used to drive social media engagement.

4. Complete a messaging and website refresh

Many companies have used NRF to launch new marketing messages, and that shouldn’t change. After all, NRF has gone digital; what better time to revamp your digital presence?

With all the changes in retail in 2020, your company’s messaging and website is likely due for an overall, too. Make sure your messaging and your website are current, relevant and speak to the real needs that retailers will face in 2021.

After all, your website is the foundation for all other marketing initiatives. When done properly, PR, analyst relations and content will always drive people back to the website.

Focus on the future

These are some of the key initiatives that companies must focus on in the coming months, and there is much more that can be done.

Companies should also take a close look at NRF 2021’s virtual offering, too; just because an event has gone digital is no reason to not be involved. But given the uncertainties of a new format, it’s important to put even more emphasis on the initiatives we’ve described here. 

If you’re interested in diving into one of these initiatives and would like some help, we offer a free 30-minute consultation. We’d love to talk about how we can power an impactful marketing initiative. Get in touch.

woman at laptop planning PR and marketing

2020 PR Planning, Take Two: What to Do Now

2020 PR planning was derailed for many companies far too early this year. The global pandemic forced companies to scrap carefully laid business and marketing plans and adjust at lightning speed to constantly changing conditions. We’re now at the mid-point of 2020, and the question is: what comes next for marketers?

Despite the ravages of the coronavirus, we’re seeing some signs of optimism among our clients. They are focused on the future and have moved quickly to pivot their products and services to meet the uncertainties of the post-pandemic world. Companies are rethinking business models, looking for new opportunities to help their customers succeed, and aligning their marketing and PR plans accordingly.

So, how can you take your bearings and set a new marketing course for the remainder of the year?

Here are some initiatives that are a must for every company and marketer.

Re-examine your brand proposition.

COVID-19 put a pause on business as usual, but many companies are using this time to re-examine their brand proposition and the value they bring to their customers. Companies are asking if their value proposition in the pre-pandemic world still makes sense as we face the uncertainties of a “new normal” that is still taking shape.

For the B2B technology companies we work with, the challenges their customers face are sharply different now. How can their solutions help companies in a world that’s constantly shifting, and how should their messaging change to reflect that?

Forward-looking companies are taking time to re-examine their 2020 PR planning.

This process includes:

  • Re-evaluating messaging across channels – making sure that their messaging around products and services remains relevant;
  • Conducting research that helps them understand trend changes;
  • Rolling out new messages through PR initiatives, website relaunches, social media and owned content.

Innovate fearlessly.

If there was ever a time to roll out new strategies, this is it.

Some changes will be born out of necessity—the overnight rise of virtual conferences and trade shows, for example. There is also increased emphasis on content marketing, social media and earned media.

We’ve quickly made changes here at Ketner Group, too.

When business-as-usual ground to a halt in March, we launched a new webinar series, “KG Connects”. In doing so, we built a new avenue to help clients, partners and other companies explore fresh marketing ideas. It also helped us reach new audiences and showcase our expertise.

At the same time, we started monthly office hours for clients only. The private setting promotes candid conversation about their unique PR and marketing challenges. We’ve used this time to build closer relationships with our clients, and they’ve reacted positively.

Focus on the fundamentals.

Innovation is critical, but don’t lose sight of the fundamental PR and marketing activities that are important to your brand.

This is not the time to go dark on press announcements and corporate communications. These initiatives are essential for securing the media coverage you need to get the attention of customers, prospects and investors.

Are you announcing a major new product or making another significant company announcement in the second half of 2020? Be sure to check out Adrienne Newcomb’s recent blog on the necessary steps for a great product or business launch.

Reallocate your unspent marketing budget.

Remember all that budget you had earmarked for events later this year? If at all possible, use it—don’t lose it.

The cancellation of SXSW early this year was just the first of a wave of event cancellations in 2020. Many events planned for early 2021 will likely be rescheduled, too. You can reallocate that budget into marketing initiatives that will keep up your visibility. We’re actively working with our clients to help them do that, and we’d be glad to offer our strategic advice.

The key thing to keep in mind for marketing now is simple: don’t stop.

Your customers and prospects are looking to you to provide expert guidance in turbulent times. So, it’s critical to communicate with them through carefully planned and executed campaigns. Take this opportunity to re-examine your brand, innovate with new ideas and keep up your PR presence.

These are the kinds of challenges that can bring out the best in our companies and marketing efforts. With these initiatives, your updated 2020 PR planning will help you showcase that.

coffee shop open for business

Reopening Retail: What We’re Seeing

There’s only one topic that really matters in retail now: when and how to safely reopen retail so consumers can begin to shop and dine. The trick is to strike the right balance.

As retailers and restaurants open up their brick and mortar locations and slowly enter into a new way of doing business, it’s essential that shoppers feel safe and able to practice proper distancing and health practices.

Industry leaders such as Kroger have stepped up with their roadmaps for reopening. For example, Kroger’s “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses” has generated a lot of well-earned interest for its detailed recommendations.

What the experts are saying

In addition, Ketner Group has been in the middle of lots of discussions with clients, editors and analysts on the best ways to reopen retail. And we’re seeing interesting ideas begin to gain traction.

Ketner Group recently worked with our longtime client NGC Software on developing thought leadership on how to reopen retail in the era of coronavirus. NGC’s concepts are quickly gaining traction with leading brands and retailers, and we’re confident that they can play a role in helping to jumpstart retail.

This article in Sourcing JournalHow to Shorten the Timeline to Get Stores Back in Business – grew from a series of LinkedIn posts that generated 9,000+ views.

Another article in Glossy about how fashion brands plan to slowly reopen stores quotes NGC president Mark Burstein, along with retailers and other industry leaders that are working together to get retail up and running again.

We’re also helping Cathy Hotka and the Store Operations Council promote their recommendations for safely reopening retail. The Store Operations Council consists of leading retailers and industry thought leaders, and we’ll share those guidelines as soon as they’re available. As Cathy says, “We are in the second inning of a 9-inning game…we’re going to be dealing with this for a while.”

The key is for companies to work together, and we’re encouraged to see so many positive initiatives focused on the future of retail.

How to do media relations and PR during the pandemic

How to Approach PR During the Pandemic

The media relations landscape has never changed so quickly. Virtually overnight, media relations has pivoted to “all coronavirus, all the time,” as editors and reporters work feverishly to understand the impact of a virus that has upended all of our lives.

How can a PR agency communicate in a crisis like this? It can be summed up in a single word. Pivot—and the faster, the better.

In the last few weeks, we’ve worked closely with our clients to quickly adjust their communications programs and meet the needs of editors, reporters and other audiences.  Clients have stepped up to creatively collaborate with us and become part of the media conversations that are changing hour by hour. We’re proud of the way they’ve responded. And in working with media on behalf of our clients, we’ve identified four essential principles for PR during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the room.

The worst thing PR professionals can do right now is send pitches that are tone-deaf or irrelevant. Now is the time to understand and respect the changing needs of editors and reporters, and only offer them the information that matters to them now. Save the routine communications for later; otherwise, you’ll lose the respect of the very people you’re trying to reach.

As one reporter recently shared on Twitter: “Dear PR friends, this is simply not the time to be casually dropping in to see what types of stories I’m working on or telling me about your client’s new skincare product. Please, spare my inbox just once in these trying times.”

Share your insights.

Does your company have unique insights that can help reporters better understand the current crisis? Now is the time to step forward, but only in an unbiased, non-promotional way.

For example, one of our clients, a leading national law firm, created a Coronavirus Resource Center to share insights on legal issues arising from COVID-19; it’s become a rich resource for business media. An ad-tech client created an infographic that advises brands on how to shift their advertising strategies in real time. We wrote an op-ed for another client on managing supply chain crises.  And we’re coordinating media interviews for another of our clients since one of their consultants is a former retail executive who helped his company navigate the SARS and H1N1 crises. We’re working with a number of our clients on media strategies during this crisis, and we’d be glad to share more examples.

Lead with empathy.

As my colleague Kirsty shared in her blog about how marketers can adapt to Covid-19, empathy is essential. Acknowledge that editors and reporters are operating in a high-stress, fast-changing environment. They’re working longer hours than usual, and they’re worried about their families and friends just like the rest of us. Even a simple recognition that you’re emailing them in a time of crisis will be appreciated.

Think beyond the current crisis.

In a webinar on the state of the retail economy today, IHL analyst Greg Buzek said there are two ways retailers will mark time after this year: BC (Before Coronavirus) and AC (After Coronavirus). We haven’t reached the AC phase yet, but it will happen. A new normal will emerge, and communication needs will shift.

We’ve already seen a few glimmers of hope. This week we surveyed key editors and reporters, asking them how we could better serve them as they cover the COVID-19 pandemic. A reporter for a top-tier national publication responded that her coronavirus coverage was actually starting to slow a bit, and she was returning to stories she was working on before the crisis.

There will be a time for new product press releases, customer announcements, case studies, blogs and thought leadership content that’s not focused on coronavirus. We’re not quite there yet. However, now is the time to begin planning, focusing on “AC” strategies, and developing the kind of content and media relations programs that will resonate in the AC era. Companies that do this will be the ones that succeed as we emerge from this present crisis.

Stack of newspapers that you will earn coverage in by following the advice in this blog.

How to Build a Great Retail Tech PR Program

Done right, a great retail tech PR program can have as strong an impact on a vendor’s success as their solutions have for the retailers they serve. As retailers look to innovate alongside Amazon and avoid being next years’ Sears, they’re turning to emergent technologies such as AI, machine learning, robotics, machine vision, and IoT.

But in an ecosystem full of marketing hype and hyperbole, retailers aren’t ready to trust an unknown commodity. In other words, they won’t just take your word for it. Innovation, without broad recognition, holds surprisingly little value. That’s where the influence you gain with a retail tech PR program comes in.

Retailers trust the media to be the gatekeepers of truth. Not just about the news stories, but trends and the impact and value of those trends.

Our clients at Ketner Group have been taking advantage of this to place themselves at the forefront of retail trend conversations for nearly three decades. By building close media relationships, they have earned coverage in publications ranging from The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg and Forbes, to influential retail, grocery and CPG trade media.

How can your company create the best retail tech PR program? Keep these four principles in mind to increase your market visibility and attract new customers, partners and investors.

1. Define your unique story.

Does your company have a promising new solution for retailers? That’s great, but how can you stand out to decision-makers from the hundreds of other technology companies that are vying for attention?

It begins by creating concise, easily understood messaging that answers fundamental questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What specific challenges do they face?
  • How does your solution answer those challenges?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What do your customers say about you?
  • Do you have data and performance metrics to back up your claims?

Answering these questions isn’t an easy exercise. But it’s fundamental to creating a unique brand story that differentiates your company from your competitors in the market.

2. Consider the broader context.

Every problem/solution must fit into a larger context in order to find market acceptance. If your PR program is focused only on you, you’ll never get the results you want.

For example, one of the biggest disruptions in grocery retailing is the rapid rise of e-commerce, especially from Amazon and Instacart; grocers are moving quickly to deploy their own e-commerce and delivery solutions in order to retain customers and protect market share. It’s a trend that one of our clients directly addresses.

Other clients have introduced technology for fully automated, cashierless stores; solutions to help companies navigate major supply chain disruptions; AI technology that can identify new opportunities for profit while helping retailers cut their losses.

All these are just a few of the market dynamics that are reshaping retail. And to be successful in retail technology PR, it’s imperative to frame the context for your solution and show how it addresses significant business trends.

3. Know what to say, when to say it and who to say it to.

The life of a typical editor or reporter isn’t easy. Typically, it’s marked by tight deadlines, heavy workloads and information overload. Our job as PR professionals, in partnership with our clients, is to make their jobs easier with newsworthy, timely and relevant information.

What do editors want?

For starters, editors always welcome unique, compelling data that are unavailable from anyone else. The data should add a fresh dimension to an ongoing story or reveal a new conversation the industry should consider.

Editors also appreciate commentary from thought leaders on fast-breaking industry trends, as this can support their story development with an expert perspective. If you can provide a customer that’s willing to speak, so much the better; nothing adds to a story like the real-world perspective of a retailer.

4. Create a well-rounded retail tech PR program.

Much of this blog has dealt with media relations, and it’s typically a primary focus when companies decide to hire a PR agency. However, earned media is only one facet of a well-rounded PR program. As Ketner Group president Catherine Seeds made clear in her recent blog about what to do after NRF, an effective PR program also includes:

  • Analyst relations
  • Social media
  • Digital marketing
  • Speaking engagements
  • Event participation

Together with all forms of original content—ranging from blogs to thought leadership articles, case studies, e-books, white papers and more—these are the fundamental elements of a comprehensive PR program for retail technology companies and other businesses as well.

Companies that create comprehensive programs like this, usually in partnership with a PR agency, will reap a number of benefits. Charles Dimov, VP Marketing at our client ContractPodAI, underscored this point in a blog on the connection between PR and lead generation.

At Dimov’s former company (also a Ketner Group client and retail technology company), he implemented a disciplined method of tracking qualified leads. The company traced a third of the company’s leads to PR—a result that can make a significant difference in the bottom line.

So can a robust PR program pay dividends? The answer is “yes,” and hopefully these tips can help point you in the right direction, whether you’re a retail technology company or other B2B business. Now go out and build a great PR program (and contact us if you need help along the way)!

Map of the brain as a computer chip in reference to artificial intelligence

Is AI Really the New, New Thing?

Artificial intelligence is the new, new thing — or is it? While seemingly every software solution touts the wonders of AI, it’s only now starting to deliver on the promises that have been made for decades.

Consider this sentence from a Fortune 100 company lauding its power: “Artificial intelligence promises to open new dimensions in the ways that machines serve people.” Sounds current, right? However, it’s from a 1984 brochure on the Texas Instruments Explorer Computer System.

My agency worked for Texas Instruments early in my career, and AI was among the key technologies we focused on. We produced a quarterly newsletter and successfully pitched stories to the media on the topic, wrote press releases on solutions built on it and developed a case study on one of TI’s early adopters, Campbell Soup. TI and Campbell’s developed an expert system (an early AI application) to capture the knowledge of valuable engineers that were nearing retirement. Without the system, that knowledge could have vanished forever.

Unfortunately, early applications of AI were ahead of their time, and the market faded away for several decades. Why did it take so long for the technology to catch on? Here are some personal observations from someone who was captivated by the promise of AI three decades ago.

Early AI solutions were expensive and slow.

Early artificial intelligence systems used a language called LISP that required specialized, expensive computing systems. Additionally, the limitations of existing systems (slow and limited processors, as well as a lack of storage), constrained early PC versions of AI software. The computing power necessary for robust AI applications simply didn’t exist. However, as predicted by Moore’s Law, computing power doubled every two years as the cost fell — ultimately making it possible to deliver the raw computing power required for AI. But that alone couldn’t solve the problem.

The cloud didn’t exist.

Can you imagine (or remember) a time when the Internet didn’t exist? In the early-to-mid 80’s, it was still nearly a decade away from becoming a household word.

That meant there was no way to deliver AI or any other applications on the cloud, because there was no cloud! And since most such applications today are delivered on cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, which can provide thousands of processors on demand for AI applications, there was no way for it to reach its full potential.

Storage was limited.

A lack of data storage was yet another limiting factor. The first 1 GB hard drive was introduced in 1980, and the era of terabytes, petabytes and exabytes was decades away. Without immense amounts of data storage, it’s impossible to house all the data required for robust AI applications.

Thankfully, that’s all changed, and we’re entering the beginnings of the golden age of artificial intelligence. As real-world AI applications continue entering the mainstream, Ketner Group is fortunate to represent several clients delivering AI applications that solve tough business problems and deliver significant savings in time and cost.

None of this would be possible, though, without the pioneering companies that helped pave the way decades ago. So, here’s a salute to Texas Instruments, Intel and other visionaries that are finally seeing their vision come to life.

Ketner Group at Stacy's Wedding

4 Ways to Create a Great Agency Culture

How do you get a PR agency owner’s attention? One way is to whisper about employee burnout. That’s why a recent Digiday headline was so alarming. The article, “A crisis boiling under the surface: agencies confront employee burnout,” described a toxic, high-stress agency culture where 32% of professionals worried about their mental health.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the article focused on ad agencies, not PR firms. After all, we’re Ketner Group, not Sterling Cooper! However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the article. Several of our employees came from national PR agencies that expected them to bill 160+ hours a month. Late nights, employee burnout and high turnover were part of the culture.

That’s no way to run a PR agency — and it’s certainly not the way we do things at Ketner Group. We talk about KG as our “work family,” and it’s not a cliche. Our agency culture has evolved over time, and I think there are at least four reasons why.

#1: Create an Agency Culture Where People Can Thrive

Clear expectations and mutual accountability, combined with reasonable work hours and billing expectations, are fundamental to creating a positive agency culture. (And yes, competitive salaries and benefits matter, too.) These are table stakes, though. Everyone in an agency deserves a climate where they can continually learn, develop new skills and grow in their career, without sacrificing family or personal time. They also need a clear sense of how they can progress, both in salary and titles, and the reassurance that hard work will be rewarded. These are all things we’ve taken to heart at Ketner Group. That’s why we do employee reviews every six months instead of just annually. Why we value everyone’s opinion, not just the most senior staff. And why we do anything we can to help our individual team members grow and thrive.

#2: Trust Your Team

Do you hire great people? Then by all means, trust them. If KG team members focus on clients, consistently hit billing targets, demonstrate professional growth and are team players, then they earn our trust. That’s why we have a flexible work-from-home policy, especially given the headaches of Austin traffic. Trust is also the reason we’ve let KG’ers work abroad, from Dublin to Bali, not to mention our new offices in New York and Nashville.

#3: Exceed Client Expectations

Are you surprised that this wasn’t #1? Well, there’s a method to our madness. To do great client work, we believe that agencies must first create a positive environment where everyone thrives, and where there’s a climate of mutual trust, respect and accountability. Professional skills are a given, of course. But without these other attributes, it’s hard to create cohesive, focused teams where everyone focuses on exceeding client expectations. Great teams do great work, and we see it every day in our fantastic, hard-working team members.

(This isn’t me hyperbolizing, either. The VP Marketing of one of our clients recently told me that hiring Ketner Group was the single best decision he made for his company. And just last week, an editor told me we had the best PR team in the business.)

#4: Have Fun

This one almost goes without saying, but let’s face it: even at its best, PR can sometimes be stressful. And the best way to counter that is to leave plenty of time for fun. That’s why Ketner Group has Taco Tuesday, Wake-up Wednesday, frequent team lunches, and random outbursts of singing and laughing during the day. Yes, we use Slack primarily as a business tool, but sometimes a string of off-the-wall giphys is just what you need to laugh during a crazy afternoon (a Greg video or a random JK emoji can do the trick, too). And just this weekend, the KG team danced its heart out at Stacy’s wedding. The point is, committing to a fun work environment is one of the reasons we enjoy showing up every day.

There’s much more that goes into creating a great culture — frequent video chats and weekly check-ins with our remote team members. Taking time to chat with one another about life, not just work. Making sure everyone has each other’s back. Keeping the freezer stocked at all times with Amy’s frozen dinners. And occasional Rosé breaks. Team culture is always evolving at Ketner Group, and we’re working hard to make sure it evolves in the best possible ways.

Ketner Group Takes On The Big Apple

Amazon’s HQ2 expansion to New York was the biggest news in corporate expansions for 2018. But let me set the record straight. Ketner Group thought of it first.

This time last year we started laying the groundwork for expanding to the Big Apple. And we’re thrilled to say, it’s now a reality. Ketner Group Communications has just opened an office in New York City, led by our fearless team member Adrienne Newcomb. It’s a dream come true for all of us at Ketner Group, and it underscores our commitment to growth, innovation and client service. Check out our recent Q&A with Adrienne to find out how this native Texan is adapting to New York. (If you know Adrienne, you won’t be surprised to learn that she’s embracing it 100%.)

Besides the world’s best pizza and bagels, New York is a strategic move for Ketner Group. We’re excited about it, and it makes sense for a number of reasons, including the following:

The Center of the Media Universe

First and foremost, New York is the undisputed center of the media universe. Where else can you hold high-value, in-person press meetings with The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg and WWD in a single day? We’ve managed dozens of press tours and press meetings for our clients in New York, from top-tier to relevant trade media. Our interactions with New York media will pick up dramatically, now that Ketner Group has on-the-ground representation.

A Focal Point for Technology Innovation

New York is also the #1 area for retail, fashion, advertising and CPG innovation, and this will only accelerate with HQ2. The Retail Innovation Conference, hosted by our friends at Retail TouchPoints, is a prime example. Our client RevTech Ventures will participate in the May conference, focusing on the impact of disruptive, venture-backed companies in retail. New York is also home to XRC Labs, widely recognized as one of the top accelerators for disruptive retail and CPG companies. Moreover, in our first few weeks on the ground, we’re already talking to early-stage companies that will have a big impact in their markets. You may not have heard of them yet, but you will; we’ll make darn sure of that.

New Opportunities for Growth

Finally, our New York expansion is a sign of Ketner Group’s remarkable growth. We experienced a nearly 40% YOY growth rate in 2018, adding six new clients and increasing our team by over 50%. We’ve already added two major clients in 2019, and we’re not slowing down. We’re proud to say that our former KG’er Kirsty Goodlett has returned to Ketner Group as a senior team member; check out her intro blog to learn more about Kirsty’s recent re-entry to our team as an Account Supervisor.

None of this would be possible without our amazing team here at Ketner Group, as well as the best, most supportive clients in the business. We’re privileged to work with so many innovative companies that are shaping the future of how we work, shop, play and live. They trust us to tell their stories, and we work like crazy to exceed their expectations every day. Our New York office will only make it that much easier.

For more information, check out our press release announcing our NYC office.

Forget HQ2: This Is the Big News About Amazon and the Retail Industry

Amazon and its strategies are always at the forefront of my mind. Working with retail clients operating across all sectors, I’ve seen firsthand the impact Amazon has on a thriving retail scene. On Tuesday, Amazon announced its decision to split the company’s second headquarters between Northern Virginia and New York City. So, let’s take a look at what this really means for the retail industry.

Not a Bang, But a Whimper

In almost every way, it seems Amazon’s feverishly anticipated HQ2 announcement was anti-climactic. Few other companies have the resources to add 50,000 jobs over the next few years. But as is often the case with Amazon, the eCommerce giant is doing a host of other things retailers should focus on this holiday season.

For example, Amazon is on track to drive 80% of ecommerce growth this year. This will almost certainly account for more than half of all eCommerce sales during the holiday. That’s on the heels of Amazon’s Q3 sales of $56.6 billion, an increase of 29%.

Amazon’s first-ever toy catalog arrived in mailboxes last week, signaling Amazon’s intent to duke it out with Target and Walmart for toy supremacy following the demise of Toys “R” Us (did anyone really shop there the last few years?). Amazon is also offering free shipping for all holiday orders with no minimum purchase, even for non-Prime members.  Amazon is on track to become the #1 apparel retailer in the U.S. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of brick and mortar locations gained through the Whole Foods acquisition, and Amazon’s own branded moves into physical retail with Amazon Books and Amazon Go.

So, What Does It Mean?

Does this spell doom and gloom for the rest of retail? Not at all. In the face of Amazon’s dominance, the most innovative retailers are thriving, too. Projections indicate retail sales this holiday season will increase nearly 5%, the largest gain in recent years.

Our friends at IHL Group also noted that net retail store openings are outpacing closings by a margin of two to one. Yes, retailers that failed to embrace innovation (Sears being the “prime” example) are dying. However, a new generation of dynamic, exciting retailers are more than filling the void. And stalwarts such as Walmart, Macys, Nordstrom and others have kept pace to remain relevant in a retail landscape that’s changing at the speed of Amazon.

Back to HQ2: it’s exciting news for Crystal City and New York, and congratulations on winning 2018’s biggest economic development prize. But it’s all the other cool stuff happening with Amazon and the retail industry that will be the important story in the long run.

Austin’s Domain: Who Says Shopping Has to Be Boring?

I’ll start with a confession: I don’t really like shopping, which is a surprising admission for someone who’s worked with enough retail technology companies to populate a small mall. My idea of a great shopping trip is spending five minutes on my laptop, finding a reasonably good deal, ordering what I need online, and then calling it a day. I’m one of the millions of reasons why ecommerce sales continue to skyrocket, year after year. (And yes, my Amazon Prime account gets a hefty workout every week.)

Here’s my second confession, though: I love observing retail trends and the creative ways that retailers are reinventing themselves to get people off the couch and back into their stores. And what’s happening at the Domain, Austin’s premier shopping destination, is particularly intriguing to me. Retail is transforming at a dizzying rate, and the Domain is a microcosm of the changes in the industry.

For those of you who live outside Austin, the Domain is a thoughtful mix of retail stores, restaurants, hotels, apartments, offices – and a hugely popular Whole Foods – that’s known as Austin’s “second downtown.” It transformed 300 acres of formerly vacant Texas scrubland into a dog-friendly, family-friendly destination that’s fun to visit – even for a shopping curmudgeon like me.

I’ve had multiple occasions to visit the Domain in recent months, and each time I’ve come away convinced that it exemplifies some of the most positive trends in retail’s ongoing renaissance.

Clicks to bricks

Warby Parker, Away, UNTUCKit, Bonobos, b8ta and Casper are some of the hottest e-commerce brands around. They all have brick and mortar stores at the Domain, too, along with Amazon Books, as my fellow KGer Amanda noted in a blog earlier this year. Physical stores are playing an increasingly important role for online retailers, and some of the best can be found at the Domain. (Tip for Amazon power shoppers: take your returns to the Amazon Books location. They’re happy to take them, and they won’t mind if you purchase a book or two while you’re there.)

Turning shopping into an experience

“Experiential retail” is one of the biggest themes in retail right now, as evidenced by the 13.4 million search results on that term in Google. Retailers are focused on creating experiences you simply can’t get online – for example, sampling the coolest tech gear on the planet at b8ta or trying out a Casper mattress. But it’s not just about the experience at each individual retailer. A destination like the Domain makes the entire shopping trip an experience, with green spaces, a splash pad for kids, outdoor restaurants, an entertainment district that rivals Austin’s famed Sixth Street, and a compelling lineup of retailers, which brings up my final point.

Making it fun

People flock to the Domain because it’s fun: a great place to take your out-of-town friends who want to shop, eat dinner, let the kids run around, and experience something that’s uniquely Austin. There’s something for everyone, from luxury brands like Tiffany and Neiman Marcus to brands that are aimed squarely at the mainstream. The Domain is anything but boring; and as retail consultant Steve Dennis points out, it’s a bad time for retailers to be boring. The Domain has taken that mantra to heart.

I may not like to shop, but the Domain has won me over. And it reinforces why I love working with technology companies that are helping drive some of the changes in this fast-paced, fascinating industry.