Go Think...About Retail

Katie Maxey Sorrentino '85 at work.Ever wonder how retailers seem to know what you want to buy before you do? There are billions of bits of data out there about your likes and dislikes, thanks to your internet use, your shopper loyalty cards, and even your choice in music. Mining that data to help perfect the relationship with consumers is what Go Think!, the company of Katie Maxey Sorrentino ’85, is doing to help guide retailers across the nation.

After spending more than two decades in the advertising world, working at high-powered firms like Ogilvy & Mather shaping branding campaigns for everything from Verizon to Coke to Shell Oil, Sorrentino went out on her own as a consultant when the ad business “cratered” in the early 2000s.

“My dad was one of the original ‘Mad Men’ [advertising executives], so it was really in my blood,” she says.

A mutual friend introduced her to Galen Walters, who was looking for a chief marketing officer for his retail printing business who could help him develop digital marketing, at the time in its infancy.

“He had the vision of how do we get to one-to-one marketing, because he saw that’s where the world was going,” she says. That approach, at that time, was the most expensive way to reach potential customers. Mass media and direct mail were then the most economical ways to get your messages out, she explains. That paradigm completely flipped in 10 years, she says, now that email marketing has taken off and at an incredibly affordable rate.

In 2007, Walters sold his print company and cofounded Go Think! with Sorrentino.

“Through the decimation of the ad agency world [because of the economic recession]…‘thinking’ was really starting to be stripped out of companies because they couldn’t afford ‘thinkers,’” Sorrentino says. “What we heard all the time from clients was nobody had time to think anymore. How could we help create a space and time and place for customers to think and facilitate that process?”

Sorrentino and Walters created the “Four Go” processes they use to help retailers design their marketing: go discover, go plan, go brand, and go execute.

“We found that any problem a client brought to us, we could extrapolate that across it and help them figure out how to get results,” she says.

They had planned to be consultants who worked out of their homes, but within a week and a half they had five new clients, and today they have 47 employees in Magnolia, Texas, helping with dozens of clients.

It’s all data-driven, Sorrentino says. “The analytics side is really interesting. Ten years ago, every company had a website, and the website’s running and doing things and they started gathering all this data, but many times they don’t know what to do with the data. They’re paying a lot of money for the data, and they have so much data, but what do they do with it? How do they pick and choose that data to drive sales?”

For example, the grocery business. “It’s constant churn, she explains. “There are three things that are driving them: driving sales, getting customers to come back, and expanding their base. Those are the three levers that any grocery is trying to pull: acquisition, expansion, and retention.”

Go Think! helps those grocers analyze the data from each shopper’s purchases as recorded by their loyalty cards, and then shapes email marketing campaigns directed at individual shoppers based on those prior purchases. Consider a person who shops a particular grocery store only once or twice a month for specialty items such as organic milk, but never buys toilet paper. Go Think! would recommend throwing out an “affinity” offer such as a discount on that organic milk coupled with a low price on toilet paper in an effort to convert that shopper into more regular visits to that store.

“We give them offers, and we also acknowledge what’s important to them,” based on their shopping habits, she says. “We’re going to serve offers up to you based on what you spend with us. It’s an exciting time.”

—Bonnie Blackburn-Penhollow ’84