Retail is All About Your Brand
The first lesson is to remember your store is a brand. In order to stand out from its competition your brand must stand for something that builds customer loyalty. A strong brand isn’t about price, because someone can always undercut your price – down the street, in the next town, or on the Internet. There are successful local retailers in every community that have strong brands – those that have gained the trust of consumers to the same degree as strong national brands. They’ve done it without the big research and advertising budgets because they understand an elementary equation for building successful relationships with customers.
Positive experience with retailer = strong connection with customer = loyalty to retailer = strong word of mouth
Positive Buying Experiences
A brand makes a promise. That promise is both a rational and an emotional response that consumers have when they think about doing business with you. That is trust, and it must be validated by every experience a customer has with your company.
Strong Connection with Customers
Do we love where and what we buy? For most of us, the answer is a resounding yes. There is a magical realm where what a retailer delivers is precisely what a shopper is looking for. This has a lot to do with products or services, of course. But it also has much to do with the process or experience a customer has with you.
Some of that brand experience may be the ambience of a store, but most often it is a well-trained, knowledgeable, courteous staff and a company guarantee that stands behind its products. Satisfaction is essential to the brand promise.
Loyalty to Retailer
Loyalty is the retailer’s reward when the customer’s experience of a store and product/service are positive. But loyalty, like love, is fragile. It must be nurtured with every customer interaction. It can sometimes take only one negative experience to undo that trust and loyalty. We’ve all been told that it costs a product or retailer 10 times more to gain a new customer than it takes to retain existing customers. It’s true. Think of your own experiences as a purchaser and you’ll realize that shoppers are a fickle lot.
What about retail advertising?
To be frank, successful retail brands in local markets often don’t have to spend a great deal on advertising. Word of mouth does much of the heavy lifting for them, once they’re established, if they continually deliver on their brand promise. People will gush about them wherever they go.
But there are several marketing strategies that make sense for even established retail brands. First, they need to be engaged in their community – sponsoring events related to their core business, supporting charities in unique and visible ways. This is not as self-serving as it might seem, because every community needs leadership by companies who give back, and those examples must be visible in order to lead.
Established retail brands must also capture the information on their customers so they can communicate with them. Special offers, events – yes, even sales. Keep communicating with your customers, keep building the relationship.
Companies that haven’t established strong relationships with customers, because they are start-ups or attempting to re-invent their retail brand, must advertise. Whatever the budget, whatever the media, your advertising must tell target audiences what makes your business unique and at least imply the promise of an exceptional experience.
Good advertising design and carefully crafted messages can help to define your brand and its promise, and can also get attention to build awareness of your brand in the marketplace. Even with good advertising, however, you have to deliver on your brand promise. Every company has to perform on the sales floor and with quality service after the sale, customer by customer. If not, any marketing effort is just part of the clutter of 15,000 advertising messages we all get every week.
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Jill Holden is a new marketing counselor with Pace & Partners, and previously held the position of Account Director for Gatorade and Sports Marketing for Element79 in Chicago.