We've received a lot of requests for an article specifically about branding as it applies to a retail business. First, a reminder: the basics of branding are similar regardless of your business. So I’ll start with some general advice then give more specific direction for branding a retail operation.
It’s important to keep in mind that there's a difference between the brand idea and the actual execution, or what we typically call branding. Before you jump into the act of branding, it’s critical that you first develop your brand idea.
The brand idea
Your first job is to identify something that establishes your product, service, or in this case your retail store, as different and relevant to your customers. Make this difference simple to understand and you have your brand idea.
A successful brand idea is based on the concept of singularity. You want your brand idea to create the perception that there is no other store quite like your store. Essentially, your brand idea is about taking a position. Once you take a position, you’ll be able to close in on the core of the brand idea and all the words, images, and the emotions you want people to associate with your brand will start to take shape.
Without differentiating and positioning your business; you really can’t create any sort of cohesive branding signals. You may create a unified visual and physical appearance, but without knowing the essential idea you are trying to convey, there is no real unifying principle of singularity.
One way to zero in on your successful brand idea is to narrow your focus; instead of trying to be all things to all customers, tighten the focus and create that focus as your brand. Subway did just this in the delicatessen world, and so can you. You may need to limit yourself in order to more effectively have customers understand the brand.
How do we come up with this brand idea? As with all creative endeavors there’s not necessarily a system to follow; but insights and steps that may help you discover one powerful idea that blasts away the competitors by differentiating you in a way that magnetically attracts customers. First, the best brand ideas connect on an emotional level, not on the rational. Emotion almost always wins out over function. Second, keep it simple. If your brand idea is simple and focused you can execute it with greater creativity, clarity and consistency at all points where the customer contacts the brand. Sacrifice everything else and tell your simple story.
Here’s some more tips for coming up with your brand idea
- Don’t get overly consumed by research. Your customers can give you information and understanding but won’t necessarily provide the answer.
- Get your whole team involved. Different views and opinions are invaluable.
- Listen, observe, think and get down ideas on paper.
- Get out of the store. The best ideas often come when you’re somewhere else. Take a walk around the neighborhood, relax, then bam! The right idea often arrives when we’re not focusing on it.
- Take up a different perspective. Don’t overlook the obvious. Whatever it takes, find a way to be meaningfully different.
A name isn’t just a name
The first and probably most effective place to begin is your name. What better way to describe your brand idea than to come up with a name that represents that position you want to occupy in the minds of your customers? In the long run, a brand is nothing more than a name. A distinctive, memorable and positive name can go a long way to promote your store. Have you ever named a child or a pet? If you have, you probably listened and observed and wrote down the myriad of possibilities, then narrowed it down to a short list of those you found most appealing. Elicit the help of other creative people that you know, and don’t sell this first element of branding short, for it may provide the complete focus for your store.
Think Whole Foods, the Dollar Store, Blockbuster, Netflix: all killer brands that create a clear connection with the customer. Want some organic produce? Whole Foods. Want something inexpensively priced, with substantial savings over the competition? The Dollar Store. Want a video? Blockbuster. Want a video online? Netflix does the trick, right? You want to do the same thing with your store. Let the name clearly differentiate it and attract customers.
The selection process for a brand name is proof of how important it is to start with a simple brand idea. It’s almost impossible to name something without a clear understanding of its core meaning. There are many good resources that help explain the various methods for coming up with names. Taking the time to hit on one that represents your brand is critical to branding success.
Send Your brand signals
At this point, you can map out your customer’s experience by identifying each place your brand touches the customer. Then you can determine which of these signals have the greatest potential to influence perceptions. Some of these touch points will be more powerful than others and you should focus your efforts there. They can be your colors, tagline, the behavior of your people, the service you provide, store location and layout, signage, the retail environment, advertising, the music and smell of the space; just about anything that vitally connects your customers emotionally and through the senses to your brand.
In retail stores the places that are probably the most powerful in affecting customer’s brand perceptions are the name, logo, signage, design of the store, displays, ambiance, availability of merchandise, the way your employees engage with the customers and even the hours you’re open. If you have that simple brand idea in place, you should be able to choreograph everything in the store to affect the customer’s experience and align it with the brand.
A franchise shop comes to mind as an example of this executed to perfection; Powell’s Sweet Shop. It’s a candy store, but not like anything you’ve seen, or maybe you have, straight from Willy Wonka. Everything in the store from the way the candy is displayed, to the movie playing and the music, the depth of the merchandise and the friendly, warm employees screams out their brand idea. This is what you want to achieve in your environment.
You can do it too
The creation of a strong brand and branding signals takes one dose strategic thinking and another dose of creativity, but it’s within your grasp. Create a powerful, differentiated, unique customer experience and weave your brand through it. And don’t forget, whatever you promise through the brand has to also be satisfied through customer fulfillment.