Changes in consumers/shoppers and the retail landscape make it an opportune time for retail branding efforts to take advantage of a shopper marketing approach. With more choices than ever, shoppers are becoming more discriminating, taking advantage of new shopping occasions, and shopper journeys are how consumers experience brands and how brands are coming to be defined. The retail landscape witnessed changes in 2011—e.g., Interbrand’s Best Retail Brands look at the future of retail brands, Carrefour Planet’s bold experiment to revitalize the hypermart, the success of the discounters, experiments with smaller format stores (Walmart, Ahold, Best Buy), and the changes India made to its Foreign Direct Investment— all underscore the importance of a shopper centric approach to retail branding.
Retail Brands: Impact Consumer/Shopper Decisions
To some extent, the reason for branding has always been about making consumer/shopper decisions easier. Brands provide an assurance of quality, dependability, or fit and style. Once consumers learn about a brand and decide it is a fit, decision-making has been made easier! Retail brands are no different— they make a difference in consumer decision-making in three key roles they play:
- Relevance/Fit—retail brands help shoppers express who they are, effectively making their choice of retail brands a lifestyle statement (Whole Foods’ clear fit with natural and organic or Lululemon’s yoga-
inspired approach to athletic apparel). Retail brands become choice editors who fit their consumers’ lifestyle.
- Shop-ability/Accessibility—retail brands provide shoppers with orientation. They make it easier to process information, help save time, make it easier to find the right product (e.g., IKEA’s guided choice—how to buy a pillow; or Best Buy’s use of QR codes to access peer reviews, product specs and availability all aid “here-now” decisions).
- Trust/Reducing Risk—retail brands reduce the perceived risk involved in making a purchase. Thus they provide shoppers with a safe choice; reduce buyer’s remorse (e.g., Best Buy’s Twelpforce and Buy-back Program, Apple’s Genius Bar). Their transparency and trust speak to the ongoing nature of relationships and provide entree into the shopper’s circle of trust.
Retail branding is moving from sole reliance on pricing (EDLP vs. high-low pricing) and locational convenience. Shopper intimacy is essential to creating retail brands that demonstrate relevance, simplify shopping and engender trust, and therefore make it easy to decide on a retailer. Successful retail branding provides a unique shopper experience, a desired destination, creates separation from the competition, and provides a reason for an ongoing relationship between a shopper and retailer.
One Brand, Many Dimensions, Seamless Experience
Retail brands typically have more dimensions than CPG brands. Not only do retail brands typically have more attributes than CPG brands, but they have many more touchpoints by which they can express their brand and be evaluated (e.g., store formats, layouts, assortment, pricing, store brands, associates, merchandising, loyalty program, website, circulars, etc.). This is more important than ever as consumers have come to expect a “seamless experience” across a retailer’s touchpoints.
Retail Branding must address three key dimensions of the retail brand to create a “seamless experience.”
- Umbrella brand –what does the overall brand stand for (e.g., Walmart: “Save Money. Live Better”)
- Store/format—clear articulation to help define experience and set expectations about different formats (e.g., Walmart, Walmart Express, Walmart.com, Walmart Marketside, Sam’s Club, etc.); most prevalent shopper segments or types of shopping trips (e.g., Tesco Express vs. Tesco Extra)
- Own brand products—value, exclusivity, segment-specific benefits (e.g., Great Value, Equate, White Stag, Ol’ Roy, World Table, George, Faded Glory, Canopy, etc.).
In a very real sense, the retail brand is indistinguishable from the marketing of the brand. Shoppers define a brand based on their shopping journey and the touchpoints which comprise it. Any of the touchpoints on the shopper’s journey can serve as a purchase trigger, everything blends into one story. Understanding the shopper can help weave these three dimensions to produce a coherent brand story, a seamless experience.
Building & Sustaining a Strong Retail Brand
Finally, building and sustaining a strong retail brand require two things:
An attention to balancing creativity and consistency can:
- Endow a brand with an emotional appeal which builds on its heritage
- Update, contemporize and re-establish the relevance of the brand (e.g., think about Carphone Warehouse’s origins, and where it stands in shoppers’ minds today).
Retail brands have been built through traditional (advertising) and less-traditional media (store, employees, assortment, own brands, etc.). Retail brands are more than awareness — they have many moments of truth. Understanding the brand’s strengths and weaknesses throughout a shopper’s path-to-purchase is key to leveraging all of its touchpoints, to define an experience, and to express the brand. The brand must be rigorously managed across all of its touchpoints.
Shopper Marketing at the Heart of Retail Brands
As retailers grapple to differentiate themselves from each other, compete for share of shoppers’ wallets, increase frequency of visits or basket size, shopper intimacy plays an essential role in helping shape and express a retail brand. Establishing relevancy, making it easier to shop and garnering shopper trust help a retail brand move beyond price and physical location as the only choice factors.
Because much of a retail brand’s equity resides in the minds of shoppers, the brand experience is shaped by shoppers. It is a reflection of their needs and wants. Adopting a shopper marketing approach can help retail brands better reflect and accommodate their shoppers’ needs and wants. Ultimately, they must become their shoppers’ advocate.
Finally, a shopper-centric approach will identify, design and implement those touchpoints or apertures that are most relevant to the shopper and fit best with their journey. Today’s shopper is no longer constrained by a purchase funnel or linear path-to-purchase. To build strong, sustainable retail brands, we should not be either.
About the author
Jim Lucas is executive vice president, global director, retail insight and strategy, at Draftfcb. The acknowledged founder of the science of retail ecology, he is internationally recognized as an experienced marketer and leading authority on understanding how consumers interact with brands and how they behave in retail environments. His article, Shopper Marketing: the discipline, the approach” appeared in the 2010 international book titled “Shopper Marketing” (Kogan Page, April 2010), featuring subject experts from around the world.