What and why customers purchase is about more than just products. As any shopper knows, retail therapy is an emotional experience and one that can be enhanced by companies that value brand loyalty.
While millions of dollars are spent annually on brand campaigns to communicate the essence of a product, for customers what they touch or feel during the retail experience is more important than the message on the billboard or the glossy advertisement in a magazine.
Over-fussy decor, a disengaged staff member, even air-conditioning that is stuffy or conversely arctic, these can all contribute to an impression that over-rides that brand message and leaves the customer with a less than positive attitude to that product — even if they are not sure why.
It’s a lesson taken on board with great aplomb by Apple, whose stores portray a consistent message that blends style, technology and an informality that invites customers in. It’s a great example of a retail experience that is consistent with, and enhances, the brand.
Porsche, for instance, has been moving towards dealerships that carry only its brand rather than mix-and-match a number of marques. It has adopted a unified sales and brand management strategy in the world’s most important markets with its own sales structure in the US and Canada, while in Dubai and Singapore there are regional offices.
A uniform look for dealerships has been created to deliver a consistent retail experience with design specifications to create an exclusive and distinct look.
An international network of architects — known as “brand guardians” — help individual dealerships create the specified steel and aluminum exterior, the use of metal in the interiors alongside black walls and floors which aim to create a consistent visual feel reflecting Porsche cars, while reinforcing a contemporary, technological advanced image.
In this instance, the retail experience is very much the brand experience, but very often marketers spend much of their budget in conceptualising out of the box campaigns without allowing this strategy to be incorporated.
For any company aiming to build its brand, there are some essential lessons here. Don’t assume that repeat customers are loyal and that your positive results in terms of sales are one that is set to continue indefinitely.
A long-term brand experience is one that connects with them on an emotional level, building a relationship that extends beyond a cut-price BOGOF (buy one, get one free) offer.
Essential is the team that ‘sells’ your brand. Not just in terms of racking up the sales and packaging the purchase, but staff that can convey a brand message through committed and caring stewardship of the whole sales process. Brand engagement helps nurture your best talent.
One initiative that should be a regular occurrence is the mystery shopper — the only true way to walk in the customer’s shoes, feel how they are treated and what that whole retail brand experience actually amounts to.
If that brand experience has misfired, take the opportunity to re-evaluate the message being delivered, pass on the feedback and fine tune service and sales tools.
Any customer-focused strategy should develop a relationship with customers which nurtures commitment and cultivates a long-lasting loyalty (both ways). It relies upon genuine and expressed respect for the customer, and must be an extension of the brand instilling trust, confidence and reliability.