Posts tagged "brand soul"

Retail-tainment creates an immersive experience

Rethinking Retail Strategy for Relevance and Resonance

May 7th, 2024 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, Brand Design, Brand differentiation, Brand Soul, Brand trust, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, Retail Mission, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Rethinking Retail Strategy for Relevance and Resonance”

Welcome to dangers of the Replacement Economy

Dear readers,

Our last post, Your Brand’s Soul is the Engine of Competitive Advantage”was happily the most popular Emerging Trends Report’s article we’ve published in more than a decade of covering marketing, emerging trends and communications best practices. Perhaps the topic resonated because it is such a lynchpin to sustainable business growth, yet so often a neglected and under-developed foundation within the strategic brand-building toolkit.

Today, we continue that story by turning the page to speak to retail brands about an enormous shift in the retail landscape that creates tension, subtraction and balance sheet challenges. Much of our narrative hangs on a rethinking of how retail businesses should strategically curate their operations. This insight entails a liberal dose of soul surrounding the heart of how retailers create and deploy the shopping environment and fulfill their retail brand mission.

What’s also at stake here for CPG brands is a tangible concern. These retail houses of distribution can help you synergistically tell your story or they may end up being complicit in furthering commoditization conditions that every business wrestles with every day. Thus, it’s vital we take this up as an extension of what we started on the merits of brand soul investment.

A change in the retail universe that prompts re-evaluation, re-stage and new strategy

What happens when literally everything you consume can be had (or replaced) efficiently and cost-effectively without ever visiting a store? The historic retail paradigm of location, convenience, assortment and price dilutes alongside the ease and economy of the endless, digital shelf.

If we’re being painfully honest, I think we can agree the ever-widening, transformational impact of this business challenge is not surprising since so many retail channels demonstrate a woeful absence of sufficient surprise and delight.

You can usually assess what a retailer’s business model and strategy consists of just by observing how people behave when they enter. Are they happy, hovering, lingering and investigating? Or are they in a hurry to find whatever is on their list and get out. For the most part, you will see people moving quickly and with purpose to hit their needs and leave. That’s not just “pressed for time” happening – it’s also due to an absence of magic, emotion, joy and adventure (dare we say authentic soul) once inside the front door.

Let’s start with what people really want

Consumers look to brands and retailers to provide ideas, inspiration and solutions about how to live better and achieve their dreams. They yearn for deeper meaning while residing in a world that’s losing its grip on purpose and values. This is far beyond just the array of products you shelve. Yet most retailers believe they are in the stocking and selling business.

What’s more, for the most coveted consumers who are highly active in a consumption domain, these ‘heavy users’ are highly likely to fuss over and chase very high standards of experience and meaning-seeking. Are they being properly served?

Shoppers who are highly involved brand fans and self-identified experts can be found in many product and lifestyle categories, including:

Food

Wine

Pets

Dating

Travel

Outdoor

Cars

Fashion

Cosmetics

But what do they really get when shopping a retail footprint? The typical store environment is in danger of becoming a well-lit inventory “warehouse” – one that serves as a category specific shelfing farm only to facilitate quick selection and fast transactions. Take note, this sounds eerily close to a misguided and losing chase of e-commerce strengths.

  • We wonder, does a focus on omni-channel strategy in some way create an excuse for allowing the brick-and-mortar shopping experience to wallow in mediocrity because more curated online buying options are being served?

Too often, conventional retail is designed to stock, display inventory and transact sales. What if instead you created an experience so enjoyable and rewarding that people wanted to stay, explore and engage?

When anything and everything can be had at a click, the concept of sustainable retail strategy needs a refreshed higher purpose in response. The future of retail in today’s commodified transactional environment will hinge on infusing the shopping environment with –

Meaning

Mission

Socializing

Adventure

Discovery

Leisure

Belonging

In honest self-assessment, does your retail experience offer functional access to an inventory of products arrayed in aisles and cases, or are you working to build a small universe that transports people to a new place, time, scene, memory and experience?

Movie makers are masters of carrying us to an immersive experience. Borrowing a chapter from the art and craft of movie-making – can you design “dream districts” through creating and orchestrating a scene:

  • Williams Sonoma as a Napa Valley kitchen with winery culinary experience esthetic
  • Bass Pro Shop as an homage to outdoor lifestyle imagery at every turn
  • Trader Joe’s manifests their “scours the earth” promise for unique food experiences
  • Kiehl’s as an old-time apothecary shoppe
  • Eataly as an Italian farmers market
  • Costco, “It costs us a lot of money to look this cheap” – for purposeful warehouse-ness

The big question organizations need to decide up front is whether they want to pursue incremental tweaks to their brand experience that are copyable, nonproprietary, and unsustainable. Or do they have the confidence to swing for the fences and pursue a game-changing innovation maneuver?

Please know the brand equity and purpose process is never finished. Instead, it requires constant upkeep, evaluation, and vigilance to maintain and manage, lest it fall out of sync with changing cultural conditions which is increasingly epidemic as shopping behavior evolves around us.

Retail presents a living, breathing opportunity for storytelling in a space

If the business mindset is preoccupied with traffic, velocity and transactions, you may end up passing right by the humanity that’s walking the aisles. People innately resonate to art, creativity, emotion, visuals, imagery and sense of place.

A retail environment can be constructed to serve as a canvas for story. The living, breathing embodiment of an experience they will remember and seek out. When does a grocery store become a haven of culinary adventure? Can a pet store celebrate the endearing bond and collaborative life with four-legged family members? Is it possible for a restaurant to serve more than a menu and become a salon of social discourse and food learning?

Or we can relax while believing a popular offer of ”buy one get one” for a bag of chips constitutes sustainable volume advantage and call it a day?

Designing a story is the starting place

When you focus on the person you wish to serve and use that as a guidepost, relevant creative ideas and options begin to flow. Story platforms can help inform your thinking about the experience you wish to create inside your front door.

“Welcome to the world of manifested dreams…” says Karma and Luck Las Vegas

My wife Kristen is a spiritual person. She happens to love jewelry that is grounded in a deeper purpose and mission. Kristen recently discovered her retail muse on a trip to Las Vegas. Karma and Luck describes itself as a “partner on the journey to lead a more meaningful life.” She characterized the store shopping experience as a trip to Bali, immersive and Zen-like.

They don’t just sell jewelry, they offer a story and promise of higher value well beyond the attractively designed yet affordable bracelets, necklaces and other pieces – all of which have carefully curated narratives attached to them that store sales staff generously share with guests. When she selected items for purchase, her knowledgeable guide took her to the center of the store and placed the products inside a Sound Bowl where a brief ceremony “cleansed the jewelry of any negative energy” while imbuing her purchase with – yes, Karma and Luck. This was not a transactional retail environment.

Her visit was a transformational shopping adventure. No surprise, she is retelling this story to all of her friends, while helping me understand this is now her go-to for gifts. Start with the story, think more deeply about the customer you wish to serve and go from there. Importantly, the Karma store design, ambiance, music, scent, and elegant product packaging serves as mechanisms to reinforce their authentic higher purpose.

To start, here are eight story themes relate-able to the human journey:

  1. Interest in belonging to a community of like-minded people with shared values
  2. Deep need to love and be loved
  3. Desire for greater meaning, purpose and sense of mission
  4. ​Drive to nurture, enjoy and protect family life ​
  5. Pursuit of fun, laughter, adventure and entertainment
  6. ​Requirement for affirmation and validation of status, wealth, and prestige ​
  7. Love and appreciation of art, esthetics, great design and beauty
  8. Intention to lead healthy, fulfilling, enjoyable, long lives

Do you see the possibilities of story strategy underneath your retail experience? We can help you design a powerful narrative that takes your brand miles ahead of simply being an inventory stocking depot. Use the link below to start an informal conversation about your brand’s future.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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Your Brand Soul is the Engine of Competitive Advantage

April 24th, 2024 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, Brand differentiation, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand Soul, brand strategy, Brand trust 0 comments on “Your Brand Soul is the Engine of Competitive Advantage”

Why is it evaporating in CPG and retail brand building?

Your customers want to be part of a brand world and ecosystem you construct through conscious cultivation of your brand’s deeper meaning, higher purpose, convictions and expressed values. Never before have CPG and retail brands had this extraordinary opportunity to build such close and endearing user relationships because our culture — and consumer behavior with it — has permanently changed. Yet far too many organizations struggle with this, or ignore it, because they have inadvertently lost, diluted or forgotten their own soul. Yes, brands indeed have a soul.

  • In the absence of a clearly wrought and codified “brand constitution,” too many compromises amidst the battles of year-to-year commerce and the inevitable maturation of category rules and conventions, work to chip away at this essential brand foundation.

In the go-go 80’s and early 90’s prior to arrival of the Internet and the power transfer from corporations to consumers, much of the dialogue in brand building had a distinct military flavor to it, with brands seeking to dominate their categories, erect barriers to entry and defend their territory through command-and-control tactics. Vestiges of this thinking still remain, despite the evidence that consumer-to-brand relationship creation has transformed. In this milieu, too often the disciplines of soul nurturing are circumvented by surface level attempts to bolt on shiny imagery and applied marketing lipstick that glosses over a baked in priority for commerce metrics and transactional behaviors over consumer-relevant strategic thinking.

Building, codifying, prioritizing and delivering on the levers of brand soul are indeed vital and essential to sustainable growth in the modern consumer-powered era. People are far more interested in and attracted to your “why” (values, purpose, beliefs) than either what you do or how you do it — no matter how enamored you may be of your superior product mouse trap.

How a brand’s soul gets buried

As virtually every business category grows and matures, an implicit set of rules and boundaries begin to arise, informed by consumer and retail customer expectations, competitive actions, regulatory requirements and industry standards of conduct. These conditions tend to push all category participants towards the middle resulting in comparable product offerings, features, benefits and pricing. Over time this includes growing similarity in business practices, supply chain standards and even manufacturing processes.

The not-to-be-taken-lightly threat that incubates in this environment is the ceaseless, endless and rust-advancing march of commoditization. The condition that compels category players to emphasize scale over other considerations as they pursue efficiency gains, enforce retail leverage and bolster thinning margins.

Commoditization has already taken root in cell phones, computers, hotels, airlines, cars and many food and beverage categories – and in doing so, opportunities for innovative, soul-inspired disruptors are unleashed to move in and gain marketplace traction.

In sum, over time…

  1. Meaningful differentiation can dissipate
  2. Marketing leverage based on budget tonnage in spending eventually starts to post diminishing returns
  3. Brand soul and purpose recedes into the background amidst commoditization pressures
  4. Increasing similarity rules the day among category participants
  5. Businesses begin to focus on price promotion to achieve volume goals

Whole Foods was once a champion of purpose and meaning, its business model informed by advancing the organic movement, education around same and the firm belief foods produced this way ultimately contribute to the improved health, wellbeing and happiness of people and the environment. Since its acquisition by Amazon the belief system has receded, and in its place traditional supermarket merchandising mechanisms like PRIME promotions are driving the brand story.

Meaning and values were at one time the insulation and inoculation for Whole Foods’ higher pricing and the value proposition underneath it. Now the banner faces more competition and pricing pressures because the belief system is no longer the tip of the brand spear. Further the adoption of organic brands and sections within mainstream supermarkets serves to commodify the uniqueness of Whole Foods’ differentiation and so the advantages of its original specialness atrophies.

  • Soul is the engine that drives brand separation and elevation with consumers who actively pursue and are attracted to deeper meaning and values-leaning strategies.

Symbols can tell the tale

Consumers are remarkably adept at reading the room. We immediately understand the cues, signals, icons and images that explain what and who we’re dealing with, where we are, how to behave and what to expect from a brand.

  • What signals is your brand transmitting?
  • Are you sending the right message?
  • Do your values come through in the symbolism you generously (or not) display through every point of consumer contact?

Brands informed by their soul are always focused on fulfilling consumer need, dreams, expectations, desires and growth. They are also unafraid to express views on societal issues that consumers care about such as sustainability, environmental responsibility and the wellbeing of disadvantaged people.

Soul signals and consumer-centricity

Brand soul and higher purpose tends to fall from a deep understanding and preoccupation with supporting consumers on their life journey. This manifests from genuine care and consideration for their welfare and personal growth while also helping people realize their hopes and dreams.

It is in those dreams and aspirations that we find an emotional anchor for storytelling that moves people to embrace and join your brand ecosystem. Every human, every day wishes for progress and improvement. Are you actively helping them on their journey to grow?

From:

Unhealthy to healthy

Good to great

Weak to strong

Lonely to popular

Confused to wise

Invisible to recognized

Novice to expert

Poor to secure

Plain to fashionable

Make no mistake, to be human is to be emotional. However, brands without a soul-led code of conduct tend to talk endlessly about themselves and product features rather than enablement and celebration of consumer passions. In doing so the brand story is likely to be fact-dense and analytical, despite the reems of research confirming people won’t burn the mental calories to decipher that kind of messaging. People simply are just not fact-based, analytical decision-making machines.

How do you know if you’re succeeding? When consumers can state with clarity what your brand stands for, its meaning and purpose.

A powerful tool at your disposal: surprise and delight

Do the unexpected. In his book Unreasonable Hospitality, restaurateur and author Will Guidara tells the tale of a table of New York City visitors who were overheard saying they were disappointed that the following day they were leaving the city without ever having sampled a hot dog from one of the many carts that line the streets of Manhattan.

Mind you his restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, is one of the finest, most elite culinary palaces in New York. His team sprang into action sending a runner to track down hot dogs at a cart. They were ferried back to the kitchen where the chef arranged an artful hot dog presentation. The diners were blown away that the restaurant would do this without a word ever being spoken to staff about their hot dog curiosity. It was the restaurant’s soulful belief in unreasonable hospitality that brought the surprise to life.

Have you ever been to Harrod’s department store in London? If so, have you shopped in their over-the-top food hall? Harrod’s isn’t a supermarket mind you but thy indeed sell fresh and packaged foods. Their fresh fish displays are legendary for their artistry and creative arrangement of fresh fish choices.

Of course, any grocery store with vision and applied talent could do the same thing, with the goal of making their store talked about and Instagram worthy. Yet nothing of the sort happens past the layers of crushed ice surrounding rows of whatever fish is on feature.

Surprise and delight are a choice. It is a strategy. It recognizes the very human preference for artistry and empathy.  Stores and brands with a clearly curated and developed soul are more likely to find this path and exploit it than those that don’t and who are more comfortable staying within the category accepted norms of behavior.

  • When you’re willing to be a disruptive player you have a chance to alter the paradigm of what consumers think you are about and engineer a new and more engaging perception of your brand.

If this article has you thinking about how this could be brought to life in your business, it’s important to note you will need outside experts to help you work through the right mix of tools and messages. Use the link below to start a conversation with our team of brand soul experts.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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