Branding is a buzzword that’s been around for a long time, and with good reason. Your brand and its perception in your community are critical to your store’s success, but along with that buzz there is also a lot of confusion. Everyone talks about branding – there are a gazillion branding books on Amazon alone – yet there are still a lot of questions about what it is and why brand equity is so important. Branding isn’t hard; it’s easy when you understand what it is, and what it is not.
You may have spent hours designing the perfect logo for your store, but that’s not your brand. You know the red star that appears in every Macy’s ad? It’s a logo, not a brand. Your brand is more than your website, your blog, or your presence on social media. It’s more than your ads, brochures, business cards, bags and everything else you use to put your store name out there. Your brand is even more than the name you chose to hang over your front door. Each of these things are critically important to your brand identity, but they are the components used to build your brand, not the brand itself.
A brand is the emotional connection – the physical reaction – customers feel when they hear your store name, see your logo, visit your website or walk in your front door. It’s the space you own in the mind of the customer, it’s the experience they can get only from you. The best way to describe a brand was coined by Adrienne Weiss, CEO of Adrienne Weiss Corporation: “A brand is country with its own unique language, customs and traditions.” We’re willing to bet that your store also has its own language, customs, and traditions, too. Using this definition we’ve created a checklist of things to do to help you build your brand:
Step 1: Write your store’s story
This step sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s hard to write about the things that got you to where you are today, but you have to do it. Start by writing why you decided to open a store. Write what’s unique about you and your store; talk about how you make a difference in your customers’ lives and in your community. Make it a fun adventure people will want to read. If you get stuck, ask your family and store associates – and maybe even customers – for help.
When your story is finished, spread the word about who you are through your in-store signing, on your website, your social medias, marketing, advertising – anywhere and everywhere you can.
Step 2: Turn your store’s story into a “60 Second Elevator Commercial”
We used to kick ourselves after someone asked us what we do and we’d reply, “We’re professional speakers.” Afterward we’d think of all the cool things we should have said. Now we say, “We are consumer anthropologists. We study consumers in their natural habitats and share what we find in our keynote and seminar presentations.” So if you’ve ever answered, “I own an art supply store” when asked what you do, then you know that feeling of missed opportunity. Write a 60 second condensed version of your store’s story and you’ll never find yourself in that position again.
Everyone associated with your store, from associates to teachers contracted to do classes, must memorize it as well. The best way to build solid brand equity is to tell the same story over and over.
Step 3: Create a filter that’s unique to your brand
Branding requires discipline and it requires consistency. Every, single thing – the smallest details, from bags to type fonts, need to be properly tell your brand story. Weiss says the brand itself is a filter. With that in mind, think about who you are and what you want representing your store, then imagine a giant filter. If the item or service you are considering is in alignment with your store’s story – and would easily pass through your brand filter – then go ahead and use it. Clear as mud? Here’s an example: Home Depot is widely known for orange – it’s the retailers brand color – so if a supplier offered employee aprons in red at a great price would they fit through Home Depot’s brand filter? Nope. Because even though they are a great deal, Home Depot’s color is orange – any other color doesn’t fit with its brand identity.
Here are some of the things you need to filter to ensure they properly represent your brand:
– Choose a signature color(s) and use it everywhere. If you chose a particular shade of blue as your signature color, then this is the color to be used in everything that represents your brand. Starbucks signature color is green, Ace Hardware uses red, Tiffany has trademarked its unique shade of robin’s egg blue, and McDonald’s has the golden arches. Any other color in each of these examples would be unacceptable because they would never make it through the company’s chosen filter.
We once met a retailer whose signature color was red. Her store was well known for its bright red shopping bags; people saved them and carried them around town – they became walking billboards for her store. One Christmas she decided it would be fun to try silver shopping bags. It was a big mistake and she had to rebuild that part of her brand identity. The moral of the story is this: Even if you are offered a good deal on something in a color that is not your brand’s signature color, walk away.
– Choose your type font carefully. Use both upper and lower case letters (all caps can be tough on older eyes) and make sure that your font is easy to read. Some fonts that look great in a 14 point become hard to read when blown up on your store front sign.
– Bags, boxes and gift certificates. You run a unique and upscale store. While it might be easy to purchase plastic bags similar to those used in grocery stores, that’s not who you are. There are plenty of choices available through a variety of store supply companies. And you can always jazz up plain bags in your signature color with custom stickers. Same thing goes for boxes.
Plastic gift cards presented in a paper sleeve might work for big box retailers, but you need to be creative in your presentation. A lingerie retailer might nestle gift cards in scented tissue paper, inside a shiny box wrapped with a big bow, an infant and toddler retail store places their gift cards in a baby bottle that’s decorated with colorful ribbons. Dress yours up in a package that uniquely represents what you sell.
– Bring your brand to the sales floor. Your sales floor is your largest brand-building piece. There isn’t a single part of your store (restrooms included) that’s not part of your brand identity. Take an objective look around: Have you included your signature colors? Are you using quality fixtures? Is the merchandise well-signed and do the signs incorporate your brand’s font? Are store associates easily identifiable? Each element plays a big part in defining your brand culture.
– Create one-of-a-kind in-store experiences. Customers will stay close to your store if you give them a reason to stay close. Classes, in-store events and loyalty clubs are all good reasons. We love Shoppertainment, that wonderful intersection where shopping and entertainment meet. Build your brand and your visibility by hosting one MAJOR and two to three MINOR in-store events in your store each and every month of the year – note that even in the midst of a pandemic you can do in-person events, virtual events or a combination of both. A major event attracts new customers to your store; minor events, like classes and demos, attract smaller numbers of shoppers. Both are important.
– Build a strong brand presence online. In the past, shoppers let their fingers do the walking through the phonebook; today they visit your website. These days a website is not an option. You need a real website as in www.thenameofyourstore.com – websites have become the equivalent of business cards.
Your website is also your greeter. Make sure that it’s consistent with your brand image, and a good example of what shoppers can expect when they visit your store.
The photos and information you post on your website, social medias and email blasts also represent your brand. Think about what you post before you post it. Check your spelling and test links to make sure they work. And by the way, your email address says a lot about who you are. Addresses from Yahoo, Gmail or AOL are convenient, but they aren’t professional. You need an email address that comes from your own domain name, as in firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Become a shameless self-promoter. Other than word-of-mouth, the cheapest way to build your brand is through PR – public relations. That’s why you should send out a press release for everything of interest that that you do. The media wants – needs – your input. Did you know that the majority of stories that appear in your local medias came from a one-page press release sent by someone like you who had a story to tell? You can build brand equity for the cost of a single stamp or by tapping “send” in an email. Click HEREfor more on how to write a press release.
If you’re too busy to handle the public relations by yourself, then promote an associate to the position of “Director of Public Relations”. Buy your new director business cards printed with his/her name and this important title. Your new director will be your media contact who will collect the names of local editors and reporters, write and distribute press releases, be your store ambassador at local functions and Chamber of Commerce events, and more.
– Appoint an official “Keeper of the Brand” and give that person ultimate control over what’s purchased and what’s not. Before anything that represents the store can be implemented it must be approved by the Keeper of the Brand. If it’s cool with the Keeper, it’s okay to move forward.
Here’s the thing: You will likely to get sick and tired of your brand before it begins to automatically register with your customers. The Marketing Rule of Seven says that a customer must see or hear your message at least seven times before they take action. Or remember you. So resist the urge to change your logo, colors or tagline – anything that is considered part of your brand identity. Give it time to stick.