Is your brand relevant?

I was recently asked to answer some questions on “brands” by the National Retail Hardware Association’s, Hardware Retailer Magazine. I began to think how the answers to the questions are important for people in every industry, agency and municipality to understand. We often think of a brand simply as a company logo, but it is so much more than that. It is the shine on your shoes, the crease in your pants and the integrity in your talk. We all have tremendous power to affect the Companies we work for and the City we live in by being aware that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, we are part of their brand. I hope you find my answers helpful to build your company and our community.

Have you seen a change in how consumers are purchasing brand name products vs private label over the past 5–10 years?

I think private label products have been doing better because of the perceived cost savings. Consumers are willing to try highly consumable products for potential savings because there is little risk vs the cost. If it doesn’t work out they can easily switch back.

From your observations, do you think different generations are attracted to branding differently?

I believe people are somewhat burnt out on traditional media, especially the younger generations. Traditional media is still an important part of marketing, but we are bombarded by advertisements all day long so it can be more difficult to break through the noise in order to build a brand. Effective brand building these days is done by making an emotional connection with people who believe what you believe.
From a retailer’s perspective, what is the best way for a manufacturer to connect consumers with their brand in your store?

Manufacturers need to start with their own company and by making sure they have the right people on the bus and in the right seat. They then need to engage the team with a purpose and create work that matters. I wish we could offer more brands like STIHL that sell themselves because the company not only knows what they do and how they do it but also WHY they do it.

How does your store connect to consumers with your stores brand? (signage, advertising, etc?)

We try to consistently portray and execute an image consistent with our values.

Have you noticed that the economy has an affect on whether your customers purchase brand-name products or generic products?

I think changes in the economy allow for opportunities to differentiate. Hyundai has had their best growth since the recession started in 2008 because they are aware of their customers’ pain and they worked to take it away by removing the risk of buying from them and by having a value price point. Other luxury brands like Apple have done well because people like to buy products that communicate to others how they see themselves in the world.

Are there certain categories in your store that are more brand sensitive than others?

It is harder to have loyalty with commodities in general because of the lack of emotional connection. But it is not impossible… Coffee is the #2 traded commodity in the world and Starbucks and more recently companies like Stumptown successfully turned it in to an experience based business.

What is the biggest challenge of branding for you and your store staff?

Our brand is a reflection of our culture, which reflect our values. I work hard to protect our culture. You have to tell someone something 19 times before they remember and tell them all the time so they don’t forget. I try hard to constantly communicate WHY we are doing what we do. We are not just selling product to people. We are having a positive impact on the lives of those we come into contact with by building relationships, solving problems and enabling our guests with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Do you notice female customers respond to brands differently than male customers?

Males and females seem to respond to different brands that have meaning to them which could be different in different categories. I think people will lean toward what has top of mind awareness if the product does not have an emotional connection and is not a commodity.

Are today’s consumers more fickle than in the past regarding brands vs generic (I.e. If they have a bad experience will they just throw in the towel or will they try again?)

Consumers will forgive a brand that they have an emotional connection with. Not too different from how we treat people.

Do you think the Internet and ecommerce affect brand loyalty? Why and how do brick-and-mortar retailers respond?

Social media allows brands to build their own platforms to spread their message and create loyalty rather than pay to use someone Else’s platform such as traditional media. Consumers trust reviews from strangers more than they trust traditional media which is why Amazon is successful. Brick and mortars need to respond by being more than “the claw.” With the old claw game you use a joystick to grab a toy and drop it down the chute. If people come in and ask for products we need to do more than say “it’s over there”. Even if we walk them to the product, we are still being the claw which is no different than point, click and order on the Internet. Instead we need to engage, build relationships, see the product for what the customer is trying to accomplish and be meaningful. But, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, so relationships must come first.

What influences whether a consumer is brand loyal? (advertising, referrals, quality,e tc.) Has this changed over the past decade?

Referrals are the most effective and least expensive way to build a brand. Apple has sold billions of dollars of product from raving fans being Ambassadors for their brand and screaming from the rooftops how great it is. How do we get this kind of loyalty? Again, I am 100% convinced that it starts with values and culture. We have to give our teams a cause, a belief and work that matters in order to create a brand that is truly meaningful. Our brand has to consistently tell the story of what we believe and we have to seek to connect with others who believe the same things, not just everyone out there looking to buy products. The CEO of Southwest Airlines received a scolding letter from a lady who didn’t find the joking around during the pre-flight safety check to be funny. He wrote a letter back that said three things “We’ll miss you.” How many of us would apologize and send her a free voucher? Humor is such an important part of their values and culture that Southwest is willing to be punished for it from the top down. For every person that is offended by their humor, 17 others are polarized by the fact that they have values they are willing to stand up for.

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