Branding is a Retail Trend That’s Here to Stay…At Least for Now
The current year, though only a quarter of the way through, looks a lot like the preceding one. Even though the economy continues to chug forward, most shoppers remain hyper-vigilant about value. For most retailers that means that promotion will be the marketing strategy of choice. The root of these doldrums may be a lack of consumer excitement. The unisex, generic Normcore may be becoming the “style” norm and no new must-have fashion trends have broken through to challenge it for the consumer’s interest and dollars. New discounters on the scene will likely provide more competitive pressure. Primark, the Irish chain known for ultra discounts on youth-oriented fashion is opening stores in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and Aldi, the German private label grocer, is adding fashion items to the offerings in its 400 U.S. stores. High-end retailers are joining the push toward the value-oriented shopper. Nordstrom will open 25 new Rack locations this year and Neiman Marcus will expand their successful Last Call mark-down stores. So, what’s a retailer to do besides mounting sales and special offers?
When Competition is Relentless, Branding Must Be Equally Relentless
Walter Loeb, retailing expert and former Director at National Retail Federation, calls “unrelenting competition,” the biggest retail story of 2015. In a post on his forbes.com blog, (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/2014/12/16/unrelenting-competition-the-retail-story-of-2015/2/) he urges retailers to harness the power of the brand – every aspect of it – to succeed in today’s environment. Effective branding marries the retailers’ established identity with that of their signature lines of merchandise. Loeb cites Macy’s as a prime example of this kind of seamless branding. Their brand conveys an overall image of being fashion-savvy and value-driven through omnichannel messaging and also through their merchandise: designer exclusives and private labels. Preppy Tommy Hilfiger and selections from the Ralph Lauren collection combine with house brands like Alfani and Charter Club to establish Macy’s in the shopper’s mind as at the top go-to place for style and value. Retailers who create this kind of consumer relationship stand the best chance of winning even against deep discounters.
Taking Branding to a New Level with Environment, Interaction and Social Media
Technology continues to help retail brands connect more deeply with shoppers – and to threaten those who ignore its power and popularity. Compelling in-store environments have given bricks-and-mortars an edge against online. But, be warned, today’s shoppers are increasingly harder to dazzle and trend-watchers predict that the next wave of in-store tech will not just entertain but also engage and inform. One retail trend that’s worth watching is the use of mobile devices in shopping. Consumers now check an average of five online sources prior to making an in-store purchase. Savvy retailers of the near future will need to be able to meet and even enhance this need-to-know with in-store displays and well-informed staff ready to interact effectively.
Let’s not forget the ever-growing branding power of social media. Starbucks, despite their recent hashtag stumble, has used the major social platforms to differentiate their beverages and their in-store experience in a stellar manner. With 800,000 Twitter followers and 5 million Facebook fans, they establish themselves virtually every minute of the day as the go-to spot for a coffee break.
Branding for the Next Generation of Shoppers
Change is one of the few things we can count on and the coming generation of shoppers is poised to alter the concept of branding. At present, this first wave of true digital natives have little brand loyalty (except perhaps to tech products) and are marketing-resistant. Retailers can’t stick with the branding status quo even if they are winning today’s game of unrelenting competition. There’s about to be a new game in town that could launch the biggest retail trend in decades.