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Image courtesy: Thomas Sabo
Image courtesy: Thomas Sabo

Brand is everything jewellers sell, do and stand for

In an increasingly competitive market, retailers must better understand ‘brand’ to survive. PETER RYAN says the construction of a brand can only begin once retailers uncover the souls of their businesses.

How many retailers believe that investing in their brand is necessary to create sales opportunities in the future? There’s an old saying that remarks, “Give me all your money and your future will look bright.”

Fervor Montreal
Fervor Montreal

Brand does not only refer to the products that a business stocks; it also extends to the retailer’s own identity. Somewhere along the way, many stores have allowed the concept of their ‘brand’ to separate from their business as if a store’s brand exists only in some parallel universe or stand-alone space.

To set the record straight, a brand is nothing more than a recalled memory – memory created from all the touch-points that interact with the customer and memory that is constantly updated by the customer’s latest experiences.

Marketing used to be a discipline covering ‘all-of-business’ that planned and implemented strategies and tactics to maintain profitable sales increases into the future.

In today’s retail-business environment, marketing has been marginalised to be nothing more than promotion, usually involving promotional partners such as advertising agencies that are often frustrated by their own beliefs that communication is really all about the ‘brand’.

It doesn’t matter how good a customer feels about a brand. If a business can’t deliver every day what customers need or want, then the brand is irrelevant.

Time to find a soul

More local retailers need to come to terms with what makes them attractive and magnetic to Australian shoppers rather than trying to become a watered-down version of ‘global best practice’ – a concept that should stay in a university lecture room.

Find the business’ soul and drive an organisation to reinforce this as a point of magnetism for customers. There is no guarantee of success in contemporary retail; however, those with the greatest chance of success are the ones that have a strong belief in the customer value proposition that makes them better and different.

Retailers that are the same as everyone else – especially those that compete on price – will find it difficult, if not impossible to cut costs quickly enough to offset margin erosion.

Daniel Bentley
Daniel Bentley

Remember that the business is also a brand. Great communication helps a business to engage with customers and reinforce its relevance. Just as the catchcry, “It’s all about the customer” over-simplifies the business model and hides the truth, so too does the notion, “It’s all about the brand.”

The brand is an outcome, an outcome of all the hard work the business does in implementation that results in touch-points with the customer.

Marketing communication is very important but, for its value to be realised, it must be integrated into the business activities in a way that reflects, claims credit for and helps ingrain the memories of the value of a retail business to its customers.

It is both fascinating and sad to watch so many Australian retailers floundering as they face the onslaught of global retail brands entering their previously under-contested local markets.

While competitive performance has always been – and always will be – subject to the context of the competition at any point in time, many retailers in this country have historically survived as little more than logistics operators.

Australian consumers have traditionally had far less choice compared to larger, overseas markets but now that more products are available, shoppers are exercising their right to experiment and many retailers are struggling to cope with their new shopping behaviour and choices. Why? These businesses have no soul; they do not stand for anything nor have any perceived sense of their customer value propositions.

As a result they flinch and try to copy competitors rather than play to their strengths. This is often true of the largest and smallest retailers in the country.

If small retailers, including jewellers, seriously believe the answer to increased competition is to reduce prices and then shed internal costs as the sole recourse then they should get out of retail now before they destroy their businesses.

One need only look to the arrival of German supermarket chain Aldi in the Australian market and the subsequent reactions of Woolworths and Coles for an example of how a fixation on price can cause brand damage.

The supermarket duopoly controls nearly $90 billion of food and liquor sales in this country and when threatened by the newcomer – a player with just $5 billion in sales – Woolworths and Coles both parachuted in global talent to lead a war on price that has subsequently stripped any competitive uniqueness out of either business.

I played a minor role as a member of the team that developed the very successful Woolworths campaign “The fresh food people” 30 years ago. Today there isn’t anyone left at Woolworths who was there at the time, nor understands how that strategy formed the soul that drove the company’s decision-making and boosted profitability.

Branding assets

Mnemonics is important to marketing and branding. While it’s an unusual word – the first ‘m’ is silent – a mnemonic is a tool to help remember facts or a large amount of information, and can be anything from a song, rhyme, acronym, image or phrase. 

Creating memory storage and retrieval devices like brand mnemonics for customers is valuable. Some businesses are the proud possessors of assets that are the stuff of witchcraft: a sound; a colour; a name; a phrase; a shape; a smell; a taste; a face. These are assets that compel shoppers to hand over money for the right to possess an element of those assets.

All of these things are called branding mnemonics and each is as much an asset as a building, a patent, intellectual property, cash or any other more-readily-acknowledged and fiercely-protected asset. Branding mnemonics or hallmarks are embedded in the conscious and subconscious minds as memory-retrieval devices.

They help people to easily store feelings and thoughts and retrieve them when someone sees, feels or reacts to the next touch-point or interaction.

Nikki Lissoni
Nikki Lissoni

Developing branding devices that are memorable is a difficult task and getting them embedded in a powerful way is even harder, increasingly so in our contemporary world. The jewellery industry has a few obvious companies that possess strong branding mnemonics – De Beers Group’s phrase “A diamond is forever”; Tiffany & Co’s little blue box; Pandora’s celebration of ‘real’ women.

Again, the key for independent jewellery retailers is to identify and communicate what their businesses stand for and how their brands reflect that. One would think that more businesses would be careful about how they protect these assets; however, one only needs to look to Qantas to see that is not what is happening.

A few years ago, a Qantas advertising campaign stripped every branding device the company had spent more than 25 years and hundreds of millions of dollars embedding in our subconscious.

The same could be said of Woolworths ditching “The fresh food people” musical mnemonic. Often these changes come about through a complete lack of understanding from senior leadership teams of the power or value of branding assets. Why else would they abdicate the responsibility of protecting these sources of shareholder value to people who want to stamp their own egos on the business?

Coca-Cola has had the same logo with minor refreshes for 150 years; Frank Lowy is known to ferociously defend the Westfield logo; Intel has a simple four-note jingle that has been its hallmark for 20 years.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Creating communication containers and flavouring the implementation of all forms of customer-experience enhancement is valuable but only because it boosts the commercial relevance of a retail business to its customers and enhances their ability to remember the brand in a way that gives that business the best chance to make today’s sale, tomorrow’s sale and the sales after that.

Again, it’s about the future and this brings the conversation to storytelling.

Stories to tell

In this increasingly transaction-focused, mono-dimensional retail world, many businesses have lost sight of their most powerful weapon in the retail armoury – storytelling.

What has been true since the beginning of humanity is the power of storytelling to persuade, teach, motivate, compel and communicate. For all stakeholder groups, active support of a retail business is based on the power of its story.

From Woolworths’ “The fresh food people” to Louis Vuitton’s “150 years of luxury goods craftsmanship”, the power of cleverly-constructed stories is to motivate staff, customers, investors and community to carry the business to higher levels of success.

Stories help people to connect to what makes a business better than, and different to, its competitors in a way that excites them. There are very few who don’t know the story behind the brands they truly love – not only the mnemonics of a jingle, an advertisement or the brand iconography but also the story of what makes it worthwhile.

Great stories don’t just communicate to the early adopter or first receiver of that message. They give consumers something that they can re-tell and, in the re-telling, people feel even more connected to that brand or business.

Great storytelling in retail creates images and emotions so powerful that it is instantly memorable and compelling to on-sell to family and peers. Examples include Tiffany & Co and Ralph Lauren’s wonderfully-aspirational 21st-century Gatsby dream, the innovation and aesthetic appeal of Apple and Tom Ford’s glamorous re-birth of Gucci.

These brand stories resonate on both a rational and emotional level with everyone who encounters those businesses. Jewellery retailers – large and small – need to identify their own stories and use them in everything they do in order to powerfully imprint the business’ brand and motivate customers to invest their time and money in it.

Peter Ryan

Contributor • Red Communication Australia

Peter Ryan is the owner and operator of one of Australia’s leading retail strategy consulting businesses, Red Communication Australia.

Nationwide Jewellers

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