Building Brand, Not Confusion
By David Polinchock, Brand Experience Lab
There has been an explosion in consumer touchpoints because of the proliferation of technology-driven channels like the internet, kiosks, digital signage. This has created more options for building brand, but it also leads in some cases to clutter, audience fragmentation, and more cost (to enter more channels). So how do you know when the goal of "shopper engagement" at retail is going to lead to a more focused brand-building campaign, and not diffusion of your message (and spiralling cost)? How do you truly "integrate" consumer touchpoints, and not just add confusion for your own marketing team and the consumer?
What we see much too often is that in the rush to use the newest tactics and technologies out there, brands frequently lose their own message (and sometime their identity too) in the process.And the proliferation of new technologies haven't helped, with so many cool ways to engage an audience, well why not use them all?
But, the consumer is also being bombarded by messages in every aspect of their lifes (we've even written talking urinals on our blog!) and we're training them to tune out to this clutter. TV clutter is up; some magazines seem to have more ad pages then editorial pages; companies are looking at how to turn cell phones into an advertising channel. We've even heard about a cell phone company that will give you free calls if you listen to a commercial before your call gets connected.
So how do you use all of these tools and channels to tell a cohesive story in a compelling way to your audience?
The first step is to really know who you are and what your story is. Yea, I know, sounds simplistic. So let's see how good yours is. Do this simple exercise, ask 10 people in your company to write down your brand story in about 10 words. Then compare them. My guess is you'll be surprised at several things:
1. How many people have no idea what your story is, or at least how to articulate it.
2. How many different stories you'll get.
3. How uninspiring your stories usually are. While doing this storytelling exercise at a recent conference, we heard a lot the same thing– the leading provider of information about our local community. Doesn't reach out and grab you, does it?
So, two things about this. If the people internally can't agree on who you are, it'll be pretty hard for the people externally to understand your story. And, your story needs to inspire your staff and your audience. It has to be authentic, fun and accessible. It has to emotionally connect with people in order to get them to bond with your brand. After all, consumers today are very brand promisucous. Sure they love you today and they may love you tomorrow, but they don't mind sleeping around if there's something better on the horizon, even if it's only temporarily better or cheaper. I remember being at the old World of Coke in Atlanta and they had a collection of letters that people had written in about their experience with Coca Cola. One was from a soldier, who while fighting in Europe during WWII, wrote about the feeling they he got, even in the trenches, when they recieved their ration of Coca Cola. Coca Cola was home and everything that he was fighting for. That's a pretty powerful story.
Here's another exercise that you can do to see how your story resonates with people. Go find a 1st grader and tell them your story. If they're bored by it, odds are your audience and employees will be too. And the great thing about 1st graders is that they will tell you when they're bored, unlike most adults who are to polite to give you real feedback. Ever see a show that you thought wasn't so good but at the end, people around gave it a standing ovation. My guess is, you stood too. Kids tell you when a show or story sucks. (BTW, my daughter Sydney and her friends are available if you need some 1st graders for this exercise.)
This is your first step into being able to use these new channels cohesively and effectively. And really knowing your story will also help you identify the best channels for you to use. Adrienne Weiss, a colleague in the brand world, says that brands are like countries, with their own customs, heritages and histories. What are yours? Does everyone in the company understand them and agree with them? Do some storytelling exercises. Again, we like to have companies read their brand story as if they were reading a story to a group of first graders– and we make the audience act like real first graders! Helps you focus on language and storytelling skills. First graders don't usually care about features & benefits and traditional corporate history stuff.
In addition, we ask retailers to look at their stores as if it was a story that someone was walking through. Does the story I get at the front door match the story I get in aisle 7? Do the employees know the story. If asked, could they repeat it to a guest in a positive and sincere way? Does it seem like they care about the story? I tell you, we've waked the tony shops of Madison Avenue and didn't always find store staff who knew what the brand story was. But you walk into some of the stores around our offices in Soho, like Burton, or Apple, and you'll find people who know only know the story, the live the story. Have you created a "Is there so much competing noise that I don't hear anything at all because I've tuned it all out?"
Break Down the Silos
One of the biggest challenges companies have when looking at how to use these diferent channels is that the employees developing these different channels aren't talking to each other either. We were talking to a team from a retailer about some ideas we had and suggested that the assets they needed already existed in their online group and they told us very clearly that the in-store and online groups didn't really work together at all.
Channels Must Enhance the Experience
I once wrote about an experience I had at a large consumer electronics store where I heard a cool song playing on their in-house radio station, but couldn't figure out how to find the CD in order to buy it. Actually had an employee re-winding the sound system in order for us to try to figure out the name of the song or the artist. Re-winding the sound system in the entire store. For me. Don't you think I would've loved to go to a kiosk where the playlist existed and I could learn more about the song and/or artist. And let it help me make the purchase?
And why do price checking systems only tell me the price? Why doesn't it ask if I want to know more about the product or play a video showing the product in action? Yea, I know what you're thinking. But we don't have those assets. I'm telling you they exist, go find them and make my life easier.
Use The Channels for My Benefit, Not Yours
I don't think enough people really understand that everything you do must be about creating a better guest experience, not just creating an additional revenue stream for the you.
To get people to think about the instore experience should not come from an advertising model, but rather from an experience model. The advertising model is about interupting the guest experience with your message. It doesn't naturally flow with the narrative of your experience, but rather it stops the narrative.
In contrast, the experience model uses whatever tools are available to enhance your narrative. It must give the consumer something extra if you want it to really have value to them.
In a world of look alike retail environments and commodotized products, most digital networks do nothing, or very little, to enhance the guest experience. For example, a few weeks back, while shopping at the GardenStatePlaza, I spent some time watching people watching two digital signage monitors by the carosel. Actually, I should say that I watched them not watching the digital signs. Nobody even glanced at them in the 20 minutes or so that I was watching. Not even the people sitting in front of them.
You Need to E-Tail Your Retail
If I can do it on your web site, I should be able to do it in your store. It's time to e-tail your retail. And we don't mean moving all of your retail operations online. But it does mean that your retail needs to be e-tail compatable.
Think about it. I'm on your web site, looking at something cool and I think Hey, I should show this to my wife, and I can click on the "Share with a Friend" link. Off it goes and now my wife & I can both look at the same item. But in your store? No chance for that to happen. I can't share any of the in-store experience with someone not there.
Online, I can get product reviews from both experts and consumers. In-store, I can barely find out where the product is. Online, I can search by any number of terms and read all about the product. In-store, I might be able to check the price on the price-check scanner, but I can't get any other information about the product. This is one place where mobile technologies could really deliver a much better in-store experience. So, stop simply making incremental changes to your retail experience and start looking at ways you can e-tail your retail!
The thing is, we're commercialed out. We don't want to see any more commercials that are simply delivered to me at your convenience. It's not that we don't want them, but we sure don't want them delivered under the old advertising model. Engage me, don't speak at me. Give me something of value to me and I'll be happy.
So, here's the challenge that we give you today: Ask yourself how what you're doing will create a better retail environment for the guests. Does it create something compelling enough that the guests would pay for it? Bring the idea home and ask your significant other what they think of the idea. Would they pay for it? Is it something that they ever asked you for?
Stop getting all excited about the hype you'll hear. Build better experiences for your guests and they will come.