By Priyadarshini Sharma
Whether it is Europe or Asia or the US – your experience would have been the same – that’s the magic of International brand management in the context of retail. Brand management in retail is getting shaped by two key forces, namely:
1. Consumer needs are getting more advanced and their expectations are rising. They expect a certain level of service and also consistent brand performance across the world.
2. Retailers need to expand in order to grow at a good pace. National and international competition is driving this need for expansion.
Given the above, international brand management in the retail sector takes on a new importance. Not only must retail brands strive to profitably expand and grow their business, they also have to maintain their identity in all markets while doing so – they cannot afford to dilute their brand equity in the course of expansion.
Having established that brand building and management is of prime importance in the international retail sector, we can now look at the key elements of brand management.
First, we must understand, what is brand management? Simply put, brand management involves Conceptualizing, developing, planning & executing Brand Marketing initiatives in line with the Brand Positioning and Core Brand Values to drive
1. Brand preference amongst intending buyers
2. Sales Off take
In a nutshell, Brand Marketing Programs include the following:-
• Media planning - working to deliver cost - effective plans which help deliver on objectives and innovate with the consumer.
• Developing innovative consumer promotions and programs that drive brand salience, preference and off take across categories
• Developing effective collaterals that drive brand presence and promise V/S competition in the retail environment
• Leading Market Research on the Brand leading to definition / improvement of brand promise and identification of appealing advertising concepts that drive unique salience V/S competition
• Incorporating best practices across the world on research, costs and techniques
• Facilitating execution and understanding of Customer Loyalty Research across the organization to help identify key areas for improving on the same V/S competition
The above steps are fairly self explanatory, but the point of brand image building in the process of expansion needs to be further elaborated. This can be done by understanding integrated marketing in the context of retail expansion.
In order to effectively manage the retail brand in the course of expansion, the method of integrated marketing communication needs to be followed. This includes:
The first step in the process of integrated marketing involves choosing a channel for expansion. In the retail context this would mean deciding the store location. This would be dependant on the feasibility study carried out including the cost of rental, the footfalls expected, and finally the “image” portrayed by the location. The imagery is key here in order to maintain the brand identity. A brand like Louis Vuitton for example has to decide their store location in keeping with their international target audience – i.e. the super premium set.
Therefore they would have to choose an up-market super specialty designer boutique rather than any high street mall. However, a mass brand like Wal-Mart would need to be more accessible to the buying public (the so called middle class) and chose their location accordingly.
Once the store location has been decided, the next key step is planning and executing the store design. Here it is very important to consistently establish and follow guidelines. In the retail brands, the store deign is an integral part of the overall brand identity. Because for the customer, the brand is the store itself. Therefore, consistent execution of store layout and design is essential. This involves first establishing the store design – the so called “Flag ship” store from which all other branches would acquire their identity. The colour schemes used, the floor layout and the window adornments all reflect the retail brand identity.
Involve all the senses:
As a subset of store design, it is important to cover the aspect of involving all the senses of the consumer. The latest buzz in international brand management involves creating a brand identity for all the senses. This involves:
Sight: The distinct colour scheme and store layout can become a part of the retail brand identity. For example the yellow and red colours of McDonald’s stores are a part of their retail identity.
Sound: The brand identity can be built around sound – for example the trademark tunes available in most Nokia’s cell phones/handsets, can immediately be associated with the Nokia brand.
Smell: Olfactory memory is supposed be the most powerful of all memory. There are certain smells which are associated with retail store. For example the smell of freshly brewed coffee is a trademark fragrance of Barista stores in India. Incidentally, the scent of coffee is actually put into the Air Conditioning vents to really permeate the store environs!
Touch: The touch and feel of stores are also a part of the stores brand identity. Plush leather seats, luxurious carpeting, fancy drapes are all a part of this brand experience. A classic example of a retailer using this sense is the Apple store in New York. This store provides a unique experience in hi-tech electronic gadgets (such as the famous i-pod), where the customer is encouraged to leisurely browse the store, touch and feel the various products on display.
Taste: This one sense is a challenge to incorporate into a brand identity for a retail store, but is not impossible. For example a store called Hotel Chocolat in London allows their customers to sample their unique chocolates and this is a part of the sensory brand experience. The tasting of the chocolates also leads to increased sales as the patrons want to purchase what they have tried.
Sales force know how:
The third key factor in brand management would be ensuring that the sales force is adequately trained. Given that the sales force is the first point of contact with the final consumer, their training is key in ensuring that the customer has a great retail experience. Having an ill informed, unkempt, un-motivated sales force will cause the downfall of the best brands because people don’t just pay for the goods they also pay for the services. And therefore training the sales team on product knowledge, customer management, courtesy and above all professionalism becomes of prime importance.
The next key process required after putting an outlet in place is building awareness for the same. The level of resources spent on creating this awareness would vary according to the target audience and the retail format. A store catering to the masses would require a more far reaching and noise creating campaign while an upscale brand would need to be more subtle and sophisticated.
The above steps in integrated marketing of the retail store create the buzz and lead to footfalls. In order to capitalize on this buzz, the brand needs to reinforce customer knowledge on the shop floor. This may not be relevant to all stores but specifically in the context of high value, hi-tech or designer products, this step is key. This step reassures the customer by providing in-depth knowledge about the product differentiations and also gives vital information for them to make an informed choice.
Once the footfalls have started, the retail brand needs to build credibility and differentiation by tapping into other forms of communication besides advertising. This may involve press write-ups or advertorials to further enhance the brand image and saliency. This is fairly important because a third party endorsement via press coverage is likely to have much more impact than plain advertising. The above are the basic theoretical concepts of brand management in the context of the retail environment. These concepts need to be further tempered with creativity and innovation. After all, brand management is not just a science but is also an art.
Priyadarshini Sharma completed her MBA with specialization in marketing, from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Indore. She has over 6 years of work experience in brand management and sales with fortune 500 companies such as Pepsi and Samsung in India. Priyadarshini has written numerous articles in various magazines in India. She currently lives in Singapore and can be contacted via email on email@example.com.