What does your brand stand for? Why does your brand exist?
This is the direct and existential challenge consumers are posing to brands today. Empowered with an increasingly sophisticated eye and shiny new filtering tools, these no-nonsense consumers are curating their buying, and blocking out most products, brands, and experiences they don’t like or relate to.
For this reason, many brands and stores have lost traction due to this technological moment of reckoning. Don’t get me wrong, the stores and brands may still exist, but they aren’t profitable and have no brand equity in the minds of the consumer. It is just a matter of time before they close their doors and cease operations.
So how do you position your brand to survive and thrive in this new environment? How do you ensure your brand and product stand out?
The short answer: You need to start with the customer. But it does not stop there. In fact, the success of any brand depends upon following a very deliberate process requiring a laser-like clarity on your brand’s mission and vision, your competitive positioning and key differentiators, and your communication strategy. It is an iterative process you need to repeat over and over again, as long as you are in business. As Lou Holtz once warned, “You are either moving forward or losing ground.”
I developed this 5 Step Consumer-Centric Process while I was resuscitating a $2B Women’s Fashion Division for Nordstrom in 2005. I say “resuscitating” because, at the time, the Women’s Division had 12 functional departments with no overarching strategy or clear definition for any of the departments. In order to be more productive and meaningful to our customers, each department needed to act like a “brand” with a clear mission and vision, and most importantly, a clearly defined target customer.
We had to figure out a way to organize our departments to streamline our product assortment, enhance the customer experience, and ultimately increase sales and profits.
I drew on my early experience as a lifeguard to create what we called “Swim Lanes” to organize the 12 departments and optimize the business.t. Each“lane” had a target customer with a certain lifestyle and life stage, with distinct product priorities, needs and wants. We developed a product assortment strategy based on the target customer and consequently eliminated overlap and duplication in our inventory. With the customer as the filter for our decision making, we reduced our inventory by an average of 22% and increased revenues by approximately 18%.
While this took time to implement, we succeeded because we followed each of these five steps to deliver an edited product assortment and drive breakthrough results.
Now it’s your turn!
Step 1: Clarify Your Mission & Vision for the Brand
In any endeavor, clarity is key.
Being crystal clear on your brand’s mission and vision is the first step to differentiating yourself and outshining the competition.
What’s the difference between a brand mission and a brand vision?
Brand Mission: A mission for your brand answers the following questions:
To make it plain and simple: your mission is what you do today. One thing I often ask my clients is, “if you were to gather people in a room, what would they say about your brand? What is it you do best, from their perspective?” This feedback can help you determine your Brand Mission.
Having a clear mission statement - and aligning with it - is critical for success.
Brand Vision: A brand vision answers the question of ‘Where do you want to go and how will you get there?’
This helps you figure out “What You Will Be Famous For?” Which is your North Star. I often say to a brand, if we were sitting together in 1-3 years admiring the success of the company, it would be because of what? What did you set out to do that made your stand out, shine, and succeed?
When everyone within your organization understands and supports WHAT you are focused on today (YOUR MISSION) and WHERE you are “going”, YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE, you will create alignment, a clear set of priorities and a much greater chance of success.
Now, WHO are you doing it for?
Step 2: Identify & Clearly Understand Your Target Customer
Whether you have a new product launch, or a much-needed brand refresh, the only way to make the right decisions regarding product design, category expansion, price, fit, etc. is to align your choices with your target customer. In order to do that, you must first identify and intimately understand who it is you are trying to capture, engage, and sell to. While you can sell to and service all people, the trajectory of your decision making needs to be angled toward your target customer. Remember, if you try and be all things to everyone, you will be nothing to no one.
When you are learning about your customer, it is critical to balance qualitative and quantitative findings to thoroughly understand him/her. Both tell us about customer behavior, but each gives a different perspective and level of detail. Hard data is more precise as it is measured – “How many customers are selecting X?” Soft data gives us a lot more detail and context behind the customer behavior and values.
Psychographic and behavioral information that cannot be measured and which is subjective.
I am a big believer in starting with qualitative data, and getting in front of customers to better understand their lifestyle, life-stage, product priorities, preferences, and behaviors. You will learn where, when and how your customer shops, and which brands they prefer across all categories in their life, from food and beverage to hospitality and clothing. You will learn what car they drive, what hotels they choose, and what bottled water they drink - - and why? You can use these insights and many more to form hypotheses around the products or services to deliver the most value to this group. When you’ve completed this step, you can begin to gather and interpret hard data to validate these hypotheses and develop your strategy.
This is the information you have access to every day in some form. In the simplest terms, it tells you what happened in your business, when and where. You can summarize this information and quickly make decisions. But, in order to be fully customer-centric, you need to balance this with what your customers say and do (qualitative data).
I recommend you start with a list of questions to be answered or hypotheses to be validated. From there, you can either mine existing data or conduct a brief, focused survey with an adequate sample size of participants.
Next, use this depth of information to navigate the competition and sharpen your differentiating factors.
Step 3: The Competitive Landscape & Your Differentiators
In any business, it’s important to understand where your brand exists relative to your competitors - in the grid of your segment’s priorities.
To do this, you first need to have an understanding of how your category is segmented. Is it by functionality and price? Or by sustainability and style? Or by some other metric?
From there, your brand needs to understand where you exist relative to direct and indirect competitors.
Each market segment has its own priorities and the image below shows an example of a common pairing - price and functionality.
With these data points, you can answer questions like:
Depending on the results of this process, you may need to make some adjustments to your product offering, market positioning (price/value/distribution channels) or both.
The more information you have here, the more clarity you can gain, the better you’ll be able to determine how you will WIN with your customer and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Step 4: Communication Strategy
When you have a clear articulation of your brand’s mission and vision, a thorough understanding of your target customer, and identified your differentiators, then you can begin to develop a targeted communication plan. Your plan needs to be creative and innovative, but more importantly, it needs to underpin the key pillars of your business to drive clarity and loyalty with your target customer.
You need to follow the “5 W’s and an H” strategy…
While it may seem simple, developing an authentic and relevant brand voice and tone is critical. Prioritize building a community, enhancing engagement, and growing relationships with your customers. Do this by being authentic, honest and open to dialogue - both good and bad. Add: Your goal is to develop a community of brand enthusiasts who are loyal and willing to share on your behalf. .
If your value proposition is clear for your target customers, you will gain their “mind share” - they will think of you first. When you have their “mind share”, you will undoubtedly win their market share.
Step 5: Make a Detailed Path Forward
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Now that you’ve invested the resources to get crystal clear on your brand’s mission, vision, target customer, differentiating factor(s) and communication strategy, it’s time to create a list of priorities and a timeline.
You need to create 30/60/90/180-day plans to identify the business priorities and tasks, enablers, goals and metrics to ensure you stay on track with the strategic initiatives you have decided upon. It’s super important to identify who in the organization is the sponsor, leader, and executor of each task. This details who is accountable for which results and activities, and who will manage the process.
None of the work in Steps 1-4 matters if you don’t create a detailed plan and stick to it. In my experience, this is where it all falls apart - businesses don’t create or follow-through on an execution strategy. Discipline and accountability are the ultimate keys to success.
Today’s market is crowded, customers are fickle, and successful brands are harder to come by. Achieving success today requires so much more than merely buying and selling products.
Building strong relationships with your customer is the key to surviving in the modern retail landscape. Know them on a deeper level, know who they are, what they want, and why they shop. Then use that knowledge to create a unique experience that exceeds all their expectations.
To pivot your business with a unique customer targeting workshop, book a training workshop with me today.
I help retail companies uncover growth and profit opportunities.