Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Brand building without deep pockets…A retailer’s experience

If you take as a given –and I do- that in today’s new economy a company can only remain competitive if it engages in strong brand building, then the next staggering question you might ask is: How? With the high cost of advertising, an increasingly fragmented media market and the advent of social media which allows consumers to talk directly to each other and bypass the traditional methods of getting information, many small business owners are forced to come up with increasingly creative ways to build their brand. While this has its challenges, it also presents a great opportunity to think creatively as one Caribbean based luxury goods store found out after its brand was re-energised without a massive dent in its pocket.

This company had long enjoyed a sterling reputation for its branded luxury goods from Europe and the United States. Its niche market were the high-end users of luxury items. But within the last decade the store had lagging sales. The brand had become diluted, poor management, poor merchandising and a lack of customer relationship management drove many of the store’s clients’ away and the company found itself in the black.

A new CEO was hired and as she examined the company and her role, she knew that one of the cornerstones to move the company into a position of profitability was to focus on the company’s linkage to its client base. From the outset three things were clear: 1) the new CEO had to make brand building part of the strategic plan, 2) the company had no money and could not rely heavily on mass media to promote their brand and 3) all the alternative approaches to brand building had to be integrated into an overall concept of the stores’ identity.

These were daunting tasks. But the 42-year-old female executive-who had arrived fresh from a top-level merchandising job in New York was not the faint-hearted type. Her first task was to get rid of her ad agency. Although the agency had served them moderately well, the directors of the luxury good store were not satisfied with the alternatives they presented for their media strategies.
“ I didn’t want to spend large sums of money on ads that reached no one. Clearly we had lost focus, we needed to recreate our lost luster, reach out to clients who had no longer identified with us. We had to start from scratch with only a name that had some residual good will.”

Clearly this was a woman who knew her stuff and instead of an agency she decided she would work closely with a brand consultant.. When they met the consultant was struck by the CEOs glamour, sense of style and knowledge of the high end market. “You are the epitomy of your brand,” she declared. The brand expert decided to increase the director’s visibility and suggested a series of personality profiles in the press (free publicity), a weekly lifestyle column and a radio ad where the CEO talked about lifestyles.

The executive was becoming her brand’s champion because the consultant felt she possessed the authority and the ability to ensure that her company’s brand identity was being delivered in a way that rang true.

The strategy worked; former customers like what they read and heard. They identified with the new CEO and because they wanted the lifestyle she eschewed they came in to the stores in droves. The stores were starting to become relevant to its audience once again.

There were other strategies employed, additional approaches to fuel word of mouth communications included placement of the store’s personal care line of products at elite and selective fitness centers. The company also started sponsoring women friendly events. Under much media hype, they launched a Fund to assist women with the cost of their cervical cancer operations. They also co- sponsored a large commercial bank’s 5k Breast Cancer Awareness Run. Sponsorship was viewed as a way of bolstering the brand’s image among concentrated groups of potential customers.
“Our aim was not to create visibility for visibility’s sake; without exception our efforts were directed at supporting the client’s brand identity,” says the consultant.

With sales on the rise and brand awareness increased, the CEO, who was now into her second year, felt that the time had come to involve her customers more intimately in the brand . She created events that would create a personal experience between the brand and the client. And therein was born free sampling days, customer appreciation nights, customer loyalty programmes. And once again sales soared.

The CEO inherited many liabilities when she joined her new firm but the liabilities forced her to think creatively. It didn’t happen in a New York minute. Developing alternative approaches to brand building is never easy but with dedication and commitment from those at the top, finding alternatives to mass media advertising can be worth the time and personal investment.

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