How can indie retailers build lasting brand equity?

Photo: Getty Images/alvarez
Sep 10, 2020

Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender, Kizer & Bender

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Adventures, the blog of Kizer & Bender.

One of the best ways to describe a brand was coined by Adrienne Weiss, CEO of Adrienne Weiss Corp: “A brand is a country, complete with its own language, rituals, culture and customs.”

Using this definition, we’ve created a checklist of things to do to help you build your brand:

Step 1: Write your store’s story.

Why did you open a store? What’s unique about you and the store? How does the store make a difference in your customers’ lives? When finished, spread the story across in-store signage, your website, social media — anywhere and everywhere you can.

Step 2: Turn your story into a 60-second elevator commercial.

We used to reply, “We’re professional speakers,” when someone asked us what we do and then think of all the cool things we should have said. Now we say, “We are consumer anthropologists. We study consumers in their natural habitats and share what we find in our keynote and seminar presentations.”

If you’ve ever answered, “I own a store,” you know that feeling.

Commit a 60-second condensed version of your store’s story to memory and have everyone associated with your store, from associates to teachers contracted to do classes, memorize it as well. The best way to build solid brand equity is telling the same story over and over.

Step 3: Create a filter that’s unique to your brand.

Every, single detail — from bags to type fonts — need to properly tell your brand story. If an item or service you are considering is in alignment with your store’s story — and would easily pass through your brand filter — then go ahead and use it.

Final thoughts: You will likely get sick and tired of your brand before it begins to automatically register with your customers. The Marketing Rule of Seven says that a customer must see or hear your message at least seven times before they take action — or remember you. So resist the urge to change your logo, colors or tagline — anything that is considered part of your brand identity. Give it time to stick.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What tips would you have for independent retailers looking to build brand equity? What are some of the most often overlooked steps in the process?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Personalization of independent brands is the key to differentiation from their larger competitors."
"Treat your store as if it is a stage to showcase your production. Make it unique, offer an experience that customers will not forget."
"Consistent execution — including course-correcting when needed — is the key to success."

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14 Comments on "How can indie retailers build lasting brand equity?"

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David Naumann

Personalization of independent brands is the key to differentiation from their larger competitors. Playing off the emotional feeling of consumers — their desire to buy local — and combining it with the unique character and personalized service of the independent store should be the foundation for the elevator pitch that attracts and retains customers. Integrating this message into all branding and marketing communications as well as training for all associates is imperative to strengthen and reinforce the message. It is great to see a local retailer that does this right and it shows in the cult-like consumer following.

Gary Sankary

I would add a laser focus on your value proposition. What about your story and your offer makes you compelling for current and future customers?

Georganne Bender

There are so many details that go into creating a solid brand. Retail is in the details, right? Things like choosing a signature color and font, branded signage on the sales floor, plus carrying the brand experience online and on social media. It’s a big job, that’s why we recommend retailers appoint a Keeper of the Brand, someone whose job it is to make sure everything associated with the store tells the brand story.

You can read this article in full here.

Bob Phibbs

Good tips of course from Rich and Geo. I would take exception to Adrienne Weiss. Many brands are their own country with what is relatable to them. Quirky is fine but I don’t want to have to translate or put up with oddities in your “country” (store). If I go there, I shouldn’t have to speak your language, you should know how to speak mine.

Georganne Bender

Thanks, Bob! I think Adrienne means that each store develops its own customs, as in “That’s just the way we do things around here”; nothing that requires shoppers to assimilate to something they may not understand.

Richard Hernandez

Differentiation and personalization are key to independent retailers separating themselves from the big boys. COVID-19 has spurred support of local retailers and that is a great thing. If they haven’t already done so, indie retailers need to review their brand and value propositions as well as how they can continue to bring customers into their stores (loyalty programs, etc.).

Bindu Gupta

Building an emotional connection with your target audience is key to building your brand equity and loyalty.

Ralph Jacobson

There is so much of this that applies equally to brands of all sizes, not just independents. And not just to retail, either. Think about branding with a 1.) unique, 2.) concise, 3.) consistent, 4.) repeatable drumbeat of a message. My favorite example is still “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Still a great message and culture after more than 40 years.

Chuck Ehredt

This is a pretty easy question. If the product or service is not delivered with a good customer experience or at good value, then the retailer was dead anyway. It was just a matter of time.

If the store concept has legs, then on top of value and experience they must have a purpose (beyond making a profit) that resonates with a large enough customer base to support the business, and they need to be certain that every associate can deliver on the brand promise in a consistent way. For an indie retailer, that means deep specialization and knowledge around what they offer and the context for why this matters to customers.

That is how sufficient loyalty will be built with customers to survive. Fortunately in the context of loyalty, such a retailer is able to deploy emotional mechanics on top of transactional mechanics to build a community of people who are passionate about the brand.

Xavier Lederer
Having a clear purpose, as suggested in the article as the “store’s story,” is definitely important. As a next step, I often recommend being crystal-clear on your core customer. Here are the steps to structure the thought process: Make a list of your top 5 customers – in terms of profitability (in $) as well as in terms of referral business that they generate; What are the common characteristics of these 5 customers? Not just socio-economically, but also emotionally; If need be: do the same exercise for your 5 worst customers. Clarify the difference between your best and worst customers. The next step is to define your brand promise. Start by defining and prioritizing the core customer’s problems that you help solve. Based on this you will define your brand promise — i.e. the key factors that set you apart from competitors and bring customers to you. A good brand promise should be: Competitive (i.e. differentiates you from your competitors); Aligned with customer needs; Actionable and measurable (i.e. not a slogan – you must be… Read more »
Ken Morris

Treat your store as if it is a stage to showcase your production. Make it unique, offer an experience that customers will not forget. Engage them across all channels, understand who they are, who their families are, what is important to them and aim to deliver to their customer journey. Put yourself in their shoes and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t be lured by the Instacart, and Grubhubs of the world who own your customer data, these guys own the customer and you don’t know who they are. Go direct and you won’t be disappointed.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

It all starts with a good plan based on an intimate understanding of the targeted customer and the unique value (product, services, experience) that the retailer offers. Consistent execution — including course-correcting when needed — is the key to success.

Ricardo Belmar

The key is in the execution in-store (and online — it’s 2020 after all)! Consistency in that execution is critical — even the biggest retail brands fail at this and in many ways, indie retailers have an advantage here in that they don’t need to replicate, consistently, across hundreds of stores.

Yes, show off what makes you unique, but also make sure you do it consistently. Pay attention to even the smallest detail because your customers will notice that first and last and at every step of their engagement with you as a brand. And remember, if one of those details fails, that’s what customers will remember first and probably spread it over social media. Again, it’s those execution details that matter the most!

Kai Clarke

My first tip would be to ignore some of these tips. The key to success is not having your employees and yourself chanting your corporate mantra, and showing your corporate logo everywhere, but instead to have your customers chanting your corporate mantra, and logo, as they share their pleasure with their friends, family and neighbors.

Success is built upon the shoulders of your customers, not on your employees. Make a customer happy and s/he will come back to your store multiple times and bring 20 of their friends, family, neighbors and associates with them. To do this requires a happy employee. Make your employees happy, pay them well, give them more than they expect so that they are loyal, and then have them share your excellence with your customers for an excellent customer experience. That is how to build lasting brand equity.

Walmart, Costco, Starbucks, Home Depot, McDonalds, the list of American success stories shows this every day.

"Personalization of independent brands is the key to differentiation from their larger competitors."
"Treat your store as if it is a stage to showcase your production. Make it unique, offer an experience that customers will not forget."
"Consistent execution — including course-correcting when needed — is the key to success."

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