Why Retailers Should Never Forget Common Sense Principles

12 03-2018
Why Retailers Should Never Forget Common Sense Principles

Retail columnist Winston Wright discusses the power of common sense principles in brick-and-mortar success

This week – mostly RANT, because there’s a point to be made about basic thoughtfulness. I plan to mostly RAVE in my next column about what I think will be the excitement and innovations that come out of the 2 big retain confabs in Vegas and Chicago respectively over upcoming weeks.

About 90% of the time, my fastidious father (a Senior Marketing Executive for Delta Airlines in the first round of Glory Days) would let me, even watch me, fail (if not actively encourage and be a conscious participant to it) about 90% completely. The ever so slight 10% cushion would be there where a rescue might be the only recourse to the possibility of my imminent, self-inflicted, serious, permanent physical or mental harm. After witnessing or orchestrating the epic screw-up, he would vice my head in the crook of his left arm then, knot his fist, and with the knuckle of his right middle finger knock on my head like an angry judge’s gavel. And, with a drill sergeant’s tone through tight lips and clinched teeth rhythmically and cadenced with the knuckle, he would thunder, “use your (expletive) noggin, boy.”

A good life lesson for a youngster, but hopefully, with age comes intelligence, emotional and practical. Today’s Experiential Marketers don’t have the comfort of trusting that in case of an even near fatal mistake, the parachute of Daddy’s love will open to save their asses.

As a retailer – better yet, a retail marketer – if you haven’t realized yet that consumer experiences are the only thing that are going save your store, or that bringing your dot com into physical reality is the best way to message your Brand and build your business, then you’re not using your (expletive) noggin.

You’re asleep at the stick.
of an F-15.
at 5,000’ and more than twice the speed of sound.
in the Rockies.
during a blizzard.

You’re dead already.

And, if you’ve asked your family to cremate your body, they won’t have to. At the speed, you were traveling when you slammed into Mount Massive, you and your jet disintegrated on impact. I can see the smoke and smell the burn from my suite at The Crawford.

Wake up and drink the coffee. Get in the plane and fly it with intelligence and strategy and thought – not with reckless abandon. Don’t buzz the tower, Maverick.
Plan your attack and execute it with precision.
And, as you plan and strategize & synchronize and conceive & create and describe & deliver an experience that is going to make or save your Brand, use your (expletive) noggin.

For those of you wide awake and trying to fly that fighter jet, you may want to well consider your preflight checklist.

We’re all very aware of the loyalty meets emotional connection axiom. We know that emotion is a very human quality. We see it other mammals, but emotion drives human behavior more than anything else (Read Douglas Van Praet, Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing).

And, since emotional connection is the most important thing to Brand loyalty, retailers need to start with the basics – the ambient service experience between the bricks.

In a 2016 Stella Services report, the reasons people hate to shop are:
-Waiting – for anything
-Dealing with things that that don’t work properly
-Being in an annoying environment
-Having no place to pause, particularly to sit down
-Feeling their business is not appreciated

The very basic-of-basic experiences is human-to-human, face-to-face, eye-to-eye exchanges. One of the reasons the airline industry is under such scrutiny right now is because the 1:1 experience from the instant you get out of your Uber at T-4 and gingerly yet nervously slide out of the back seat onto the hallowed ground of an Airport Authority property line is akin to what it must feel like for an innocent-but-proven-guilty convict getting off the caged bus. and looking at the chain link veranda that leads to what the next 12-15 years of his life will look like -that feeling when your stomach hits the ground, all of your blood seems evaporate. And you look for something of a place for a soft landing. That punch in the gut is far too familiar to PEOPLE going to brick-and-mortar retail.

Use your (expletive) noggin and fix it:
1. Staff abundantly and sensitively.
2. Make sure the demo product and the shopping carts and the escalator are working BEFORE you unlock the door.
3. Craft the tone, look and feel of the space innovatively ON STRATEGY (Admittedly, this could be the tough.) *
4. See #3 (above)*
5. A part of every dollar spent contributes to someone’s mortgage, rent, food supply, clothes for their kids, a college tuition account, saving up for a special gift for a special person or maybe even retirement. The LEAST you can do is simply say “thank you,” and mean it when you hand over the bag.

I’m in my local FOODS MARKET – the one that has presence around the WHOLE country – often. In a recent visit, I had about a dozen items to buy and dutifully stood in the ‘regular’ line (rather than the 10 items or less Express line.) I waited for several minutes to be finally summoned to register X. I unloaded my items from my basket out on the counter and they were methodically scanned. When everything was collected and bagged, I did the ‘insert chip’ exercise, handed my receipt and I was on my way home.

The cashier hasn’t looked at me yet. She hasn’t said “hello” to me yet. She hasn’t thanked me for shopping there. She hasn’t said ‘enjoy your evening.” What she’s ‘said’ to me is [sic] “You’re really a pain in my neck. I’m just here to ring you up and get my pay check. On behalf of the company that employees me, you’re only somebody who’s mechanically concluding a transaction. You’re really NOTHING TO ME.”

If you haven’t realized that PEOPLE evoke EMOTION evokes LOYALTY, you’re asleep in that cockpit, still…again…you’re airborne, and it’s too late.

*#3 & 4 (above)
Strategizing & synchronizing and conceiving & creating and describing and delivering Experiences.

Use your (explicative) noggin.

What if, for example, the largest toy retailer in the world listened to their inner little Geoffrey’s and were the very kind of kids their advertising started out with? It looks like they’re shuttering the bottom third or bottom quarter of their underperforming stores. Why can’t they now consider testing a toy experience that works off of the magic they created at Times Square and put a little bit of that that into the market? it doesn’t have to be a Ferris wheel, but why can’t it be Lego stores-in-stores? Why can’t they have drone race tournaments in the parking lot? Why are they not the kid’s birthday celebration capital of the world? About 3.9 million babies will be born in the US this year. That means every single day next year, there will be 10,700 NEW birthdays to celebrate.

Why can’t Santa sit resplendently in every one of their locations, write down what was just spoken in his lap, slip the list to a parent while the pictures are being taken?
Boom. Done. Check.

I’ve never seen a grocery store merchandised by meal.
Aisle 1 – Breakfast
Aisle 2 – Lunch
Aisle 3 – Dinner
Aisle 4 – Late night
Or, merchandise the walls by meal and commoditize the aisles. Why are (canned) black beans in the “ethnic or regional foods” aisle and the baked beans in the canned foods aisle? I get cross merchandising. I get suggestive selling. I get impulse buying. But if there’s a can opener hanging on one of those annoying gondola bridging plastic strips between the white bread and the 7 grain, it’s nothing but in the way. Use your (expletive) noggin and get the basics right, create a friction free food buying experience, and then you can talk about app based coupons, every hour on the hour cooking demonstrations, and custom meal prep and delivery for your 18 guests Saturday night.

The three major drug store chains in the US self-define or self-identify as “Pharmacy” or “Health & Wellness” retailers. I’ve been waiting for years for a GMM or CMO from one of these to rationally explain how they even consider a blow dryer, a lipstick or printer ink cartridges as strategic imperatives to the Pharmacy or Health and Wellness category. Why can’t a desperate parent have the choice of every acne soap known to man to help a struggling teen? (THAT’s wellness on more than one level.) Because there’s no room on the shelf…there would be no place to put the aluminum foil.
And to point #1 (above) – how long can it possibly take for somebody to come unlock the case where the razor blades are kept?

Remember your Einstein, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

And, your Bonaparte, “Imagination governs the world.”

The logic – the use of your (expletive) noggin – should be clear by now. But before you run off and create a brilliant retail Brand experience, use your (explicative) noggin.
Don’t be selfishly self-serving. Remember that your brand is what’s being perceived, not necessarily what your Creative Director is cranking out and showing in work review every week. Just because you’ve massaged the numbers so that they meet your KPI’s doesn’t mean it will advance your brand. General awareness and great affection are two different things. Make your experience unique, rich and memorable…not to mention loyalty-sticky. You’ve got to be imaginative in a way that’s true to your message and mission in the hearts and minds of your existing and wanna be customers.

Exemplary Examples:
Last year Dyson (Dyson, Ltd.) (whose tag line should be something like, “Dazzling Design that sucks and blows), opened an Experience Store on Oxford Street right next door to a tiny Tesla showroom, which is brilliant in and of itself. One is planned to open on 5th Avenue in Manhattan very soon. You want a pure, perfect precise Brand Experience…go there. What they DIDN’T do was to install a dry bar in the back or near the beautiful, simple hexahedron dedicated to the blow dryers. Why? Because Dyson isn’t in the haircutting business; they’re in the “things that circulate air” business. They’ve honored their Brand by keeping the experience consistent, purposeful, meaningful and honest. At the opening of the UK location, CEO Max Conze told the UK’s Telegraph, “Our products have to be so good that if you try it, you intuitively understand it,” and, they seem to have managed to extend that experience into the Big Boxes of the world with reasonable success.

If you were around New York in the late 2000’s, you may have been amongst the fortunate enough to relieve yourself at the Charmin Experience Center in Times Square. It was brilliant.
Now, I suggest not that you duplicate it – “Pharmacy & Wellness Stores”- but be inspired by what it was and more importantly DID.

And if you’re still unsure, I have 3 words for you: Dis. Ney. Land. Again, a hyperbolic example, but use you’re (expletive) noggin, and look at the purity of the experience. What on earth is a better brand experience than meeting Mickey Mouse on Main Street USA? Do THAT for your Brand in its own genuine way.

Now that you’re hopefully wide awake and in control of your F-15…break the sound barrier. Execute a High-G Barrel Roll. Do Pugachev’s Cobra right in the middle of the dogfight, and keep the canopy windows clean. Push that envelope with pure intent.

My father will not rest in peace. He continues to knuckle my (expletive) noggin from where ever it is that HE is.
I savor the headache.

Winston Wright is a brand consultant in New York City. He has a professional passion for branding and brand communications, particularly how brands show themselves directly to the consumer. With a depth of experience in retail, having worked for Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, over the past 20 years he has worked on “bringing brands to life” globally for Apple, Nokia and Jawbone. Most recently, he was on the Brand Consumer Marketing team at AOL.

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