To retail or not to retail?

That is the question on many a retailers mind right now & understandably so.

But should the retail sector be overcome with doom & gloom. I say no.

Unfortunately, continued soothsaying that retail is in decline, the GFC is about to hit again & the onslaught of online is destroying bricks & mortar, no wonder retailers are asking themselves, is all this really worth it?

The reason retail is suffering, has nothing to do with the above. Why? Because they are the same factors affecting every other sector yet somehow, those sectors are coping. Retailing is stuck in the Dark Ages. Discounting, hard sell advertising, no innovative brands, the BIG retailers are STILL doing what they’ve done for thirty years. Unfortunately the retail landscape has changed, but they havent. And who are the ones screaming the loudest? Don’t listen to them!

My take why retailing isnt flourishing is quite simple.

1. Retailers continue to compete on price only.

When you do, there is only one winner and that is the customer. Compete on price and you may as well close your doors now. But I hear you say “but if I don’t compete on price, my competitor will take my customers” Well, I say, find WHAT your customer wants that your competitor CANNOT offer. It is simple and the quicker retailers realise that discounting doesn’t work the faster retailing will start to flourish. I’ve always said, “someone will always be able to sell it cheaper but rarely can someone sell it better.” That is so true in this day and age, and the smart retailer who is successful, does not rely on pricing to be competitive!

2. Think BIG picture!

Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you cant think BIG. Too many retailers think about sales today, not tomorrow or next month. Their marketing is reactive, short term and this new trend of DIY promotions, fails to communicate who they are and what they offer in a professional and innovative way. Basically it’s boring, unattractive and well, no benefit to the customer. See point One.

Stores and product presentation fail to inspire customers and the entire experience fails to impress and worse still, fails to be enjoyable and memorable. Plan your marketing, create a strategy & promote to grow your business not just sell.

3. Online – Get onboard!

Let’s face it, online is here to stay and if you’re not embracing it, you’re losing out on many of it’s benefits. It’s bricks & mortar’s best tool and utilising it’s true potential can be an asset. See many retailers are not using online well and to be honest are doing it quite badly. It’s the current day tabloid and with many customers (upto 80% researching & making decisions online before purchasing) who are time poor, your online site could be the second store you’ve always wanted yet never thought you could afford! That’s right, understanding how your customer shops could be the difference to a successful online presence or not.

4. Cheaper overseas products.

Deal with it. That’s life. The internet is making the world rather small and a lot closer now. Just like a competitor could set up shop across the street, you can now have a competitor across the Atlantic. Don’t panic. You now have to be innovative and deliver what sets you apart. Build on your own brand, your benefits and your customers will remain loyal no matter the price.

Nothing has really changed, but what is interesting is how retailers are dealing with this new landscape.

I’m seeing a return to smart marketing, retailers building innovative BRANDs and promotions that drive benefit rather than price. Im seeing more emphasis on providing the right atmosphere that YOUR customer expects, and an experience that the customer remembers and is happy to refer on.

You see, the biggest change is that the customer has less time to shop.

The SMART retailer knows this and that doesn’t mean less time to visit an actual store. Quite the opposite. The customer, now short of time, wants a memorable & pleasant experience, efficient use of their time is the key. The right product at the right price is becoming the benchmark. The customer is more savvy now, more knowledgeable and they know what they want at the price they’re willing to pay. That doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest price either.The smart retailer is addressing this!

Retailers need to think smart.

Be competitive but innovative. Gone are the days of 70% off. Youre not offering savings youre saying, until now, you have been OVERcharging! The customer knows this and their loyalty is shifting. Fair & realistic pricing is the way forward. No longer can Australia claim distance and isolation as an excuse for higher pricing. No longer can Australia charge for higher labour costs when the product is imported. No longer can the Australian retailer claim, high margins. The customer knows what a fair margin is, and that is why, competing on price only is not only detrimental to your business, it’s suicidal for the industry as a whole.

There are many successful retailers out there and when you investigate them, none of them compete on price only.

They offer the total experience. They know what their brand values are, who their customer is and most importantly, know what their customers wants. Then they simply offer this.

How they promote this, is what sets them apart.

Where to now?…rebuilding trust in your Brand

costa concordia

Rebuilding trust in your Brand

If you were the owners of the Costa Concordia, what would you be thinking right now. The news of the Costa Concordia sinking off the Italian coast has gone world wide and with the help of Social Media, opinions are running high. With that, is the evergrowing perception of what Costa Concordia means as a brand. No thanks to the bumbling Captain, Francesco Schettino, his comments or rather excuses, must have the owners pulling out their hair.

I’m not talking about responsibility, blame or why the Concordia sunk, I’m talking more about their Brand. How will they ever bounce back and rebuild their Brand that is solely built upon one of TRUST and CREDIBILITY. At the moment, I would say the Brand of the Costa Concordia, has sunk lower than the ship itself.

Here are the scenarios facing the owner:-

1. Until now, I had never heard of the Costa Concordia. As someone who has often discussed going on a cruise, I would have to admit, I’m putting a line through ever sailing with them.

You may ask, but it’s a one-off situation; the Captain is to blame; nothing to do with the owners. Unfortunately, my perception is that they (the owners) have employed a dangerous captain and that one-off, explain that to the passengers & victims families, who would probably tell you, it’s one time, too many.

2. The owners now have a Captain, hellbent on saving his own backside infront of the Italian Judiciary system, so he will say whatever he can (probably at the advice of his own legal team) that could potentially remove him from being responsible for the sinking.

The owners, unless they can silence the Captain, will have to endure the embarrassment of the ridiculous statements, Schettino is prepared to publicly declare.

3. If the owners attempt to silence Schettino, it could be viewed as an attempt by the owners to hide the facts.

4. They can’t commence the blame game until Schettino is found guilty or acquitted. That may take months, even years before an outcome is reached. Any attempt to accuse Schettino now, may see the owners in breach of defirmation.

5. Any marketing now, will simply be a waste of resources and money. While the incident is still fresh in the minds of everyone, and now with the rising death toll, any attempt to market the benefits of sailing with the company, could be seen as insensitive and money driven.

The Brand is sinking along with the Costa Concordia. Perception, whether founded or not, has already been instilled amongst thousands if not millions of potential customers.

How do you rebuild the Brand? Is it possible to rebuild the TRUST amongst it’s customers?

They always say, ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of marketing. There are now approximately 4200 passengers, who won’t be singing the praises of the company’s safety processes. Even if those passengers tell another 10 people each, that’s now 42,000 people who may tell another ten, that will be 420,000 and so on and so on. But that is chicken feed in comparison to the reach of Social Media and the internet.

The nightmare that is the Costa Concordia, will continue for many and as a Branding exercise, I will be watching closely, how they attempt to rebuild it, if they ever possibly can.

My thoughts go out to those who will never leave the Costa Concordia. RIP.

What’s your brand?

Oh yes, that phenomenon we call a BRAND.

We hear a lot about ‘Brands’. Why we need one, why they’re important, why every business must have a Brand. Well, I’m here to tell you that, infact, your Brand is the single, most important marketing tool you should have! Here’s why.

Everyone has a Brand and everyone can have a great Brand. But it does take time, even years to nuture and perfect.

The easiest way to explain the importance of a Brand and it’s effect, is to think about how we, ourselves are perceived by others, say our friends. Sometimes this perception is correct, other times we feel that they’ve got it totally wrong. It causes us dismay, it can hurt our feelings what people think. You end up concerned that your friends may not know the real you and hence, have a rather distorted view of who you are.

Unfortunately ‘perception is reality’ and that perception will cause them to think and behave a certain way.

Well, what does this have to do with your business? Everything.

Consider that your customers are your friends. How they perceive your Brand will dictate if they:-
1. LIKE you
2. TRUST you and
3. BUY from you.

See, having a well perceived Brand is VERY important in business, if you want to attract and retain customers.

So, how do we start a Brand?

1. Work out WHO you are.

You need to know WHO you are, your VALUES, your strengths and attributes. Your Brand will highlight these. For example, honesty, trustworthiness, fun, professional, quality, service driven, helpful, friendly, creditable, knowledgeable, abrupt, cranky, dishonest, shonky etc

2. Memorable

Create a brand that your customers will remember you by. That is, you may be remembered by being fun, friendly, smiling, happy to serve, that you go out of your way to look your customers.

Your store may always be pleasant, clean with innovative promotions and always well stocked.

It may be simply that you offer the best convenience, simple to purchase, quick turnaround during the sales process

It could also be that you are simply trustowrthy, honest, reliable and very creditable with your product knowledge

All these attributes and benefits are the building blocks of your Brand.

3. Recognisable

Your Brand should be easily recognised by everyone. Your marketing should communicate your Brand to your customers. When someone sees your Brand, they should immediately know your values and those values, should in return create the correct perception.

4. Consistency

Be consistent. In everything you do in regards to your Brand. How you live your brand, communicate, display it, promote and provide it! Consistency is the key to growing and creating a great Brand.

When promoting your Brand, highlight your strengths, what sets you apart from your competitors. These will be the very values that sets your Brand apart from others. These should also be the benefits you promote to your customers. Don’t promote just product and price.

5. Protect it

I’ve said it a thousand times before, whatever you do in business, protect your Brand. Nurture and take care of it. A lack lustre Brand, left unattended, is potentially the greatest factor in destroying customer trust and loyalty. This will result in the wrong perceptions being formulated by your customers. This alone, could be disastrous to your business.

Notice, I didn’t mention price anywhere. Price is way down the list when it comes to consumer purchasing decisions. First they have to like you and trust you.

So, what are you waiting for, start building that great Brand today!

5 must do steps for any retailer in 2012

It’s been a crazy, first week back at work, and it got me thinking.

What am I going to do differently in 2012 that I learnt from 2011?

That thought was met by a retailer who rung me and happened to ask me the same question. This time, I said “Well what do you plan to do differently?” Her silence told me, she hadn’t really given it much thought.

So, here’s what I think every businessowner, needs to consider in 2012.

1. Review, assess and plan ahead.

How many businesses have actually sat down and thought about what worked and didn’t work last year? I know I have. What were the things that worked well for you and what were those that we’d rather forget? Can you list them? Once you have, create a plan and implement the good factors into it.

2. Ask your customers.

Honestly, who has asked their customers about what you did well last year and those things, well, your customer would rather forget. This is the cheapest research you will possibly embark on and what better way, than right from the horse’s mouth, to find out exactly what your customers think and want!

Could it be any easier!

3. Business Check-up.

That’s right, when did you last service your business. You know, give it a ‘quick look under the bonnet?” What I find is, that many businessowners are so busy ‘checking’ out everyone else’s business, they forget to take a look at their own. What’s it needing? what parts have worn out? You see having a business check-up can sometimes highlight, where your business maybe failing. Appearance, stock, service, promotions, pricing etc… the list goes on and on, so maybe now is a great time to simply sit back and have a little look at it.

4. Tell everyone.

By this I mean, promotion. Yes, I know, the economy is tough and your accountant is suggesting that your marketing/advertising etc needs to be cut back (wish I had a dollar for everytime I heard that) Well think of it this way. If everyone is cutting back, where are your customers going to be attracted to shop? Now is the time to shout out who you are and what you have to offer. Your customers are looking to buy. So, get yourself on their shopping list. There is a myriad of ways to promote your business from general advertising, online to the ever popular Social Media platforms and all are not expensive. Some methods are even free! Yes, free!

So, find out WHO your customer is, WHAT they want and WHERE they are…then tell them where to find you!

5. Protect your BRAND.

No matter what, protect your Brand. It is the one thing that sets you apart from your competitor. Not price, not product, but how you are perceived! Purchasing is all about trust. Whether online or instore, customers buy because they trust YOU and more importantly because they like you. It’s rarely about the product. Let’s face it, you can buy most products here, there and everywhere, but they can only experience YOU, at one destination. Isn’t that right!

So, that’s what I took from all servicing many of my clients in 2011. Putting these 5 steps into your business plan should see you having a better 2012. Let’s face it, if you didn’t do it last year, this year can only be better!

Branding in the first 100 days of a start up business.

Last week I was asked to give my thoughts on Branding. Here’s the article.

brief but the article is an interesting one.

Would you risk your last $6 for everything?

A big thankyou to David Wilson who wrote this article. I was so glad to be a part of it because it’s a topic, that I am very passionate about and that is, of NEVER EVER giving up.

You see, as the article expresses, business life hasn’t been and is rarely easy. That’s what sets businessowners apart. The successful ones keep bouncing back. And that is a trait, if you don’t have, you need to acquire it.

I often get asked “How do I do it all?”

They’re referring to my hectic and busy life. Not only do I run which I started from scratch, but I also compete in my beloved sport of showjumping. Combined with that, I recently discovered the joys of road cycling. Initially to remove the extra winter kilos, but of late, am enjoying the world of racing. Having such sports take up valuable time to train and stay fit so how do I do it?

I plan. I organise my days and weeks to fit everything in. If i need more time, I get up early or work late. Always remembering to allocate time for my family.

That’s where many businessowners get it wrong. You have to look after your business! It comes first! You need to nurture it. Not what it provides.

Oh, and I’m not suggesting your family arent a priority,

It’s all about balance but more importantly, when you have passionate hobbies, you have to be great at bouncing back from disappointment and/or simply being unable to participate.

And that is the same with business. Not being able to play in the market you want, not participating where the opportunities are, losing business, gaining clients, bad months and great months…it’s no different but whatever the situation you have to bounce back.

I can count numerous times, too many actually,where I felt the rug was pulled out from under me. Most times, through no fault of my own. I questioned being in business, I questioned people’s ethics but there has always been one common denominator, I never ever gave up.

If you don’t give up, you will look for new opportunities and often they are right there in front of you. You rarely question WHY but you WILL ask yourself HOW can you MAKE it happen.

The article tells a part of my life where I went from total happiness to despair in weeks…What would you have done? Would you have taken a risk on your last $6?

GASP, you’ve left me gasping!

I’ve woken up to an inbox of emails & facebook comments from friends and associates asking me what I think of yesterdays’ viral instore incident at GASP.

All I can say is, GASP you have left me gasping.

If it was a publicity stunt, in my humble opinion it flopped. If it was indeed an actual occurrence, once again your customer service has flopped. People are actually suggesting, that as a PR exercise, it’s worked. “We’re all talking about the store and that is a good thing.”

Ask yourself one question. Will you now go buy from that store? Not just visit, will you feel compelled to actually go there to make a purchase?

Well I say most won’t and that’s why it’s bad publicity. Just having your name mentioned publicly, or appearing virally across millions of computer screens doesn’t mean it’s been a good exercise. That brand has taken a serious battering for one reason only. We’re all talking about it but I doubt we will see an increase in sales as a result of it. I doubt very much as a result of it, that this morning they are growing a new band of loyal customers and if store traffic increases, it will only be to catch a glimpse of the salesperson involved.

If that’s the way, modern retailers think is a great way to increase store traffic, I’ll continue to gasp!

Publicity stunts drawing attention to a brand is a good thing. Stunts that draw publicity to a damaged brand only consolidate the fact, in the consumers’ mind, it’s a brand not worth being associated with. If you think it is, I would suggest you have a very twisted opinion of how people should be treated.

No trust means no loyalty means no sales. Sustainable? No.

If this was a publicity stunt, someone needs to be asking some tough questions, who and why, approved such an event.

The only more ridiculous outcome would be, that the salesperson involved, is signed up for their own talkback show. Now that wouldn’t surprise me!

Why a great BRAND packs a bigger punch than a great price

brand delivers a bigger punch

What’s more important, a great brand or a great price?

Let me suggest to you that a great brand delivers a bigger punch for your business. Here’s why.

As a business owner you’re looking for sustainability and a long term business life. One that will continue to grow, be profitable and successful for you. That is why spending time and effort to create and deliver a great brand is so important.

You see, customers buy on trust and an enjoyable experience. Full stop. Despite what you may hear, the number one factor in determining what & where consumers purchase, is how they feel when they purchase your product. Price was dismally down the list.

Great brands, influence how a customer feels about you and not how they feel about the product itself. If they trust you & like you, they will purchase from you. Not just today but they will return, time and time again. That’s sustainability. That’s a loyal customer. Successful businesses are those with a loyal customer base.

Check out this diagram of how brands influence consumers.

Simply offer a great price and you may sell a product today, but what about tomorrow? If you simply offer price, you’re open for comparison and unfortunately, someone else will always be able to sell it cheaper, rarely can someone do what you do, better!

The more you discount, the cheaper the price, the lower the margin, less profit and that is not sounding like a sustainable or worse, a successful business, at all. Don’t discount. Consumers lose trust in you and you have now created an expectation that someday, if not today, you will discount that product. They will simply wait and never consider buying from you at your retail price, ever again.

Your brand directly influences whether or not you make that sale!

Simply look at the large retailers. They’re on sale all year round. My hit prediction is, Christmas will continue to decline in sales, as the January Sales will become the new trend to buy presents for the christmas prior.

So, build a great brand. Offering great service & a memorable shopping experience that sets you apart from your competitor. Be innovative, fresh and exciting. This includes whether you own a store or are online. (hopefully you are taking advantage of being on both) These tips can be applied to both mediums. What is your point of difference? That is your brand.

Consumers are looking for value and a memorable shopping experience, so why do retailers continue to offer discounted pricing?

If you can’t think of a point of difference, why should anyone buy from you other than price? Will you be successful competing in the cut throat world of discounting? No, the only winners are the consumers!

A great brand creates loyalty, repeat business, word of mouth and sustainability. And that is the making of a successful business.

A Brand does the selling, not the price!

Ever wondered whilst walking through a shopping centre, you’re suddenly attracted to a window display & without hesitation catapulted inside. Amidst a sea of product & smiling salespeople & before long you find yourself leaving, having made a new found friend, and a purchase, that infact, you didn’t intend to buy. Before you know it, you have phoned several friends to gloat about your shopping prowesss yet by the time you get home, you can hardly recall the store’s name?

It’s this very reason, it is important to understand, that having a brand is much more than a pretty logo. It’s the very fact that a Brand must deliver a perception & memorable shopping experience.

Confused? Most businesses equate having a brand as the visual components of their marketing ie a logo & colours. Fortunately, to have a great brand, you need more.

Take for example our scene above.

How many times can you recall the name of a store, yet accurately pin-point it’s location in relation to another well known established store?

“It was located near the escalator next to store X (insert well known store name)

Can you recall, the actual colours of the store rather, can you describe what you experienced?

“It was a beautiful store with the most amazing helpful staff”

And finally, do you actually describe the product or justify your expectations.

“It was very pricey but I saved a fortune by shopping there”

The fact is when talking about a business, we talk about how our expectations were met and that perception is Your Brand.

How you deliver that brand is what creates memorable experiences and builds loyal customers.

Brands take years to build yet a single moment to destroy. So when deciding on what your brand is going to be, you need to ask yourself one simple question.

“What do I want my customer to feel when they shop with me?”

It’s that simple. And to complicate it, will only complicate your brand and the process in which you try and create it.

Let’s create two very different scenarios: Ask yourself.

Do I want my customer not to think. Simply find the product they want, pay, and walk away satisfied?

Or, do I want the customer to spend time in my business, feel relaxed, enjoy a great shopping experience, adoring my product, pay and walk away feeling over the moon ready to tell the world?

These are two very different scenarios and already you should be able to list brands that fall into the two categories.

This is why, most retail department stores at the lower end of the price scale are rather bland in appearance, product intense, lack customer interaction, price driven and the shopping experience is quick & efficient. They require high turnover for success. Product displays are basic. They don’t want you to think – Pick. Purchase. Leave.

In comparison to those stores at the higher end of the price scale, who want you to feel that the price is justified, want to value add through time, decision making, salesmanship & the shopping experience. The product is beautifully displayed, the stores reflect the customer whether ambient relaxing atmospheres or young & loud to suit.

This definitely does not say one is better than the other, but both brands reflect the customers perception.
Your business must reflect your customers expectation.