John Paulo Cardoso

About John Paulo Cardoso

John Paulo believes that true design thinking brings meaning to the mass of needs, wants, ideas and perceptions, creating brand. ...

Posts by John Paulo Cardoso:

Building a customer-centric brand for community retail

When I started Spyder Works almost 25 years ago, I was in the making promises business.  The firm created design, marketing strategy, advertising and promotion in support of clients’ brands.  Back then, I considered my job well done if I could attract legions of new customers into their stores.  After all, that’s what the ‘making promises’ business is all about in retail.  Attracting well-qualified traffic. The idea was that compelling advertising and promotions along with great store design and signage would delight our clients’ customers and build their brands.

As my relationship with retailers grew, I had the opportunity to travel from community to community and store to store.  What I quickly realized was that some stores have an important social role beyond just places to shop.  These stores are also like informal community centres where you run into friends and acquaintances, where you can chat and catch up, where you can make plans and stay in touch.

During my travels, and particularly during store visits across Canada, I saw first hand how powerful a sense of belonging can be.  Building and nurturing inclusive communities is one of the things we do best in Canada, which is really a vast connected landscape of tight-knit neighbourhoods.  Main street communities in Canada have many faces and are as diverse and unique as their urban counterparts. When main street communities succeed, the nation succeeds.

Community stores not only offer a welcome sense of belonging, they are also good for  business. 

After all, the longer people linger in a store, the greater the chance that they will buy more.  A welcoming store also increases the probability that your customers will return and develop a loyalty to your store and a stronger relationship with your brand.

I realized that all of the branding work you do, no matter how clever, won’t keep a customer coming back if the experience in-store doesn’t reflect the customer’s expectations on all levels of experience.  To properly serve our retail clients, Spyder Works also needed to be in the ‘promise keeping’ business.

How do you build a brand around the culture of ‘promise keeping’?

Businesses have to take it upon themselves to foster a sense of close-knit belonging in any environment whether it’s in a big city or a small town.  They need to evoke the sentiment of old-fashioned “Main Street” culture.  Retailers, marketers and agencies have the same goal when it comes to connecting with consumers, simply, to build a passionate community of customers that engage regularly with a brand.

The success of your customer relationships depends largely on how well you are able to engage your community.

Community stakeholders’ participation can help you shape your business to ensure you are responding to local preferences.  In community retail, the members in your community are not looking for just a cheque to support local causes, events or sponsorship – the community is looking for your participation, engagement and involvement.  How committed are you to where your customers live and work?  Ideally, you should be involved with your community from an early stage engagement; this will help you to form lasting relationships with community members to ensure a sense of belonging in a neighbourhood that everyone can be proud of.

In contrast, in all retail, where your front line people are face-to-face brand ambassadors, employee turnover can leave your brand perilously exposed.   Without a solid foundation, your brand is at risk of not keeping the promise that it communicates to everyone.  That’s why, at Spyder Works, we feel that it’s important to look at branding from both sides of the coin, outward and inward facing.  This insight has lead us to design learning programs and workshops to extend your brand to the in-store experience, embracing your corporate values and your mission with the people responsible for keeping your brand promise with your customers… your front line team members.

Retailers need to complete the branding circle to survive in the economy of relationship building. 

At Spyder Works with our retail clients, we have created ambitious brand strategies that more accurately capture the essence of brand by embracing community and engaging customers.  In this hyper connected world we are supporting our clients on the front lines of their stores, we can boldly claim that we’re no longer a half-branding company.

The secret to building a customer-centric brand for community retail is like maintaining a long lasting relationship with your close friends. Keep your relationship transparent and genuine.  Show up, stay in the moment, stay in touch, encourage and support them as they grow with you.

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Creating Lasting Relationships is the Key to Brand Success

Successful branding is all about creating strong and lasting relationships.  In a volatile industry like retail where the ground can move every day, effective branding is critical.  The quality of the customer relationship must be the one constant.  Creating relationships is what drives sales; and ultimately, a retailer’s fate.  We saw what happened when Target entered Canada – it didn’t have existing relationships in Canada and it failed to build positive new relationships with customers, which quickly lead to the company’s Canadian demise.

The Canadian retail market is unique, competitive, and constantly evolving.  In order to succeed, retailers entering Canada must know how to shape their products and services to fit the Canadian market; and most importantly, they must know how to build and maintain strong relationships with their Canadian customers.

Adding to the already competitive Canadian retail market is the fact that buying patterns are significantly changing.  One of the biggest trends impacting the retail industry is the drastic rise and popularity of e-commerce, which has resulted in many consumers steering away from in-store purchases.  This makes it even harder to meet and engage customers on any kind of a relationship level… transactional level yes, but not any deeper than that.

According to a recent article written by Walter Loeb in Forbes’ magazine, he cautions that in order for retailers to survive in 2016, they must restructure their organizations: “a new industry culture needs to emerge; one that empowers associates by creating a team spirit that will be rewarding for customers, employees, and management.”  The question is: are retailers in Canada ready to restructure and change their culture? And, will new retailers entering Canada have a structure adaptive enough to satisfy and sway Canadian consumers?

Just recently, Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo announced that it will soon be opening two flagship stores in Toronto in the fall (one at the Eaton Centre and the other at Yorkdale Shopping Centre) with plans to expand the brand to Vancouver and other Canadian cities.  The international retailer sells fashionable and affordable clothing and accessories for all genders and ages, free of logos.

With a global presence that spans 1,500 stores in Asia, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., it will be interesting to see how Uniqlo fares in Canada.  How will it create positive and enduring relationships with Canadian consumers?

Uniqlo’s CEO, Larry Meyer, believes the brand will be successful where Target was not since they it is a vastly different retailer entering the market on a much smaller scale.  Meyer says that his past has shown that Canadians are “open people and very willing to welcome new brands.”  He believes Uniqlo has unique products and that the company is not just another mass merchandiser of branded goods: “our products are our brand,” he states.

Meyer is correct in that Canadians are very open and willing to welcome new brands.  There have been several international retail brands that have made the successful and effective transition to the Canadian market.  But this notion should be treated with caution, as this is exactly what Target was thinking when it decided to enter Canada.  There was so much hype and excitement for Target’s Canadian arrival, but the retailer failed to live up to expectations and build positive relationships with Canadian customers.  It’s one thing to have a strong brand identity (like Target), but it’s absolutely critical to satisfy consumers and build strong relationships with them.  The best way to do this is by understanding consumers’ unmet needs and addressing them effectively – whether they come in the form of prices, the shopping experience, merchandise, or unique product offerings.

The Uniqlo brand may well be a great addition to the Canadian retail market, but its long-term success will depend on the brand’s ability to create, grow and sustain positive relationships with its Canadian customers.

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Your brand should add something to consumers’ lives

The Canadian Business Top 25 Best Brands in Canada list for 2016 says to me that it takes more than size and huge resources to win loyal customers.  I admit to being surprised and heartened that brands like Imax, Saputo, Lululemon, Cirque de Soleil and Mountain Equipment Co-op have earned recognition.  Movies, cheese, yoga, mountain climbing and the circus… all of them friendly lifestyle brands.

It made me ask myself, ‘What do good brands and good friends have in common?’  They are both honest with you.  You can count on both of them to be consistent.    They’re available when you need them.  They make you believe that you matter.  And maybe most significant of all: spending time with them leaves you feeling better for the experience.  They add something to your life.

We know, as consumers, that our bank, our gas station, our grocery store and our internet provider are not our friends.  They are businesses who are beholden to their investors.  But we do have relationships with them and they can strengthen those relationships with us by modelling their ‘behaviour’ on the same qualities we look for in our friends.

As you develop or re-invent your corporate brand, you will be well served by surrounding your customer transactions with honest, reliable, supportive experiences for them.  If your customers can count on your brand and trust your brand, the chances are much increased that they will come back and also tell their friends.  In the end, a brand relationship is a people relationship forged between your people and your customers.  The rules of engagement aren’t really that much different than friendships.

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