Branding

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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When is it okay to have your most loyal customers arrested?

Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, you have to admit that the Toronto Maple Leafs brand is addictively interesting.  In fact, I can’t think of a single company whose financial success has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of its product.

Ranked by Forbes Magazine as the National Hockey League’s most valuable franchise, we should be able to point to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as a bastion of best practices, innovation and vision.  Instead, we see an organization that has fired at least two V.P.s, two assistant coaches and a head coach in the last six months and is paying at least three players millions of dollars in severance as they play for other teams.  Yet, despite its consistent underperformance as a team, the Leafs manage to pack their arena for every single game and draw Canada’s largest NHL television audience.  Is it mass hypnosis?  Is it a cult?

The latest intriguing bit of brand-building from the Leafs organization is a crack-down on Leaf fans who throw their jerseys onto the ice at the Air Canada Centre.  Not only are the jersey throwers ejected from the game they’re watching, but they’re also banned from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment venues for a specified period and issued a police summons.  So, to sum up, a Toronto Maple Leafs customer spends probably between one and two hundred dollars for a ticket, between one hundred and one hundred and seventy dollars for a Maple Leafs jersey and in a fit of frustration because the team is playing indifferently, throws said jersey onto the ice.

I guess my question to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization is, ‘why would you want to punish a loyal customer who is willing to give you about three hundred dollars and is already cruelly disappointed by the quality of your product?  Hasn’t he suffered enough?  Why would you not take the fan quietly aside and tell him how much you appreciate his continued patronage and abjectly apologize for the performance and attitude of his beloved team?  Why would you not give him his jersey back with the, wink wink, promise that you’ll try to do better in the future and give him a $12 beer on the house?

Someday, the curse on the Leafs will lift and the team will win a Stanley Cup.  Either that, or the blue magic spell will wear off and Leafs customers will stop caring and spend their money somewhere else.  I know which scenario I’m betting on.

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