relationship marketing

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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What’s better than a great communication strategy? Conversation.

Originally published as a Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Mar. 13 2013

Fluevog-porter-shoe-1The other day, I was walking out of the office of an industrial manufacturer and one of its executives looked at my new briefcase and said, “Oh cool, you’re a Fluevog guy”.

That comment really made me think about the dynamic relationships that we form with companies and their brands today. It reinforced how certain, well-developed brands define you as a person to those around you. And, most importantly, it reinforced the fact that this status can and has been achieved by companies – big and small – like Apple, Zipcar or Fluevog.

As an advocate of branding and innovation, and a business practitioner, I try to maintain a measure of brand objectivity. But, for a minute, I’m going to put the shoe on the other foot, literally. I’m going to be the actual zealous consumer and use Fluevog Footwear as an example of a company that has progressively won my appreciation and affinity with innovative branding and wonderful products. (Full disclosure: they have never been a client of mine. I am simply a fan of the brand).

Founded in 1970 in Vancouver as a single, vintage shoe store, Fluevog now has 14 locations across North America and an amazing website where one can find this tongue in cheek corporate philosophy, ‘Moses used tablets, Picasso used paints, God used Moses, Alex G Bell used the telephone and John Fluevog uses shoes. Great minds of the past have used a variety of mediums to communicate their messages – since the beginning of time (or at least John) John has even been using the soles and foot socks of his shoes to communicate with the world.’ Compare this statement of purpose to the mission statements of most companies, and it’s evident that Fluevog has a pretty eclectic audience in mind.

Other than great shoes and briefcases, what compels me about Fluevog is its ability to connect on a whimsical and functional level with its customers. It has replaced a one-way communication strategy with what I’m going to call an open, two-way ‘Conversation Strategy.’ Today, a communication strategy can incorporate online dialogue tools. However, too many of us have simply carried forward the old “tell our story” approach to these new media, and that isn’t good enough.

Just being present on social media platforms isn’t enough to generate buzz and revenues. What Fluevog has managed to do is to use social media to seek out and attract kindred spirits to the brand. In addition to Fluemarket, a site where consumers can buy, sell or swap, Fluevog shoes, the company reaches out to potential designers through Open Source Footwear, where the best ideas are actually made into shoes and the designer given credit.

As a consumer, what distinguishes Fluevog from most companies for me is its passion for making its customers part of the journey. It engages rather than informs. It opens a dialogue instead of a monologue. And perhaps most crucial to Fluevog’s success… it lets its customers participate in and celebrate the creative process. So, not only do I own Fluevog products, I have also taken ownership of the company’s philosophy of making me a part of the conversion.

We may not all be as eclectic as Fluevog or as artistic. We may be a business-to-business manufacturer of industrial widgets versus purveyors of fashion-forward footwear and accessories. But, we all have a unique story to share. Not just about what we make or what we do, but how our business and our philosophies can enrich and engage our customers or our community. Creating a real conversation means connecting in a meaningful way. Not just about our products or the new innovative introductions that our company is bringing to market. That’s just a two dimensional conversation. What can make it 3D is by talking about the things beyond business that inspire us, like articles or books or trends or community events that help us to be better and more relevant people, leaders and managers. Fluevog inspired me by its approach to life in general, not just its shoes. It treats me like a sentient human, not just a paying customer.

Part of the conversion from communication to conversation is the ability to listen. Without the listening part, you can’t expect to know your audience and what inspires it. The days of speaking to our customers have been replaced by speaking with them. Conversation is the new cash. And in today’s era of social business creating an ongoing, engaging conversation is king. I’d like to invite you to be a part of the conversation by letting me know which organization has found a kindred spirit in you. How did the company engage, delight, involve and engage you in its mission?

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Coke is timeless. Pepsi is timely.

Branding Insights
One of a series by John Paulo Cardoso, Spyder Works Chief Creative Officer

branding-coke

As a designer and branding junkie, I have always been fascinated by the marketing machinations of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. As two of the savviest and most successful marketing companies in the world, you might imagine that the two companies would have evolved a similar, shadow approach to branding. But, the way I see it, they come at it from totally opposite directions. Coca-Cola, whose logo probably would have looked the same on Noah’s Ark, has steadfastly traded on its timeless, iconic connection to consumers, while Pepsi seems to juggle the look of its red, white and blue logo like a waverunner. It seems to me that Coke’s branding follows its consumers while Pepsi tries to anticipate them.

Which approach is right for your company?

If your corporate culture is about leadership and maintaining an enduring relationship with your customers, the Coca-Cola model will focus you on consistency, connection and continuous improvement. If you have an aggressive hunter/disruptor culture, the Pepsi model of continuous re-invention will keep your people and your customers on their toes. It will encourage constant re-assessment and promote maverick thinking. My mantra to clients is to be true to who you are and reflect it in your branding and re-branding. If your culture is about continuous improvement, you’ll grow by enhancing and nurturing. If it’s about continuous re-invention, your corporate destiny is finding the next big thing.

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