Creating a believable brand is key for retail success

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When it comes to retail, success is not all about offering the best products at the lowest prices — at least not according to Moravian College professor Gary Kaskowitz.

Instead, Kaskowitz believes that successful retail shops have to offer a total package in terms of creating a brand identity that pulls at a customer’s heartstrings and instills loyalty for years to come.

“If you think you’re merely selling a product, you’re wrong. You are selling an image,” said Kaskowitz.

Author of “Brand it Like Barack! How Barack Obama sold himself to America and what you can learn from this,” Kaskowitz is an associate professor of management at Moravian.

He offered his tips and tricks of the trade at a daylong merchants’ seminar at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem and organized by Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, a branch of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

In his talk, Kaskowitz identified several problems that are affecting retailers, not just on Main Street but nationwide. He also offered solutions that could help retailers create a shopping experience whereby customers buy into the shop’s image and, as a result, spend money.

The seminar and Kaskowitz’s talk came about as a result of feedback that Lynn Cunningham, vice president of Bethlehem initiatives for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, received from Main Street merchants.

Despite the foot traffic seen at various events on Bethlehem’s Main Street, very few people enter their shops and spend money, merchants said.

“We thought maybe our retailers could learn from a team of experts on what they might be doing wrong and what they could be doing right,” Cunningham explained.

At the seminar, Kaskowitz was joined by speakers from the Valley and beyond, including Dave McCormack, proprietor of American Hairlines in Bethlehem, Michael Stershic, president of Discover Lehigh Valley, Samuel A. Iroio, a partner with Dale Carnegie Training, and others.

Among the top challenges retailers face is divided customer attention.

According to Kaskowitz, retailers only have five seconds to grab the customer and give them a reason to spend their money.

If merchants can provide that reason, they may avoid the issue of the customer’s divided attention. A common scenario that retailers often see is customers enter into a store while talking on their cell phone. These customers wander blindly through the shop and barely see any of the merchandise before they leave the store only to walk unthinkingly through another series of shops.

“Customers have divided attention … very few people are present,” Kaskowitz said.

He identified a key question merchants should ask themselves when they are attempting to relate to their customers: “What’s in it for me?”

If they can answer that question from the customer’s perspective, they will be on their way to rising profits, Kaskowitz said.

Another issue that retailers encounter is their inaccurate assumption that customers think logically and only want the best deal.

“For customers it’s more than about money. Price is one of the least important [things]. When it just comes down to price, you’re doing something wrong,” Kaskowitz said.

He said many businesses make the mistake of trying a series of “tactics” such as frequent buyers’ clubs or coupons to attract more customers. Instead, he suggested, retailers should be investing their time into a well-thought-out plan of attack that can be the answer for floundering retailers.

“If you don’t control your brand, who is going to? Your competitors, your customers? You have to figure out your unique position,” Kaskowitz said.

By finding a unique niche, creating a plan of attack that looks logically at the business owner’s goals and using a shop’s resources to their best advantage, these businesses will be well on their way to success, he said.

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