How One Mall Got People to Buy Stuff, and How You Can, Too

For Starters, You Can Make Your Guests Feel Wanted

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I visited a mall in Glendale, Calif., a few weeks ago and had a novel experience: I saw customers.

The mall was the Americana at Brand, and I was there because I believe the smartest, most cutting-edge solutions in marketing today come from asking a classic, old-fashioned question: How can we get people to buy stuff?

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.
The Americana's answer has been to redefine the very definition and purpose of a commercial development. It's not satisfied simply hosting retailers. It has elected instead to go downstream to talk to consumers (they're called "guests," to differentiate them from the mall's tenants, who are actual "customers"). That strategic decision guides its operations, staffing and tenant relationships and gives it the wherewithal to prompt and reward guest visits.

It's a heckuva lot more than marketing, but one of the fundamental pillars of its strategy is a guest-loyalty program. That's right: Shoppers accrue points and gain elite status levels for visiting the mall. More than 100,000 people have availed themselves of the opportunity. Why more developments haven't done something similar is beyond me (not to mention the municipalities that host vacation destinations, museums or any locations that need to incentivize repeat visits).

With such relationships comes a holistic perspective on consumers' needs. The mall can analyze visit frequency and shopping behavior, then develop cross-retailer promotions (food-and-movie packages are an obvious example). It can reach out to wayward members and incentivize their return. There's even a community aspect, as recently it polled members on what type of restaurant should be added to the development (family Italian won). This isn't a mall that's watching the clock as its tenants run out of time.

A sum greater than its constituent parts; isn't that the very definition of what a "brand" should be?

But there's more: Live events are scheduled almost continuously. A trolley offering rides circles the property. Perhaps most interesting, the Americana offers a concierge service that's accessible to anyone. It's housed in a luxury-hotel reception area flanked by attendant-maintained restrooms and a children's play area full of toys -- so anyone can ask for help with, well, just about anything.

I can't promise that what it's doing will succeed (though its sister site, the Grove, in Los Angeles, tops most malls nationally), but I also can't name many businesses, irrespective of industry category, that are working so hard, and so creatively, to find ways to surpass mere engagement with consumers and give them reasons to do things.

So call it a mall that's a product, or a shopping center that acts like a service. Or consider that the Americana is finding ways to get its ultimate customers to buy stuff. I'd just call that smart.

Questions to ask about attracting customers

PROMPTS: Are you waiting for your tenants to drive traffic or doing it yourself?

PROMOTIONS: Could incentives across your retailers be more powerful than individual offers?

PRICING: How are you reducing the total cost of shopping (measured in cash and expended effort)?

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