What Can Agencies Learn From the Best Retail Brands

Inspire Greatness for Your Clients

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein
Marc Brownstein
There's a supermarket market close to my home. Yet, I drove 18 miles yesterday with my daughter to buy groceries at Wegman's. Is the close-by supermarket that bad? No, Wegman's is that good.

Sure, Wegman's has a better selection and lower prices. But the real draw is the overall shopping experience. It's more than putting cereal boxes and eggs in a shopping cart. It's just fun going there. And it makes for a perfect destination for a father/daughter afternoon.

I share this because it reinforces the power of a well-defined and executed brand. You think of most supermarket brands and you have an immediate perception. They're good enough to get the stuff that you need. Wegman's takes it so much farther, and it is booming as a result. Like a gravitational pull, brands that know their customers can be a mighty powerful force. What other retail brands have a similarly powerful appeal? Ikea, Dick's Sporting Goods, LuLuLemon, Hollister, Apple. These brands get it. They know who their customers are, and they spend a lot of time cultivating their audience. They don't just sell their customers things; they create shopping experiences.

I've always wondered why some retailers put so much time and money into planning a store, buying merchandise, negotiating a lease and then when they open for business, they are simply ordinary. No meaningful differentiation between them and many of their retail peers. Makes no sense to go to all of that trouble to be a me-too operation.

Fill a market void. Be amazing at what you do. Listen to customers needs and wants. Be relevant, always. Easy for me to say, I suppose, because so many retail brands just don't care enough to be great. Jim Collins would shudder. Same applies to restaurants -- only a handful in each city are standouts. Most are mediocre. So why bother opening for business each day?

The truth is, for a long time, it was easy living for mediocre retail brands to thrive. If they were close to your home or office, were priced fairly, and weren't too rude, they got your business. That model doesn't work well anymore. Consumers are way too smart, and will hold you accountable more than ever before.

So what changed? For one thing, customers have a powerful outlet: online reviews. Treat customers poorly and they'll write about it, tweet it out, and post it on their Facebook pages. But delight your customers, and they'll sing your praises to all of their friends and strangers alike. This transparent communication has raised the bar for many brands -- whether they are retailers, CPG brands or B2B companies. But retailers, more than any other business category, have led the way in keeping their finger on the pulse of consumers. Because they have to. Those that truly listen to their customers, and adjust their offerings accordingly, reap the rewards.

If you have retail clients, think about what ideas you could bring them to help them cultivate an even bigger customer base by making shopping uniquely experiential. Your clients may not be asking you for those ideas, but that shouldn't stop you; they may view you as just the creator of messages, not in-store customer experiences. Change that perception with some terrific ideas.

And beyond retail, how can you take the lessons of the best-in-class retailers and apply them to all of your clients -- whether they are B2B or B2C? If you show up at your clients' doorstep with ideas that help them transform the way their customers interact with them, imagine how your shop would grow and thrive as a result. I believe these are the kinds of challenges/opportunities that take agencies to another level and clients from good to great.

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