All Major Retailers Are 5 Steps Away From the Brink
Sears and Kmart are the latest major retailers to lose market share to Amazon.com. Many spectators doubt that these proud store brands will survive after years of decline, and according to Business Insider, Sears and Kmart employees agree.
‘Welcome to Sears, How May I NOT Help You?’
Who can blame Sears and Kmart employees for being so disgruntled? As depressing as it is for shoppers to experience a toxic store, it's downright humiliating for employees who work there. They're victims of a toxic brand culture.
Toxic Brand Cultures Kill Major Retailers Faster Than Amazon
When struggling retailers slip into panic mode, they follow an all-too-predictable script. They make a series of strategic moves that backfire, each one more desperate than the next. And the longer this losing streak lasts, the faster morale declines.
A malaise of hopelessness infects department after department, store after store and employee after employee until the organizational culture turns toxic. Unchecked, a toxic brand culture becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
7 Symptoms of a Toxic Brand Culture
Symptoms of toxicity can be found across the spectrum of brand stakeholders:
- Employees obsess more on retail competition than their customers.
- Executives focus more on business disadvantages than core brand strengths and possibilities.
- C-suite members become more pre-occupied with short-term shareholder value instead of long-term brand strategy.
- Customers spend less, choose competitor brands and share negative brand experiences via social media.
- Suppliers hold back innovative merchandising solutions as relationships grow increasingly strained.
- Communities ignore scaled-back corporate social responsibility efforts and souring sentiment.
- Media report negative stories about the brand regardless of whether content is factual or perceived.
Rebranding is Not the Answer, Retailing is
In this time of need, traditional retailers turn to ad agencies, which generally recommend rebranding using expensive mass media. Priorities shift to agencies squeezing every billable penny they can onto their lifeboat before the retail ship sinks.
Rebranding stores can be dangerous for two reasons:
- Shrinking retailers have already let employees with experience go to implement rebranding successfully.
- New brand promises created under duress may be premature and not genuine. Consumers today reject branding that's unauthentic.
Another ad agency-endorsed strategy is to aggressively promote sales, price cuts and unrealistic guarantees. However, those strategies only train loyal customers to expect deep discounting as the new normal. You’re eating margins now, and cannibalizing profits later.
5 Steps to Heal a Brand Culture
Invest in brand culture building, customer experiences and brand storytelling to rid your business of brand toxicity. Scale back on old-school media buys to pay for it. When brand culture is restored, brands will get more exposure through the age of viral consumerism.
Step 1: Get back to your retail roots. Start digging deep within your retail brand’s history — back to the deepest roots that helped it grow to prominence. There you will find seeds of brand purpose to regenerate connections and relevance.
Step 2: Listen to your customers. Retail is a service business. Helping customers get what they need and want efficiently and pleasantly is the essence of retail. Never let the complexities of competition, logistics or advisers distract you from that simple mission.
Step 3: Learn from your employees. It's too easy to lose touch with customers and employees from the C-suite. There are many walls between the boardroom and store break room. After listening to customers, listen to your employees. They'll inform you of how to empower them to solve customer problems with high-touch service.
Step 4: Multiply the magic. If you're still in business, there's hope. Pockets of brand magic that emotionally engage customers and employees still exist inside your stores. Effective brand culture building will multiply that brand magic exponentially throughout your stores.
Step 5: Be authentic. Stop trying to convince customers that your stores are something they're not. Instead, celebrate what they are today and plan for them to become better tomorrow.
Rebuilding a brand culture from the inside out cures brand toxicity and is your best hope of surviving Amazon.
Stephen Rosa is an Emmy-winning writer/producer and CEO and chief creative officer of (add)ventures, a multidisciplinary brand culture and communications firm. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenRosa.