Rethinking Brand-Consumer Relationships in a Changing Marketplace
Until now, brands have employed rather traditional methods of engaging and developing connections with consumers. Whether through flashy advertisements, brand ambassadors or just tried-and-true messaging, many retailers have taken the "if it’s not broke, don’t fix it" mentality to heart.
For more established brands, however, this can mean messaging becomes stale or unoriginal after a time. Asics, a well-known running brand, was faced with this very dilemma when management realized that the brand wasn’t moving product fast enough. Instead of alienating its target market, however, the sneaker manufacturer decided to rethink how it was engaging customers, and brought in well-known DJ Steve Aoki to help push a new creative campaign forward.
Yet another case study includes the iconic household brand, Nike. After navigating a significant downward turn and facing major challenges in the ultra-competitive shoe and athletic marketplace, Nike is aligning itself to a new, consumer-driven strategy, focused on direct-to-consumer retail. Announced recently, Nike will team with 40 selected partners who will dedicate in-store space and sales staff to its products, in addition to selling directly to consumers via its own online presence or brick-and-mortar stores. The company’s renewed focus leans heavily on converting Nike customers to "members" who have created accounts at Nike.com or on one of its apps. According to KGW News, Nike has more than 100 million members who spend around three times more than guest customers on Nike.com.
Of course, Asics and Nike are household brands with millions of dollars and significant resources at their disposal. Sure, they can address challenges and go back to their customer-first roots. But unlike independent retailers, their pivots come with a hefty price tag and significant pressure from investors and stakeholders. Smaller retailers have the opportunity to learn from monumental market shifts like these while applying the learnings to their own brand strategies.
Changing Perceptions in Established Markets
With so much competition in the marketplace — and it's only growing — sportswear and athleisure brands cannot rely on the traditional methods of consumer engagement anymore. Consumers are savvier than ever, and they crave more personal, targeted relationships with the brands they wear.
Previously, new shoe releases from top athletes or musicians would have a wait list just based on the attached name alone. Now, however, these releases are losing momentum because consumers don’t feel that one-to-one connection that's so important. While plastering a celebrity’s face on a billboard may gain recognition, it’s still just a stagnant interaction with the consumer.
Creating Engaging Brand Experiences
For small retailers, building this one-to-one brand experience is even more important, and is often downright expected by a local audience. Luckily, independent retailers are even better suited to succeed in these endeavors than their big-name counterparts for two big reasons: the target audience is smaller, and local businesses know (or should know) exactly what their customers are looking for.
To create more personal, emotional connections with consumers, small businesses can host in-store events or community activities and invite local audiences. Store employees can provide quick surveys to all customers who make a purchase with a discount code as thanks for providing valuable feedback. Brick-and-mortar stores can also take their engagement approach online through third-party marketplaces and online sellers.
Today’s consumers crave the "local connection" and small businesses are uniquely suited to not only provide this type of engagement but also to create a safe, comfortable space for consumers that they just won’t find at big-box stores. While a local sports store may not be able to get an international DJ as the face of its rebrand, it could get a local musician or thought leader to put a community-based, local spin on its messaging, which can be just as powerful to those that matter.
A Multichannel Approach to Consumer Engagement
As consumers and their buying habits move offline, small businesses must expand their engagement strategies to cover these new platforms and channels. This could mean developing social media profiles on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, and developing relationships with local brand ambassadors across all of these platforms. This could also mean hosting in-store events with an online component, such as a virtual reality night or smart dressing rooms.
At the end of the day, consumers crave intuitive, personalized engagement from their favorite local retailers, and in order for these to be effective, they must be done on a multichannel level.
Making Omnichannel Consumer Engagement Easy
For small business owners with a million things on their to-do lists, creating a multichannel engagement strategy may sound like just another tedious task to check off. Fortunately, this can be relatively easy while producing record returns in a short amount of time.
Retail store owners and employees can use their current store displays, merchandise and even customers within their social media posts, creating new content with minimal labor. Online platforms and marketplaces just involve a few taps and clicks — with no confusion around transferring money or compensation. In-store events should be looked at as fun, exciting parties instead of work events to make customers and employees even more in sync.
Chris Palmer is the CEO of BoxFox, a B-to-B marketplace that hosts surplus inventory auctions for independent retailers to sell excess inventory to a network of authorized buyers.