The Retail Experience Is The Brand Experience

Even with all the money spent in managing the communications around a brand, so much of a consumer’s sense of a brand comes through the brand experience. This is particularly true in a retail environment where ensuring brand consistency can be more challenging than with the manufacturing of products.

The Apple store is a great example of a retail experience that is consistent with and enhances the brand. With a clean, light layout, the computers are spaced for easy use by potential customers. The store atmosphere has a clean, minimal feel. Employees are friendly, knowledgeable and accessible. The entire sense of the store reinforces the brand’s image of friendly, easy-to-use and stylish computer. Small decisions, such as naming the help desk something like “Genius Bar”, reinforces Apple’s brand image.

Although the size of the Apple Stores varies – for example, the main Chicago one is on two stories, whereas the St Louis stores are smaller and in shopping centres – each location creates a similar  brand feel.

Successful brands strive to maintain a consistency in presentation.

Retail brands, with operations sometimes flung worldwide, require extra vigilance.

Porsche, with showrooms across the globe, has been moving towards dealerships that carry only its brand (as opposed to dealerships that feature a number of marques).

Porsche has created a uniform look for dealerships in countries as diverse as the US, Mexico, Great Britain, Singapore and its home country of Germany. The design specifications were set back by Porsche and create an exclusive and distinct look. Steel and aluminum exterior, metal used in the interior and black walls and floors create a consistent visual feel designed to highlight its cars and reinforce a contemporary, technological advanced image.

Since 2000, Porsche has opened more than 500 of these “Porsche Centres” around the world. An international network of architects, known as “brand guardians”, help coordinate the design and development of the individual dealerships –  each of which requires an avarage investment of £2.1 million.

Although the individual delearships vary in repect to size and physical configuartion, they all are adapted to the brand look first created in Stuttgart. Although Porsche sells its cars in markets than vary widely with respect to ecomnomic, social and political influences, Porsche recognises the value in a unified global look.

Similarly, BMW has worked with its motorcycle dealers to upgrade and standardise its retail look and feel. Motorcycle dealerships can have a casual, gritty flavour. BMW wants dealerships that have a more contemporary, upmarket sense that reflects more closely its desire for the brand.

Sometimes the retail experience can run counter to the general direction of the brand.

Wolfgang Puck

is a culinary luminary in the US. His resturants are widely acclaimned, and his brand has an upmarket feel to it. Chicago’s O’Hare airport had a retail kiosk called

Wolfgang Puck Express

Selling soft drinks, sweets and odds and ends, this retail venture, while no doubt making a profit from a captive audience, risks cheapening the Wolfgang Puck image. Such a disconnect between an elite culinary brand and a mini-mart probably does little to add to the exclusive image Wolfgang Puck has created with his restuarants.

Inventory assortment is part of the brand experience and should be managed to reinforce the brand’s key focus. The selections that customers encounter in the shop create an impression of what that retail brand represents. Keep your inventory consistent with your brand.

A passport Luggage shop in the US will have the expected displays of luggage. Also sold there are ancillary items such as briefcases, backpacks and Swiss Army knives – all items, although not technically luggage, that are related to travel. The name “Passport Luggage” creates an image around travel and adventure.

The name creates expectations about the brand experience and the kinds of items to be found there.

One shop also had a nice display cabinet of Waterford Crystal. Hmmm… now that’s interesting! Probably somewhere along the line, someone found some research that people who travel are more likely than average to buy fine crystal. So, being logical business people, it only made sense that Passport Luggage would add Waterford to the store invetory.

The problem with this logic is that it seems highly unlikely that someone shopping for luggage would make an impulse purchase of expensive crystal. And it seems equally unlikely that when actively in store. Much later, sensibility prevailed and the display was removed. Displaying and selling Waterford Crystal simply wasn’t part of the brand design for Passport Luggage.

Creating a powerful retail experience begins with a commitment to consistency.

It begins with an understanding of what the brand is intended to mean. It begins with an appreciation for how the brand meaning should shape the retail experience.

It begins with the realization that for retail brands, the retail experience is very much the brand experience.