Marketing Minute: Authentic brand differentiation can make the difference in 2022 – Jan 2022
By Paul Friederichsen
Differentiation has been and will continue to be a hot topic in retail as e-commerce, national chains and the big boxes continue to grow-along with their sizeable media expenditures. To compete and grow in 2022, independent floorcovering retailers must up their brand marketing game.
The primary role of marketing is to set the table for successful selling. Effective marketing lets the customer know compellingly and convincingly what to expect. But why should they choose your store over someone else’s when you look and sound the same as everyone else? That’s the art of differentiation, a bedrock principle for branding.
Differentiation is not some slick sleight-of-hand marketing ploy or tagline (more about that later). In his Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Success Through the Differentiation of Anything,” Theodore Levitt observes that “differentiation is most readily apparent in branded, packaged consumer goods. … However, differentiation consists as powerfully in how one operates the business.” The ways each floorcovering retailer is, in reality, different from the competition are nuanced and communicated in ways both tangible and not. Harness that through your marketing efforts. And while many schools of thought suggest differentiation is the marketing department’s responsibility, that is not necessarily true. According to ProductPlan.com, “Virtually every department within an organization can play a role in product differentiation.” Those departments may include business management, accounting, sales, delivery, installation and, yes, marketing. No one has a corner on the market for a good idea. Differentiation can come from anywhere.
The best place to start is with your customer base-what are their needs, and how do you or can you satisfy those needs better than anyone else in a unique way? The answer is not always a lower price. The answer may instead be how you deliver on that lower price, or offer better service, professional installation or courteous follow-up. Here are a few examples of how other successful brands do it.
ADDRESSING CUSTOMER “PAIN POINTS”
As the number three carrier in the country, T-Mobile stays competitive by providing solutions to common transactional complaints, such as paying early-termination fees and switching new customers’ current phones to the company’s network, instead of focusing on the size of its network, which is smaller than the competition’s. Attention-getting ad creativity and T-Mobile’s brand identity in bright, vivid pink also make it stand out against much larger rivals.
Although floorcovering is, for most people, an even more infrequent purchase than buying a cellphone, it is still vital that dealers make the transaction as easy as possible. Find ways to eliminate typical floorcovering retail pain points such as showroom clutter, financial barriers, lack of online visibility, marketing and sales inconsistencies, delivery issues, and poor installation. Develop policies or programs that address these issues and market them to help your brand stand out from the competition.
FOCUSING ON LIVING WELL
Are you generating helpful content about your category? Whole Foods does. This retailer has become synonymous with eating right by offering organically grown, locally available foods and advocating a sustainable lifestyle and healthy living. Though other chains have hopped on the living-well bandwagon, Whole Foods continues to be singularly focused-and different as a leader in its category.
Apropos to the flooring business, HealthyPeople.gov validates the correlation between indoor environments and a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Modern floorcovering manufacturing has made related improvements through things like the absence or elimination of VOCs, heavy metals, phthalates and cleaning with harsh chemicals. As a flooring retailer, you can advocate for not only healthier flooring choices but also living well as a choice.
CAPITALIZING ON BRAND HERITAGE
One Georgia-based brand’s reboot is setting LinkedIn on fire and garnering a lot of attention. Stuckey’s World Famous Candies CEO Stephanie Stuckey, granddaughter of late founder W.S. Stuckey, Sr., is personally and vigorously marketing the company’s legendary pecan log rolls, popcorn, gifts and souvenirs by dialing up the nostalgia, regional pride and spunkiness of this comeback on social media. In the process, she has also become a fresh face for the brand.
Like the Stuckey family’s snack company, many flooring retail businesses have been passed from generation to generation. Having read the stories of candidates for the Future Focus leaders’ recognition in this magazine, many floorcovering retailers have interesting beginnings or can point to accomplishments over various challenges in their histories. Instead of keeping that hidden in a scrapbook, share it. This is what makes your brand different, authentic, relatable and quite likely appealing to your potential customers.
BEING NICE IN A NOT-SO-NICE WORLD
In a recent focus group, I tested unaided awareness of restaurant brands with a group of young professional Millennial women. To my surprise, 90% of all their recalled names were of local eateries; there were very few famous, well-advertised chains mentioned. When I asked them why they remembered those restaurants, I got another surprise. It was not because of the food, location or price, they said. These establishments instantly came to mind because of the way the young women were made to feel when visiting: “I felt special.” “It was relaxing.” “We enjoyed it there.” “The service is always excellent.” They were remembering the experience. It wasn’t about the product; it was about the people.
Customers will remember a business that makes them feel special because, sadly, that can be a differentiator in this day and age. Time magazine just addressed the growing state of poor manners in an October 2021 article entitled “Why Everyone Is So Rude Right Now.” Did we lose our civility to the pandemic, or is it “a loss of social cohesion”?
You can set your brand apart through people skills and creating a shopping experience customers will gush over in focus groups or to their friends and families. Southwest Airlines once built a reputation on its unique warmth, humor and personality, then reflected that in the company’s marketing. Southwest is now the seventh-largest public airline in the world based on revenue, according to Forbes.
WHERE TO START
These are just a few examples, but no doubt there are hundreds of ways your store’s brand can be differentiated from the competition, large or small. Operationally, these methods may take little adjusting or cost, and they will most certainly require a willingness to investigate, an open mind to shifting priorities and some imagination. A good place to start would be a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) exercise with your team. To learn more, search for SWOT analysis on mindtools.com.
INAUTHENTICITY-THE KILLER OF DIFFERENTIATION
The secret to brand differentiation is finding or cultivating an authentic, unique way your brand relates to its customers, whether it’s relieving pain points, promoting a healthy lifestyle, highlighting a heritage of service or treating people like human beings. This is the customer-centric thinking of “why” your brand exists. But here’s the caution: your customer can distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. In a Rolling Stone article, “15 Telltale Signs of Inauthentic Marketing That Could Be Hurting Your Brand,” the editors observed, “Today’s consumers can spot inauthenticity from miles away. They prefer buying from brands that are ‘real’ and honest about who they are. However, it’s not uncommon for businesses to unintentionally appear disingenuous in their marketing endeavors.”
As you identify what your differentiation is, communicate it with care. Avoid focusing on the competition and unnecessary comparisons. Use employee or customer testimonials. Don’t try to ‘sell’ in every social media post. Focus on solving the customer’s problems. And if you make a mistake, own it.
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