The New Era Of Retail Branding...

Retailing is changing. We all know it.

Thanks to digital and mobile, we can increasingly get anything, anywhere, at any time we want. And as the hysteria around showrooming demonstrates, it's easier than ever to find the best deal around.

Does all this mean that physical retailing is dying?

If it is, someone forgot to tell the likes of Ikea, Lululemon, Sephora, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, let alone Apple. Indeed, Whole Foods recently ascribed part of their continued sales success to attracting Millennials, today's most connected and digital-savvy generation.

If anything, these retailers demonstrate that we've entered a new era of retail branding.

Not branding achieved by changing advertising agencies and ramping up media spend. But rather, by embracing a deep-seated, company-wide approach, built around these 5 principles:

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1. Standing for something.

Standing for more than just making money is ever more important in today’s connected world. As John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, recently commented, Millennials "line up well with our philosophy and our purpose-driven aspects of our company".

These retailers have at their heart a core purpose, rooted in improving people's lives, that inspires employees and customers alike.

Whole Foods, for example, are on a quest to redefine the role of a supermarket, by bringing natural and organic food to as many people as possible, improving their health, and changing agricultural practices in the United States and the world.

Apple stores are based around Steve Job’s vision of enriching people’s lives, while Lululemon seeks to inspire people to live happier and healthier.

2. Creating value for customers.

The ongoing march of e-commerce, spear-headed by Amazon, is certainly reducing the traditional retail benefits of location, breadth of assortment, efficient service, and indeed price.

However, these retailers rely on various combinations of unique product and merchandising, friendly service, and effective pricing, to create value for customers.

Where else can you find the Ikea style of design and affordability, for example? Or the Trader Joe’s product assortment, with its playful branding and affordability, and friendly service?

They are difficult to copy, either by other stores or online, and therefore play a distinct role in their customers' lives.

3. Living the brand.

In today's ever-more connected, transparent world, it’s no longer sustainable to create an external image for the brand, at odds with the company culture behind it. That culture has to live and breathe the brand.

These retailers do just that. Take Apple stores.

Certainly, they’re brilliantly designed, and of course, the products speak for themselves. But in-store, you get this real sense of employees engaged and working together with customers, helping them be more creative than they ever thought possible.

You get a similar sense of engaged employees and customers in Sephora or Lululemon, while in Whole Foods, you can just feel how their core purpose touches all aspects of their operation, including their sourcing policies.

4. Engaging around their story.

Rather than just broadcasting their message, today’s successful brands engage customers in conversation, around their purpose and culture.

Take Trader Joe’s. The playful branding of their own products, the store design, the hand-drawn signage, the employees in their Hawaiian shirts. They all come together to tell a strong story about their brand culture. And it continues on, through their Fearless Flyer, and their website.

Or Sephora. They’ve embraced digital and social media, providing tips and advice, that’s useful, engaging, and re-inforces their expertise. As, of course, has Whole Foods, providing recipes, information and education that are useful for their customers in their daily lives, while reinforcing their purpose and culture.

5. Saying thank you.

It's often said an existing customer is worth 10 new ones. Success ever more depends on making them feel appreciated, and finding ways of building relationships over time.

Lululemon uses complimentary yoga classes, for example, as a simple way to do this. Apple stores help customers understand and enjoy their products, through their complimentary classes, or their low cost One to One tuition program. While Sephora thanks their customers, and stays in contact, through their Beauty Insider rewards program.

By taking a company-wide approach, centered on improving people's lives, such retailers build a strong connection with their customers, and earn a role in their busy lives.

In an anything, anywhere, anytime world, what could be more powerful...?