A small seaside town, Kota Kinabalu, is the name the immigration officer could not find on his computer at the Mumbai airport. Quizzing me and looking sceptical, he accepted that it is in Malaysia and stamped my passport. I was even more sceptical that it exists and here I am... at KK (as they call it), a small town by South China Sea.
Nice travelogue? And why did I start with this? Because, that’s where I found this amazing little eatery that gave me a real insight into retail and visual merchandising and branding. Lovely signage, enticing in-store graphics, great menu and delectable food. I was delighted to read the menu. Slim, sleek and sexy are the words that spring to mind as you gloss over their menu. As a colleague put it, she would be eating more just because of the menu. Now, that’s the kind of effect visual merchandising had on her appetite.
Unfortunately, however retail, visual merchandising and branding as a topic of discussion or even as an exercise that we brand marketers undertake, appear to have little or no relevance when we plan a product or brand strategy. After we have done TV, press—the so-called mass media planning and budgeting—we suddenly wake up to the fact that we completely forgot that our product will eventually be seen, felt, and finally, hopefully, be sold from a store.
Times have changed, and so have the consumers. The consumer has indeed evolved so much more than us, that at times, I feel that we, the brand marketers, do exactly the opposite of what we expect from brands as consumers. Well, that’s sad but true.
Having said that, the point I am trying to make is that we are not doing half of what we should be doing in terms of retail, visual merchandising and branding.
For starters, the first thing that needs to change is our mindset and approach towards this exercise. All our communication and strategy and everything else need to revolve around the point of sale and consumption and not the other way round. This it too important and too serious an exercise to be dealt with either later or at the last minute, because the consumer will either give a thumps up or thumps down right there, at the store. And once she has done that, no reviews will ever be able to reverse that.
Retail and visual merchandising and branding is not a summation of signages, board prints and television playing advertorials in the background. It is a live experience that my consumer will derive out of this effort that I have taken, which will decide the fate of my brand in her mind and effect her consumption and my bottomline. I must be able to trigger a positive response from my consumer by doing the right thing, and to do that, I must first try to get into her mind. And that costs money. Research is paramount, but am I willing to shoulder the cost? As the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song go, “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind...”
In other words, we need to take a hard look at what we are doing and change , accordingly. We must have data backed by research to decide what marketing communication and collaterals would work at a particular retail point. Technology can do wonders so we need to factor in that as well into the overall strategy.
This reminds me of a telecom service provider that operates in small towns and non-metro circles. They came out with an online LED ticker with SIM embedding and integrated it in their glow signs. It placed these across all high visibility stores across all the circles they operate in. The idea, simbedding, designed and implemented by its specialist retail agency proved to be an instant hit. In conjunction with other marketing collaterals that the brand provided to the retailers, the multi brand outlets started to look as if they were owned and being operated by the brand. This broke ice with the retailers and they began pushing the products and the brand with every the consumer who walked into their store. That is smart retail and visual merchandising activity!
Next, let’s look at the cost factor. Cost, and not the result, is paramount on our minds. Since we cannot negotiate beyond a point with the magazines, the newspaperswalahs and TV channels, we begin to squeeze the supplier of the signages and the internal in-store branding to levels that would make the worst dictator look like a saint. Cutting costs makes me happy and I score brownie points with my boss. But in the process, what happens is that the millions that I spent on mass communication to drive consumers to my store begin to lose effect in half-lit signage, randomly placed marketing collaterals and dirty merchandise.
Indeed, I must be congratulated for all the monies I drove down the drain, simply by compromising on the quality of the visual merchandising. And that happened as a direct consequence of my driving the manufacturer nuts by pushing down the prices on window display.
Visit any outlet small or big, chances are, that you see what I am stating as a matter of fact. Did I forget to tell you that since there is no IBF (Indian Broadcasting Foundation) or INS (The Indian Newspaper Society) in retail, I usually forget to pay this guy as well?
Some brand managers have however have begun to walk the talk and are actively engaging specialist agencies that are commissioned into doing scientific research in order to understand consumer behaviour. But having done that, and after getting all the right insights, are we able to come up with a path-breaking strategy that delights and captivates the consumers, the sales and distribution channel and ultimately the boss? I am afraid not.
So when will I wake up and smell the coffee? And, before I forget, let me emphasise that I am just a mythical character, who bears no resemblance to any person living or dead.
—The author is country head, Enhance
6 months ago