How can retailers achieve consistent branding across touchpoints?

Source: CVS
Oct 26, 2016
Carol Spieckerman

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Commerce Lens, the blog of Radial, a provider of omnichannel solutions.

High-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Harrods have long enjoyed dedicated brand affinity with consumers, but now (arguably thanks to Target) merchants across every tier of retail, from mass to class, identify as brands — not just as places that sell others’ brands.

But with retailers’ brand impressions proliferating across multiple store formats, dedicated websites, mobile, social media — and even competitors’ stores and online marketplaces — presenting a consistent brand across locations and touchpoints presents a new challenge. A few are stepping out to do just that in three less-than-obvious ways.

  1. Ad Shop Consolidation: Walmart’s recent move to partner with Publicis Groupe promises to consolidate a large portion of its U.S. advertising and creative work under a newly created entity within the agency. The new entity will provide additional assurance that Walmart’s brand voice won’t quaver, particularly as it doubles down on expanding its digital presence.
  2. Seamless Solutions: As the race to digital domination accelerates, retailers are embracing outside partnerships as never before. They realize they can’t create every solution in-house (but that doesn’t mean it can’t look like they did). In the past, Curbside provided its own-branded pick-up solutions to retailers such as Best Buy and Sephora. CVS went a step further by not only investing in Curbside but also branding the solution CVSExpress and integrating Curbside’s technology into the CVS Pharmacy app. Eons ago, private brands brought a new dimension of brand identity to retailers. Own-branded solutions are the next wave as retailers seek to present a seamless and consistent brand across locations.
  3. Content Connection: Publix is one of a handful of retailers that can confidently claim to not just be a brand but also to have rabid brand fans. Its recently launched blog, The Publix Checkout, fans the flames by turning employees into digital brand ambassadors. A recent post from 10-year Publix veteran Chris M. highlighted tailgating tips. Another from Kandi S. delineated the differences between fondant and buttercream. While user-generated content (UGC) has been the rage for a while, employee-generated content adds a layer of authentic outreach, one that leverages retailers’ existing assets while driving employee engagement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the primary obstacles to delivering consistent brand messages for retailers? What are some ways retailers can foster consistent brand messages across touchpoints?

"The crux of the issue is not the messaging but the doing."
"What about content generated as the result of “brand passion”? We all need to become intimately familiar with Ehrenberg’s double jeopardy law."
"How many retailers have staffers who understand the difference between cultivating a Generation Z audience and an audience of Millennials?"

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12 Comments on "How can retailers achieve consistent branding across touchpoints?"

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Kim Garretson

Regarding number three, some retailers and brands are adding more professionalism to combining employee content not just with UGC, but with professional bloggers relevant to the brands. With a platform like Tidal Labs, much of this work is handled in finding the outside influencers’ content to mix with the employees’ content.

Max Goldberg

The primary obstacle to delivering consistent brand messages is retail management not being knowledgeable about technology and consumer touchpoints. Management needs to know about social media and the latest consumer communication preferences. With this knowledge, retailers can treat their stores like brands, developing one sight, one sound and one core story that should become a common thread through all communication and within and outside the stores.

Doug Garnett
The biggest issue I see is fragmentation of services through all the relationships now used to deliver the retailer goods. Each consumer shopping and buying trip (offline or online) affects brand more than advertising or content — by far. Some days I wonder how we’ve forgotten that consumers shop at stores that have retail brands — they don’t shop “at retail brands.” Same with products. Consumers buy products that have brands — they don’t buy brands. Products and stores must satisfy first, then the brand kicks in added value. What about content generated as the result of “brand passion”? We… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

When retailers think of each technology as a separate touchpoint and have a separate unit internally and/or hire separate suppliers to create messages for each tool, presenting consistent branding across touchpoints is challenging. Retailers need to be clear about their core message, tone and style. If that stays the same, messages can be adapted for each touchpoint. If the retailer does not have a clear core message, tone and style, their brand identity will be diluted.

Anne Howe
I love the Publix example of extending helping shoppers (what they stand for) via an employee blog. Many big retailers would be so afraid of that simple and effective strategy. For most mainstream retailers, the lack of a pervasive “what we stand for” idea translated into action strategies prevents them from building real relationships, engagement and passion with shoppers. It’s not hard to have an idea, but to actually have it be differentiated as well as accompanied by actionable strategies that bring it to life across a plethora of omnichannel touchpoints is the key to success. Walmart consolidation with Publicis… Read more »
Mohamed Amer
The crux of the issue is not the messaging but the doing. Yes, having a consistent and relevant message across all touch points — irrespective of location or device — is difficult, but the brand challenge becomes an impossibility in a sea of data islands, organizational land grabs and a lack or a divergence of vision in the boardroom. Without a strategic understanding of, and a plan addressing, what it means to focus on the customer, coupled with new, radical organizational structure and a willingness to make informed transformational technology investments, the core issue will remain hidden in plain sight… Read more »
Dave Wendland

Although I agree entirely with Max Goldberg about technology gaps and social media understanding, I’ve also seen brands struggle with the establishment of a true voice.

Unless a retailer or CPG manufacturer can effectively communicate their message consistently across multiple platforms, they run the risk of appearing disingenuous and non-authentic. And messaging encompasses words, images, colors, catch phrases and tone.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Pardon my simplicity in saying it, but branding is the constant and consistent presentation of clearly defined vision, mission and goals. Expressing these across touchpoints generates success, while misrepresentations and rogue behaviors cause the need to recover from a stumble … too many of which cause a fall. Define the brand proposition clearly and then have the words and actions of all staff reflect it.

Ryan Mathews
The structure of most traditional retail organizations is the primary obstacle to retailers delivering a consistent message across platforms. It’s more than getting the messaging right, it’s really about translating the message into the most appropriate language/symbology by platform and audience. This requires a deep understanding of who uses which platform and how they perceive concepts like value, convenience and quality. All shoppers are not created alike and all retail platforms need to keep that in mind. How many retailers, for example, have staffers who understand the difference between cultivating a Generation Z audience and an audience of Millennials? Does… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann

This is what I refer to as a “Content Supply Chain” issue. In order to deliver a consistent and relevant brand message across all possible shopper touchpoints ALL brand content assets must be managed, curated and published from the same library. Most brand content assets are scattered amongst different agencies, internal departments and personnel. Agencies, in particular, have historically enjoyed this as they are more than delighted to recreate and bill for new content. An audit at Nike years ago found that Nike had paid for the professional photography of the same pair of shoes 73 times!

Charles Dimov
All are in agreement that this is a difficult thing to do. I agree with Kim that to be effective, you do want a mix of UGC + Employee Generated + Pros for content. Where too many firms fall is focusing on only one element. It is easy to just get Professionals to do it all … at the cost of authenticity. To do this, Anne & Adrian aptly point out that the CMO/CEO MUST spearhead the brand work and effort — ensuring you have the professional cohesion of a well-managed brand. Ultimately, the CMO and CEO need to embrace… Read more »
Adam Simon

Use latest technology to train up staff and work on making the brand experience work where it really counts — in the direct contact between store or call centre staff and general public. I recently worked with an innovative Norwegian company (Attensi) which does retail simulation programs. It felt uncomfortable to be faced with a member of the general public asking for a drug — the store staff associate has to decide what to do with the person, while remaining professional and polite. The latest programs use VR technology also so you live the experience.

"The crux of the issue is not the messaging but the doing."
"What about content generated as the result of “brand passion”? We all need to become intimately familiar with Ehrenberg’s double jeopardy law."
"How many retailers have staffers who understand the difference between cultivating a Generation Z audience and an audience of Millennials?"

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