Brand identity is increasingly important.
More than half of shoppers (64%) build relationships with brands because of shared values. As customers put more importance on that, and less on price, retailers have an opportunity to distinguish themselves from competitors. In fact, it’s not only an opportunity — it’s a necessity.
Experts agree that brand identity is essential for retailer success.
“Brand identity is crucial, because that’s what separates you from your competition,” says Adrienne Weiss of Adrienne Weiss Corporation, who is behind brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, DiGiorno and Baskin Robbins. “Your brand is a story you tell to the world with the hope that it will resonate, and consumers will want to associate themselves with your brand.”
“Identity is truth,” says Faith Hope Consolo, Chairman of Douglas Elliman’s Retail Group. “The brand is the aspiration the customer wants to buy; it’s the core truth of the brand.”
Retailers are no longer product suppliers — they’re becoming lifestyle partners, entities with which consumers are building relationships.
For retailers with brick-and-mortar shops, it goes beyond just having a brand identity. You have to bring that identity to the shopping experience. Here are some ways retailers can do just that.
To learn more about creating your identity, read Building a Brand: How to Create a Lasting Impression for Your Clients.
How to Bring Brand Identity To Your Storefront
Bringing your brand identity to life in your physical store begins with the feeling you want customers to identify with and how their shopping experience can foster that. But it’s not just about what’s in your store; retailers have to think of the big picture and how all facets of their brand work together.
How can retailers successfully nail their brand identity? “Consistency and impact,” says Consolo. “All the customer touch points need to tie back to it — the same logo, the same fonts, look, and feel of the marketing and of the stores. You hammer home the message when it’s unified.”
Every time a consumer has an interaction with your brand — in store, email, social media, your website — the experience has to evoke the same emotion. The brand identity must remain the same.
“Without a consistent system in place, the brand’s identity will get lost in the myriad of communication touch points,” echoes Amy Lanzi, Managing Director at retail marketing agency TPN.
Synergy across all channels makes the brand identity resonate more powerfully, and that makes your brand more relatable. Here are some ideas on how you can ensure that consistency:
- Document your brand identity: Include things such as your voice, your mission and guidelines for logo usage. Make sure this documentation is circulated throughout your company, and provide examples of both good and bad to help employees understand.
- Police your brand: With the proper training on your brand identity, employees will be empowered to be brand police. Let them know that if they see anything off-brand that they can bring it to your attention. Some businesses even have a team dedicated to solely ensuring all channels adhere to brand guidelines.
- Encourage cross-department communication: Retailers that are large enough in size have teams dedicated to different business functions. Make sure store managers, the marketing department, PR, product managers, and other facets of the business are aligned and have open lines of communication to stay on the same page. This could take form in a weekly all-hands meeting or regular status updates via email.
- Identify your target audience: This ties back to the idea of documenting the brand identity. It’s beneficial to document target audience segments and their pain points, and how your business addresses those pain points. This helps employees relate to the customer and the persona of your brand more easily.
Oftentimes, signage is the first interaction a consumer has with a brick-and-mortar store. Thus, it’s important for retailers to introduce their identity here.
Even the store name above your entrance is important. “It’s the greatest opportunity to leave a memorable first impression,” says Jess Brown, Digital Creative Director at Planit, a creative branding agency.
Signage also includes window displays. “At the entrance to the store, the brand identity needs to be strong; customers want to feel like [customers] are entering your world,” Consolo says.
A creative and inexpensive way to create that first impression is to use a chalkboard to place in the sidewalk out front. Retailers can lure in foot traffic, especially pedestrians who may not have even noticed your window displays.
If your brand identity is funny, make a joke. If you’re aspirational, put an impactful quote. Should the sign be impressionable enough, it could make an appearance on Instagram, getting your name out there even more.
“Once inside, make sure the brand’s identity influences all signage from merchandising to wayfinding. Retailers have the opportunity to display their brand identity on everything from the employee wardrobe and hangtags to floor treatments and shelving units,” suggests Lanzi. Keep the fonts, colors, voice and tone the same — and aligned to your identity.
Retailer Five Below has a fun way of greeting customers. The “dollar store for tweens,” as Weiss calls it, is playful, and their signage reflects that.
“On the floor, in the entry to the stores, is the message ‘Admission Free, Everything Else $1–$5.’ What makes this such a great expression of brand identity is that it establishes, at the very first moment that the customer walks into the store, that she should expect more than just finding cheap stuff — she should expect an experience.”
Along the topic of visuals, your logo is an essential component to your identity. As part of your brand identity process, you will have a logo that embodies that identity. And that logo needs to play a part in the in-store experience.
A brand’s identity should be anchored in a strong logo, but the whole package needs to work together to be successful.
"It’s not a matter of slapping the logo everywhere there’s a space for it. It must be strategic," Lanzi says.
The logo can be placed on product displays, receipts, shopping bags, price tags, and more. It’s important to not overwhelm customers, but not underwhelm at the same time. This all depends on the brand identity.
A brand like Coach, for example, incorporates the logo in the design of their product. These stores have a minimal design, with lots of white space, bright lights, and little branding. The products speak for the brand.
Discount retailer Target, on the other hand, takes a more in-your-face approach to incorporating their logo in the shopping experience. Target and its logo exemplify simple, uncomplicated value. This strategy has worked for the retailer; more than 96% of American shoppers recognize that red bullseye.
Need some help with your brand's logo? Try out Shopify's free logo generator.
Consumers can step into a Target store and see red — but in a good way. They don’t need to be told they’re in a Target in order to recognize it. In fact, color increases brand recognition by up to 80%.
But smaller retailers can use color to establish their brand identity as well. Choosing colors is extremely important, and it can have a psychological impact on customers. Certain colors evoke certain emotions.
Red evokes excitement, boldness and youth, traits that are typically associated with Target. Health and wellness retailers might go for grays or greens, to spark feelings of peace, calm, balance, and health. Blue is associated with trust, purple with creativity, orange with friendliness, and yellow with optimism. Choose the colors that represent your identity and the impression you want to make upon consumers.
Having the right music can also enhance your brand identity through the shopping experience. It goes beyond the type of music — think about the volume as well.
If you’ve ever gone into an Abercrombie & Fitch, you’ve likely had to shout to your friend to ask their opinion of a shirt that caught your eye. That’s because the music is loud, embodying the cool, young vibe of its customers and its own identity.
While you may not want your storefront to sound like a loud club, the point is that creating a soundscape in your store further solidifies your brand identity. So, offer due consideration to the background tunes playing in your shop.
Another thing Abercrombie & Fitch and its sister stores do is utilize scent. If you pass by the store in a shopping mall, for instance, you might smell it before you see it. Because they spray fragrances in the stores, it creates a specific identity and emotional reaction from customers. That’s the power of scent marketing.
Much like colors, it’s been scientifically proven that smells affect mood and perception and can have strong effects on emotional reactions. That’s why yoga studios often use calming lavender scents to create an experience for students.
Think about how you want your customers to feel and identify scents that will evoke that feeling. Bonus points if you sell those fragrances!
Lighting doesn’t only help customers see your products, it also contributes to the shopping experience. While some retailers may think bright lights helps the products shine more, it may not be an accurate representation of the brand.
Darlene Susco, Founder of iDsusco, points out the moody lighting of Restoration Hardware as a direct reflection of the brand. They’re edgy, moody, and masculine.
Children’s stores can get more creative and playful with the lighting, while Sephora needs the bright lights so customers can test out cosmetic products and see them clearly. If you want customers to feel relaxed and calm, dim the lights. If your identity is more energetic, go brighter.
Sales associates on the floor are the personification of your brand. They are what brings the retailer and the products to life. It’s imperative that they’re considered an essential component of the brand identity.
When onboarding employees, train them well. Introduce them to the brand identity, help them understand what it is and how they can embody it. Keep this in mind when vetting potential new hires as well.
Susco points out the associates at REI as a perfect example of associates who embody the brand identity. They’re all outdoor enthusiasts and share that passion with REI customers.
Lululemon also does this well. In fact, they call their associates ambassadors. “Lululemon has created a retail environment that is a manifestation of their brand purpose of mindfulness,” Lanzi explains. “Wayfinding messaging guides the shopper to find what they need and the ambassadors can assist them in finding the right option.”
How Will You Build Brand Identity Into Your Store?
At the end of the day, retailers need to know their consumers and know their own brand identity. Create that experience that will establish relationships with customers. Focusing on the experience, not just the product, goes a long way in today’s marketplace.