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What immediately comes to mind when customers think of your convenience store? What is the emotion or feeling the customer has toward your c-store before, during and after their visit? What image, attitude or personality are you portraying?
The answers to these questions are the result of your brand image. More than just a logo, your brand is the promise you make to customers and employees. It's a vital marketing tool to maintain and strengthen sales and customer loyalty.
A lasting brand always starts from within the company and then goes out to the marketplace. It's important to never promise something you can't deliver; it damages your business and ultimately overshadows the credibility of your service.
An effective brand strategy builds market and organizational insight to discern how the organization creates customer value, what makes a superior choice given competing alternatives and how the promise is delivered consistently.
Every organization should take the time to articulate a clear-cut brand vision and promise. Think of companies with powerful brand images, such as Coca-Cola, Apple and Harley-Davidson. On Coca-Cola's Web site, its vision is stated as follows:
-- People: Being a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
-- Portfolio: Bringing to the world a portfolio of quality beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people's desires and needs.
-- Partners: Nurturing a winning network of customers and suppliers, together we create mutual, enduring value.
-- Planet: Being a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities.
-- Profit: Maximizing long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
Coca-Cola's brand vision guides every aspect of its business, and yours should, too. What is your c-store's brand vision? How do you go about defining it?
THE BRAND LENS
It's absolutely critical to define what your brand "lens" is, to make sure you are communicating a consistent, crystal-clear message to the public. All your marketing and promotional efforts should be viewed through this lens -- from TV, Web, print, POP (point-of-purchase) in-store radio and TV networks, to signage, photography and even loyalty cards. If something appears "blurry" through the lens, re-examine it until it's focused.
Even if you feel that your c-store currently projects a strong brand image, it's always a valuable exercise to periodically re-scrutinize it, and perhaps refresh and refine it.
One of the most dramatic c-store transformations over the years has been Maverik, a western convenience store chain with more than 200 stores in seven states. Since 1999, Maverik morphed from a quaint, Old West country store to "Adventure's First Stop" -- one of the most innovative and highly lauded convenience store brands in the country. "We needed to revitalize our brand and get away from the cowboy, Old Country store image. It was stagnant -- almost a period piece, in a way -- and wasn't allowing us any room for growth," said Scott Shakespeare, Maverik's marketing director.
"Everything we do now is viewed through the adventure lens -- from dynamic in-store murals, action figure life-size mannequins and tanker murals, to fuel pump wraps and POP video screens. We even launched our own award-winning, weekly adventure reality TV show, 'Kick Start,' now in its second season. Maverik's adventure rebranding makes a strong emotional connection with our demographic because so many people live out West to enjoy the outdoors," Shakespeare said.
Innovative retailers like Maverik do their homework before deciding on a brand lens. Take the time to brainstorm what your c-store brand attributes are. Attributes are elements or characteristics that serve to distinguish and set apart. Are you urban or rural? Service oriented or more self serve? Dynamic or reserved? Try to identify at least three distinct attributes that set you apart from everyone else. Each, by itself, is a singular statement of brand positioning. Together, these attributes send a powerful message.
In addition to brand attributes, try to list several brand descriptors, which describe your c-store brand, but do more than just describe. They identify and differentiate, while providing a true sense and feel for what your c-store brand communicates. These descriptors, along with the brand attributes, should permeate every verbal and visual communication you produce.
Some descriptors might include: quick, quality, professional, friendly, polite, courteous, personable, clean, neat, well-staffed, well-stocked and helpful.
When developing a brand image, it is also important to establish your culture. What is your c-store's culture in executing the company's policies and procedures? Does your c-store know how to have fun and give employees a good time? This is important in building company morale. However, corporate culture is something more powerful and significant than that. In order for your c-store to thrive, grow and maintain that growth, culture must be woven into the fabric of the company. It needs to extend beyond just the walls of corporate headquarters. It needs to reach and connect with both employees and customers. That can only be done by stating expectations, strategy, goals and objectives, documenting them and holding individuals accountable to the fulfillment of those expectations. This is the formula for building true corporate culture.
An excellent way to build corporate culture and boost morale is a c-store newsletter. Cumberland Farms distributes a monthly newsletter to its employees. It includes news from other stores, employee profiles and information on that month's specials. This is further supplemented by a short quiz that employees must complete correctly in order to receive that month's prize -- a Cumberland Farms-branded premium, such as a watch, mug or sunglasses.
Ultimately, your brand should articulate and deliver a promise that earns customer trust. "We're creating an experience for the customer," said Shakespeare. "It has been absolutely essential to Maverik's growth and success. Without the adventure rebranding, we would not be the billion-dollar company that we are today."
Ernie Harker is president of 8fish, an award-winning creative production studio in Sandy, Utah. 8fish works closely with businesses to define and transform their brands. For more information,
e-mail Harker at [email protected], or go to www.8fish.com.