Branding. Charity. Planning. Transformation. Touchdown.

As I look back at some of our recent blog posts, I can’t help but consider how they are all intertwined – not necessarily in their discrete messaging, but in the overall simplicity of the topics as tenets for retail success in today’s world. Just before Christmas, a simple message from a retailer contributed to a local community coming together to help those less fortunate. A few weeks ago, we perused the idea that a smile and a humble word could quickly build bridges and spur transformation. Reflecting on Super Bowl Sunday, we highlighted how Colgate reinforced the immeasurable value of an unassuming resource called water could deepen emotional connections with the brand. And on the heels of NRF, we talked about the importance of beginning any initiative with a solid plan. I wanted to examine these as integrated keys to reaching objectives – however big or small.

Branding.

As we described in a recent point of view, “Brand Connectivity: Multi-dimensional Branding Comes of Age,” today’s branding goes much farther than a logo on a storefront or website. It involves embracing the customer experience holistically and understanding not just how the brand speaks to customers, but how customers wish to interact with the brand, as well as how the brand is viewed as a contributing member of our global society. I often tell my 12-year old son: “Be the friend you want to have.” In my mind, this is how he begins to brand his young self, and I try to carry this forward to my other relationships as well, “Be the spouse / daughter / co-worker / employee you want to have.” I offer this simple advice to retailers when considering what their brand value proposition should be.

Charity.

Charity in many ways goes hand-in-hand with the branding value proposition. Any modern company realizes the value of investing in charitable acts – and this means going beyond the big donations. When I worked for a chain of restaurants called Jim ‘N Nick’s in Alabama, we called it “goodwill,” and it was a very integral part of our marketing and how we developed strong relationships in our local markets. When customers see a company donating items or providing services and resources to a charitable organization without cost or expectation to a charitable organization, it makes a huge difference in how that retailer is perceived – particularly when the charity is local and the impacts are very close and feel more “real.” Successful retailers understand that deep involvement in charities is in the very fabric of their strategy.

Planning.

A few weeks ago, the East Coast was hit with what those of us in the south referred to as “snowmagedden.” Within 48 hours, what seemed like 5 feet of snow fell on the southern East Coast, and created a state of emergency seemingly anywhere the word “y’all” could be heard. A friend of mine works for one of the national big box home improvement stores, and in the hours leading up to the storm, they naturally were packed with nervous (and many panicked) southerners seeking snow shovels, batteries, rock salt, generators and other necessities for braving the snow.

We were surprised to see that this retailer hadn’t already sold through its inventory of supplies the morning before the storm hit, but what I learned from my friend is that this retailer plans an assortment of items to have in stock in their distribution centers (DCs) exactly for when weather emergencies are imminent. They load up the trucks to quickly get these supplies to the impacted stores. A good business move, for certain – the retailer will probably make money on these items, but it’s also an investment in expensive DC space as well as extra logistics costs to get these items to the stores in time for people to purchase them prior to the storm. It requires a decent amount of planning and coordination to make sure the items get to where they are needed on time.

To me, this also represents another way of investing in local communities. This retailer has to invest in dedicated distribution center space for their “state of emergency assortment” (which differs depending on geography), the items must be configured correctly in their merchandising systems for ordering and allocations, and the inventory must have also already been purchased. In the days of lean inventory models, this conceptually makes little sense. But it’s a great plan and win-win for everyone – this retailer justifies their own extra planning to make sure their customers are prepared for inclement weather.

Transformation and Touchdowns.

We’ve talked a bit about transformation lately, and we see glimpses of it in action and acknowledgments by retail leaders that transformational initiatives are critical to viability. It should be common knowledge that today’s retail structures simply cannot emulate traditional environments, and while new technology may seem to be the panacea for many legacy issues, traditional solution implementations are a thing of the past. While sometimes perceived as an over-used buzzword, business transformations can hold the keys to success for any retailer seeking to truly break away from their established models and into dynamic, responsive and innovative ways of exceeding customer expectations while delivering on truly unique value propositions.

Without a doubt, technology will and should play a key role, but the scope of true transformation is much broader and encompasses meaningful – and often difficult – changes to business processes as well as alignment of organizational structure, roles and responsibilities to the retailer’s vision. From merchandising, IT and store support centers, all the way out to customer service on the front lines, the game has fundamentally changed. Recall Sam Walton’s famous quote, “To succeed in this world, you have to change all the time.”

To remain competitive and to leapfrog into a leader position, retailers must not only holistically grasp the transformation by addressing the key elements of process, organization and technology, but also incorporate into their vision, mission statement and supporting strategies the value of their branding, charitable acts and thoughtful planning – looking far beyond their own walls.

As individuals and as companies, we are all faced with distractions and complications, but any successful leader will underpin, “Stay the course” and keep your eyes on the goal. As you endeavor to brave these elements of success, I’ll end with one more compelling line from retail icon James Cash Penney, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”

– Tricia