Retail branding is the strategy companies use to excite consumers. For decades, if not centuries, having quality products was all the retail branding you needed. If the coffee, clothing, or furniture you sold was high quality, that was enough to keep customers coming back for more.
The word branding comes from the Ancient Norse word “brandr,” which means “to burn.” When the term originated, it referred to burning a piece of wood. By the 1500s it referred to the mark burned into cattle to show ownership. Each farmer would have their own unique design so they could keep track of their cattle, which could get lost or mingle with livestock from other farms. These cattle brands were simple and easily identifiable; the preview of the modern logo.
From the conceptualization of logos all the way through the 1990s, retailers used outbound marketing for almost all advertising efforts. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. In the 1730s magazines first emerged as a medium, and by the 1800s posters were so ubiquitous some cities banned them altogether. The first television commercial was in 1941. In other words, companies were finding more methods to send out one-sided advertisements.
Standardization of Product Quality
The shift from selling products to selling brands was not sudden or recent. The Industrial Revolution helped equalize product quality for many different retail sectors. Transportation infrastructure allowed for products to travel further. In other words, it was no longer enough to have quality products. Customers had more choices than before, and retailers needed to differentiate themselves from competitors. Not only did they need to differentiate their products, retailers also needed a sophisticated way of communicating the superiority of their products.
Mad Men Era
By the 1960s, marketers and advertising agencies discovered that features tell, but emotions sell. A new wave of innovative professionals brought on the “Creative Revolution” in advertising full of attention-grabbing slogans and eye-catching designs. Marketers realized the concept of a “target audience” and began to speak to a particular person, instead of listing product features.
Marketers also created and capitalize on emotional connections between people and brands. We are what we consume, and people became more conscious of the idea that others would perceive them in a certain way for wearing a particular brand. Ad characters such as the Marlboro Man appealed to the everyday consumer as a form of aspirational marketing.
After the advent of the Internet, instead of talking to shoppers, retailers could more easily interact with them. At a very basic level, retailers could see how many customers opened or interacted with their email advertisements and newsletters. Pop-up ads were invented, and brands could reach customers on almost any site, and track who responded.
After the early stages of the Internet, marketing changed from a one-sided communication to two-way collaboration. Shoppers were able to more easily interact with their favorite stores, share opinions, and offer feedback.
Now, retail branding is more important than ever before. Consumers are overwhelmed with choices, many offering comparable quality. Having an emotional connection with your shoppers is necessary if you want to be their first choice. Shoppers who have stronger connections to retailers are also less likely to be price-sensitive, and more likely to engage with them online. Sell your brand, and you will sell more.