Now Is the Time to Embrace Bold Messaging, Branding Experts Say

After experiencing a drop in sales earlier this year, footwear companies are trying to capitalize on the new wave of shoppers returning to stores, both online and in store. To do so, businesses need to connect with consumers who are expecting different things from the brands they shop at – making brand communications a critical tool for retail success.

“First, you need to understand who your is brand talking to and what do they care about,” said Heather DeMonte, brand strategist + storyteller at brand creative agency Klique. “This seems so basic but many brands miss the mark and make themselves the hero of their own story instead of their customers. Truly understanding how your apparel satisfies an emotional need for customers is essential.”

Recent studies have shown that consumers are valuing authenticity and transparency right now, as well as favoring brands that share their values. Participating in causes you’re your customers value could help foster trust; the nationwide protests against police brutality have led to many companies publicly sharing their support for Black Lives Matter. Others have been emphasizing their engagement in pandemic-related causes.

But consumers are also demanding more than just lip-service from brands, warn brand management experts. Jim Cusson, president of retail marketing agency Theory House, recommends companies avoid generic messaging such as “we’re all in this together” and instead focus on bold communications that speak directly to a specific audience.

“Although it may sounds counterintuitive, brands should resist the temptation to cast too wide a net and be everything for everyone,” said Cusson. “Instead, they should have laser-like focus on the needs of their most loyal consumers. This is where your insights will come from, from your most vocal critics and fans, and that can help guide your path forward.”

Shoppers wait in line to enter Forever 21 store inside the Dolphin Mall in Miami, Florida, USA, 20 May 2020. Dolphin Mall, the Miami-Dade County's largest retail shopping center, re-opens today with some restrictions as the mandatory use of the Face coverings by shoppers and employees inside the mall's common and retail areas and the limit of 50 percent of mall or store occupancy.Businesses reopen in Florida, Miami, USA - 20 May 2020
As businesses re-open and shoppers return to stores, the new retail landscape requires a different approach in communication from brands.
CREDIT: Cristobal Herrera/Rex Shutterstock

DeMonte echoed this idea of avoiding jargon or clichés, as well as the danger of being too cautious with messaging. While the way many customers purchase goods has changed, she argued that the basics of brand strategy remain consistent – regardless of shopping channel. Many companies have been focusing on the pivot to digital sales, but DeMonte warns that this isn’t a replacement for a strong brand message.

“Marketing is how your customers find you, but branding is why they come back,” said DeMonte. “People don’t stop being people just because they’re in the digital world. Just because someone can find your brand online at the touch of a button doesn’t mean they like what you have to say when they get there.”

One way that companies can hone their messaging is to try and clarify their brand promise in three words or less, recommends DeMonte. This creates a concrete foundation to draw on for any future marketing initiatives, even when exploring unfamiliar or novel methods.

Another suggestion from the experts is to emphasize a human story and not just rely on analytics. Shoppers want to understand how a brand fits into their personal lifestyle, said Cusson.

It’s also a balance between words and actions. Many consumers want to see brands they support make donations to certain causes — or implement meaningful changes within their own ranks, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusivity.

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