Change or be changed

Posted on in BrandBlab

Speaking at a DIY conference in Moscow recently I was reminded how retail and service sectors seem to move at different rates when it comes to understanding the importance and need for an effective brand strategy.  FMCG led the way in developing strong product brands. On a competitive shelf space distinctive memorable packaging was seen as a vital asset to trigger sales.  This led to the unfortunate general misconception that branding was ultimately simply a marketing and packaging exercise for a company’s visual media.  Fast forward and while now there is a general awareness than branding involves an organisation’s ethos, values and behaviour, there is still the lingering perception that brand development is basically a marketing activity.

The biggest challenge for any brand strategy is achieving positive differentiation, the core reason for brand development.  Sexy brands like Apple and luxury fashion are too often quoted in presentations on branding.  We are told we must ‘love’ a brand for it to be a market success. But many offers are unsexy – I will never ‘love’ Tesco or my bank or a company that sells nails and drills but I can feel trust and assurance or just plain satisfaction regarding a convenient efficient offer and service.

Food and fashion retailers learnt from FMCG that developing their own brand profile and equity was vital in a competitive market and the battle between own brand and manufacture brands is a fascinating dynamic in the fight for achieving the best customer centricity.  Somewhat later banks started to discover they had customers who needed to be satisfied and adapted latest branding techniques to differentiate their usually virtually identical offers.  Services and people then became key differentiating brand attributes to create the desired first choice brand experience.

The need to achieve consistent image and service standards across every format, channel and brand ‘touchpoint’ is an ongoing challenge for all organisations under the increasing scrutiny of social media.  Interested  audiences and potential customers can now make or break brand reputations online either as brand ambassadors or terrorists but are now the accepted major essential driving force in achieving loyalty and sales.


So, back to DIY and you have to question why this sector is still grappling to understand the principles of successful branding i.e. a truly customer centric offer that meets the rational and emotional needs of the target audiences.  The Moscow conference issues – how to attract women, how to compete with specialists, the grocers, fashion and lifestyle retailers, create seamless multi-channel experiences have been talked about for at least the last ten years.  But the sector has been slow to change.  I suspect complacency and comfort zone resistance but I understand the problems – balancing the hard and soft trade, accepting DIY is for most a distress purchase not a pleasure, competing with homing specialists and the logistic capability of the major grocery chains are tough challenges.  As a consultant however, I see often a culture problem – talking about innovation and customer service but still accepting the norm of confusing sheds with lines of impenetrable products, poor service and lack of accessible inspiring solutions.

I must admit as an architect and DIY enthusiast I am fascinated by DIY and frustrated the retailers involved often can not seem to understand how to better attract enthusiasts like me as well as the majority of consumers who just want to find the right product quickly, relevant information, advice and ideas..

No one said it would be easy and DIY is an unfortunate potentially limiting description of the sector.  Home centres and ‘homing’ can be equally confusing as too broad a generic. You have to become known for something unique and desirable for your target audiences – constantly developing your tangible and emotional brand attributes. DIY retailers need to learn from the other consumer sectors, not to be poor ‘me-toos’ but to be trusted brands in their own right.

With the likes of Amazon and the major grocery chains seemingly able to move into any sector, DIY retail has some catching up to do if its is to remain as a separate sector or be swallowed up by more customer centric operations. Portals and communities of interest are replacing retailers as first choice destinations for making buying decisions. Retailers who are still grappling with providing just the basics will have a limited shelf life if they cannot achieve the added value brand perception vital in any competitive marketplace. Hopefully future DIY conferences will be reporting more fast track innovative customer brand experiences soon.