Marketers of retail stores have a common goal – they are constantly working to strengthen their store brand. They know brand power translates into increased sales. A store’s brand represents all that the company stands for – it’s more than just a logo. Today’s store marketers are faced with more challenges in promoting their brand than their predecessors 20 years ago, but fortunately they are far better armed with strategic branding tools than ever before.

Successful branding essentially is based on a number of branding must-haves: that the consumer needs to be offered a promise or expectation by the brand; that branding helps the consumer identify and relate to the store; and that a store’s brand sets it apart from its competition. Branding essentially helps cement an emotional bond with its customers. In the past, successful branding was solely achieved through a “brand-centric” approach – putting the brand first and foremost. But as technology continues to advance, companies are now putting the customer at the forefront of their efforts – often incorporating “consumer-centric” strategies into their branding efforts as well.

Brand-centric strategies cast a big net: you create a brand, build some stores, and then communicate with a large geography of potential customers via mass advertising such as print, radio, billboards and television. Billions of dollars are spent annually on mass marketing, with those dollars having helped shaped some of the biggest, most recognized brands in America. Unfortunately, mass marketing is an ongoing strategy that is often difficult to measure results. Plus, it is critical to continually advertise in order to stay “top-of-mind,” with companies often spending ad dollars on reaching the same consumers that, in fact, may never become customers.

Brand-centric strategies are still very much a part of today’s marketing arsenal as they provide the broad reach required to move large groups of consumers. An example of brand-centric marketing is when a store chain buys radio advertisements. The message reaches far and wide, touting the brand without addressing individual customer needs, but rather, its radio commercials geographically target stores that have proven to respond well to advertising. Sophisticated marketers help to further target potential customers by employing Brand Development Indices (BDI) measurement tools to minimize advertising-dollar waste. BDI’s identify specific stores that respond better to advertising based on sales – in comparison to other stores. It is the “fish where the fish are biting” theory – spending ad dollars that deliver the biggest returns.

An example of ill-fated brand-centric marketing strategy occurred with the Oldsmobile brand. In 1985, Oldsmobile had a 6.9% market share in the automobile sector but GM recognized that its Oldsmobile customer base was aging. In an effort to attract a younger customer base to Olds, GM changed the brand’s proclamation to “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” They led their marketing efforts with a re-positioning of the brand and delivered this slogan through mass media. By 2000, Oldsmobile’s market share had plummeted to 1.6% – and General Motors phased out Olds. What happened here? Brand marketers tried a brand-centric strategy that failed miserably because potential younger customers had no interest in the brand. Marketers thought simply changing the brand catchphrase would be enough to entice new, younger customers to the brand. GM would have been better off approaching this potential young customer base with a brand more tailored to their needs and desires rather than try to re-position a legacy brand. It failed to recognize that its existing customers must continue to stay, and new ones need to be cultivated differently.

The new branding approach is a consumer-centric approach – win a customer once, keep them for life. Consumer-centric strategies enable the company to have a one-on-one relationship with a customer in a customized, cost-efficient way – enabling the brand to keep that customer through all of their life changes. Dell is an excellent example of this type of consumer-centric branding. At Dell, it doesn’t sell you a computer; it creates a one-on-one customer relationship with you. It achieves this by being large enough to wield buying power -thereby possessing the ability to offer low-cost computers – yet it is nimble enough to build unique, customer-specific computers. This one-on-one customer relationship provides the perfect platform for Dell to keep its customers buying from them for the rest of their computing lives.

The proliferation of social medias in the last few years, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have all enabled businesses – of any size – to establish and maintain ongoing relationships with their customers in a very affordable, informative, yet entertaining fashion. Social media has leveled the playing field for the smaller businesses to solidify a “cult-like” following amongst their customer base and efficiently communicate important information on a seemingly timeless platform – all in real time. It is quite amazing how newer companies can “go-to-market” in a cost-effective, yet deliver relevant content to their customer base.

In today’s branding world, savvy retail marketers need to focus their efforts on cultivating and maintaining customers through consumer-centric strategies such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. These ongoing customer databases allow the company to actively establish customized, one-on-one customer communication; and create loyalty programs – rewarding your best customers with special discounts and offers that continually cementing their relationship with your brand. In addition, these multi-platform, one-to-one communication modes allow the business to communicate with each customer in their stores, on social media platforms, on their web sites and via email. Each of these consumer-centric programs help eliminate marketing-dollars waste while solidifying loyalty in existing customers. Retail store marketers who implement consumer-centric strategies will find that customers that are with them today will, more importantly, also be with them tomorrow.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at.