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A Message from Retail - what is happening to your BRANDS?

publication date: Apr 23, 2013
author/source: Bill Napier


Click the image to read the original article


In August I wrote a short article about The Death of a Salesman. I now refer to it as my obituary as a former CMO of many fine companies I had the privilege to work with. (Read It Here)

I‘ve never claimed I’m an easy guy to work with because mediocrity and complacency are not in my DNA. I’ve been both blessed and cursed with “Passion”. Passion for everything: passion for being a great dad, a great employee, a great leader and passion for being different than everybody else when it comes to leading the marketing of an organization.

Because of this passion, I often find myself at odds with “traditional” organizations. I hate traditional…it’s pedestrian and the results are always predictable. This leads me to rant about what a brand is, or should I say “is not” in our industry today.

In our industry, research has shown that consumers really don’t know or care about any of our brands. As matter of fact, I believe the number is less than 19%! That’s getting uncomfortably close to Congress’s approval rating!



I remember in the 90’s GAP had these awesome commercials featuring people swing dancing to swing music. When the commercials came on, I’d turn them up, loved the music, loved the energy, I loved the visual “candy.” I ended up shopping there because I loved “cool casual”!

This platform rocketed them up in Brand awareness, likeability and more. BUT the most important statistic was their sales grew sometimes 17%+ per quarter! They were on fire, crushing the competition.

So the geniuses at GAP decided it was tired and wanted to try something new. They fired the marketing guy, hired a new person and went to everyday low prices and more. The result? Their business tanked!

The brand we promote is “Cheap.” Cheap everything, sale this, closeout that; always a race to the bottom. No aspiration, No engagement, No connection, except for those consumers who like feeding on the bottom, yep bottom feeders I think the slang is. - Mediocrity & Commoditization RULES here!

What went wrong? In the 60’s and through most of the nineties, BRANDS RULED. There was a perceived value of owning a branded item, people believed in brands, they sought them out, they bragged about it. Not anymore. Now when asked they brag about “what they paid for it.” How sad is that. Your brand has now been “tagged” to cheap.

In our industry there is one company that stands out: IKEA. You say they aren’t your competition? You are wrong! 126,000,000 Gen X & Y love cool, hip and the stuff they sell. The first item your son or daughter purchases when they move out? A bed and they are pretty likely going to buy it at IKEA. IKEA is cool and everyone at that age wants “cool”.

Speaking of IKEA, have you seen what they’ve just done? They’ve made their iconic catalog into an interactive home design catalog. It is the most amazing innovation for home furnishings I’ve seen. You can take a bed, hold it’s position, show bedspreads and scroll the style until you see what you like, take a snap shot and you are now your own HGTV design star, well at least in your mind ;-) 

(Click the image, or the link below, to read the article and see the catalogs and videos)



Click the image, or the link below, to read the article and see the videos



Look at their commercials, clever, fun, funny and relevant. They are mavericks and they do NOT aspire to being a “pedestrian, or your father’s Oldsmobile, brand.”

Meanwhile, our brands are still printing catalogs, spending 100’s of thousands if not millions of dollars a year on these antiquated tools. We invest in clever “in-store” graphics and we invest in $500 commercials for SALE, SALE SALE, with cheap graphics, and lousy voice over’s. Then the end result is we complain we can’t make a decent margin! Einstein’s theory of Insanity anyone?

Take a look at most of the manufacturer websites in our industry. They are NOT good and since I’ve already printed my obituary I can safely say they stink! Add that to the bulk of retailers who also have lousy sites…if they even have one…and you have a strategy for disaster

The product photography stinks, the information about the product is minimal and the navigation is non-existent. I’m sure this is all done because you really don’t want to sell anyone, right? You don’t want them to visualize that awesome looking sofa in their home, right? Oh, I know, it’s about saving money and “hoping” things will change…back to the good old days. Well, I’m here to tell you that car dealers DO NOT sell Oldsmobile’s anymore, and hoping that you can buy a new Oldsmobile and find spare parts somewhere is a failed strategy of hope again. 

OK, you’re defending yourself that you rely on your retailer to do all this. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING! You’re going to let 1,000 retailers define 1,000 ways who you are, what you are and why you’re the “one” they want? Einstein again, people. The first rule of a brand is YOU create it, YOU define it, YOU control it, and YOU develop the tools to insure it is positioned the way YOU WANT IT to be PERCEIVED BY YOUR TARGET CONSUMER.

BUT that is only the beginning in developing a brand. Based off your 5P’s – yep I added one – Product, Promotion, Price & Place and PROMISE. Your brand is a PROMISE. A promise, that IF the consumer does what you want, searches you out and ultimately buys your stuff, that promise is fulfilled. If you don’t fulfill that “promise”, you’ve sold a “one-off” and your lifetime value of that customer is toast.

IKEA does this the best….granted maybe for first time buyers, but they know who their market is – GEN X & GEN Y and they know how to target them, engage them and always aspire to be different in how they promote their Brand Platform. Sure there are a couple people that I know of that do this well: Sheely’s Furniture – Sam’s Furniture – Baer’s and more that I wish I could name. They use video, online chat, awesome designs, blogs and more to capture their customer and explain to them why they (Their Brand) will be fulfilled based off their “promise.”

So, if and when you develop a great brand platform, be careful that someone, your retailer, doesn’t hijack it and commoditize it to the bottom feeders. Instead of sitting there hoping, printing catalogs and useless P.O.S and “thinking” your way into a brand, start “acting your way into a brand.





First, invest whatever it takes for a consumer to “find your brand”, learn about it, engage them with it and help them find that retailer that shares your same value proposition.

Instead of wasting your money in materials that will be obsolete in 6 months, take that money and help your retailer do the same with their web presence. Maybe a brand gallery inside their site promoting your brand they way “you want it done.”

Social Media Presence


Yep, this stuff again. Well, you can’t deny its influence in how people now engage with a brand and make buying decisions. I won’t show you the facts, but you can find all of them on our website: 


 We’ve outlined the 10 most influential for your reference


LinkedIn for Brands.


WHY haven’t brands connected with retailers here? This is such an awesome way to introduce new products, have discussions, and get new ideas, leads and more. It is the best B2B networks out there…bar none! You could develop an open or closed group and talk to your retailers about new products and then re-direct them to an area on your website



BLOGS & Video


It is statistically quantifiable that if you embrace these platforms you will get 57%+ more leads. (Yep those studies are on the site too.)

People are tuning out TV, Print…Newsweek just announced they are strictly digital now, Netflix streamed 1 billion shows….IN JUNE. Consumers “find What they want. Where they want, When they want and receive it How they want”. You must be everywhere they “want to be” and that is online with relevant content.” Want proof?

Here are samples of what happens when we blog or push out relevant content on Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, G+, LinkedIn and more.



We average between 300-400 people a day, BUT when we push out content, the numbers skyrocket. On July 25th we pushed out our Commoditization Blog and had 3,500+ visitors.

So, in summation, if you think that having a name, a product, a distribution channel and a colleague that has a sign on their door saying “FURNITURE”, you are destined for irrelevance…sooner than you think.

Last question: What is your ROI in NOT investing in your Brand for TODAY”S Consumer? I bet I know, do you?



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