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An experience sets a store apart from its competitors. An experience is something remembered by a customer after leaving the store. An experience is a feeling and a memory that can be remembered by the five senses.
A Branded Experience Test
Imagine you are shopping at Target. You close your eyes for one second and when you open your eyes, suddenly all the merchandise and logos have disappeared.
Would you know where you were?
Probably! No matter where you are in the store, there is a clean white vaulted ceiling, curved red displays, and the store is brightly lit. There is rarely a mess and all employees are wearing red and white clothing. That’s how you know you’re in a Target store.
What if the same thing happened at Barns and Nobel? Would you know? You might think you were just in an old Borders store that was such down in 2011. They look similar with shelves for books, movies, and some POP displays.
This test shows the difference between having strong brands and store experiences and weak ones. Target store fixtures are tailored to match the brand, while Barns and Nobel and Borders are so similar, you could mistake one for the other.
The Brand and The Experience
In the graph, you’ll see that companies with higher brand recognition (X axis) tend to have better in-store store experience (Y axis). Sizes are relative to 2014 company profits. You could say that a better store experience increases brand recognition, but flip the graph and you could say higher brand recognition creates a better experience.
The truth? Brand recognition and in-store experiences work together. In the graph, you can see four quadrants, green, red, gray and blue. There are 16 recognizable brands (that’s eight different types of retail with two competitors each). Some of these have memorable in-store experiences, and some not as much.
Unique Brand, Unique Experience
In the green quadrant, you see brands that have unique branding and a unique shopping experience. Home Depot has iconic orange shelving that matches its logo, Abercrombie is recognizable by its scent which fills the store, 7-Eleven is a classic convenience store seen in movies with unique orange, white, green, and red stripes.
The brands in the green quadrant are visually unique from their competitors in the same industry. Remember our test where all the merchandise and logos disappeared, and you could tell that you could still identify that you were at Target? That works with these stores as well.
Undeveloped Brand, Indistinguishable Experience
In the opposite red quadrant, you see brands that do not pass our test. These are stores that not only look similar inside, but you may be confused by the branding as well. Besides the names, what’s the difference between Barnes and Nobel and Borders? Not a whole lot. These brands have a lot to work on to stay relevant in their industry.
Unique Brand, Undeveloped Experience
The gray quadrant has recognizable brands, but the in-store experience isn’t unique. CVS and Walgreens are nearly touching! They have similar brand colors, merchandise, and store layouts. There are no fixtures that significantly differentiate one store from another. With little diversity from competitors in the same industry, our test shows us that the experience needs to become unique for the customer and different from competitors.
Undeveloped Brand, Unique Experience
The last blue quadrant, as we see with the example companies we have, is empty. Why is this? The brands that would be in this quadrant would have a low brand recognition may be due to fewer stores, less marketing, or perhaps standard branding.
These brands would also have a unique experience. the store may appeal to a specific niche or may just be a small company.
If these criteria is met, you can expect to see a lot of smaller businesses with high local brand awareness but low national brand awareness. These details are why we do not see any big brands in the quadrant.
Improving branding and growth, without compromising the in-store experience, can lead to a shift to the right of the graph, eventually entering the green quadrant.
Low brand recognition (compared to a large brand like Walmart) does not mean a business isn’t successful or that customers can’t have a great experience there. It just means that the company has room to improve branding and grow as a company. Brands in this quadrant tend to be literally one of a kind – or at least one of only a few.