Feel The Brand, Buy The Brand.

In more than thirty years of working with retailers I have often heard those that are both retailer and wholesaler wax on about their inability to control the representation of their brands in their wholesale customers stores. They always argue that “the whole brand story” is not being brought to life in the manner that they want it to be.

I look them straight in the eye and say “Thank God!”

The reality of 21st century retail is that it is divided by segmentation. A brand is not one thing to all people and not everyone who wants to buy the brand wants to buy it the same way. There is a time and place for “brand immersion” which sets up the source of the appeal and a different set of criteria apply to the transaction. Sometimes the two come together, many times they don’t.

Niketown is a good example. The first one opened in Portland Oregon in 1990. It was a test run for the Niketown as we came to know it based on the first flagship opened in Chicago – hometown of Michael Jordan. When the store concept was announced nearly fifty percent of the wholesale customers of Nike threatened to de-list them, fearing that this concept would cannibalise their businesses. Within twelve months of Niketown opening, these very same businesses were staring at comparative store sales gains of more than twenty percent and they were begging Nike to keep Niketown going. Everyone then wanted a Niketown in his or her city.

The reason for this counter intuitive outcome is simple. Shoppers want to immerse in the brand. They want to experience what the aspirational feeling of the brand is as you created it. But often this is too overwhelming or intimidating to purchase from. Or the shopping occasion or opportunity to buy isn’t convenient or efficient for the shopper.

If pure brand thinking had its way, there would be only one way to experience the brand and buy it and that would be their way. The reality would be unproductive, single dimensional and very boring.

Even Louis Vuitton understands why it has a five-storey high immersion flagship on the Champs Elysee combined with its most productive sales per metre store in the world in Galleries Lafayette less than a kilometre away.

There is a time to soak up the aspiration and there are many more occasions and locations to buy. That’s what makes retail and the constantly shifting impression and relevance of brands dynamic.

The real dilemma facing the wholesaler-retailer is not anal control of their experience, but how they combine the controlled immersion experience with the scale afforded to them by creating access to multiple segments of shoppers who all want to buy at different places, at different times and in different ways. Shoppers want to feel the brand on your terms. But they also want to buy it on their terms.