DALLAS -- Retailers agreed, during the recent National Grocers Association Annual Convention here, that the ultimate goal in grocery store branding is to get consumers to shop your store over the competition.
Whether its "Mr.Pig" of Piggly Wiggly fame, or the "fast, friendly service is just around the corner at your neighborhood Associated Food Store" motto, or the "healthy guys" image of Earth Fare, the three retailers that addressed store branding have been successful in establishing a distinctive connection with their shoppers.
"Branding means erasing doubt," said Jennifer Seaux, director of marketing, Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La. "A brand creates an image to reinforce positive attributes at the time of the purchase decision."
Debbie Underwood, director of marketing, Piggly Wiggly Co., Memphis, Tenn., is responsible for the marketing of the Piggly Wiggly brand, in both its "Mr. Pig" logo and in the hometown image cultivated by the 600 operators in the rural Southeast.
"Brand is the promise you make to the consumer; there is an emotional connection," Underwood said. To solidify that point, she described how an operator in Hot Springs, Ark., transported his customers to the store in one of winter's snowstorms, when the electricity was out. He allowed customers to shop by flashlight, tallied up the purchases bought and gave away meat that would have spoiled, to those in need, she said.
In a concurrent session at NGA, Michael Cianciarulo, president and chief executive officer of Earth Fare, Asheville, N.C., described how they have used top-selling Earth Fare purified water to help brand the store as "the healthy guys." The water is used to sprinkle the produce and to cook food sold in the stores. "We tell people it's our purified water," Cianciarulo said.
Another thing that Earth Fare does is put up tents branded with its name and logo at bicycle races in the region. Cianciarulo believes their brand is allied with "best quality and priced right." Price does not drive the business; he agreed, telling of a truckload sale on soy milk at 75 cents less than usual, but discovering afterward that they sold no more than usual. "Education of our consumer drives the business, not price," he commented, adding that Earth Fare sold a thousand turkeys at Thanksgiving at $2.19 a pound.
Seaux , who quoted author and consumer packaged goods expert David Aacker during her presentation, said the first thing is to identify your store, and decided where you want to position it in the marketplace. It's important to remember, she said, that you cannot choose to be something that does not fit the context of the marketplace you are operating in. For example, if you operate in a low income, rural area, it would not be realistic to be positioned as an epicurean market.
It's also important to know the competition, she said. Ask what does the competition have and own in comparison to your store. Ask yourself how you can differentiate from the competition, she advised.
Co-marketing opportunities can also help in the branding process. "If you are in a market dominated by children, why not invest time and effort with the local swim team?" Seaux suggested.
"Associated Food Stores allows our stores to have a badge. Building on our position in the neighborhood, we have developed a tagline of 'fast, friendly service is just around the corner at your neighborhood Associated Food Store,"' Seaux said. Stick with your advertising slogan or tagline, and stick with it for a long time, she advised.
"By the time you are sick of looking at your sign, the consumer is just starting to get it," she said. This applies to advertising or to point-of-sale materials as well. Often, a retailer develops a new radio or TV campaign but gets tired of it after a year.
Seaux recommended reading "Differentiate or Die," by Jack Trout, who said that everybody claims quality, value and service. Price is not the best place to stand. Service is expected, not a benefit. Only one store can have the biggest selection.
"Perhaps you have a market specialty, like the King Cake at Mardi Gras, or a unique product feature, like a photo cake. Play it up," said said.