Retailers are no longer just product suppliers. They’re lifestyle partners and entities with which consumers build relationships based on memorable experiences.
The starting point for all this? Retail branding. Not only does strong retail branding help attract your target audience, it also gives you the opportunity to stand out from the competition and foster customer trust and loyalty—all while growing revenue.
For retailers with brick-and-mortar shops, though, branding goes beyond just having a brand identity. You have to bring that identity to the shopping experience. Not sure how to do that? This guide will help you understand the ins and outs of a sustainable retail branding strategy, its importance, and nine ways to build a strong brand that improves the customer experience.
Table of contents
What is retail branding?
Retail branding is a strategy for building a strong perception of your store in your customers’ minds. It’s the deliberate steps you take to evoke positive feelings and encourage customers to see your retail business in a certain way.
Generally, a brand is an identity: the story you tell customers to connect with them.
The brand is the aspiration the customer wants to buy—it’s the core truth of the brand. Your brand is a story you tell to the world with the hope it will resonate and consumers will want to associate themselves with it.
Retail branding vs. product branding
It can be easy to confuse store branding with product branding. But where the former creates a perception of your entire store, the latter focuses on the look and feel of a particular product.
Retail branding targets a main market. But product branding goes deeper, targeting a specific submarket within the main target audience.
Take McDonald’s, for example. Its overall brand targets adults needing a fast, cheap meal. However, its Happy Meal targets a submarket: children.
One thing to bear in mind: Although product and retail branding are different, the former falls under the umbrella of overall store branding.
Consider the McDonald’s example. Although the Happy Meal targets a submarket, the product’s visual identity (the signature red and yellow colors and fonts) are the same as the main brand.
Product branding has to follow the same visual brand identity so products don’t clash with each other and customers can still recognize them as part of your brand.
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The importance of retail branding
Why bother putting all this effort into creating a unique retail brand? Because retail branding can help you in more ways than one.
Let’s look at a few of these benefits:
Stand apart from the competition
Brand identity is crucial, because that’s what separates you from your competition. In fact, the stronger your store identity and the more it resonates with your target audience, the more customers will choose you over competitors.
Think about it: Would a customer choose Brand A with a signature relaxing-to-the-eyes lavender brand color, or Brand B, which uses random colors for its product packaging, store, and website?
They’d likely choose Brand A, wouldn’t they? And they’ll remember it better, too.
Connect with your customers and the community
Strong retail branding can make your store shareable. This, in turn, encourages shoppers to take pictures of your store and products and talk about their experience online and in person.
This kind of user-generated content (UGC) is guaranteed to drive more awareness for your store.
It’s even better if you can use available space in your store to build a creator studio, where creators and influencers can shoot content for their social media. Not only does this help you tap into creators’ followers, it also gives you top content to share on your own social feeds.
Craft a story
Store branding is incomplete without a story that reveals who you are and the values you stand for. A brand story that resonates with your customers is memorable, helping you connect with them.
It’s also what helps earn customer trust and differentiates you from competitors. Ultimately, all this drives more revenue.
Create an experience
Branding also helps define customers’ experience with you. Essentially, what you stand for and how your store makes customers feel is the starting point for providing unique experiences.
Strengthen your omnichannel presence
Finally, store branding helps blend your online and offline identity, creating a streamlined omnichannel presence.
Interestingly, 59% of consumers say they’re likely to browse products online but buy them in-store (technically called webrooming), according to a Forrester Consulting study conducted on Shopify’s behalf.
The same study also found that 54% are likely going to experience products in-store and buy them online (a.k.a. showrooming).
This makes it clear: It’s uber important for retail brands to take creating a consistent, branded omnichannel presence seriously.
9 ways to incorporate your brand identity into your retail store
Convinced you need to work on building a strong brand identity? Let’s look at the elements that can help you do so.
- Use branded signage
- Incorporate your logo
- Leverage your brand colors
- Play some music
- Pay attention to scent
- Get the right lighting
- Mind your product packaging and displays
- Motivate your retail staff
- Be consistent
1. Use branded signage
Signage is often the first interaction a consumer has with a brick-and-mortar store, making it crucial for retailers to showcase their identity here.
Even the store name above your entrance is important. It’s the greatest opportunity to leave a memorable first impression. At the entrance to the store, the brand identity needs to be strong; customers want to feel like they are entering your world.
Signage also includes window displays. Not only are window displays one of the first things to attract shoppers, they also influence purchasing decisions.
A creative and inexpensive way to create that first impression is to use a chalkboard placed on the sidewalk out front. Retailers can lure in foot traffic, especially pedestrians who may not have even noticed your window displays.
If your brand identity is funny, make a joke. If you’re aspirational, use an impactful quote. Should the sign be distinctive enough, it could make an appearance on Instagram, getting your name out there even more.
In the store itself, use signage to help shoppers find what they’re looking for. Add digital signage to your retail store. This includes screens and signs that display digital videos, ads, or other messages you want to share with customers.
2. Incorporate your logo
Another essential component of your store identity is your logo.
As part of your brand identity process, you’ll have a logo that embodies that identity. And that logo needs to play a part in the in-store experience. Add your logo to product displays, receipts, shopping bags, price tags, and more.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to balance logo placement in your in-store experience. It’s not a matter of slapping the logo everywhere there’s a space for it. It must be strategic.
So how can you strategically add the logo to your store branding? The answer lies in your brand identity.
A brand like Coach, for example, incorporates its logo in its product design. Its retail stores have a minimal design, with lots of white space, bright lights, and little branding. But the products speak for the brand. Discount retailer Target, on the other hand, takes a more in-your-face approach to incorporating its logo into the shopping experience.
3. Leverage your brand colors
Retailers can use color to establish their brand identity because it improves brand recognition. The first step is to choose colors strategically, based on the psychological impact they have on customers: Specific colors evoke specific emotions.
For example, red evokes excitement, boldness, and youth. Health and wellness retailers often go for grays or greens to spark feelings of peace, calm, balance, and health. Blue is associated with trust, purple with creativity, orange with friendliness, and yellow with optimism. Men’s retailers typically opt for black and gray interiors.
Choose colors based on how well they represent your identity and the impact you want to have on your consumers. Swimwear brand Kokonut Pink, for example, has a brand identity pretty deeply steeped in the color pink. As such, its retail store reflects the same color scheme, creating an immersive brand experience.
4. Play some music
Having the right music and sonic strategy can also enhance your brand identity through the shopping experience. It goes beyond the type of music—think about volume as well.
If you’ve ever gone into an Abercrombie & Fitch, you’ve likely had to shout to your friend to ask their opinion of a shirt that caught your eye. That’s because the music is loud, embodying the cool, young vibe of its customers and its own identity.
While you may not want your storefront to sound like a nightclub, the point is to create a soundscape in your store that further solidifies your brand identity. So give due consideration to the background tunes playing in your shop.
5. Pay attention to scent
Another thing Abercrombie & Fitch and its sister stores do is use scent. If you pass by the store in a shopping mall, for instance, you might smell it before you see it. It sprays fragrances in the stores because it creates a specific identity and emotional reaction for customers. That’s the power of scent marketing.
Scent impacts mood and perception—just as colors do. Scent can also have strong effects on emotional reactions. That’s why yoga studios often use calming lavender scents to create an experience for students.
Think about how you want your customers to feel and identify scents that will evoke that feeling. Bonus points if you sell those fragrances!
6. Get the right lighting
Lighting doesn’t only help customers see your products, it also contributes to the shopping experience. While some retailers may think bright lights help the products shine more, they may not be an accurate representation of the brand.
Consider the moody lighting of Restoration Hardware, for example. The stores are edgy, moody, and masculine. Children’s stores can get more creative and playful with the lighting, while Sephora needs the bright lights so customers can test out cosmetic products and see them clearly.
Put simply, if you want customers to feel relaxed and calm, dim the lights. If your identity is more energetic, go brighter.
7. Mind your product packaging and displays
Everything from the fixtures you use in your store to how your products are displayed reflects your retail branding.
To begin with, work on your window display as discussed above. Use anything from mannequins to displaying a sale sign.
Once inside, make sure your retail branding influences all signage, from merchandising to wayfinding. Retailers have the opportunity to display their brand identity on everything from employee wardrobe and hangtags to floor treatments and shelving units. Keep the fonts, colors, voice, and tone the same—and aligned to your identity.
Also important is how you display your products to highlight their features and benefits—a process known as visual merchandising.
To this end, experiment with the product positioning, lighting, and store layout. For example, spotlight new products, bestsellers, or items you’re trying to sell.
You can also work in experiential elements to get customers to interact with your products. For instance, by letting customers try sample products.
Take Lush, a fresh handmade cosmetics brand. All Lush stores offer packaging-free products that customers can smell, touch, and try. As a result, Lush has become famous for its colorful, fragrant in-store experience, which customers can recognize from afar.
Lastly, product packaging is also a crucial element for successful retail branding strategies. You might package purchases in reusable bags, or offer a unique unboxing experience—booklets, branded tissue paper, stickers, and ribbons are just a few ideas for creating the experience.
8. Motivate your retail staff
Sales and retail associates on the floor personify your brand. They bring the retail brand and the products to life. They’re an essential component of the brand identity.
When onboarding employees, train them well. Introduce them to your brand identity: Help them understand what it is and how they can embody it. Keep this in mind when vetting potential new hires as well.
The associates at REI are a perfect example of retail staff who embody the brand identity. They’re all outdoor enthusiasts and share that passion with REI customers. Lululemon also does this well. In fact, it calls its associates “ambassadors.”
9. Be consistent
To nail your brand identity, pay attention to consistency and impact. All the customer touch points need to tie back to the retail branding—the same logo, the same fonts, look, and feel for both the marketing and the physical stores. You hammer home the message when it’s unified.
Every time a consumer has an interaction with your brand—in-store, by email, on social media, on your website—the experience has to evoke the same emotion.
Without a consistent system in place, the brand’s identity will get lost in the myriad communication touch points. Synergy across all channels makes the brand identity resonate more powerfully, and that makes your brand more relatable.
Here are some ideas on how you can ensure that consistency:
Document your brand identity
Include things such as your voice, your mission, and guidelines for logo usage. Make sure this documentation is circulated throughout your company. Don’t forget to provide examples of both good and bad to help employees understand.
Police your brand
With the proper training on your brand identity, empower your employees to be the brand police. Let them know that it’s OK to bring anything that they see is off-brand to your attention. Some businesses even have a team dedicated solely to ensuring all channels adhere to brand guidelines.
Encourage cross-department communication
Retailers that are large enough in size have teams dedicated to different business functions. Make sure store managers, the marketing department, PR, product managers, and other facets of the business are aligned and have open lines of communication to stay on the same page. This could take the form in a weekly all-hands meeting or regular status updates via email.
Ready to work on your retail branding?
At the end of the day, retailers need to know their consumers well and build a brand identity that reflects who they are as well as resonates with their target audience. Aim to create experiences that help establish relationships with customers.
After all, focusing on the experience, not just the product, goes a long way in today’s omnichannel marketplace.
Retail branding FAQ
What is an example of a retail brand?
A retail brand is a product made by a retailer and sold under the retailer’s own brand name.
What is retail branding?
Retail branding involves creating a unique identity for a retail store. This includes developing a name, logo, and overall look and feel that will make the store stand out from the competition. The goal is to attract customers and create loyalty.
How do you brand a retail store?
There are many ways to brand a store in the retail industry. Some common methods include using a logo, using specific colors, using a certain typeface, and using a tagline.
What are the 4 principles of branding?
- A clear and consistent brand identity
- A focus on the customer experience
- A focus on the brand story
- A commitment to continual brand evolution