It Is Your Business
Importance of Branding
In my library I have a copy of the Consumer Reports magazine in which Consumers’ Union did a taste comparison of soft drink brands. They compared the national flavors like Coke and Pepsi with less popular drinks like RC and national “generics.” The results were illuminating.
The taste difference between the national brands was practically insignificant, which wasn’t surprising. The reception to the lesser brands, however, interested me. The judges rated the best of the regional brands only slightly less good than the national brands. The difference in quality certainly doesn’t justify the enormous difference in sales volume. What’s the difference?
Coke’s annual advertising budget is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Virtually everybody in the world recognizes Coke. Thirty years after the ad campaign was retired, I’d still like to buy the world a Coke and keep them company. RC doesn’t have polar bears. Seven Up never had crazy legs.
These powerful brand images allow a product that’s virtually indistinguishable from its lesser competition to dominate the marketplace.
Fundamental Concepts of Branding
To know how to use it to your advantage, you should understand a few concepts about branding in general.
Branding is Comprehensive
Branding is a coordinated effort. It involves your logo, slogan, graphic design, product mix, return policies, hiring practices, pricing policies, advertising media and messages, and other choices you make about your business. Whenever you make a business decision, ask yourself “Does this support or harm the image I’m trying to project?”
Branding is Organic
Your brand will continue to grow and change over time. When you begin, you might focus on service and quick special orders. You’ll become known as the little store with great service. Maybe you’ll grow to a larger location and start to feature selection as a key part of your branding. You might lose the “little” part of the image during the transition.
Public perception is your brand. Your brand is not purely subject to your control; it also depends on your local customer mix and their tastes. If you want to promote board games and they want to play CCGs, then you’ll have to cater to that demand or lose sales.
You Could Be Wrong
You might not accurately know how customers perceive of your store. Talk to them. Ask them to name six words that they associate with your store. Ask them why they shop there instead of other places.
Don’t stop with your customers. Talk to neighboring businesses. Talk to your competition. Talk to former customers (your POS should be able to give you a list of lapsed customers). Find out what the public thinks about your store. Knowing the truth about your image can help you fine-tune your branding efforts.
You can control your brand most readily by managing certain aspects of your business. These aspects are the things that are most visible to your customers. Consider these choices before you start if possible. If your store is already open, then you might need to adapt your branding strategy to existing traits. Either technique can work.
Your choice of trade name is vitally important. Alderac Entertainment Group tells of the phone calls they receive because of their name; people in California apparently equate “entertainment” with “escort service”, which leads to some awkward conversations. Slightly less humorous is the thought of people who don’t have anything to do with them over the misunderstanding. How much are they losing in potential sales because of the unfortunate and unforeseen public association? That type of association is more important to you than it is to a game manufacturer, but it’s a solid lesson of the importance of conveying the right message.
One of my favorite store names is “Rainy Day Games”. It immediately conveys the image of a family gathered around a dining room table. Often, we have to deal with the public association of “games” with electronic games of one kind or another, but Rainy Day Games manages to dismiss that image right away. It also creates a wholesome family image right off the bat—it’s a powerful branding element. I so wish I’d thought of it first.
Note that this concept applies to your trade name. Your corporate name is immaterial for most purposes.
Your logo is a thumbprint graphic of your company. It should be immediately associated with who you are and what you do. Common visual elements associated with games include chess pawns, dice and checkerboards. If the rest of your branding machine is strong, your logo can be virtually anything.
Choosing uniforms is more than just putting your logo on a t-shirt (or at least it should be). Choose a type of shirt. Do you require t-shirts, polos, or button-ups? What color shirts? How about pants or skirts? Got a shoe requirement?
How about the rest of the employee image? If an employee turns out to have a swastika tattoo that he hid during an interview, does your image policy specifically disallow it? Do you even have an image policy? You should, and it should support your overall brand.
Colors & Patterns
A quick paint job can go a long way toward creating an image. Bright colors attract children, for example, so if you want to target children with your marketing, you should use primary colors. Elsewhere, choose one color or two contrasting colors to associate with your store. Your graphic images, your paint colors in the store, your uniforms, and other branding elements should incorporate these colors whenever possible. Nearly everyone recognizes a Pizza Hut by its red roof, for example, and a Subway by the yellow marlite.
It is a proven fact that a branded product name sells better than a generic product name. A “Happy Meal” sells better than does a “Kid’s Meal” carrying the same products. “Secret recipe chicken” sells more chicken than plain old “fried chicken”—even if they’re the exact same food cooked in the exact same way.
As a retailer, your ability to brand your products is limited. Your Monster Manual looks like everybody else’s Monster Manual. However, you do have options. One of these options is to brand your store departments. Toys ‘R Us calls their learning and developmental section the “Imaginarium.” You could similarly brand your RPG section, your hobby section—even your game space. This column has mentioned department signage and painting before. A simple border around a department could be enough to visually offset it from the neighboring sections. Don’t be afraid to paint your pegboard or even slat if it makes a better visual impact.
The design and content of your website presents its own version of your store’s image. If you have a message board, the discussion and level of moderation make a statement about your store. Do you squash arguments right away, or do you step in only if you’re in danger of losing a customer?
What you carry helps define who you are. If you’ve decided that you’re going to be the “we carry everything” store, then you need a monster dice bin, an enormous RPG section, and a lot of space for your minis. In fact, “big” sections might be your theme. You might have a Huge RPG section, a Giant Miniatures selection, and a Ginormous card game space. You should look for a suite with a high drop ceiling, keep the walls white, and use a lot of light. You might have your cash-wrap on a raised platform to give your employees the illusion of greater height (which, incidentally, might help the crew monitor potential shoplifters, too).
If you’ve chosen to make your store kid-friendly, you also have to make your store mom-friendly. That means either remove the adult-rated products or make sure they’re not available to the younglings. You’ll have to make sure that a noteworthy portion of your store is of interest to the age group you wish to attract. Your anime-themed CCGs should be more prominent than your Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, for example.
Whether it’s print, TV or radio, consider not just the specific message you want to deliver but general impressions you want to create. Before worrying about a price, should you even mention a price point? Do you misspell or misuse words? Is the ad too busy? Does your language use exclude or attract children? Do you want it to?
You have a million things to think about already, but branding is critical. You should pay attention to it all the time. If you’ve already become used to thinking about your store from different perspectives, as this column has mentioned before, it should be easy for you to back all the way out and look at your branding.