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When you create and nurture a brand, our customers are our audience. We tell them a story designed to communicate your value proposition in a way that will engage them and compel them. We want them to not only want our product or service, but also to identify with the brand and embrace it.

We work in a business that often lies at the intersection of brands and consumers, so we're able to see firsthand the value in helping our clients to tell their story in a compelling way that deepens relationships and reinforces messages. Digital shopper marketing, through digital signage, mobile apps or social media, is a discipline which requires telling a consistent story effectively and frequently.

All of us carry around a brand rolodex in which we maintain a collection of loyalty cards (whether real or virtual) for each product or service we consume or use. These cards are stamped with a brand we have adopted as our own, a brand we identify with and agree fits our needs and with which we can identify. In business, whether you are a retailer, a manufacturer, a software provider or any other type of business selling something to consumers or businesses, it's your job to tell your story, create a connection and nurture relationships. Brand identity should be reinforced to customers on a continuous basis, with a focus on consistency, and should never lose sight of what your core value proposition is.

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about how customers' perception of Walmart has changed. Surveys indicated that a majority of consumers polled no longer thought of Walmart as being the leader in low-price value on products. What was interesting was that research showed that the store was still very competitive in this area, but what has changed is just the perception of the customers. What happened? Did some of Walmart's new initiatives like customer experience and store design changes create this new perception? Was it a decreased focus on low price in the company's marketing? In any case, same store sales have been down for quite some time. Retrenching the branding efforts to reinforce the core value proposition to the customer is probably a big focus now.

Best Buy capitalized on the weakness of competitors like Circuit City by creating a superior store experience. Circuit City cut costs and removed the knowledgeable store associates, while Best Buy ramped up the Geek Squad and other efforts to deepen their bench strength in winning the hearts and minds of the consumer electronics shopper, and they continue to deepen that connection through service and superior experiences.

Gatorade is a good example of a consumer goods brand trying to tell a story effectively. Their new product offerings require a well-executed plan with which to educate the consumers. They now have a whole "platform" of products designed to help athletes perform better before, during and after workouts. The key challenge here is to not lose sight of the core brand identity they have established, and to maintain the message with their audience that they help people perform. Avoiding confusion with new product offerings, while maintaining core value proposition, is the trick.

When movie studios decide to capitalize on a hit by releasing a sequel, they try to stick to the original formula that created their initial success. If they stray too far from the original formula and take a left turn with character or plot consistency, they are taking a risk. They may be offering up something that a new audience might enjoy, but the primary goal is to maintain their core audience that has come to identify with the brand.

Whether we are helping our clients or focused on our own branding efforts, we can all be well served by remembering to focus on deeper engagement, frequent reinforcement of messaging and above all, a faithful commitment to core values.

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Matt Schmitt
Matt Schmitt, president and co-founder of Reflect, drives innovation strategy and the solution ecosystem for Reflect, and has extensive experience with multi-channel digital media garnered from his roles at Yahoo!, broadcast.com, and Fox Sports.
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