Probably. Once or twice a year every business should review these eight key elements of its brand. Here’s how dance retailers can tweak and polish to see sales soar.
Branding isn’t just for big companies, and it goes way beyond your logo and tagline. “A brand is everything that represents the business, from your return policy to the way you feature products in e-mails,” says Bob Phibbs, CEO of the Retail Doctor, a New York–based consultancy. “It is the public face of your business.”
Your brand is what motivates customers to think first and most highly of your product, both the goods you sell and any services you provide. It can be summed up as what your customers, suppliers, employees and dance community think of your company—its reputation, what it stands for and its personality.
What are the signs that your brand needs a tune-up? Perhaps you see a competitor gaining on you, building their clientele at your expense. Or you are not getting sufficient repeat business or word-of-mouth referrals. Perhaps you are adding another location or expanding your merchandise. “If a company has experienced a significant shift in their customer base, what they offer, how they do business or the marketplace in general, it’s probably time for a brand review,” says Karen Tiber Leland, branding and marketing strategist and founder of Sterling Marketing Group.
A Brand Tune-up Checklist
A tune-up revisits the core elements of your brand with which the public and your staff interact the most—starting with your store’s brand identity. The adjustments should not be a reversal or change of direction (a repositioning of your brand is a serious and time-consuming undertaking, probably requiring professional help), but rather a refinement and polishing. You don’t need corporate resources to do this, but you do require honesty with yourself and your trusted staff. Ask: Is the brand message clear to employee and customer alike, and how can it be communicated more effectively? Then address these core attributes.
Wherever your branding appears—in signage, in communications, on the sales floor or on the bag a customer carries out the door—the appearance must be consistent, to reinforce its familiarity with customers so they’ll remember it.
Danielle Hernandez, owner of Beyond the Barre in Englewood and Westwood, NJ, makes sure her store’s logo appears on every visible aspect of her brand, from the shop front to the website, as well as on all online business listings, social media, custom packaging and even hang-tags that she and her staff affix to dancewear.
2. THE LOGO
“The logo is not the brand, but the logo must express the attributes of the brand,” says Robert A.B. Sawyer, an advertising creative director and brand strategist based in New York City. A refresh of a logo doesn’t mean a complete redesign; that’s a major job and not one to be undertaken by yourself. However, do look at your logo and assess its effectiveness: Is it legible in four-color as well as black, gray and white (as it may appear in some media) and on social platforms? Can it be recognized in different sizes—from signage to a receipt? Is the typeface still timely? Are the colors recognizable as part of your brand palette?
You can slightly alter the typeface to make it sleeker, or tweak the colors to make them more relevant in hue or intensity without compromising your logo’s recognition factor. “Clear beats cute every time,” says Phibbs. “If you like a cursive italic font, but it’s illegible on a quick glance, change it.” Colors, too, can be off-putting, he adds, so always follow a color wheel for adjacencies and complementary relationships.
3. BRAND COLORS AND YOUR DECOR
Ideally, your logo colors or a variation on them should carry through into your store. The color scheme will communicate your dance point of view to all who enter. Consistent use of color also subconsciously communicates calm and, thus, your authority to your customer. You may not be able to control the exterior colors of your business, but if they’re not consistent inside, fix that.
Rosemary Liberto had a particular challenge when she took over a venerable brand, Ellman’s Dancewear, in Richmond, VA, from its second owner. Two years after she acquired the 68-year-old business, she moved to a new location, with its own distinctively bright-colored exterior. While the colorway was not “on brand,” the cost to repaint was extremely expensive, so she kept the existing colors.
But Liberto made an update that did express her brand and got the store in sync with the age of Instagram. One side of the building was constantly hit with graffiti. Liberto took a potential setback and turned it into an advantage. She asked artist Taylor White, who had created a mural on the other side of the building, to do another one on the graffitied side. “Richmond is a mural city, so the intent was to keep with our city’s reputation but also have the mural reflect movement, our mainstay,” she says. “Now, so many folks use our building for picture-taking, then post to social media! It’s great advertising!”
4. WINDOWS AND SIGNAGE
Do your windows frame a narrative or are they merely a means to look into your store? If you haven’t already, introduce a tableau to get passersby and customers to stop and look. As for signage, does it protrude from the structure or is it flat? Is it intended to draw people in or mark a location? Perhaps you have no flexibility due to the restrictions on your exterior. Nevertheless, examine your signage as a pedestrian and as a driver; from the sidewalk, from the parking lot and in traffic. If your sign can’t be recognized as your brand, make adjustments. And if it’s showing wear and tear, freshen it up with a coat of paint or new typography to reflect the polish of your brand.
Shopping bags are a far-reaching advertising vehicle. They exist not only to transport merchandise but also to take your brand into the world when your customers leave the store. Can you think of a national retail brand for which the packaging—box and bag—is a status symbol? How about Tiffany’s? You can achieve this effect within your own community with simple tools like color-coordinated tissue paper and creative treatment at the cash wrap. The result: The purchase takes on the aura of a gift that your customer will unwrap at home with the greatest anticipation, even though she already knows what it holds.
Cassie Laurence, owner of Northern Ice and Dance in Potsdam, NY, sees significant mail-order business through her website. Each shipment goes out sealed with a silver Northern Ice label and a 10-percent-off coupon. “I use the labels because it takes more of the customer’s time to open the package,” she says, “and I find it really helps with store recognition.” She has incorporated messaging about reducing plastic waste on the label, too.
Your brand’s effectiveness is directly related to the integrity and truth of your brand story. On-brand communication starts with the voice: clear and, again, consistent. Above all it should be authentic. “Just be the best you; be your most authentic self. Embrace it,” says Marvin Ellison, the new CEO of Lowe’s, in a recent interview. You may have one person managing all communications—e-mail marketing, advertising, social media—in which case, this should be straightforward to maintain. You also should keep a notebook specifying communications guidelines and even vocabulary that employees can and cannot use. All the big brands do this, to maintain consistency and a recognizable voice.
“It is critical that all social media have the same look, feel and messaging as the website,” says Leland. “Using the same logo, the same language, the same colors and even the same editorial calendar across these platforms is essential.” For social media, Hernandez and her team developed a posts calendar for its original store to create anticipation and reinforce the store’s influence. “We post twice a week—Motivation Mondays and Tips for Thursdays—and include our logos,” she says. “It’s all about keeping our brand consistent and active in our followers’ minds.”
7. CUSTOMER SERVICE AND STAFF
Your employees are your brand messengers and they may know this, but do they demonstrate it? “Branding always starts internally and goes out,” says Sawyer. “Make sure staff understand what you stand for, what differentiates you from competitors and why you are in business. They must fully comprehend, appreciate and communicate the values that you represent.”
You can accomplish this with training and onboarding. During orientation, introduce new staff to your branding, so they can comprehend and represent it well. Here, too, guidelines are essential, from dress to social-media policies. “Employees must understand, through training, the role that they play as brand ambassadors for the company,” says Leland. “Include employees in solving branding and customer problems, too; it’s a great way to involve them in the process of brand building.”
Plan, once or twice a year, to have an all-employee meeting or retreat, where you revisit the brand and its values together. Encourage staff to ask questions and offer suggestions. If they feel you are invested in them, they will be invested in your brand.
Hernandez keeps her staff in step with training, dress and sales procedures. “Our girls have shirts and jackets with our branding on it,” she says. “They were trained on how to address the recent change in the store name and include logo-branded materials in customers’ shopping bags, for example.” Adds Phibbs: “A branded shopping experience is crucial. That means every time any associate interacts with a shopper, they’ll be able to duplicate a ‘wow’ experience. This [training] takes time and work, but it’s the first place you should begin.”
8. COMMUNITY OUTREACH
“Involvement in your local community is important, particularly those initiatives that are directly related to your business,” says Sawyer. A free sponsored performance takes your brand out into the world. A scholarship or donation to a studio or school’s dance program can bring it into an underserved area, for a ripple effect, too.
Della Stewart, owner of Dancin’ Soul Boutique in Carlsbad, CA, partnered last year with the Carlsbad Village Association for its weekly summer film festival. Stewart sponsored one evening, providing funds to help pay for the movie and also pre-screening entertainment. The evening included a performance by local dancers followed by a drawing for a prize package. The result was twofold: appreciation shown to the community that supports her and a new way to promote her brand.
The Bottom Line
Even when business is going great, a regular brand tune-up is essential because retailers understand that to stay in place is to eventually fall behind. Shoppers are constantly distracted and tempted to redirect their attention away from their greatest loyalties, such as your dancewear store. “The ideal brand creates an indelible mark on people’s consciousness so that they think of your business as the primary resource,” says Sawyer. A brand that is not recognized is weak, but a brand that has no meaning, no integrity to its promises, is worthless. Once or twice a year, make a brand assessment and do any touch-ups to reinvigorate your business and remind customers that you are the go-to.
Charlotte Barnard is a writer in New York City who often reports on retail trends, design and branding. She was a regular contributor to Dance Retailer News.