Defining Your Brand

NACS Show: It's more than a logo or a look, experts say

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Quinn Ricker

Quinn Ricker

ATLANTA -- A once-bitten fruit. A red bull's eye. A green mermaid.

They are not just an apple or a dart's destination or a mythical creature of beauty and mystery. They are the iconic signatures that require neither words nor clues to know their owners.

Are these images what made Apple, Target and Starbucks the irresistible brands they are today, or are they the embroidery woven into a culture--the cues of brands we trust?

This critical question was the subject in a provocative session called CEO's Own Your Brand. The 50-minute session, which many executives later hailed as the best among a rich schedule of education at the NACS Show, featured Quinn Ricker , president and CEO at Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker Oil Co.; Joe Bona, retail division president at New York City-based designers CBX; and Scott Willy, co-owner of Indianapolis-based creative specialists Three Sixty Group.

To many, brand is synonymous with logo. Wrong, said Bona.

Logos are the signposts, the winks of a brand with which you want to do business. "Apple has changed the meaning of an apple," he said. "Sometimes, [logos] are the symbol without the word. They're the personality and sign that I immediately know it's Target."

Simply put, the brand is your promise. And if the promise is kept, the logo is that evocative emotional connection.

Acting Big

Ricker speaks eloquently from the point of view of a multi-generational, family-run business that has long successfully competed against chains more than four or five times its size. But such measures of assurance were disrupted when Quinn's share group visited his family's Ricker's stores in Indiana.

"They blistered us," he said of his group's members. The stores were not cohesive, the brand was not cohesive, they told him.

Adding to the challenge was that the operator had acquired a fleet of ampm stores in 2008 as BP divested its company-owned units. Suddenly, Ricker's possessed multiple formats with a wide range of architectural and design motifs.

Ricker contracted the Three Sixty Group and the team undertook a detailed introspection. What kind of stores do we want to be? How does the appearance convey a promise and what is that promise?

Ricker's invested significantly in upgrading the exterior and interior of its stores, adding an elegant brick accent to the exterior, a palate of warm colors that not only would be employed inside, but would become the color scheme to all marketing and communication materials.

Indeed, when the company opened a store in Feb. 2012, Ricker at the time heralded it as a the new flagship store, one substantially larger than the legacy network that ranged up to 2,400 square feet. The new unit, topping 4,000 square feet, ushered in a more relaxing atmosphere anchored in a dynamic foodservice program, higher-scale flooring and granite countertops.

Augmenting the expanded store is Ricker's Rewards, one of the industry's most promising loyalty programs bolstered by a 10-cent-per-gallon savings in exchange for users' banking information. The program is backed by an aggressive media campaign and, in a bold move for the upcoming NBA season, Ricker's is paying the Indiana Pacers to promote its Ricker's Rewards Get Pumped loyalty program as the commercial between third and fourth quarters of all home games.

"I have to look bigger than I am," Ricker said, later adding, "I compete against Speedway and some other pretty good companies. I can't afford to look small. The customers need to think of me as one of the big boys."

And that point is key. Your brand is not restricted by size--you don't have to be big to act big, said Willy.

"We live in a time when we are highly visual," Willy said. "Design is the new currency we are all living in."

Mitch Morrison Winsight CSP By Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations
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