CHICAGO — What differentiates your brand? Don’t think about it too hard; just say what comes to mind first.
More likely than not, your answer is some variation of offering the best service or the friendliest employees. Ernie Harker, formerly with Salt Lake City-based Maverik and now an independent brand therapist, takes issue with that response.
“Everyone says, ‘We’re the friendliest.’ You’re not!” he told attendees of CSP’s 2019 Customer Engagement Forum in Chicago on March 26. Brands that choose to describe themselves in such a way are ignoring the qualities that truly differentiate them, Harker said.
He used his work revamping the Maverik brand as an example. Before Maverik was “Adventure’s First Stop,” it was an Old West-themed country store. Harker said some locations even had hitching posts for horses, though he never saw anyone tie a horse to one of the posts. He shared an image of an old Maverik interior, revealing a plain store with white walls and an assortment of cheap, unexciting products. “It was a well-branded company, but the brand was losing relevance to its customers,” he said.
At first, Harker tried spinning the Old West motif into something more like an action Western, but none of those ideas took hold. In fact, he said he made little progress until he sat down with his team and asked outright, “Why do we go to Maverik?”
Suddenly, a theme started to form. He and his staff swapped stories about stopping by Maverik before going camping, hiking, skiing or hunting. They even talked about what they bought at Maverik on their way to work and how it affected their day. They agreed that stopping at Maverik meant preparing to go on an adventure. From there, it was only a matter of time before Maverik became known as “Adventure’s First Stop.”
Slowly, over the course of a few years, Maverik’s branding was completely revamped. The saloon-esque store exteriors were remodeled to look more like sturdy log cabins. The white interior walls were covered with bright, engaging wallpaper showing people enjoying the outdoors. The renovations cost the company more, but Harker felt the cost was worth it. “We’re not spending that much more money on wallpaper to make an experience that’s memorable,” he said.
Fast forward to today, and Maverik is one of the most recognizable brands in the industry. Nitro, the brand’s social-media mascot and manager, is well-known among Maverik fans, and Maverik sweepstakes feature eye-popping prizes such as trucks and boats. The rebrand was a success, Harker said, because his team made the effort to honestly examine what made an experience at Maverik different from any other brand. Then they ran with that idea.
In today’s retail environment, in which technology and consumer sentiment are moving faster than the speed of innovation, it is more important than ever for operators to sit down with their teams and have a brutally honest conversation about what makes their brand unique and how they can capitalize on that irreplaceable aspect of their business.
As Donna Hood Crecca, principal with Technomic, said during the 2019 Convenience Retailing University in February, despite the recent success of e-commerce and delivery concepts, brick-and-mortar retail is not dying. Boring brick-and-mortar retail is dying. Don’t be boring. Don’t be disrupted. Be different.