All retail marketing instruments affect the retail brand, as illustrated by the notion of the comprehensive retail brand image, which is made up of a universe of interconnected associations. To develop a strong and successful brand, three basic principles are mentioned in literature:
• Differentiation from competitors
• Long term marketing continuity
• Coherence of different marketing components.
Achieving differentiation (in consumers’ minds) is a central characteristic of a brand. Higher levels of differentiation from the competitor are expected to lead to higher profitability. Only brands that are well distinguished from their competitors can build up long term customer loyalty and avoid store switching by the consumers.
Establishing a clear brand image is a long term process. Brands are established through consumer learning processes. Consumers store associations in their memory. Brand associations become stronger over time and must be reinforced by repeated exposure to the same brand messages, because they might otherwise fade away.
The past investment in the brand building is at least partly lost if the brand marketing is changed. Thus, continuity is important. Also, risk reduction is one of a brand’s main functions. Consumers trust a brand, because it entails a standardized and uniform offer under a certain brand name. Some of the world’s most successful brands demonstrate that retaining the same brand message and communication (with slight variations) for years and even decades is one of the key prerequisites of successful branding.
The retail marketing mix includes all marketing instruments that a retailer can deploy. The term mix indicates that the instruments are not used in isolation, but that they jointly influence the consumer. In order to be successful, all marketing measures must be coordinated to ensure a close fit with one another and that all measures convey the same brand message. Because inconsistency makes a brand image fragile and consumers strive for internal harmony or congruity in their knowledge and information (“theory of cognitive dissonance”), creating coherence between all the different facets of the retail brand is crucial for success.
Considering the complexity of the retail environment, ensuring a fit among the marketing instruments and all brand contact points is challenging. IKEA, Sephora, The Body Shop, Boots, Zara and others are examples of successful brands that succeed in projecting a uniform image with their store atmosphere, merchandise, pricing, communication and service.