Author: Michaelean Pike
A recent Wall Street Journal article examined how small, independent bookstores find ways to thrive in the digital era. One bookstore doubled its sales the past decade with author events and specialization. That is, many small bookstores are narrowing their focus, and promoting themselves as experts in specific genres or topics.
Amazon offers seemingly endless options for readers, but bookstores find success by establishing carefully crafted identities with products and events reflecting that identity. The WSJ article reported, “More people want to shop local, and they want shops with personality.”
As small retailers face more competition from online giants like Amazon, they can no longer just blend into retailing’s landscape. They must stand out. If your shop isn’t generating sales you want, you might need to refresh your brand. That doesn’t require spending lots of—or, in some cases, any—money.
What exactly does your shop offer? Do you want to sell multiple products or hone in on a niche few? Photo Credit: La Crosse Archery
Start with Your Focus
Who are you as a business? If you don’t know, pause to mull it over. Rachel Green, CEO and founder of A Brand Called U! Public Relations, recommends identifying three words consumers must associate with your business. She elaborates in an article for American Express:
“Select three keywords that describe who you are and what your brand offers. These words should reflect positivity, provoke action, and cause compassion or excitement based on the nature of your business.”
If you have trouble picking three words, consider keywords consumers associate with your competitors. If one competitor is known for low prices, and your shop can’t compete on price, what do you offer that makes your shop more worth it?
Some archery retailers succeed by selling high-end gear and high-value services to hardcore bowhunters. Other retailers appeal to families seeking fun afternoons shooting together at the range. Those two types of retailers have distinct brand identities. You must figure out what brings consumers into your shop.
Many archery retailers, of course, want to appeal to bowhunters and recreational archers. Much like independent bookstores gaining an edge by specializing, archery retailers can establish themselves as experts by promoting their services and programming first, and product selection second. This approach appeals to a broad customer base. You can also create messaging for different audiences as long as you stay true to your core identity. One such retailer, La Crosse Archery in Wisconsin, structured its website with separate, clearly marked information for recreational archers and bowhunters.
It’s OK to pick three fairly broad words and fine-tune your identity over time. You can start with something as simple as “knowledge, service, quality.” Just realize those words apply to many retailers. Drill down as soon as possible to find words that set your shop apart, and possibly craft your shop motto, too.
Add a feedback section or a survey to your website and analyze the responses. Photo Credit: La Crosse Archery Facebook
Analyze Your Impact
How well do you communicate your brand identity? Try conducting internal and external surveys to determine if people know your brand. Ask your employees to choose three words that describe your business. Next, conduct external surveys by having an outside party evaluate your business. You could use a secret shopper or company that specializes in branding.
You could also ask your customers their impressions of your business. They might not choose the words you settled on, but if your brand identity is strong, your customers should provide similar ideas. Don’t despair if people don’t choose words resembling your choices. You have work to do, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means you have room to improve.
Decide what kind of message you want to send on your social media accounts. Photo Credit: La Crosse Archery
Time to Refresh
Whether you first need to strengthen your brand identity, or you want to let your brand evolve to capitalize on market changes, you must be consistent. Once you identify your focus, make sure it’s reflected in everything you do. Signage, window displays, social-media posts, and even your employees should communicate who you are as a business.
If your logo and signage were obviously done by a relative who took one graphic-design class in college, you’ll likely struggle informing consumers that your shop sells premium bowhunting equipment. Then again, a quirky hand-drawn logo might (emphasis on “might”) be perfect for retailers catering to families with kids. If you update your logo and signage, consider hiring a professional graphic designer with experience creating logos, or a branding/marketing company.
Your brand must also guide your social-media posts. If you sell lots of bowhunting equipment, and promoting the outdoors is a big part of your brand, post images and quotes emphasizing conservation, spending time in nature, and handing down the heritage. If humor is critical to your brand, post funny memes.
If you have trouble pinpointing what matters to your customers, visit the ATA resource website to study profiles of consumer types that identify their values, motivations and pain points.