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Building Relevant Brands That Customers Value Interview Excerpt

Feb 06, 2023

Below is an excerpt of a recent interview discusses the importance of connecting with the customer:

Q: Why are brands so important?

Matthews: Brands identify and establish an emotional connection, a bond with your customers—and the most powerful brands go beyond a specific product or logo. In the customer’s mind, a company’s brand conjures up that company’s entire offering—not just one product.  Plus, your brand helps to differentiate you from your competition.  So having a strong brand is critical to maximizing sales.

Q: What are some of the techniques that a firm can use to build a strong brand?

Matthews: Actually, in the last five to 10 years there has a shift away from traditional branding. By traditional branding, I mean targeting and communicating with a very large audience.  This method can be expensive, can be wasteful—and can be easily infiltrated by a competitive brand. While traditional branding is not going away, a migration to more customer-focused branding is on the rise. Both large and small companies can effectively apply this strategy.

Q: Explains some of the dynamics of customer-focused branding. 

Matthews:  First it’s important to realize today’s customer/consumer is interactive: communication is no longer sent solely one way by the company to the customer. Today’s customer wants to participate—visiting your company, your app or store via the web – browsing your products 24/7. Because of today’s technology, customers have this luxury.  Customers want personalized interaction with the brands they trust, as well as a more targeted approach to their individual likes. 

Q: How would a company begin to implement this type of branding?

Matthews:   The transition from traditional branding to customer-focused branding doesn’t happen overnight.  Most companies are structured to manage their brands from a top-down perspective:  in other words, here is our brand and this is how we present it to our customers.  As a company begins transitioning to a customer-centric approach, data collection on each customer’s demographics and buying patterns becomes the initial driver of the brand.  It is important to note that while your product offerings may change or come and go, your customers should always stay with you. 

Q: Let’s say you are a single-store retailer and you don’t have a lot of budget for advertising. What can you do to help build your brand?

Matthews:  First and foremost, “grassroots” or local store marketing is the key to establishing a solid customer base in and around your store.  There are so many low-cost and even no-cost techniques that pay off for a single-store retailer.  This includes “sweat-equity” projects where you’re investing your time, not your money. This should include a social media strategy. In addition, I’m a huge fan of loyalty and gift cards–they are so inexpensive for a retailer to implement.  Not only are they revenue generators, loyalty cards cement your customers’ buying habits with your store.  

Q:  If you could leave our audience with one last thought, what would it be?

Matthews: All too often, companies spend a lot of money and time to jump-start their brand.  But as they get past their first surge of growing brand awareness, they rest on their laurels and customer brand awareness begins to decay. You’ll find that successful branding initiatives–consistently integrating local grassroots efforts with a well-planned ad campaign–are designed to create an ongoing brand presence over time, not short-term.

John Matthews, President & CEO, Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc.

John Matthews is the Founder and President of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc. a Raleigh, NC-based management consulting company. Gray Cat specializes in strategic project management and consulting for multi-unit operations; interim executive management; and strategic planning. Mr. Matthews has over 30 years of senior-level executive experience in the retail industry, involving three dynamic multi-unit companies. Mr. Matthews experience includes President of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches; Vice President of Marketing, Merchandising, Corporate Communications, Facilities and Real Estate for Clark Retail Enterprises/White Hen Pantry; and National Marketing Director at Little Caesar's Pizza! Pizza!