This past Sunday afternoon I made my first visit to Plum Market in West Bloomfield searching for my favorite Jeni’s ice cream. I found Jeni’s out-of-the-state distribution location from a Twitter conversation I had with @jenisicecreams a week ago. Long story short, one can only imagine my excitement when I found lines of different flavors piled up in Plum Market’s freezer. (For those who don’t know about Jeni’s, this ice cream chain is founded in Columbus Ohio and only has stores in Ohio and Nashville as of now.)
With three pints of ice cream in the basket, I proceeded to the checkout line without even thinking how long it’s going to take me to finish all of them, and an interesting conversation started.
Cashier: How are you?
I: (Even well aware most people ask, “How are you” without really meaning anything, I sometimes tend to answer this question with my true emotions at the moment) Excellent. I just found my favorite ice cream at your store.
Probably a little bit surprised by the cashier’s lukewarm response (Come on! It’s Jeni’s! Who can’t be excited about Jeni’s?) I asked her what kind of brands/categories Plum Market stocks while other stores like Hiller’s Market doesn’t. Surprisingly, she gave me another lukewarm response, “we are pretty much the same.”
On my way home, I still couldn’t believe the response I got. With the technology, more and more products become commodities. Most consumers make purchase decision based on price. Companies in every industry spend billions of dollars buying media or printing coupons to attract customers and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. However, a good brand is formed based not on the number of coupons printed or sales accomplished but on the foundation of ideas connecting consumers and company employees. Whether you walk into a grocery store or a bank, your brand experience is heavily dictated by people you interact with. And the fact that even an employee couldn’t tell the difference between what differentiates her company with another one down the street makes me wonder if many other retail stores invest in the wrong channels. You might argue that since most of these employees are hired in at the lowest rate, we can’t expect them to care. That’s why I think companies should move portion of their investment to better educate their employees or to develop a rewarding system encouraging them to be “brand advocates. After all, people make connections, not commercials or banner ads.
Branding is never easy, and it can be really costly and time-consuming. That’s why no company can afford to lose ground in any aspect of telling their brand’s story (what is the philosophy, what is the product, and how can the brand connect with consumers’ lives). Certainly, employee ambassadors are one of those aspects that can make or break a brand. Now I only wish I could tell that girl at Plum Market, “You guys are different, you carry unique products that I won’t be able to find else where in any other grocery stores in Farmington Hills area.”
How do you differentiate your brands from others?
• Global advertising spend: Nielsen