‘Overpromise and Overdeliver’

To make it in retail today, a marketing guru says you should get “close enough to smell the customer’s breath.”

The key in retail today is to define yourself as a brand experience, says Rick Barrera, noted author, marketing expert, and a keynote speaker at the AGS Conclave in Orlando, Fla.

Retailing in America has evolved, from predominantly mom-and-pop stores to shopping malls to online. In addition, there’s an increased presence of manufacturer-controlled stores. The result of all these changes is a growing focus on “retailtainment.” No longer is it enough for a retailer just to sell a product; he or she must also sell the experience of buying the product.

At the same time, a branding message is critical. To create a brand in a fraction of the time it would take through traditional marketing, Barrera told his AGS audience, you should both overpromise and overdeliver (also the title of Barrera’s book).

Overpromising means developing a radically different brand promise in a way that’s relevant to customers, and never promising what you can’t deliver. To achieve this, it’s essential that your products, systems, and people are all aligned to fulfill the brand promise, so that when a customer interacts with the brand at any point, the promise is fulfilled. The customer should never be disappointed in an experience with your brand.

The fastest predictor of growth for a business, he said, is the answer to a single question: “Would you recommend it to a friend?” Word of mouth is the biggest advertiser of any brand, and the Internet, he said, is “word of mouth on steroids.” Barrera estimated that one story by an independent third party is worth 100 times the comparable ad spend.

He drew a continuum showing a customer’s likelihood to recommend a brand to a friend. On a scale of one to 10, people who rate their experience as a one or two are brand detractors—very unlikely to discuss it except to complain—whereas people who rate their experience as a nine or 10 are very likely to become brand promoters. Those in the middle are passive—they may return themselves but aren’t likely to be advocates of the brand to others.

This is where the element of theater comes in, he said. Transforming an ordinary experience into an extraordinary experience generates word of mouth. You don’t want to be a victim of “inertia of automatic selection,” he said, citing Crest toothpaste as an example. People buy it because they need to brush their teeth and it’s what they’ve always bought.

“What’s the one thing your brand means?” he asked. Federal Express, for example, means “absolutely, positively overnight.”

He noted that articulated messages are important because people have too many choices today. They want to find ways to simplify the process, but if your brand fails, they won’t return, precisely because they can go elsewhere. Every action you make either reinforces your brand or destroys it.

Finally, he said, although it seems counterintuitive, the narrower you go, the faster you can grow. Become a specialist in one specific area and customers will flock to you for your expertise. Anticipate customers’ needs and try to find a way to differentiate yourself, whether it’s geographically, via distribution options, or through the product you carry. You can specialize in serving military couples or second marriages or focus on customer occupations (jeweler to the doctors), holiday events, price points, deep expertise, and so forth.

Barrera had one final piece of advice for jewelers: Put more chairs in the store. “How many people want to contemplate a $20,000 purchase standing up?” he joked.