What the mall teaches us about branding

Guest Post by Zao525 Intern: Anthony Bader

There is a lot to learn about marketing from walking up and down the great spacious halls of a mall. Where else do you get to see numerous examples of stores’ branding side by side to analyze? Oh, and it is pretty nice that you can shop in them too. What catches my eye the most in the mall is the different clothing stores. When you think about it, their most basic goal is to sell fabric that you wear on your body. However, people do not perceive clothing stores in this way. What makes people buy a shirt or pair of jeans from one store when multiple other stores sell similar products?

Brand differentiation at its finest

The answer is brand differentiation. Storefronts in the mall create a unique environment for shoppers. The stores create habitats in which shoppers feel comfortable. For example, American Eagle, Maurices, and Express all sell jeans, but they all have very different shoppers. The images on their store walls, the building materials of the clothing racks, the attitude of the employees, and placement of clothing displays all contribute to a unique experience for shoppers.

This explains why each store has a unique clientele without blatantly advertising that their store is for people with a particular set of interests from ages x to y. American Eagle Outfitters attracts young people because – among other reasons – their store walls are lined with big posters of young people wearing American Eagle clothes, the staff is mostly comprised of young people, the staff greets you in casual manner, and the design of the clothes is appealing to young people. The subtle cues (aka Brand Voice!) all around the store tell the shopper, “this is where you belong.”

aeropostale_couponsWorking at my first job in Aeropostale, a clothing store mainly for teenagers, I experienced part of their marketing strategy first hand. While at work, I was required to wear clothes either from the store or ones that looked like they were from the store. When approaching customers I was told not to ask if I could help them find anything, but whether I could help them find their size in whichever piece of clothing at which they were looking.

When I was working, everything I said and did, and how I looked all contributed to the image that Aeropostale was trying to convey. Given that my second day on the job was on Black Friday, it is highly debatable whether or not I conveyed their image well for my two months of employment.

More than just a store

What all this tells us is that if a store brands itself just right, its shoppers will not just view the brand as another store, but as an extension of their lifestyle. This is not to say that shoppers only pay attention to appearances and overlook things like quality and price, but with when all things are equal, branding is what draws customers to your store and not someone else’s.

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