Would your spouse believe that you've changed simply because you drop a couple of hundred dollars on some expensive new denim and a designer jacket? (Well, my wife tells me that she expects more.) The trades are filled with stories of restaurants reimaging and redesigning their stores, often including quotes from the CEO or CMO about building the brand. Without question, a store's appearance is an essential component of a brand and keeping the brand relevant to customers. However, many redesign efforts result in limited, short-term impact because, like the new denim and jacket, they're only cosmetic changes.
Real brand impact only occurs when consumers shift perceptions and modify their behaviors toward your brand. This kind of impact requires understanding and modifying consumer behaviors to create a new experience — a new and better reality. Of course, design plays a major role in contributing to these changes, but the right kind of design is about much more than simple aesthetic changes. These changes need to mean something to the brand and ultimately to the guests. They offer a unique opportunity to communicate with guests and create longer term growth opportunities.
Many people correlate branding solely with marketing communications, but this is too narrow. Target's cool ad campaigns are clearly an important component of their success in creating brand perception. However, Target focused on delivering a better customer experience years before they undertook their everyday design approach to products and marketing. More importantly, they created a physical space that would change the shopping experience to support their brand's message. This included wider aisles, improved merchandising, better lighting and signage — all of which positioned Target as distinct from all of its discount competitors.
Over time, the company's successful delivery of the experience earned it the respect of customers and the right to create a bold, nontraditional brand for a discount mass merchandiser, which would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago.
It's a great story and a great lesson. Marketing, but also physical space — the most direct interaction consumers have with a brand — results in an experience that, in turn, leads to differentiated brand perception. It can also translate to higher average unit volumes (AUVs) since a better experience can drive traffic and also serve as an essential complement as a platform for menu innovation.