Posts Tagged ‘retail’


Keep It Real

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Welcome to 2015! We are going to usher in the new year with a few of Austin’s thought on effectively communication your Position. Let’s dive in with a lesson on keeping it real.

People don’t deal well with concepts. They prefer reality. Brand positioning is a good thing so long as it isn’t entirely conceptual. Instead, a brand position must be real, and it must be brought to life through the product or service itself. If there are multiple products under a brand umbrella, find the catalyst- the one that best exemplifies the position and makes it real to the audience.

All this is especially true if you want to change the way people see you. Yeah, maybe you can convince them you’ve changed just by telling them so, but wouldn’t you be more certain of their response if you could present some evidence?

When Oldsmobile told you it was “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile,” the unspoken response was “Um…yeah, it actually is.” Oldsmobile had a catchy line, a good communication strategy, but didn’t have a product to back up its claims. Cadillac, on the other hand, didn’t need to say a whole lot about its new and younger outlook. It simply showed you the Escalade and- perhaps just as important- who was driving it.

Consider these additional examples:

-Target doesn’t claim to be hip. It just is. No amount of claiming to be chic can substitute for real-life presence of top designers and brands in its stores.

-Sun Microsystems may have been “the dot in dot com,” but it was the Java programming language that brought the company’s Internet-centricity to life, getting Sun into thousands of offices where it was subsequently able to sell a lot of profitable servers.

-You can say you’re in the entertainment business and that intuitive design is important to you. Or you can be Apple and simply introduce the iPod. And then follow it up with the iPhone.

-Motorola called itself Moto and tried to act very, very hip, but it didn’t work until the company launched the Razr. (Unfortunately, although the phone looked great, it didn’t work well, so success was fleeting.)

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a real product or service that brings strategy to life is worth millions of marketing communications dollars.

And lately:

The recent increase in ‘environmental branding’ is a testimony to the benefits of keeping it real. Niketown, Levi’s, Disney and Apple stores are all great examples of a brand being brought to life in a controlled retail experience. ‘Pop-up stores’ can also showcase a brand for the same purpose. That purpose, that focus, is almost entirely on creating a great brand experience.

So keep it real. Never forget that a real product and a real brand experience are generally worth more than all the words you write and all the marketing communication money you spend.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy


Sterling Buzz…

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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We’re happy to share the findings of some fascinating research conducted by Google in partnership with Ipsos and Sterling Brands! Now we can say without a doubt, that digital research has become more important than ever in combination with in-store shopping and linking consumers to local stores.

“Eighty-seven percent of shoppers research before visiting a store, 79% search during their visit and 35% look after, according to research released today by Google, based on an online survey of 6,000 smartphone users conducted in partnership with Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands.” -AdAge

Click here to read the full findings from the study

And in a related story published by AdAge, retailer Macy’s has used these Google digital search findings to bolster local inventory ads to highlight what’s in local stores for shoppers who use devices to plan and complete a purchase. Read more on that story here<<


The Consumer is Dead

Monday, October 6th, 2014

For what it’s worth, the term ‘consumer’ really irritates me. I still use it to make myself understood, but it bugs me. With time, I’ve concluded that the word bugs me for strategic reasons- not just because I don’t like the word itself.

‘Consumer’ conjures up a mass of people ready to blindly ‘consume’ my product. By comparison, the word ‘customer’ seems more singular and implies a relationship of some kind. Consumers consume. Customers purchase- if they are treated right. Consumers are the way of the past. Customers are the wave of the future.

This makes a difference on a couple of fronts. Right now, retailers have customers and most of their suppliers have consumers. For structural reasons, but also because of this schizoid mindset, the retailer often has a much stronger relationship with that person than does the manufacturer. Over time, this almost always leads the retailer to become a more trusted ‘guarantor’ of product quality than the manufacturer. Ultimately, this means that the retailer can source products and build brands that the customer trusts more than those from the manufacturer- and they’ll be cheaper for many of the same structural reasons.

I believe everyone needs to build a real, working customer relationship management (CRM) strategy. Forget the software for now; just embrace the theory. In the old world, terms like 1:1 marketing, segmentation and mass marketing were too often viewed as distinct alternatives. The fact is, for many marketers, inside their customer database reside customers who deserve to be handled 1:1 and can be profitably marketed to this way, customers who can be approached on a segment basis, and customers who can only be profitable if they’re treated en masse.

Depending on your business, you may even be able to determine the unprofitable customer- and although all consumers may seem like they are worth having, some are definitely best sent over to your competition.

So, let’s stop thinking about the people buying our products and services as consumers and promote them to the exalted status of customer… and then we can all go back to fighting over them.

If you’re a manufacturer and this creates confusion with intermediates such as retailers, who you currently call customers, I have another suggestion. Call them partners and treat them accordingly.

Austin McGhie is head of Sterling Strategy. Stay tuned for a continued, in-depth take on the customer all month long.


Call It a Comeback: Retail’s Back to Its Fighting Weight — Retail Brand Strategy

Friday, June 24th, 2011

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It’s 2011 and the Great Recession has been declared: over. After poking out their heads, sniffing the air, and taking stock of their equity, a few Retail brands are equipped with a new strategic plan and poised to re-jigger the marketplace. From CPGs to the way we buy, read about a few brands that are fighting to win consumers hearts and changing the way we will look at Retail going forward– at


Countdown to Black Friday

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I don’t know about the rest of you but I am getting pretty fed up with all this hype around Black Friday. When it was merely a trade term, used by retail commentators, I could live with it although even then it had a sinister side. But in recent years, the phrase has entered the everyday consumer lexicon and it’s becoming more invasive, more ubiquitous and for me, more annoying. (more…)


Reviving the Retail Giants

Friday, June 18th, 2010


Here is the basic fact: Once you’ve stumbled into the sportswear forest at a Macy’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales or Lord & Taylor you could pretty much forget if you’re in the store with the Big Red Star or a Big Red Dot. (more…)


The Gifts You Give Yourself

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

In a recent Mintel presentation on Consumer Trends for 2010, there was an emphasis placed on the concept of Balance, and specifically our need to find balance between the low-end necessities we purchase and those few indulgences we still allow ourselves despite the recession- because we’re only human after all.




Value + Versatility = Individuality

Thursday, November 12th, 2009


The hallmarks of fashion brand American Apparel have always been “Fashionable Basics. Sweatshop Free. Made in the USA.” To this I’d like to add: And Super Fun to Buy.

It is a wonderful thing when a brand stands up against the horrible practices of sweatshops around the world, declaring itself as truly American-made so appropriate labor-laws can be maintained whilst the product is manufactured. But You know and I know that it is American Apparel’s position as the number-one go-to source for apparel layering basics that keeps anyone age 35 or under as loyal to and almost dependent on the brand. American Apparel recognizes the increasing desire for consumers to ‘self-brand’ using apparel as the expression of their own brand. (more…)


The Amazon Phenomenon

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


If you had told me in 2002, eight loss-making years after the company was formed, that one day Amazon would become one of the biggest brand successes worldwide, I simply would not have believed you. (more…)


Announcing the Clash of the Toy Titans – WALMART vs TOYS R US

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

It’s coming up to that time of the year when we have to start thinking about buying toys and games for our kids, families and our friends. And I don’t know about the rest of you but even the thought of it fills me with fear and trepidation.

As part of my preparation, I spent some time over the last three days visiting a number of Toys R Us and Wal-Mart stores as well as both their websites to see what’s going on. And the news from the front is that both of these titans are winding themselves up for another massive battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of holiday consumers nationwide. (more…)