02 October 2020, 08:34 AM
  • In her latest column for Speciality Food, retail expert Kate Hardcastle MBE recommends promoting your authenticity - and building equally authentic relationships - as 2021 looms
Kate Hardcastle, MBE: “How to evolve for long-term gain”

Be clear on your brand values and your purpose
Ethics, sustainability and community are constantly becoming increasingly important to consumers. 2020 has seen many of us become more educated and aware of who we’re buying from, so it’s important that as a business, you’re clear on what you stand for and what you aim to deliver for your communities and your customers - they want to know who you really are and what you stand for.

Ensure that your business practices and operations genuinely reflect your communications on this – authenticity is key and now more than ever, businesses must aim to be transparent and genuine.

Try to showcase the great work you do whilst remaining consistent and caring towards your customers, colleagues and communities. This also poses a great opportunity to capitalise on your brand personality and uniqueness as an independent business.

Share your story
Customers like to see the people behind the brands, learning about their journey as a small business owner and hopefully seeing the wealth of passion and expertise that independent business owners possess.

Many independent business owners have embraced online content such as video, and whilst it’s a challenge for some to take centre stage.

Build lasting customer relationships
When it comes to developing a business that not only survives in the short term, but thrives in the long term, lasting customer relationships are absolutely key.

Independents should focus on building solid customer relationships, based on an emotional connection with your brand, not simply a transaction. There are some fundamental ways to build solid relationships:
•    Know your customers (gathering and understanding data is key)
•    Turn your data into insights to personalise the experience and make it memorable
•    Communication enables ongoing conversations, better insights and stronger relationships
•    Service must be consistent across every touchpoint

Like any long-term relationship, it takes time to build and retailers must constantly look for ways to attract new customers and support existing ones. ‘Surprise and delight’ promotions are great for this – delivering something special for your customers ‘just because’ often helps to drive engagement and feel good and shows that you care about serving your customer base.

Form strategic partnerships and alliances
“We’re in this together,” has been the mantra of 2020 in so many ways and is absolutely true in business too.

Collaborate with and support other independents in your neighbourhood, network or industry – there is always something to be gained and by collaborating you can share ideas and skills, have a stronger voice and represent your industry/sector much more effectively.

Champion other small businesses, even if it’s just by sharing and liking their posts on social media. Every bit of positivity counts right now and with many SME owners feeling the impact of 2020 on their personal wellbeing – the support and value gained from partnerships can extend way beyond business.

Delight at every opportunity
Whilst value is at the forefront of many shoppers’ minds, they’re still looking for joy and delight and retailers must continue to deliver constant joy and innovation, to keep customers engaged and returning.

Stay ahead of trends both inside and out of your industry and learn from innovation wherever possible. If you’re in retail, look to the leisure, hospitality and entertainment industry for ideas and inspiration – there’s always something to learn and gain. A quick way of learning best practice is to research the winners of the various industry awards to understand what the best in every industry do to stay ahead of the game.

Despite the safety measures in place in bricks and mortar stores, retailers are still working hard to deliver an experiential experience, it just requires a little creativity. Take a look at every touchpoint and think how you can add a little magic - even things like floor stickers can be interactive, fun and engaging with a little thought and effort.

Remember that sometimes it’s the small things that count and the smallest things can make a big difference in the mind of a customer, after all they often just want to be treated as an individual and given the respect that comes with this.

Added extras such as quality packaging and gift wrapping are not only received positively by customers, they afford you the opportunity to place your brand in their hand and their home and with a little creativity, this can be achieved on a budget (think stamps, handmade gift tags, scent and handwritten notes).
I once shopped with an indie retailer who used gift tags which had been placed in jars with cinnamon and spiced festive fruits and not only did it smell amazing, this tiny touch was a talking point amongst all my gift recipients and a memorable brand experience years later.

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