Convenience stores sell hundreds of different brands, and retailers can put a focus on these brands by pricing, placement and promotions. But what about the most important brand in your store–your brand? We discuss what you need to do to make sure your brand is top of mind with customers–and that your store offer matches that brand promise.
Convenience stores sell hundreds of different brands and retailers put a focus on these brands by pricing placement and promotions. But what about the most important brand in your store, your brand? What do you need to do to make sure your brand is top of mind with customers and that your store matches that brand promise? That’s the big picture strategy, that discussion that we’re going to have today in the timing couldn’t be better. The NACS Show just ended. Retailers are coming back to their stores. They’re looking at how do they reimagine everything in their stores. After hearing everything in ed sessions, general sessions, going to the trade show floor and just coming back with all kinds of ideas. So let’s talk big picture strategy and to join us today to have this conversation, we have two people, Rick Sales, who is president of Abierto Networks and also Eric Sales, who is creative director at Abierto Networks. Welcome, gentlemen.
So Rick, let’s just start with you. In looking at big picture in strategy, um, what are the typical things that, that people look at when they go to stores? I know a lot of times we focus on the four court and how do you move people inside there, but what is the overall strategy in looking at how people come to stores?
As you know, for the last several months, we’ve been talking about the communication on the for court and how to enhance that communication to really drive traffic from the forecourt into the store. And, and we landed on a number of different things that the retailer can do to enhance that experience and entice the consumer to come into the store. In there, the magic sauce, the super glue, if you may, was the brand messaging that it basically drove the consumer to say, there’s something unique here about this visit. So I thought what we do today is we stand virtually in front of that door and accept that the forecourt has gotten us to the door and let’s just walk in through the door and talk about how the in-store messaging influences my behavior, delivers brand messaging, and really makes me a brand loyal customer.
Lots of retailers have invested significant time, energy and resources intoloyalty programs that are very important, in today’s market. But joining the loyalty program requires some kind of brand engagement or commitment. And there are many people in the forecourt that are not in the loyalty program, have not crossed that threshold. And I would argue that this brand messaging, in addition to helping people to come into the store is also going to help them to connect with your brand, to build loyalty with your brand and revisit. And why, because of this, it’s the most important messaging in your message mix.
I think those are all great points. And one of the things that we know from NACS research is the number one reason somebody goes to your store is they went to that store previously. The number two reason that they go to your store is because they went to one of your other stores. So they’re familiar with the brand and, and that gets them going. Eric, I want to turn it over to you and ask: what makes a good in-store brand or great in-store brand in terms of messaging in, in terms of getting somebody to go there for that first time. And then it’s a lot easier to get them to come back the second time.
Yeah, Jeff, I, I really think the goal starts in human psychology, that we as humans have this tendency to imprint ideologies onto our brain. And as your brand, that’s the most powerful tool that you have to imprint. We specialize in coffee, we have cold beer all the time, whatever it is that you’ve used to build the experience for your customers, you can imprint that through your branding. And that really comes down to focusing on three key areas in crafting that message. You have to make it authentic. Every chain is going to have a two-for-$2 or a 99-cent coffee. You need to speak to that customer and show them that you’re actually designing the experience for them. You need to make it locally relevant. For example, we have a customer that is running cortadito coffee ads down in Miami, which is a Cuban specialty coffee that is wildly popular in the area.
That’s a great locally relevant message that they’re offering this product. And thirdly, you need to make it easy to comprehend, internalize, and engage with. And that really comes back to the greater point of if you want this imprinted message that when I wake up in the morning and I’m getting in the car, and I think, man, I really need a coffee. The first place that I think of is your brand. You need to keep that message short, targeted and engaging. So basically less than 10 words. If it’s a video or animation, less than seven seconds, and you need to make it beautiful to catch the eye of the customer because images work best. So really if you follow those three factors in crafting your message, you can achieve over time, this imprint of your brand, and really encourage your customer to keep coming back. Because when they think about what they need, they’re affiliating that with who you are. And so again, that’s authenticity, locally relevant and easy to comprehend if you achieve that, you’re gonna crush it.
Yeah. I’d like to add on to that because I think this is a really important topic. And in addition to the message needing to be authentic and needing to be locally relevant and needed to be easy to comprehend, Jeff, you are totally correct. Repetition matters. And this is something that Eric and I have discussed quite a bit that I believe it takes at least three times of somebody seeing or hearing the message for it to stick. So the digital signage system and the way that we deliver messaging in the in-store also contributes to the brand experience. If the message is crafted correctly, the platforms are designed for repetition because as you said, the consumer is there for a short period of time, but it’s not there only once. And this is something that retailers recognized today that consumers have a lifetime of engagement and a lifetime of value to their retail brand.
So talking to them about today and talking to them about tomorrow is important. Repetition allows you to accomplish that, but also in this format, you can frame the message, right? Because you are bringing the message to them. The brand did something for you. Let me give you an example. You can run an ad, an amazing ad, that will drive revenue for Budweiser or Miller or any major brand of beer, and make it very compelling, make it short, make message tight. And while that might be effective in selling the product is really not affected in selling your brand. Right? Digital signage allows you to frame the message and say, “our brand brought you this because we love you.” Our brand brought you this because he asked for it–the retailer delivered the value. So digital signage allows that connection. And then, you are creating a conversation at that point in time, instead of just delivering an offer.
The offer is a yes-no thought in your mind, if you get into the psychology seven seconds, I show you something you’re gonna, yes-no. And if you say, yes, you pay attention. If you say, no, you’re going to ignore it. But in branding is a conversation because you want, like Eric said, you want those messages to resonate. If you look at Rutter’s message, “Why go anywhere else?”, and intentionally, when you think about the products that Rutter’s sells, in your mind in the back, it should be saying, why go anywhere else for this? And that is the brand promise. You don’t need to go anywhere else because we have it here for you. We have it here. Great. We have at an awesome price. So we’re not selling price, we’re selling brand. And that’s really super important. So I think when we work with a retailer is really a lot of fun at this stage of discussing the branding message, because it’s a little boring to discuss how to sell chocolate or how to sell.
You know, there’s just so many things that you can do. But when you get into brand promise brand messaging, you get lots of creativity, lots of strategy, and the values and the culture of the company can come out through the messaging and people can emotionally connect to that branding. And that’s really powerful when you connect emotionally. You think about Dunkin’ Donuts campaign, “America Runs on Dunkin’.” If you connect emotionally with that, not only do you only drink Dunkin’, you’re looking for Dunkin’ everywhere you go, because you run on Dunkin’. That is that low-level branding that gets you to be a lifetime customer, gets you to sign up to the loyalty program and gets you to participate and engage with that retailer on branding and features now clearly important, clearly challenging to do. And that’s where we come in. You know, we like to help people, not only with the conversation, but with the execution of this.
Eric, as the creative director, you’re the one that builds out this messaging. And, and you think about some of the messaging that we just talked about, “Why go anywhere else?” you think about others in our industry that just have great messaging. And even Walmart, they change from always low prices to live better because of the lower prices. So what is the process in building out the messaging or defining something, because this isn’t cookie cutter, this isn’t something where you just say, okay, well this is how it works because it works this way for everyone. It is customized. It is tailored. It is unique to your brand because when it’s unique to your brand, then your brand is unique. What is that whole process in building this out?
Yeah, Jeff, the first place that I always start is trying to simplify the goal as much as possible. And I would say that the goal is always the same design, compelling messaging, and then make sure that your customers see it. And while that sounds so simple, when you phrase it that way, it’s really not. And I think it’s important that when we engage with a new retailer, we always have to remember, they are the experts. They know the communities they’re working in, they know their stores, they know their products and they know the message. So it’s really more about working with them to distill down to what they’re most pride proud of at their locations to develop that message and craft it and make it nice and tight and short and direct, right? And then Rick really handles the second part of that, which is making sure people see it.
I talk a lot with marketing directors at various retailers across the country about, you have to really take some time to conceptualize what that means because you might have somebody coming in on their way to dinner with friends on Friday night to pick up a cold six-pack and bring over that customer has a lot more potential than just beer in their lifetime. As a customer, they might love coffee. They might love breakfast sandwiches. You don’t know who they are until they really have history with your brand. So advertising in a way that you make sure that they see your additional brand messages and you influence their return visits. And like I said before, you imprint the fact that maybe you have an excellent coffee program really is what leads to that long term success. So when, when we’re planning all of this messaging
first make the message compelling and then break out your sub-messages. The important parts of your brand, the important items that you have and the things that you’re providing to your customers, then make sure they see it not only by using your technology and using advanced animation and video and photography, but also through intelligent scheduling to make sure that you’re playing content at the right time. And you’re engaging with your customers at every possible opportunity on your core products. So really that’s how I approach any new retailer is combining these two concepts of really good truncated messaging that is direct and effective and beautiful with really intelligent scheduling and technology.
There’s something that we always bring to that discussion. And usually I am the old sage that brings it to the table. And the fact that this conversation, when it comes about crafting the brand message is iterative and evolutionary and creating the expectation that you’re gonna get it mostly right the first time, but that you’re going to keep testing it. You’re going to keep putting it out that you’re going to keep evolving, because your consumer is going to keep changing. So this is not only is it an ongoing lifetime discussion with the consumer, it’s an ongoing lifetime discussion with the brand because the brand will actualize itself over time. The brand will discover that there’s other value that it needs to bring to its customers to get closer to them. So the concept of iteration, the concept of evolution of message is an important expectation.
When we talking to them about simplicity of individual messaging, impactful photography and type simple to understand brand messages that are newer to the brand, that can be a heavy load for somebody to think I got to get it right. The reality is that you already know it because you know your company and you know your brand, you know your customers and you’re iterating to convey it better to convey it in a way that’s really sticky. And, and then that takes data discussion. It takes knowledgeable people and partners that can guide you to that conversation, share best practices with you, discuss market data and decide how to evolve the message. So to your question, how do you craft these messages? You craft them, it’s a continued effort you craft or you craft them over time.
What you just described to a great extent is the same conversation we’ve had for years around foodservice. And that is how do you make your foodservice unique? How do you make it, where it is effective as much as possible in effective of course, meaning people are delighted because if you disappoint somebody, even once with foodservice, you’ve probably lost that customer. And the most important thing in with foodservice, if you don’t have the skills in house, you need to acquire those skills by either hiring someone to work in your stores or hiring somebody to be a partner, to work with your stores. So as we look at more competition, as we look at more people messaging and more people telling their stories, it really becomes critical that you need to have these same tools. How are you going to compete? And if you don’t have those internal skills or you don’t think you have sufficient internal skills, you got to figure out how to get them. And, that’s one of the things that you offer, right, Rick?
You get to this place where you you’ve crafted a great message, right? We’ve we’ve gone through the discussion you’ve brought in your team and we feel really good about these, this message. You know, I’m always reminded by the old advertising adage that says if your first challenge was to create amazing content, amazing messaging, the second challenge is making sure that people can experience it as you intended it. So that’s a tall order. Not only is it a good message, you want people to experience it as you intended and to your comment about disappointment and foodservice. I think that applies here too. People have expectations of how you communicate with them and how you convey the brand and your cell phone drives that expectations. That platform is very advanced, has lots of capability and makes it look so simple that it really raises the consumer expectation of how you communicate with them.
And when you fail to communicate in a way that they expect you, I believe you disappoint them as much as when you come into the bathroom and the bathroom is dirty. And I think both of these events are newer to a perception that perhaps you’re not so great. And perhaps you’re not operating the site with as much care as I would like you to. The opposite is very true. And we’ve known it when the bathroom is clean and spotless and the site is running perfectly. People are going, “Hey, this is a great location. I want to come back. This is a great chain. They’re investing in the stores. They’re investing in products. They’re bringing me things that I want.” So you can connect to that. So I think that executing on the signage is super important. And for you to be able to execute on the signage after you created a great message, you need to have the proper toolkit and the toolkit is there to augment your capabilities and guarantee your success.
And our view for what this toolkit is, is very simple. You need to have the right hardware, you need to have the right software. You need to have the right services to come along. You need to have the right team, the right skill set. And these four things need to work synergistically. Now I do a lot of work at home and I’m sure like you guys, I’m always missing a wrench or some other tool that I need for something that I encounter, right? And while I’m pretty good at plumbing and generally can defend myself at electrical. There are some places where I need to call friends and say, you know how to do this? Please help me. Right? It’s no different here. When we work with our clients, we come to them as a industry expert and a technology partner to augment the toolkit and keep it current.
So you can deliver the vision as you see it today without compromise. I think that’s a huge brand promise from Abierto that you can deliver the vision as you see it today, without compromise. On top of that, that the toolkit allows you to iterate and evolve your message, to continue to inspire and engage your audience tomorrow. You’re making a capital investment, just like investments that you make in your kitchen. You’re making an investment in a partnership like you might make on, you know, back office investments or POS where you really depend on that company to run your business. And you’re doing that because not only do you want to inspire, engage people today, you want to inspire and engage them tomorrow. And then ultimately is what I was talking about. The toolkit and its flawless execution allows you to influence the consumer’s perception of your brand and its quality, because you do it all.
Well, your, forecourt is clean. You don’t have debris all over the place. All your pumps are working. You really invested. Eric and I were talking about this, how amazing it is that this industry, the amount of investment that they make to create a great consumer experience. And we are here to help you tell people about it, help remember it in ways that gets them to come back. And it’s not only the message, but it’s how your platform is working and how it’s making people feel, how it’s delivering the message and making sure that people are exposed to the message. Remember, you’ve spent a lot of money developing a great message, spent a lot of time, a lot of discussion. And if you deliver in a way that no one will see it, you will not get a return on that investment.
In fact, you will get bad information because you will not understand the reaction the consumer has your message. So, I think this is really important. Execution matters. Abierto’s brand promise is execute your vision, because we believe that every retailer should be able to have every screen in every store in all 48 states showing the current proper, locally relevant content in a way that enhances the consumer experience. That’s the value that we want to bring. And the toolkit that we put together helps every retailer because we have all the different wrenches that you might be missing. And additionally, we are part of the industry and we don’t sell signage to churches and car dealerships. We focus on convenience stores. We wantr to understand the unique nature of the applications that we have, which are different than other retail channels. And also the unique nature of the messages that we bring as the convenience store. Eric pointed out very correctly is a huge local player with big role, big influence and big messages for its communities. So the toolkit is a way that we help you enable your vision for success. And we welcome the opportunity to tell you how it works and help you use it.
The, analogy to wrenches and fixing something at home strikes with me because I do have wrenches and things like that, but I don’t necessarily know how to use them. And there have been times where I’ve said I can fix this. And, then somebody else has to come and we spend a lot more money than we would have first time because they’re fixing two things now, the initial problem and whatever I did. So, I definitely at home see the value of how do you do things right the first time and get that partner because there are ways to make things better right from the get go and not learn from your mistakes along the way. Eric, I wanna end with a discussion on experience. That was a big topic at the NACS Show, talking about customer experience. And that is really the new way of looking at things. How do they experience your store? And it’s through a variety of ways, but experience is the big thing that people are looking for now, isn’t it?
Totally in our vocabulary. We usually talk about it as the customer journey and we’re hearing this more and more with design firms and ad agencies and trying to bring it to the retailers that we’re working with of influencing the path of your customer journey is really one of the most effective ways to build up your brand and consistently reinforce it over time. And that involves all of the things that Rick was just talking about using technology, using intelligence software, to have the right messages in the right place at the right time. And making sure that all of that tech is actually working, your screens are on and they’re playing the localized messages that you’ve tried to push to those locations, but it also comes to trying to make the experience and the journey repeatable. We work with with quite a few other people. One company that I really admire is Paragon Design.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but they do a lot of the store layout for different retailers in the c-store industry. And John from Paragon always focuses in on this issue is that guiding the journey of the customer, making sure they can find the bathroom, making sure they can find the coffee station. And then on our end, making sure that they know the bathroom is clean and that the coffee’s really good. All of that’s part of crafting this consumer journey that makes you comfortable when you walk into a store from a chain that you’ve been to before, and it feels the same and the offerings are just as good. So really finding that consistency, augments this experience and creating this cohesive customer journey is like the final step in taking your brand from being great at a specific location to great across your network of stores. I think Rick probably wants to comment on this because we are constantly thinking about this and how we design our products and how the engineering side of house builds software to make this so much easier. Things like advanced dayparting and localization and being able to push differential pricing or differential promotions to stores easily is a huge game changer for a lot of retailers today.
When we get to this, this strategic part of the journey, what are we doing here? The person’s in the store and they’re dealing with a great design from a firm like Paragon or perhaps a historical design that needs some help. I like to think of the convenience store as a place that has information centers. And there’s different information centers that help different journeys, because everybody’s, journey’s slightly different. So I’m not really talking about how you travel through the aisles and the gondolas, but what is your mental journey for your cup of coffee. Your mental journey for a cup of coffee might be very narrow. And I have to be very clear about what I’m doing with you in that area, because you’re distracted as compared to it.
Maybe your shopping journey at the MTO station is a little more broad and I’m giving you some suggestions. I understand that you’re trying to make a decision. As compared to trying to find something so trying to enable the experience. So people go, that was great. I found it, I didn’t know they had this. When you do it well, they don’t even notice what you’ve done. Because as Eric says, the signage already knows that at this time, this consumer is likely to be here. He’s likely to react to this brand message and likely to react to these offers. So we want to make sure that repetition is there and we don’t want the disappoint two weeks later when they come back to this whole point, then about the experience being repeatable. I always share with my retailer clients, when we talk about this, it’s easy to put together a message and run it for 30 days or 60 days do it five years in 200 stores. Think about it. That way is easy to disappoint when the task is that big. So you really have to embrace the task and say, every screen will be perfect for my consumer in their journey. When you look at it from that standpoint, your toolkit really matters, because it it’s, what’s going to guarantee that the experience is consistent in every store, in every visit.
Jeff, I, I often get the question what makes Abierto different? Why work with us over any of these other advertising or technology or operations partners. And to me, it comes down to the unique approach that we take to the c-store industry. Specifically, we are out there crafting new wrenches that you maybe didn’t even know existed and refining our tools to make your life so much easier, whether that’s on the software end or innovating new technologies like we recently did with our open LED digital film, we are bringing these new and exciting techniques and technologies to retailers across the c-store industry that are helping them to achieve these goals of communicating effectively and making sure that everyone sees their message guiding this experience and this journey like Rick is talking about. So I would love to talk to anyone more about that. I’m sure Rick would as well. You can visit our website at www.ab-net.us. Register to talk to us, sign up for a webinar, reach out to us on LinkedIn, whatever makes the most sense for you, but we want to keep this conversation going. And as we see the c-store industry developing so rapidly with new technology, we want to be at the forefront of that. And we want to enable our partners to succeed and proliferate their message, imprinting it in on all of the new customers that they could possibly have.
If you have questions about this and you just want to have a short discovery conversation about how to get started. I welcome that. Abierto only works with convenience stores. We’re part of the industry and we believe this industry is a very important part of our economy. So we want to help all of our retailers to succeed. So if you have a question about how to do this, you’re not sure how to start, send me a note and let’s find a few minutes to chat about this and see how we can get
Well, Rick and Eric, thank you for supporting our industry. It is a robust industry because of everyone who works together and make it better. So thanks for joining us today and thank you all for listening to Convenience Matters.
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About our Guests
Rick Sales, President, Abierto Networks
Rick is founder and president of Abierto Networks, a leading digital engagement solutions provider focused on the convenience store and convenience foodservice retail industries and used in more than 4,000 locations across the country.
Eric Sales, Creative Director, Abierto Networks
As creative director at Abierto, Eric leads the design team and been an integral part in developing its OPEN.Platform. A veteran in branding, content production and analytics, he works closely with customers to craft compelling brand messages and accompanying campaigns.