This article was updated on February 18, 2021.
Human beings are creatures who want to bond with others. In 9 Surprising Ways To Bond With Someone, Antonia Hall is quoted as saying, “Creating a bond instills an emotional attachment, which is foundational for relationships.”
Branding is all about creating relationships with your customers. Niche marketing is all about CHOOSING who you want to focus on to create those relationships.
You WANT your customers to have an emotional attachment to your business. During the 2020 lockdowns, food delivery apps invested in advertising messages that encouraged customers to support their favorite local restaurants. Local businesses that didn’t nurture any bond with their customers found it much more difficult to survive than those who did.
An example of a company that created such a bond was Marshall Fields Department stores. As a result, there was a real groundswell of emotion when Marshall Fields Department Stores in Chicago were assimilated by Macy’s in 2005.
According to a story at NPR, Macy’s tried to keep the original “feel” for the Marshall Field Department stores. They kept the trademark clocks, the Tiffany ceiling, and the bronze placards which say Marshall Field and Company. They only replaced the signature green awnings of Marshall Fields and replaced them with black ones that say Macy’s on State Street.
Reporters would frequently reference that customers of Marshall Fields had a “strong emotional attachment” to the chain. Many wondered why there was so much reaction to a simple name change.
Devoted customers recognized that at its core, the store just wasn’t going to be Marshall Fields anymore.
Marshall Fields was more than just a name on some buildings. It had a culture all it’s own. Growing up in Indiana, even as a child, I knew a trip to Marshall Fields was worth the drive to the Chicago. Whether it was the flagship store or an anchor at a mall, MF had a unique culture which created a unique shopping experience. Macy’s isn’t known for keeping the identity of their acquisitions intact and separate from other Macy holdings.
Customers know that when the Borg (in this case Macy) assimilate a store, the store will cease to maintain it’s own identity and will indeed become part of the collective, stripped of almost all of the factors that made it “unique”.
How do you get your customers to “bond” with your brand?
According to Antonia Hall,
“Sharing in a mutual goal with others creates a bonding experience that’s based on a support system, which is a healthy way to build upon a relationship with friends or loved ones,” says Hall.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to find someone to sign up for the “shared goal” of giving you all their money and getting little to nothing in return. According to Leah Remini, even the Church of Scientology is struggling to make that equation work these days.
That’s why it’s so important to have to have a target audience or “niche market” in mind. One that leaps to my mind it Tom’s shoes.
Here is the Tom’s mission statement from their website:
We’ve always been in business to improve lives.
In 2006, TOMS pioneered the One for One® model. Since then, our community has had a positive impact on over 100,000,000 lives.
Today, we give ⅓ of our profits in support of grassroots efforts, like organizations creating change at the local level, and driving progress from the ground up.
That’s why our shoes are really something special—especially our classic Alpargata, which we like to think of as the shoe that started it all.
Because it doesn’t really matter where you’re going when you’re in your TOMS.
You can be sure it’s in the right direction.
If you’re buying Tom’s shoes, you’re not buying them for their superior wear or comfortable construction. Don’t hate on me. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve purchased DOZENS of Tom’s shoes. I didn’t buy them because they’re great walking shoes. I bought Tom’s because I felt connected to their story.
They earned my business because we shared a common goal.
Now they’ve changed their mission. Instead of donating shoes, they’re donating a portion of their profits to charity. I must confess, that switch has severed some of the bond I felt I shared with them. I’m not too sad about that. I was spending way too much money on crappy shoes.
Interest is the starting point of bonding
I must admit, I hate the way big box retailers have taken over America. I long for the days of my childhood when “local” businesses ruled.
In 2006, Wal-Mart had begun efforts to “localize” it’s stores. A store in Houston is being revamped and will appeal to Latino shoppers while a store in Chicago is undergoing it’s renovation into a more “urban” experience.
My husband was a Wal-Mart employee and shared with me what caused the pendulum to shift: the outrageous success of a little store outside of Miami.
For those who don’t know, Wal-Mart provides a surprising amount of latitude for their “entrepreneurial minded” managers. The store manager of this little store outside of Miami – not a Supercenter mind you but one of the “old style” Wal-marts – was very entrepreneurial minded. His store was a throwback from back in the days when Wal-Mart didn’t sell absolutely EVERYTHING under the sun. Well, this store manager, who is Hispanic, has created a culture in his store that reflects his culture. The banners that hang above the aisles are in Spanish. Most of the employees speak Spanish, some speak ONLY Spanish. You get the drift. Anyhow, this store manager was honored this past December because of his store’s outstanding performance.
Allow me to put this store’s success into perspective. On any given day from January-September, a Wal-Mart Super Center might take 2-4 semi-truck loads of goods. A small store like this one might take 1 load per day. Instead, this little store outside of Miami takes 5-7 loads per day from January – September. During the Christmas season, this tiny little store will move up to 10 truckloads of goods A DAY through it’s doors.
This manager has “tapped into” the culture of the area. He’s made his store a hub, a meeting place, a place like the bar on the series “Cheers.” At this tiny Wal-Mart, everybody knows your name.
Wal-Mart didn’t get to be the biggest retailer in the world by not seeing the writing on the wall. Now, other Wal-marts are being “transformed” into a local hub, just as this tiny store outside Miami has done so well.
So it is possible to be part of the collective and still have your own personality. However, I don’t see that happening with Macy’s.
One sided relationships don’t work
I hate it when any business takes it’s customers for granted. Whether it’s Macy’s, JC Penney or any of the other behemoth mall retailers, they all spent the first ten years of the 21st century with their heads in the sand. If online shopping killed retail stores, why are there still Wal-Marts, Targets and Kohls? These three retailers have remained true to their target audience.
In our local Wal-Mart, there are now huge banners proclaiming Wal-Mart as a “Florida” favorite. Even though I know it’s as genuine as the <insert customer name here> fields in an email newsletter, I still noticed it the last time I was there. It still got me for a moment until my normal cynical and sardonic nature regained control.
Meanwhile, the now failing behemoth mall retailers failed to focus on finding their niche market. They lost sight of their target customers, who started looking like a mob instead of individuals.
The moral to this story is that people don’t feel connected to lifeless brands that don’t care about anything other than separating them from their money. Branding is killing the failing behemoth mall retailers.
The seemingly all powerful Borg of Star Treck:TNG were ultimately defeated by scrappy individualistic idealists. Here’s to the scrappy idealistic local retailers who will step into the vacuum left by the failing behemoth mall retailers.