Q&A with James Gregory, CEO, CoreBrand

Brand equity, the value of the brand name itself, plays an increasingly important role in consumer purchase decisions, brand engagement and in driving stock valuation. Since 1990, CoreBrand has measured changes in 1,200 leading brands in some 40 industries. Now more than ever the strategies to drive growth and increase loyalty are top of mind, and Corebrand emphasizes the importance for retailers to leverage their most valuable asset—their brand. Retail TouchPoints had the chance to catch up with CEO James Gregory for his thoughts on the role of social media for retail brands, the importance of brand monitoring and what retailers can learn from the challenges faced in the specialty retail sector.

Retail TouchPoints: What aspects of brand monitoring are most important for retailers?
James Gregory: Since the retail marketplace is highly dynamic and change can happen overnight, it is critically important for retail brands to monitor the marketplace for threats and opportunities. The specifics of a retail brand will determine what kind of monitoring makes the most sense. For example, a fashion-oriented retailer dependent on current styles and trends would do well to monitor the latest, fastest moving social media for changes in trends. Conversely, a brand that has a well-established aesthetic or value proposition can be more lax in current trend watching but will need to monitor threats (competitive and marketplace) to that aesthetic/value proposition.

RTP: What are some of the other business factors that retailers should be monitoring to ensure the security of their brand identity?

Gregory: Retailers would be wise to monitor larger economic projections to understand likely changes that Bull or Bear markets can bring. The ability to adjust everything from inventory on hand to price structure to messaging in advance of significant market change will enable businesses to weather storms and gain leverage. Far too many retailers focus on week-to-week sales statistics only and fail to pay attention to larger movements.

RTP: What are some of the key struggles for specialty retailers like Tiffany and Nordstrom, and what can other retailers learn from those struggles?

Gregory: Luxury oriented retailers like Tiffany and Nordstrom face struggles in difficult economies due to a decline in disposable income. While this has an obvious effect on business statistics, the effect on the brand may not be so obvious. The retailer must strike a balance between being seen as the exclusive/luxury that it represents in good markets while protecting against the image of ‘unaffordable trinkets’ that can creep in as financial concerns mount. This is not an easy task as managing that balance will be different for each company based on its brand proposition. Each brand must understand what ‘affordable luxury’ means to their customer promise and how to deliver that promise as the economy slows.

RTP: How integral is social media to a product’s brand?

Gregory: Social media should be viewed as a key component of a brand strategy. For many years, savvy retailers have looked to create emotional attachment between the customer and the brand to drive loyalty, grow market share and expand product categories. Social media presents an entirely new opportunity to build this attachment. It also presents a significant challenge as the control of social media lies in the hands of the consumer, not the retailer. This highlights the need to monitor and react to changes in the market in order to gain the leverage that social media can provide.

RTP: What are some of the key strategies retailers can use to make sure their brand is engaged with customers online?

Gregory: Retailers need to get beyond the online store as a digital version of their brick and mortar stores. Many retailers have done fantastic jobs of ‘inviting the customer in’ to a physical location through store design, product presentation and appropriate use of promotional material and then fail to provide the same level of attention to their digital locations. Retailers must give the same considerations to inviting in a customer while recognizing the unique qualities that online shopping provides.

James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy and communications firm based in New York City, with offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Los Angeles. With 30 years of experience in advertising and branding, Jim is a leading expert on brand management and is credited with developing strategies for measuring the power of brands and their impact on a corporation's potential financial performance. Most notable of the tools that Jim has developed is the Corporate Branding Index® (CBI), a quantitative research vehicle that has continuously tracked since 1990 the reputations and financial performances of over 1,200 publicly traded companies in 49 industries. CoreBrand uses the CBI to help clients recognize how their brands compare with industry peers and how communications can impact corporate reputation and financial performance, which includes stock price and revenue growth.