Not only did 7 out of the 10 top retailers in the U.S. close up to 20% of their stores during 2014 alone, but according to Retail Future, over the next 3 years 22% of all stores in the U.S. alone will close their doors.
Supermarkets are no exception – over the past 10 years the entire industry lost 13% market-share to Walmart, K-Mart and Amazon. Those squeezed in the middle have one thing in common. A very bleak future. So what do you do when you’re a mid-sized American supermarket chain with seemingly only two options left; lower prices or close stores?
In 2012 Lowes Foods asked Martin Lindstrom and his team this very question. Our reply: let’s find something truly different to stand for. For us branding is not a new logo design, another ad campaign or signage system. It is an entire culture change. And for Lowes Foods this meant getting closer to the consumer.
One of the world’s undisputed giants storytellers, Alfred Hitchcock, introduced his famous Blue & Green script philosophy sometime in the late 1950’s. What it meant was that he would direct all his movies based on two different manuscripts. Where the Blue Script defines the rational side of directing, i.e. the props, the lighting, the audio, etc. – the Green Script would define the emotional outcome…how the audience should feel every second while watching his movies. It went like this: first you should feel relaxed, then after 7 seconds scared, then 35 seconds into the movie, in total harmony. Second by second he would define, control and monitor how the audience should feel.
With this in mind Lowes Foods commenced the biggest transformation in the company’s 60-year history. With the support of former Disney cast members, sensory experts and even local farmers, all with the consumer foremost in mind, the mission was to convert every touch point in the store into a true Green script experience – allowing storytelling, sensory appeal and local to become the focal point of every guest interaction.
Watch Martin Lindstrom and CNBC’s Courtney Reagan try out Lowe’s Foods Community table concept
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A shopping experience you can't find online
Today Lowes no longer sells grey sausages, stacked in an uninspiring fridge next to the frozen dog food and pizzas. Instead, concepts like the “fresh-from-the-grill” Star Spangler, a patriotic bacon cheeseburger blend of hardwood and hickory smoked bacon, aged cheese and black pepper squeezed into a savory house-made pork sausage, are all prepared by the Sausage Professor, who together with thousands of other Lowes Foods staff members, has been trained at one of the three Lowes Green Script Academies.
The Lowes Foods Green Script Academy has, since its inauguration, redefined every name title normally associated with conventional supermarket chains. Customers are called “guests”; now you’ll find a “host” and “stage managers” whose sole purpose is to ensure the guests are smiling, meat purchases are all handed over using the Lowes signature salute, and that the aroma in the store always is mouth-watering delicious.
Forget about chemical infused cakes based on GMO cream. The Cakery – inspired by Disney’s Mary Poppins, sells only square cakes as a symbol for “all natural”. Don’t be surprised if a uniquely composed song is heard over the speakers kicking off the Cake Walk, performed by singing and dancing kids, which offers the winner free samples of all square cakes.
WATCH HOW FOX 8’S NEILL MCNEILL CAN’T HELP BUT JOIN THE LOWES CHICKEN DANCE
Lowes Foods went though an internal competition to select those stores that would challenge each other to win a coveted store makeover. As store after store began to present their creative solutions we noticed something quite remarkable. The store managers were actually competing in a very American Idol style to secure a winning slot.
At the same time, Lowes Foods invited members of the local community (they came by the busload!) to canvass their opinions on what changes they’d like to see. No longer do store executives make design changes, rather it is the local community, who pick and choose the experiences, products and even farmers they’d like to see in their future store.
Today Lowes Foods is one of the fastest growing supermarket chains in the country with average transaction value up 23%* and average basket size up 7%* – some 200% higher than today’s industry norm. Each store opening is packed with customers – some traveling from miles away – to experience their local supermarket chain beating out the mammoths of the industry.
No wonder last year alone the chain received more than ten industry awards for its remarkable turnaround, providing hope to an industry which, in general, seems to close stores as fast as Lowes Foods seems to be opening them.
True creativity is to combine two ordinary things in a new way. This is exactly what Lowes Foods did – combining shopping and entertainment – creating a phenomena which 2 years later has come to define the future of supermarkets in the U.S.
What, or should I say, who, you probably haven’t heard about is its creator, Mr. Majid Al Futtaim, founder of Majid Al Futtaim Group and one of the Middle East’s most iconic business magnates.
The task given to LINDSTROM company by Majid Al Futtaim, was to put him and his group on the map, a challenge every previous brand agency had given up on.
Like most successful conglomerates across the world, Majid Al Futtaim had been struggling with a major challenge: consolidating its steadily growing portfolio of brands and ventures – comprised of everything from shopping malls, to supermarkets, theme parks, construction, credit cards and even air conditioning manufacturing – into one consistent brand identity. As the group continued to expand, so to did the confusion surrounding its brand identity.
Our ambition was to identify a common denominator to link the diverse group of brands together under one powerful umbrella, to capitalize on 250 million annual visitors to its malls, theme parks, office buildings and cinemas.
But how do you align a family of completely different companies with different brands, who sell different products? How do you consolidate over 100 unique sets of business objectives, management philosophies and corporate identities?
THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL OF ALL: THE CONSUMER
The secret to internal alignment is the consumer. Forget about routines, rules and regulations. Figure out your consumers. What they want, need, and care about should be the driving force for the brand. It may sound ironic, but the bigger businesses grow, the more they tend to lose touch with their customers. Majid Al Futtaim was no exception. Therefore, our first objective was to understand consumers’ current perceptions of Majid Al Futtaim and their wishes for the future.
As part of this initiative, the iconic Carrefour logo was redesigned to incorporate brand identities from both Carrefour and Majid Al Futtaim on the shopping carts and grocery bags of its millions of consumers.
Often if not always branding is much more than changing the visual identity of a brand. Seeing (or in this case smelling) the world from the customers point of view often reveal serious brand issues – issues which needs to be solved in order not to exchange bad brand equity from one brand to another within the family of brands.
Working with Carrefour, the group’s second largest supermarket brand, we learned that the smell of fish in their stores was unappealing to vegetarians. Talking to families visiting Magic Planet, the group’s theme park brand, we learned that parents needed entertainment while they waited for their kids. And listening to mall visitors, we learned that they wanted more benches, better navigation and reward systems.
Everything. The consumer couldn’t care less about a brand’s new logo, or signage. What they care about is whether the brand can make their life easier, cheaper or happier. If we could solve these issues, improve the customer experience and roll out a new brand identity at the same time, consumers would be more inclined to listen. They’d be more inclined to care.
Simply forcing a common denominator across such a diverse group of brands would only dilute the strength of each. To say nothing of the group’s united message. And this is exactly why previous attempts at alignment had failed.
We required a solution that maintained the recognition enjoyed by brands like Carrefour and Magic Planet while increasing the visibility of Majid Al Futtaim. In order to do this, we introduced both identities in an intuitive way. This led to the creation of the new “M” logo, followed by a new internal brand philosophy that allowed Majid’s existing brands to remain intact, while aligning with the newly created umbrella identity.
This philosophy dates back to 1915 when The Coca-Cola Company asked its bottle manufacturer to design a bottle so unique that even if it were to be smashed into a thousand pieces, from any of the shattered pieces you picked up you would still be able to recognize it as Coca Cola.
We call these iconic brand properties “Smashables.” Whether it’s a sound (think Intel), a shape (think Mickey Mouse’s ears), a colour (think Tiffany’s), or a smell (think Crayola crayons), it represents brand equity that in many cases exceeds the value of the brand’s logo.
Lindstrom Company use this approach to give Majid Al Futtaim enough flexibility to have each of its companies maintain their individuality while at the same time infusing their identity with the newly formed Majid Al Futtaim brand umbrella.
Imagine when consumers realize how their favorite mall, supermarket, cinema and theme park are actually all part of the same group. Now you’ve aligned more than just your brand identity, you’ve aligned the trust of over 250 million consumers.
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No one wants a cookie cutter solution. Everyone wants to feel special. Brands are no exception. Sure this approach may require extra effort. However in return you’re guaranteed local engagement. This very mantra helped to create the future of the future Majid Al Futtaim brand – the leading mall operator in the Middle East.