World Retail Congress: What PRs need to know

This week’s World Retail Congress (12-14 April) emphasised the need for retailers to create an all-encompassing experience for consumers as global sales slow and brand loyalty becomes a thing of the past. Speaking to experts at agencies Bottle and Portas, Gorkana looks at how PR can help retailers to engage consumers further.

Attending the event, brands and retailers, including Disney, M&S and John Lewis, discussed the challenges the proliferation of online choices for consumers have created. On the one hand consumers are now more interested in diverse experiences over the purchase of products and on the other few are loyal to a single brand, which creates a dilemma within the sector.

Bottle and Portas discuss the main themes at the event and explain where PR fits in:

PRs must create content to build “immersive customer experiences” 

According to retail leaders at the conference, creating an immersive ‘customer experience’ is now essential for their survival. Keynote speaker Tommy Hilfiger described brands as “a living thing” where experiences are made for the consumer via digital content, customer service and visual displays.

Nina Sawetz, head of editorial at Bottle, said: “Content in a PR sense is not new – but the thinking around it and clarification of whether content creation sits within a PR agency is.

“At Bottle, we’ve been consistently creating content for retail clients for years, yet we have most definitely seen this side of our business expand rapidly over the past year – a growth which has led us to build our own content creation team in-house.”

PR has a place in delivering great customer service

Theirry Andretta, Mulberry’s CEO, believes that to creating an immersive ‘customer experience’ involves great customer service. He told delegates at WRC: “We invest a fortune in training our retail staff to tell the story of the brand and you need the same experience in digital.”

Caireen Wackett, Portas’ MD,  describes how the agency aids retailers to deliver great customer service both digitally and in physical environments: “At Portas we’re all about ‘total retail communications’ – making sure every touch point of the customer journey aligns to deliver a uniform customer experience. The challenge for brands today is ensuring that PR aligns with customer service, aligns with retail, aligns with social, and aligns with every other channel.

“We’ve found ourselves doing a lot more ‘brand voice’ projects where our PR team develop guidelines for messaging and tone of voice for clients and partner agencies to use across the whole customer experience.”

She added that PR is an essential part of retail success stories as brands become more digital, and global, and move beyond bricks-and-mortar stores: “The need for PR is paramount in maintaining the delivery of a brand’s tapestry and messaging, which can, so often, become lost in the digital world. Development of stories and news, created by PR, and the delivery of these to both consumers and press, can often be the difference between a retailer sinking, or swimming, in this ever changing market place.”

PRs helps build brand loyalty

Brand loyalty cannot be taken for granted. This was a key theme at the event, and speakers, from Tommy Hilfiger to All Saints’ CEO William Kim, discussed how to hold consumer interest as a modern retailer.

Bottle’s Sawetz explained: “So much opportunity to buy offline, or online, as well as compare prices, has brought a decrease in brand loyalty, and gone are the days of purely sticking to one retailer.

“Not only are retailers fighting between themselves (take the store wars in the grocery sectors), but customers have also become more picky. Customers are no longer just customers and brands can no longer take them for granted.”

She added that “clever” brands tap into this: “To hook customers and keep them returning, they need to make them feel like loyal brand advocates, something which can only be achieved through building an emotional connection between the brand and individual.

“And, it’s in building this emotional connection where communications, PR and the resulting content, comes into its own. It allows them to gain that experience, and more importantly, remember the brand.”

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