Ken Banks is a retail branding expert, thanks to a career as chief marketing officer of Circuit City, PetSmart, Eckerd Drug and Levitz Furniture, and as president of two advertising agencies.
After starting at Procter & Gamble on the brand management team at Folgers Coffee, he moved to department stores with Dayton Hudson in Detroit and the former Robinson's of Florida in St. Petersburg.
A 64-year-old Seminole resident, Banks recently joined forces in a consulting venture with Robyn Wynters of Lutz, a training expert whose clients have included American Express and HSN. Banks recently talked with the Times about a theory he and Wynters developed called whole brain branding.
What is brain branding?
It's developing a business and marketing strategy that resonates by touching all four quadrants of the brain that guide and motivate customers' thought process.
That's two more than left and right brain.
One quadrant drives people to seek details and facts. Another organizes. Another seeks emotional connections. The fourth shapes long-range vision, answering questions like: Can I trust this store? Truly creating a brand is creating a relationship. So a business must consistently reflect what your brand stands for, then reinforce the brand story to each quadrant.
Give me an example.
Lexus has been the top-selling luxury car for a decade, not only because it's hot looking. It's a larger story about DNA of the brand. Lexus also has the best repair record, superior customer service, and it's a leader in innovative engineering. Its big rival, Infiniti, ran a TV spot once that just showed the car accelerating past a pile of leaves. That says the car is hot, but addresses only one brain quadrant. It never even showed the car, just flying leaves.
Living up to a brand experience you create is crucial, but the need to tweak it never ends.
Target's brand strategy changed how people view discount stores. Who would have signed up at a Kmart bridal registry? But Target's Club Wed has more couples than Macy's or Dillard's.
Target appeals to fact seeking with practical pricing. They hit the emotional side with fashion credibility built by getting big name designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves to create apparel and home decor lines for them. They started calling themselves "tar-zhay" to be set apart as trendy. They touch organizational and long-range vision quadrants with a store layout that's easier to shop, fast checkout and hiring better people. They were first with price check kiosks and red phones in the aisles to get help instantly. Their legendary commercials are emotional, as fashionable and fun. Target contributes a percentage of profit to local charities.
I'm not sure why Target is having difficulty now, but I suspect that Walmart, which was only about price, copied Target to improve its trust and shopping experience.
Is failure to measure up to a brand promise what ultimately killed Circuit City after you left?
Circuit City stores had trained salespeople who could explain new technology to shoppers but got caught up fighting Best Buy, which was a no-help, self-service strategy. They figured people who already knew enough about technology would go for the best price.
Circuit City countered by getting rid of its best salespeople and advertised nothing but low prices. The disconnect was shoppers didn't believe Circuit City prices could be that low in a store that looked better. Then Best Buy accelerated Circuit City's demise by going after the nontech savvy with improved service and the Geek Squad.
What do you think about a majority of retail chains now trying to exploit social-networking Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace?
Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, but they risk missing a wider and far larger segment of the population that still watches network TV and reads newspapers. Most people today use the Internet to gather information prior to buying, so you have to be there. But not at the expense of advertising that still works.
Your Internet presence must be an integrated part of all your brand marketing. It cannot be kept separate with its own staff. At JCPenney, all marketing plans now start with a plan for the Internet and flow from there. That's a dramatic change from my days in department stores, when plans started with our newspaper ad calendar.
What was the big lesson you learned at Procter & Gamble?
It's all about market share: yours, your competitors' and knowing why it changed. I rarely followed sales volume, but I knew market share changes in each city. In the 1990s, I personally strayed into drinking gourmet coffee like Starbucks and Gevalia. Then a few years ago I recalled the high-quality standards we maintained at Folgers and switched back. Now, at home, guests always comment on how great our coffee tastes. They're always surprised it's Folgers.
Mark Albright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8252.