The sheer amount of new lifestyle-oriented businesses opening recently is one for the books. New restaurants, breweries, men's and women's retail boutiques, lifestyle services, and outliers with curiously cool fringe audiences.
These new drivers within urban and even suburban communities are the new forces to be reckoned with: they are run by independent big ideas entrepreneurs with clear propositions (Please, Frameri, Bird, Pleasantry, Sloane Boutique, Skeleton Root) and sophisticated operations run by accidental lifestyle experts and off shoots of business behemoths (Kit & Ace, Dover Street Market, Clover Grocery Store, Forty Five Ten).
They buck the principal notions of business success with an ulterior approach of sleek coolness and undeniable drawl. But with their cool vibes and ultimately superior product and service, they often run into the conundrum coined the ‘business crunch’; that moment when preparations of opening to the public can turn sour by being bogged down due to the operational commitments of running the business.
Before the paint dries and the furniture is chosen with the most discerning eye, it’s important to get your marketing strategy fleshed out – and when we talk about ‘marketing’ in these most uncertain of times, the obvious is undeniably not what should only be considered, it’s the unknown.
5 Things to Consider:
Opening Strong for a Modern, and Fickle, Consumer
1. Budget Accordingly, Engage Early
When opening a physical presence, the ‘punch list’ of to-do’s can get rather long. And while considering how the changing rooms will accommodate multiple fittings at a time, or how the bathrooms will garner its own stories in well-respected publications, at some point a ‘reality check’ will occur that can be a rather unpleasant. Surprise, marketing. The earlier you consider how your marketing will tie into your brand, and who will be leading the efforts and budget accordingly, your results will ultimately be more cohesive and aligned to the goals of the business.
Rule of Thumb: Engage a PR pro 4-5 months before your set opening date (which will inevitably move because that’s just how things work) and engage a designer for your website, brand identity (logo) and any collateral 6 months before you open, and your interior designer/architect a year before opening. Ideally, the PR pro should have a good sense of how the design (logo and interior design) will work together to create a unique brand proposition. And finally photography: engage the photographer one week or even a few days before you open to cue up some valuable stock imagery for social channels, your website, and for most importantly the press. Many media outlets simply don’t have the budgets to send a photographer and will simply utilize what you give them.
2. Tap Influencers Early & Often
Every owner or co-owner of a business has a group of friends and family that are going to be jazzed at their new endeavor. These are your authentic advocates who are already on your team; they will be there first when you open your doors and will be the first to hit you up for that in-house discount. Even before you open your doors and make a big splash, create an influencer list that has special engagement strategies and tactics that you can use to test on this very special group. These individuals, by nature, will help to spread (for free) via word-of-mouth your goals, opening date and general information. Set up a mode of communication: whether it’s monthly emails which give updates on the progress of the space, or key hires who will help the business run in smooth fashioning. In these developmental stages of the business, even the smallest tid-bits of information can be shaped to be exciting and influence the bottom line.
Rule of Thumb: Create a master document or use an online system (we use HighRise) of this group and make sure you have all of their pertinent information: email and mailing address, phone number, and any notes about their preferences of being contacted.
If a story has soul and purpose, the possibility that it is expressed authentically with positive affect is ripe for the taking. But when you’re in the weeds of opening a physical location and dealing with contractors, invoices, and the bevy of things to consider along the way, the ‘small’ things, which are really a ‘big deal’, seem to get lost. Start to think like an architect: how do you build a strong foundation?
Think big picture and chart a preliminary timeline for how ‘expression’ works within your brand, the potential messaging that can accompany it, and the right media for the message. In every brand's journey there are stories of varying size to tell, and consumers in this current market need something to believe in. When you begin to chart what the big picture might look and sound like you can then evaluate how to achieve telling that story in the most authentic way.
Rule of Thumb: Dedicate an area in your office to voice your big picture ideas on a timeline that can either be a chronological or broken up by theme. Buy all of the post-its in the world and Sharpie markers like they are going out of style. The best way to begin (after driving home your core message) is to ask very simple questions: How do we want to engage with our consumer before and after we open? What will make us different? What do we have to tell that’s unique to us? When do we plan on keeping engaged with our devotees and potential consumers?
4. Branding Starts from Within
There are times when dealing with new employees and surprise! staff on payroll when no money is coming in that it can all seem to feel like….a bit much. The crunch can be intense and one area that is often an afterthought is ultimately the most important: people. Who you hire, when you hire, and how you educate the staff pre-opening is imperative when building a foundation of new clientele. A soft opening is a real opening. When working towards your opening date develop your core crew with passion and zeal. Take the time to educate and involve your marketing team to help, and most importantly, budget accordingly.
Rule of Thumb: Dedicate one person on your team to be the point person for ‘internal branding’ whose sole responsibility is to educate the team and set up meetings for training and brand awareness. Involve your branding or pr team, or the mouthpiece of the organization who is the most passionate, in getting to know the people in informal and formal settings while walking them along the way to what the brand means, how to serve consumers, and the do’s and don’ts of the brand. Most importantly: budget these ‘key’ hires into your marketing budget early on so you can get them onboard and educated in a reasonable manner with maximum affect.
5. Value the Ephemeral
Many brands have achieved the art of social media engagement. The Instagram feed gives the perfect balance of casual #BTS and formal front of house. Facebook is where many articles from freelance business and travel editors tout the store or restaurant as ’25 places to visit in less than 36 hours in Cincinnati.’ And while these many expressive platforms will continue living as vital parts of the business, engaging consumers with key ephemeral takeaways are a natural, and rather rare extension of a brand in modern times. For special events, plan on spending the money to have beautifully done physical invitations created for the most important events. It’s the little, meaningful, things that count.
Rule of Thumb: Before you can even think about engaging in any tactic at all there has to be special consideration given to how you plan on collecting the information from your consumer. Whether it’s inserting a post card in a check presenter where consumers can opt-into an email database, or for every purchase in your retail store you require an email and physical address, prepare this strategy for the day that you open.