top of page

The Sweet Spot: Branding, Marketing and Merchandising for Creative Retailers

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

You have a couple of hours all to yourself. Or maybe it’s a rainy afternoon and the kids are bored. Where can you go? What can you do? You quickly scroll through ideas in your head, picturing stores, shopping, entertainment. You take a moment to consider your options until you land on the perfect activity. “Ah ha, I know what to do!”

When your customers have that same decision to make, how do you position your business to easily land at the top of their list?

It is called The Sweet Spot. And it’s transformative.

You’ve hit The Sweet Spot when your business consistently aligns its branding, marketing and merchandising.

The Sweet Spot is an operating system that allows each to function independently and then become most effective and powerful when they work seamlessly together.

Understanding The Sweet Spot’s three fundamental elements - branding, marketing and merchandising - is just the beginning. How you implement them into your business so that they all play well together is critical.

Part One: Branding

Walter Landor, an acclaimed designer and a pioneer of branding and consumer research techniques, once said: “Products are built in the factory, brands are created in the mind.”

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can consistently expect from your products and services, and it should (greatly) differentiate you from your competitors.

As a creative retailer, you have the ability - more so than many traditional retailers - to visually tell your business’s story and the benefits of being a part of your community. Be very purposeful with how you craft your brand, taking your creative offerings, your environment, your unique attributes (for starters, the many benefits of creating!), and even the joy after the sale, into account. All of these experiences and feelings will shape how your customer remembers your business, pays attention, engages and buys. Often.

That puts you in the perfect position to stand out in an overwhelmingly noisy world.

TASK: Branding is your store’s identity in your customer’s mind. Ask your customers what words they would use to describe your business when telling a friend. What words would you love to hear, what words would surprise (or disappoint) you? What words do YOU want your customers to use?

Part Two: Marketing

Marketing is a HUGE word. Do you feel like most of your to-do list falls under marketing? Everything I do must be done to get people in my store and creating and buying!

Some common marketing channels are: your website, email updates, blog posts, social media posts, live videos, recorded videos, paid advertising, signage in, out and around your store, loyalty programs, cross promotions, signage on your car, events, giveaways, fliers and business cards.

In the broad sense, marketing is all of the above, done with the intent to educate, entertain and entice your audience to reach the buying stage. In a more narrow sense, your messages are crafted and deliberate, featuring the how, where, when and why you do what you do. Keeping your customers consistently engaged and updated will lead to return visits, the cash register ringing and a steadily growing fan base.

As a small retail store owner, engagement is critical. Engaging your audience means building strong, two way communication. People visit your business and buy from you because, well, you’re you! You may be marketing similar products, classes and experiences as a competitor (using the same channels) but your people are buying the “you” part. And when you’re at that level, your customers are fiercely loyal.

Do you sell online classes? Create-at-home kits? Supplies? Successful online sales require a slightly different set of marketing skills - but don’t be intimidated. The opportunities are massive. All things being equal, the playing field is more level than you may think when it comes to competing online with the big retailers.

TASK: Which marketing effort has yielded the greatest percentage of your sales? Which marketing efforts have very little return on investment (time and/or expense)? Do you plan posts and emails ahead of time or just put information out everywhere, with hopes of catching someone's attention? How do you evaluate new marketing channels?

Part Three: Merchandising

Merchandising is how you present and sell merchandise in your store. This includes store layout, traffic patterns, product organization and placement, lighting, color, site lines, height, depth and accessibility. Successful merchandising includes integrating all of your customer’s senses. There are numerous studies and recommendations with best practices for moving people through a store, properly lighting merchandise, highlighting buying triggers and ideal product placement.

Design your space to not only entice and encourage purchases, but more importantly, for comfort and inspiration. Our creative spaces are unique in that, unlike a traditional retailer, we often have tables and seating and areas where we gather and create and spread out. Use these specialty areas to your benefit! They are an integral part of your business and an area where your customers are highly engaged. Do not underestimate the selling power of a work space.

TASK: visit (in person) a favorite retailer, small or large. I enjoy wandering in Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, Bath & Body, Sur la Tabla and a handful of local gift stores. Step in and then stop. What do you see? How do you feel? Take note of all of your senses. Where do you want to go first? Jot down a few quick thoughts about that first impression. Keep in mind subtleties: cohesiveness (how are the site lines? Does everything flow and fit together visually? Are there visual barriers?); ease of movement (are you unknowingly led around the store by the way it’s laid out?). What do you notice about the merchandising? Do you see clutter or well organized shelves, walls and floor space? Were you greeted? What can you do this week - without maxing out your credit card and redoing your entire space - to rethink your customer's journey to buying. Also look at your creative work and table space. How can you better use the space to sell?

The Sweet Spot: Bringing It All Together

A recent post on Twitter by George Mack (@george_mack) shares what Steve Jobs and Mike Markkula wrote in 1977 about Apple’s Marketing Philosophy:

1. Empathy: We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.

2. Focus: In order to do a good job of the things we decide to do, we must eliminate all the unimportant opportunities

3. Impute: People DO judge a book by its cover.

We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc., if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired quality.

A blog post by Gapingvoid Culture Design Group followed up that Tweet with three points on why they (and everybody else and their dog) like it so much. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This ethos is still going strong, four decades later.

1. It’s short, simple, and clear. No marketing buzzwords, it’s all plain English.

2. Its goals are easy to understand, easy to relate to on an emotional level. They’re strong, human values, not values around metrics, shareholder value, and other impersonal bean-counter abstractions.

3. It’s enduring. The interesting thing is, the document is nearly a half-century old, and yet we still see Apple strongly adhering to these values, with hardly any deviation whatsoever. When was the last time your company stuck with something more than a couple of quarters, let alone forty-plus years?

Though Apple is a behemoth, their alignment between marketing, product, and culture is an unbeatable operating strategy. And that alignment should be yours, too.

Get started

Creating your own journey into The Sweet Spot will be time spent aligning and organizing - and sticking to! - your branding, marketing and merchandising strategies.

The powerful combination of creating The Sweet Spot is not a set-it-and-forget-it checklist. Nurture, fine tune and stay on course. By making it all about consistently reinforcing The Sweet Spot, it won’t be long before the work you do will be easier, effective and powerful.

Jot down your thoughts down from the three “task” prompts. Start to think more about The Sweet Spot in your business and how creating a consistent, well thought out and purposeful operating system will benefit YOU.

This will be transformative.

281 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page