How to sell more in holiday season : Learn from branding expert Deb

How to sell more in holiday season : Learn from branding expert Deb

Today my guest is Deb Gabor. Gabor is an author, speaker and the CEO of Sol Marketing and has introduced a revolutionary brand strategy for organizations ranging from international household names like Allrecipes, Dell, Microsoft, NBC Universal, NPR, NTT Data, and Siemens, to exciting emerging brands like hint water and Indagare. She is also the author of the new book, Person-ality: Cultivate Your Human Authority To Ignite Irrational Brand Loyalty.

In today’s episode, she is going to discuss black Friday strategy including: 

  • How retailers or merchandisers should prepare themself before the holiday seasons
  • What are things they need to take care of? 
  • Explaining the evolution of Black Friday from her early life and comparing it with the current scenario.   
  • How Walmart and Apple are heaving focusing on the holiday season to grab more customers 
  • Branding tips for small and medium brick-and-mortar stores. 

Let’s hear from her. 

Sam Suthar:

Alright, welcome to the Show, Deb. Please tell brief about you and your company. Then we can jump on other things.

 

Deb Gabor:

Okay, great. So I'm Deb Gabor, I'm the founder and CEO of a company called So Marketing, that's so l like the Sun in Spanish. Also, I'm a brand strategy expert and the author of three bestselling books.is and

 

Sam Suthar:

I read one of your books, which Nicole told me. Okay. Yeah.

 

Deb Gabor:

All right, great. And so what we do is we're in the business of creating this condition that I call irrational loyalty. Where irrational loyalty is when people are so indelibly bonded to a brand, they'd feel like they were cheating on it if they were to choose something else. And through my company and my own work, we do research and strategy work, we do marketing and we do long-term brand management for clients, mostly in the technology industry or businesses that have a technology enabled value proposition.

 

Sam Suthar:

Okay. That's nice. So how big is your company, and how many people are working in your company?

 

Deb Gabor:

We're about 10 people and a handful. In addition to that, a handful of best of class consultants in certain areas, which can be different research methodologies or data analysis creative. So we partner, partner with a number of firms to make campaigns come to life. But the core 10 people are brand obsessives and marketing experts.

Sam Suthar:

Oh wow. That's great. Alright, so okay, fine. Let's talk about the new trend, right? So Black Friday already I think went and then the holiday season is there, right? Coming up very soon. It's going to start, I think, in December, right? So what is your part in this? What other retailers and brands are actually doing and preparing strategies to get more customers in this particular season?

 

Deb Gabor:

Yeah, so let me just tell you a little bit about what I've observed about Black Friday over the past couple of years and just how it's changed. So it's helpful for me to go back in time to a time when I was a youngster and then I was a young person on my own, spending my own money before the unification of the world. Black Friday was an event, it was a point in time that the reason, I mean the origin of it, the reason was called Black Friday was because that day after Thanksgiving was the day that the retailers were going to after a year of operating in the red, they were going to operate in the black. That's why we call it Black Friday. Black Friday would kick off the holiday season and they would make their revenue goals for the year. And so it was a point in time, it was an event, it was something that you did with other people and it was something just in and of itself created a sense of urgency.

 

And it was a 360 degree experience. You ate Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes Black Friday was starting the evening of Thanksgiving and you got grandma and your mom together and you ran out to the store, or you'd wait in line on the morning of Black Friday to get into the store to get your hands on exclusive, highly, highly discounted product. That was a loss leader for the retailer that was really designed to get people into the store. It was legendary and was a full experience. Here comes e-commerce, here comes Amazon, here comes all these different ways of shopping for things. And what we've seen is really kind of a dilution of the importance of Black Friday over the past couple of years. Black Friday starts in some cases, I saw Black Friday promotions starting back in October, which two months before Thanksgiving we're starting to see Christmas merchandise in stores as early as in my area. 

 

I saw Christmas merchandise in stores starting in September and Christmas is at the end of this month. And so the timing of Black Friday, that's less, and so it's less a point in time.

And now it's like this expansive sort of amorphous time period that seems to cover now Black Friday, Cyber Monday promotions that started in September, October, et cetera. And the biggest thing, the biggest thing that I've recognized is that the only thing that retailers have up their sleeve right now at a time when you actually, you know, have e-commerce on the upswing and it's just growing, growing. 

 

And for the first year ever, I believe this year, e-commerce sales outpaced in-store retail sales. They had been like this, but then it outpaced for the first time this past year. But there are still many, many people who are going into those physical stores. And what retailers are not doing is taking advantage of the fact that they have people in their physical stores maybe for the only time during the year that they're there.

 

The retailers could be smarter and savvier about engaging those people in the stores with really, really great experiences and services and exclusive and things that are above and beyond just sales promotions in order to earn their irrational loyalty that's going to extend through the year. Retailers have the ability to provide an experience for people that you can't get online. 

 

People can see things, they can touch things, they can hold them, they can weigh them, they can smell them, they can engage all of their senses. And it physical retail, brick and mortar retail does something that online retail never could. And I am seeing that the retailers are not using this opportunity when people are actually in the stores to give them an experience that only retail can. 

 

Now, there are some standout retailers that they do this, do this pretty well but for the most part everyone is ignoring this primary opportunity to really, really bond with customers and make the in-store retail experience more valuable to people beyond just this point in time.

 

Sam Suthar:

So what are the reasons behind it, why they're ignoring it? Because is that something that e-commerce is giving more discounts and more valuable things? Why they're ignoring this?

 

Deb Gabor:

I think they're ignoring it because it's hard. It's hard to create a unique experience. It's human driven. It relies on human beings and people. So you have to have really excellent store associates who are really well trained to add value. I think that the employment market here in the United States is challenging. 

 

I hear everybody say every kind of company that I know of is saying good people are hard to find. And the really good people are increasingly expensive and salaries outpacing are outpacing business profitability and it's causing employment problems for everyone. And I think that those are probably the main reasons. I would say going above and beyond a transactional retail experience is something that really isn't in the culture of retail. Now for some retailers, for instance, it is. And when I talk about experiences that you can give in a physical retail environment that you can't online, that's going to be things like exclusive in-person shopping events.

 

Open the store two hours early for people who are your best customers and give exclusive access shopping parties additional services like gift wrapping offering in-store exclusive product that is only available at a certain time of year and you come to the store to actually get it while people are in the store. They'll be exposed to your great retail experience and they will hopefully buy more. So sampling and things like that. There's a lot of things that stores can do. Local retail does a pretty good job at this. I spend the winter near Salt Lake City, Utah in the mountains and local retailers in Park City, which is a small resort town that isn't very far from me. 

 

The local retailers do a spectacular job during the holidays of really engaging the public and looking at that as an opportunity to either reignite or kickstart a relationship with those folks. You walk into the store, there's candles burning, they have fresh baked cookies, they invite you in, they've talked to you, they, you know, can't get that from the screen on amazon.com.

 

Sam Suthar:

Yeah, yeah, correct. Even, let's say Walmart. So Walmart I think have a very good, so they do have the brick and mortar, so they're taking used advantage online.

 

Deb Gabor:

Does a pretty good job of in-store events too. They do things in-store that I've seen popup events happen in their parking lots. I've seen high school marching bands in the parking lots of stores to celebrate back to school and things like that. 

 

So even though they're a lower end retailer, they're like a very value-based retailer; they still figure out a way to engage their customers that is designed to create a relationship that creates that feeling of irrational loyalty. Transactions don't necessarily contribute entirely to a rational loyalty. Irrational loyalty comes from people using a brand. And what I mean by using a brand is that if it's a retail brand, they are using it to fulfill a need that they have.

 

Sam Suthar:

Yeah, that's correct. So I think it seems like this is already going on. So the brand can find this challenging time when they sometimes feel they can image themselves. Maybe if they, let's say they are doing a lot of things, they not give lot of promotions and just to outpace the other competitors. So they might lose the money, they might lose everything. So what are the things that can bring them back or maybe to sustain them for the regular time timer for a long time?

 

Deb Gabor:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So one of the things that brands need to think about is that if they have a certain time period during the year where they're significantly discounting their products, that devalues the brand overall. If the only thing they're doing, if the only tactic they use to get people to patronize the brand is to lower the prices, you train consumers to expect that the prices will be lower it, it devalues the brand. And so it's really important that they understand their pricing strategies in the entire context of the brand. Right. A really good example of a retailer that that's done a good job of training their customers to expect discounts is Macy's. Here in the United States, Macy's is a department store chain and they do so much couponing and promotions and sale prices that customers have become accustomed to going into the store or go shopping online, that if they see something that's full price, they don't buy it because invariably it's going to be on sale for 40% off in a week. So to some extent the retailers are really shooting themselves in the foot by training customers to expect that they can always get a discount just if they wait. Right? There's another thing that's going on this season which is sort of like a hangover from the pandemic and the ensuing supply chain issues and things like that.

 

True. But a lot of retailers, they overbought goods last year they overbought merchandise because they were afraid they weren't going to get it. Now they have excess inventory. And so we're seeing significant discounts on the stuff that the retailers need to sell off, which in some places it's consumer electronics and a lot of places it's apparel. So they overbought things cuz they were afraid that they were going to get it. But consumers needs and trends have changed. And so they have this somewhat outdated merchandise that they're fire sailing right now. 

 

Again, these merchandising strategies are devaluing the brand. So I encourage both brands and retailers to really think about putting a Black Friday into the context of their entire brand strategy and the best brands in the world, they do four main things, the best brands in the world, whether it's a retailer or a, sorry I, I use blue mi, I use blue mi microphones, I have the blue snowball microphone, I have the Blue Yeti, whatever.

 

So that's what I'm talking about as a brand. What brands can do the best brands in the world are the one state, I started to say they do four things. One is they know who their ideal customer is, they know the human being that the brand is specifically made for, and they aim their brand at creating a deep emotional connection with that one main person, almost to the exclusion of everyone else. Then they become part of that person's identity. So when a person buys a thing, let's say for instance, I bought this at Costco, this water, I always buy this brand of water. I'm like a Costco enthusiast. When I buy Kirkland brand things, it's part of my identity. It says something about me, not just to me, but to other people, it says I'm value minded.

 

It tells people because you know, can buy this same product with another brand on it, but it says something about me specifically that I use this brand. So it becomes part of a person's identity. The best brands in the world are singular, they're unique. I always tell people it's not enough to be different. You have to truly be unique. You have to be singular. 

 

The best brands in the world are unique and singular. They're not just me toos. And then finally, the best brands of the world make their customers a hero on their own story. So tying it back to the holiday season, retailers and brands need to think about who is it that we're aiming this brand for and how is the walking through the doors of this retail establishment or picking up this product, taking it to the cash register, how is that helping that person be heroic in their lives? And so when brands think about that higher narrative for their brand, then they can put what they do at holiday into context. But I think what we're seeing this year and the past couple of years is that they're really, really focused on transactions and they're focused on revenue and they're focused on this is a point of time in the year where we need to be focused exclusively on selling as much stuff as we possibly can.

 

And they could do so much more if they really open it up to think about how can, and it's a small change, but how can I use this opportunity when people are physically in stores to kick off or reignite a better, more profitable relationship with customers That spans across the entire year. So that's what I would tell retailers to think about right now.

 

Sam Suthar:

Yeah. I think it looks like you have so much branding experience. Yeah. Okay. So you mentioned one thing that you also at with specific brands, right? Let's say if you want to buy a water bottle, so I don't think that no people wait for the discount when you are so passionate about,

 

Deb Gabor:

When you're irrationally loyal to a product, you're not waiting for a discount. If you've cultivated that irrational loyalty relationship, that means you can charge whatever you want for your product, right? Case in point, you have one of these. Yeah, they charge a lot of money for this.

 

There's a lot of product out there that does exactly what that does. There are other ways that you can get access to the internet, that you can use it as a phone, that you can send text messages, that you can have your music, that you can access everything in the cloud, I'll use it as a use as a camera. They're competing products, Samsung, whatever, right? Yeah.

 

Pixel. There are many, many competitors to that. Yet we are so indelibly bonded to this brand that we would feel like we were cheating on it if we were to choose. Another thing, I always tell the story about how a couple of years ago, Samsung came out with a competing product, Samsung Galaxy S, whatever it

 

But it was almost, it was virtually indistinguishable from the iPhone. I don't know if you remember this, the two companies sued each other. They were so virtually indistinguishable. But what wins time after time after time, it's not because this is functionally superior it in some cases, Android phones perform better than that does functionally. Yeah, I see. However, it says something about me that I choose the iPhone case in point, this is irrational loyalty here. Somebody sends me a text message and it shows up as a green text bubble instead of the blue iMessage bubble, I immediately form an opinion about them. 

So this irrational loyalty relationship is the thing that allows you to charge a premium for your products and services. It is the thing that gets people to purchase from you time and time again. And it's the thing that helps you undo that training that you've done to customers that has them waiting for when your product is on sale to be the only time in the year that they patronize your product. So that's the importance of brand and I'm glad that you recognize that.

 

Sam Suthar:

Yeah, that's correct. Because even I should look at iPhone. So the privacy is the most concern for everyone. It takes care very, very high level because they care about this thing. And that's because of that Facebook. A lot of companies are not dying just because they stop the app setting, data, setting, all these things because they launch the app, do not track the app.

 

So that's something that they have done a very good job. On other side, Samsung comes with many, many applications. They don't provide native applications, but on iPhone, you don't see anything. Just the application that you want, just keep it, don't have to keep an unnecessary apps. So that's really great.

 

I think, yeah, we have two minutes to go. Now there would be three to four questions, which will be just one-line questions that you just need to answer. The one first is the person are maybe companies that you inspired by maybe just name person.

 

Deb Gabor:

Companies that I'm inspired by. Well, I mentioned one of them, Costco. Okay. Obviously Apple. I think Apple gives me a lesson in branding every single day. And let's see, who else? I love this brand. It's a direct to, well yeah, it's a direct to consumer brand. Allbirds, I'm wearing a pair of them today. I have, I don't know, five or six pairs of them. Yeah. Yep.

 

Sam Suthar:

Okay. And how do you celebrate your success at business?

 

Deb Gabor:

How do I celebrate my success? Well, I celebrate my success. I live half the year in the mountains and during the winter I dial back my work schedule so that I can ski almost every day. And I celebrate my success by allowing myself more time to do what I love and enjoy and connect with nature and connect with other people doing activities that I love. So that's how I celebrate my success.

 

Sam Suthar:

Wow, that's great. Okay. What do you do when you are not at work?

 

Deb Gabor:

I ski. I read. Okay. I write and I'm always writing a book. I do media interviews I hang out with I have a really nice network of family. I've chosen really close friends that I like to spend time with. And I have a 25 year old daughter and I like to spend as much time with her as I can.

 

Sam Suthar:

Wow, that's great. And what are the best way to connect with you if somebody wants to connect?

 

Deb Gabor:

I think the best way to connect with me is debgabor.com. You can get access to where to follow me on social media, you can get on my calendar if you want to talk to me and learn more if you wanna download some free branding exercises, all of those things are at debgabor.com. You wanna learn about my books? Everything is there.

 

Sam Suthar:

Yeah, that's really great. Alright. Alright, fine. So thanks, Deb for joining us today. Really nice talking to you.

 

Deb Gabor:

Yeah, great talking to you too. This has been fun.