In 2003, singer-songwriter Martina McBride wrote a song called “God’s Will” which quickly became a Top 20 Country Music hit. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not a song about the will of God, nor is it about His supreme sovereignty- the type of sovereignty that is currently on display during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic. Rather, it is a song about a handicapped kid named Will. You might be wondering what this has to do with POP displays. Read on.
Through the song she tells the story of the first time she met Will. It was on Halloween night. After seeing all the other kids run up her driveway to get their Halloween treats, she painfully watches this kid with leg braces, dressed up as a bag of leaves, struggle up the driveway.
She later learns that her new neighbor Will was being raised by a single mom who worked two jobs to make ends meet. On the nights his Mom worked late, she volunteers to watch Will. Over time, the two develop a strong bond during a period in which she was struggling for answers to the some of life’s most basic questions. She recounts a note Will gave her that was written on a piece of notebook paper in red crayon. It read, “Me and God love you.” Before dinner, Will would ask to pray and then would go on to pray for everyone in the world but himself. This miracle kid who was not supposed to live and who grew up with no father leads her to discover the truth and profoundly impacts her life.
So, what can we learn from this story and what lessons does if offer for POP displays?
Lesson #1: Be Different– In developing both your marketing strategy and your merchandising strategy, dare to be different. The root word in “differentiation” is “different.” Embrace originality to set your product apart from your competition. If Will had run up the driveway with all the other kids dressed as pirates and witches, Martina McBride would have never noticed him. The fact that he was dressed as a bag of leaves and walked slowly was what set him apart.
Differentiating your product at retail has become increasingly important as store shelves become overly crowded and shopper attention spans continue to get shorter. Thinking out of the box and designing a creative display is one way to capture shopper attention. In the sunglass category, for example, there are a lot of undifferentiated “me too” displays. In an effort to take a more creative approach, we designed the sunglass display shown below for 9Five Eyewear which was specifically aimed at a late teens/early 20s customer demographic. Equipped with a backlit header and LED back panel, this display was designed to simulate an arcade gaming station with gaming buttons, a real joy stick, and coin slots.
Being different can also mean securing POP display placement where your competition is not. We designed the wood dump bin display shown below as a way to drive Buddy Fruits impulse sales in the produce department, which proved to be a better strategy than competing inline against the major brands who has significantly larger promotional budgets.
Another differentiation strategy is securing secondary placement somewhere in the store where your product can stand out. Secondary placement essentially means having a second display in a different location in the store in addition to the place where destination shoppers might typically find your product. Secondary placement is particularly effective in driving impulse sales and registering incremental brand impressions that you might not otherwise get with a single placement location. For a more in-depth look at secondary placement marketing, you may be interested in our blog post entitled “POP Displays and the Benefits of Secondary Placement.”
Being different worked for Will, and it can work for you.
Lesson #2- Tell a Story– Everyone has a story. Will beat the odds and lived when he wasn’t supposed to. But that was only part of his story. The bigger story is how this sweet, innocent handicapped kid forever changed the life of a woman who befriended him during her search for the meaning of life. Like many country artists, Martina McBride is a master storyteller. Her story is one that sticks in a way that wouldn’t have if she had given us 5 bullet points about Will’s life.
Most good stories connect with us emotionally. That is important since many purchase decisions are based on emotional connections. Making the right emotional connection with a shopper can go a long way in driving sales.
Similarly, the right POP display can help tell your story in a compelling and memorable way. An example of this is the Woodinville Whiskey event POP display we created below. One of our primary objectives was to tell the unique story of a brand that was named “Craft Whiskey of the Year” and “Craft Rye Whiskey of the Year” by the American Distilling Institute.
We decided to let the company tell its own story by embedding a 21.5” digital media player in the main structure of the display. We also incorporated copper piping which is a key component of the company’s state-of-the-art distilling equipment. We added graphics which helped to reinforce the company’s story. For a more detailed look at what went into creating this display, check out our blog post: “Creating an Event POP Display for Whiskey Festivals- Our Woodinville Whiskey Experience.”
Lesson #3- Nail Your Messaging– Will nailed his messaging. It did not matter that his message was written in crayon on a piece of notebook paper. What mattered was his simple, heart-felt message that cut to the core of two fundamental principles of the Christian faith: (1) God loves us, and (2) In turn, we are to love others. That simple messaging brought to a conclusion Martina McBride’s search for the truth.
When crafting your messaging, keep the following principles in mind:
● In most cases, you have only 2-3 seconds to capture a shopper’s attention.
● Customers generally don’t like to read. Whenever possible, use pictures and graphics instead of text.
● Keep your message short and simple (e.g., “Me and God love you.”)
● If your product has distinctive features, it can be good to point them out. It is better to focus on the benefits of those features. It is best to translate those benefits into how the benefits will improve the life of the buyer.
● Remember the value of storytelling.
Above all, ensure your message is relatable. That is, customers need to be able to relate to your message in a way they can understand and easily understand what your product can do for them. When Apple introduced the iPod, it would have been tempting to focus its messaging on the iPod’s technical superiority relative to competing MP3 players at the time- its 5GB hard drive, Firewire connectivity, its smaller 1.8” drive, and its synchronization to iTunes. But instead, the company’s messaging centered around “1000 songs in your pocket,“ and that made all the difference.
For additional insights on effective messaging, see our blog post: “POP Retail Displays and the Importance of Clear Messaging.”
Lesson #4- Be Authentic– Customers are looking for authenticity. There’s perhaps no better illustration of what it means to be authentic, genuine, and humble than Martina McBride’s friend Will. Designing authenticity into your brand, your packaging, and your POP display needs to be intentional. Your POP display can communicate authenticity through the material you choose. For example, if you have a natural food product, using wood or other types of sustainable materials is likely to communicate authenticity better and be more on brand than using sheet metal or acrylic. Graphics and messaging are also important vehicles for communicating authenticity.
Part of authenticity is transparency. A great example of the value of transparency is the protein bar company RxBar. Peter Rahal and Jared Smith co-founded RxBar bar in 2012 with an initial investment of $10,000. The energy bar industry was and continues to be insanely overcrowded and competitive. To stand out from the competition, they took an ingenious and revolutionary approach in creating their packaging: 100% transparency. They were the first company to publish their ingredients on the front of their packaging (note the messaging simplicity).
Five years after starting RxBar, they sold the company to Kellogg for $600 million. Transparency creates value. Enough said.
Lesson #5- Focus on the Needs of Others– When Will prayed, he prayed for everyone else in the world but himself. It’s easy to imagine now he might have been inclined to pray for himself, to ask for God’s grace to be healed, to ask to be like other kids. But instead, Will was focused on the needs of others.
Will’s example is a powerful reminder of the importance of focusing externally, not internally. It’s a good lesson for companies (as well as all of us). Many companies have a product or technology in search of a problem, but the most successful companies are generally those that identify a problem and then create a solution to that problem. Starting with a detailed understanding of customers’ needs and then working backwards to create a product or solution to meet those needs is almost always the best approach. When it comes to POP displays, the same is true. Does your target customer care about sustainability? Does your merchandising approach need to incorporate specific product or category education at the point of sale? Are the stores you are targeting sufficiently staffed by knowledgeable personnel to help make the sale or does your display need to drive sales independently? Remaining focused on the needs of customers and doing your homework will help to ensure your POP display maximizes your sales while helping to build your brand.
Jim Hollen is the owner and President of RICH LTD. (www.richltd.com), a 35+ year-old California-based point-of-purchase display, retail store fixture, and merchandising solutions firm which has been named among the Top 50 U.S. POP display companies for 9 consecutive years. A former management consultant with McKinsey & Co. and graduate of Stanford Business School, Jim has served more than 3000 brands and retailers over more than 20 years and has authored nearly 500 blogs and e-Books on a wide range of topics related to POP displays, store fixtures, and retail merchandising.
Jim has been to China more than 50 times and has worked directly with more than 30 factories in Asia across a broad range of material categories, including metal, wood, acrylic, injection molded and vacuum formed plastic, corrugated, glass, LED lighting, digital media player, and more. He also oversees RICH LTD.’s domestic manufacturing operation and has experience manufacturing, sourcing, and importing from numerous Asian countries as well as Vietnam and Mexico.
His experience working with brands and retailers spans more than 25 industries such as food and beverage, apparel, consumer electronics, cosmetics/beauty, sporting goods, automotive, pet, gifts and souvenirs, toys, wine and spirits, home improvement, jewelry, eyewear, footwear, consumer products, mass market retail, specialty retail, convenience stores, and numerous other product/retailer categories.