When discussing brand image audits (I.e., assessment of branding, signage and other standards such as “cleanliness”) with our Retail Petroleum clients’ channel partners, a common question I’ll hear is “Why ensure individual branding and image standards are maintained? Why does it matter if I have a few lights out in my store, some minor trash strewn about the lot, or if the Main ID is beginning to show signs of fading”?
The answer is this: Consumers decide on where to spend their money based on multiple inputs — previous experience, familiarity with the brand, received brand messaging, pricing comparison, etc. But that decision is also influenced by their perception of the location environment and their immediate needs, at or about the moment of purchase.
How Brand Image Affects Decisions while on a Family Vacation
Take, for example, a family driving to a distant location for vacation. They’ve been on the road for several hours, the fuel gauge is showing a quarter tank left, a number of the children need to use the restroom, and they’re hungry as well. The driver exits the highway and finds 3-4 stations at or near the first intersection. Maybe it’s a quick decision by the driver or a collective agreement with one or more adults in the vehicle about where to stop. Either way, the decision is based on the totality of what they see at the time and their perceptions of it. Sure, there will be factors that may override that in-the-moment decision. Perhaps it’s a loyalty discount, unique offering or recognized quality of product. But, given the consumer’s immediate needs and concerns, the decision will be heavily influenced by the “here and now”. The consumer is not necessarily (or even consciously) assessing if multiple lights are missing, but they are unconsciously including that aspect in their cumulative perception of whether the location is “safe and functional”.
For the brand and the channel partner, the perceptions influencing the family’s decision process can be extrapolated further to the “inside” (i.e., backcourt or convenience store) elements. While one parent refuels, the other may be inside with the children pondering drink and snack choices for the road. Were healthy alternatives available and the food area pleasing to the eye? Was the restroom area clean and stocked so the children can wash their hands prior to having the snacks? Is hand sanitizer available to complete the process (as well for the parent who just finished refueling the car)? Did the attendant on duty suggest any alternatives, additions or “deals” that would enhance the experience?
Channel Measurements Need to Reflect Customer Perceptions
Every known or visual element is considered in the buying decision, whether the buyer realizes it or not. An ongoing image audit and mystery shop program can ensure each element “standard” (which you’ve identified through your supporting CX programs) is being implemented and maintained by those distant channel partners “flying the brand”. And, just like consumer perceptions, that ongoing channel measurement program should be periodically reviewed and (if required) changed to reflect those new consumer perceptions.
It’s All About the Consumer’s Collective Perceptions at the Point of Decision
Perceptions may not be the reality but, don’t be confused. Each visual element has its role to play in that instant, collective-perception-based decision made by a consumer when choosing where to make a purchase. This same set of perceptions (now experiences) can even influence secondary purchase decisions on where to shop in the future as well as change their sentiment about the overall brand—even the industry.