On my show each week, I ask my CEO guest to bring along one of their most trusted advisors. I love to see how relationships affect business, and their choice of who they bring offers me a glimpse into what’s important to the CEOs on my show.
This week’s guest, TJ Calloway, CEO of Onward Reserve, brought his Creative Director, Virginia Johnson. In a crowded retail market, Calloway and Johnson have put a strong focus on marketing through evoking a strong emotional response from their customers, and that focus is proving to be a huge success. They started out as an online retailer, and just opened their eighth brick and mortar store a few weeks ago in Nashville.
We talk about how to use story and experience to create an ineffable feeling in your customers that have them buy your products – and then, come back again to buy MORE of your products. And, then come back (with their family and friends) to buy even more.
Feelings Sell Products
This isn’t new information for any of you. Feelings, rather than facts, sell your products. While this information isn’t news, knowing how to invoke those elusive feelings in your customers can be mysterious. For Onward Reserve, this comes through focus on the story and experience they create for their customer. They take this part of the job seriously. “The Feeling”, which we called it on the show, is
- Intentionally created by the Onward Reserve team
- Very real for customers
- Drives their purchasing behavior
For CEOs, it’s critical to understand: “The Feeling” is the essence of building a brand that has its own inherent value. Calloway asserts that, for Onward Reserve, “The Feeling” is immediate, visceral, and compelling. Says Calloway, “It’s an emotional connection. You walk into the store, and you feel like you’re a part of Onward Reserve, and you understand the lifestyle.”
Know Your Story
Stories are a big part of what makes us human. We imagine ourselves as heroes in the stories told to us. We make decisions in line with the stories in which we see ourselves. We shop the brands that we can relate to – those that cast us in the narratives we want to inhabit. Starbucks and Apple are both masters at creating “The Feeling” for their customers through associative brand stories. They’ve created strong buyer personas, and cast their customers in roles that the customers find appealing. In return for this desirable self-association, customers will travel out of their way, and pay more, for the privilege of shopping these brands.
The Onward Reserve story comes from Calloway. Says Johnson, “It’s all very authentic. He’s from this really cool small town in South Georgia…and it all relates back to activities that he would have done growing up, and that people that still live in his hometown do.”
After you’re clear on your brand story, the next step is to communicate that story in every aspect of your business. That’s where Johnson comes in. Any writer knows that when it comes to story, showing is better than telling. Johnson and her creative team at Onward Reserve are masters at creating a physical experience (feeling) that expresses the story of Onward Reserve. Says Calloway, “It’s just an emotional connection. You feel like you’re part of it, and you look around the store, and it reminds you of the things that you did when you were a kid, and the lifestyle that you aspire to lead on the weekends.”
Put Effort Into Creating an Experience
Calloway still puts a lot of focus on spending time with his staff, personally relaying the stories that inspired the company. As Onward Reserve expands, it becomes increasingly important that the story takes root in the stores and the customer experience.
The experience they create comes from the story, which is expressed in the décor, products, and customer service. The store started as a way to market the website. Explains Calloway, “When somebody comes to our website they might click around for a few pages, and might stay for a minute and a half, and that’s considered a success. If they come in the store, you’re touching on all five senses. They can smell it, and touch it, taste it, and talk to somebody.”
The kinds of clothes carried by Onward Reserve also play into the story and the customer experience. In addition to lifestyle targeted items like basic swimsuits, they’ve recently started carrying items specifically targeted towards activities that play into the lifestyle surrounding their brand, with recently released shooting sweaters and fishing shorts. Explains Callaway, “Activities that an Onward Reserve guy would presumably be interested in on the weekends.”
The Onward Reserve experience takes into consideration the way that their target customer shops. Keeping in mind that women do a lot of shopping for men, they’ve designed their stores to be a lot more female-friendly than many men’s stores. Calloway says, “One of the things we did early on was make our stores a little more friendly for a female shopper than the traditional stuffy specialty men’s shop, and that benefited us greatly. But ultimately, it all just comes down to the quality and customer service.”
They’ve also created an experience that men will find appealing. For instance, several of their locations are in college towns, and they’ve targeted the hesitant-to-shop male college student and his in-from-out-of-town mom. “At Onward Reserve we created this cool atmosphere where like these young guys actually want to come to the store, and so their mom is like, ‘Yes, jump in the car and let’s go.’ and they can actually knock out some real shopping.”
Calloway and his team are careful to grow at a pace that allows them to keep that experience and customer service front-of-mind as they expand their reach. Key in continually providing this “Feeling” that draws people in to the store is communication, and, for Onward Reserve, the story embedded in that emotional experience. It keeps the customers coming back. Says Calloway, “If they had a great experience, and the people they talked to were top-notch, then they’ve got a legitimate emotional connection to the brand. So, if they’re thinking about buying something, they’re probably going to come to us.”
Like Starbucks and Apple, the Onward Reserve experience sells as much as the products. Says Calloway, “We’re certainly not the cheapest game in town, but we’re trying to be the best – and so far, so good.”