Is Your Brand Holding Mind Share?

“How does my brand hold the mind share of the sales associate?” If you’re a brand selling products into specialty retail stores, this should be the preeminent question in your mind every single day. It’s one thing to teach your reps to work for more wall space, to push for more floor space, but if they’re not appealing directly to the mind of the sales associate, that extra space is just a waste and products will sit among the 26,000 SKU’s unsold.

Usually “mind share” refers to the development of consumer awareness or popularity—grabbing the attention of the customer—and it’s one of the main objectives of advertising and promotion. Because of that mind share, when consumers think of examples of a product type or category, there are a few lucky brand names that come to mind; the same concept is true of sales associates on the retail floor.
Manufacturers in specialty retail generally try to maximize the popularity of their product to make their brand stand out in a sea of competitors through scripted and aged techniques: gaining additional wall or floor space, dry training materials focused on the technical benefits of their product, video support with quizzes for free product. Though these are all necessary and useful tactics, they’re slowing becoming less important and more irrelevant in engaging the mind share of sales associates.
If you want to gain mind share—and as a result market share—in the eyes of your specialty retailers, you have to invest in new training.
Training is the new marketing.
Manufacturers who serve specialty retailers must change the way they conduct product training. In specialty retail, we’re accustomed to training with a solid foundation of product knowledge: what are the technical features of each product Mr. Brand created for the upcoming season? Every season brands send in their most knowledgeable product designers to explain the technical aspects of their products to buyers, owners and managers. Unfortunately, for most retail associates, sitting through these meetings is the equivalent of an art major sitting through an accounting class: painful and mind numbing! Most retailers walk out of these educational classes with no passion or excitement about the product or brand and a minimal retention of those statistics and details.
So how do manufacturers create training that will grab and influence the mind share of retailers?
1.     Focus less on the technical and more on benefits and imagery.
2.     Teach retail staff how to create an experience around your brand and your product as it relates to the consumer.
3.     Teach your sales reps and product managers a new language, beginning with how to be great presenters. 
1.      Benefits and Imagery.
In order for retailers to really understand your brand, your products, and what you can uniquely offer to their customers, there needs to be a shift from features to benefits and imagery. Most sales associates discuss only the technical features because that’s what they’re taught by the manufacturers. Though the manufacturers definitely understand and appreciate the features, and the retailers probably do too, the customer can get lost in the jargon or details, so that they often have no idea what they’re actually buying. The features are obviously an important part of the product that should be covered, but teaching sales associates about the benefits and imagery of your product creates a well-rounded and more effective sales person.
Once a sales associate learns to distinguish between the three, it’s easy for them to incorporate each aspect into their conversations. Just remember this: a feature is a technical detail about a product—its construction or how it works; a benefit is how or what the features do to help the customer or impact their experience; and imagery allows the customer to visualize enjoying the product. A good sales associate inserts imagery throughout their conversation with the customer so that they’re constantly envisioning using the product, whether that’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, commuting to work on a cruiser, or running their first 5K.
The best way to train your retailers on these three tactics is to go through your products as “object lessons.” Put the item in front of the retailers and ask them to tell you the technical features of the product (waterproof, expandable, lightweight, etc.), then have them go back and describe the customer’s benefits. It will likely be difficult at first, but eventually they’ll get the hang of it—and probably have a lot of fun!
2. Teach Retailers How to Create an Experience by Training the Experience.
Manufacturers’ strengths lie in marketing their brand; they can create imagery around the brand and product they sell in order to appeal to customers. Unfortunately, manufacturers’ weaknesses are often found in their passive education of their retailers. Often education comes in the form of a lecture (5% retention of material), reading (10%), audio (20%), and basic demonstrations and clinics (30%). In order to be triumphant in the mind share battle, manufacturers must abandon these outdated techniques and invest in modern, engaging training. If training is the new marketing, then manufacturers have to become more participatory in their training methods.
Adult learning has always been a hurdle across markets and professions, but modern education techniques are making that once-myth a reality. Practice by doing (75%) and teaching others (90%) have proven inestimably successful in adult learning because they create memorable training for your retailers.
Manufacturers need to get the sales associates directly and personally involved with their products. Everyday the sales associate gets involved with customers that come into their store; they determine what their customers need and which items are appropriate and will genuinely connect with the customer and appeal to them on a personal level. It’s the same basis as the manufacturer-retailer relationship. The more you can focus your training toward practicing with the product and letting the retailers become truly comfortable and familiar with it, the more likely they’ll in turn be to recommend the product, because it’s a brand they really know—and love.
3. Sales Rep and Product Manager Development.
All too often sales reps and product managers get a little too excited about the product’s features; they get so focused on those technical details that their classes and clinics are like sitting through Snoopy’s class: “wah, wah, wah, wah…” That means there’s little to no chance those sales associates will actually retain any of that product knowledge. As as manufacturer, you have to set your sales reps and product managers up for success, so that they can in turn set your product up for success. Though they may not like to see themselves as presenters, the truth is that they are, and you have to teach them how to present in ways that will excite and inspire your retailers about your brand and product.

The integral piece of successful presentations? Feedback. Are your sales reps presenting to you what they present to the masses? Are you giving feedback? Manufacturers spend countless dollars on marketing and advertising a story, but your brand’s story—so artfully crafted for the general population—often gets lost in translation to retailers. You have to train your sales team on how to carry that brand story into every presentation they give to retailers. The Mann Group has built Mann U classes for reps and product managers that turn them into confident, persuasive public speakers. Take those marketing dollars and invest them directly into your staff—your most valuable asset. When you invest in public speaking skills, you’re creating a memorable brand and product training that will in turn capitalize on the mind share of the sales associate.

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