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Seven Steps to Build a Fan-Worthy C-store Brand


ATLANTA — More often than not, convenience store operators are hesitant to build a brand. They most commonly think: Isn’t it enough that…  

  • “I’m a small c-store chain that sells branded fuel and products like everyone else.”
  • “My business relies on its location.”
  • “I spend my efforts and money on being clean, friendly, safe and stocked.”

    Accepting these excuses, though, will not lead to success in today's competitive c-store market. A strong, differentiating brand can make a big difference. If a c-store operator builds a brand they believe in — one that is uniquely their own — they can alter the perception that many consumers have about c-stores: that they’re a one-stop fill-up and nothing more, Ernie Harker, marketing and brand director for Maverik Inc., recently told attendees of the 2016 NACS Show. 

    To build a "fan-worthy brand," Harker outlined seven steps, from building the brand to actualizing it:

    Step 1: Discover Your Brand

    “Ask yourself, ‘What makes your business unique? What do you want to be known for that you can deliver on at a high level?” Harker posed.

    Step 2: Define Your Target Customer

    C-store operators must be very specific in identifying their target audience. To do so, they should consider a low-effort-to-profit ratio by asking themselves: Who really wants what you deliver and the way you deliver it? Who shares your personality and values?

    Good examples of identifying a specific audience include mothers with children, dog lovers, outdoorsmen, and race enthusiasts. Bad examples are people who drive cars, women, and people who eat food, explained Harker.

    “At Maverik, we target 18- to 45-year-old men who work from a truck. They buy a lot of food and fuel for work and play,” he shared.

    Step 3: Identify Your Core Belief

    At Maverik, the core belief is: Adventure Elevates Life.

    “A brand isn’t something you put on, it’s something you are,” Harker emphasized. “If it comes from your heart, then your brand becomes a natural expansion of who you are.”

    Step 4: Outline Your Vision

    This is the step when c-store operators should clearly identify the vision for their brand. They can do this by asking themselves: If all dreams came true, what could my brand do?

    The executive used Maverik’s vision — “Maverik brings adventure to everyday life.” — as an example. “When people come to Maverik, we want them to believe in what they do.”

    Step 5: Describe Your Brand

    Harker used three companies and their brands to exemplify the right way to identify a brand:

    Apple — intuitive, beautiful, innovative
    Coca-Cola — bold, exciting, happy, connected
    Maverik — exciting, extreme, attitude, off the beaten path, outdoorsy

    Step 6: Establish Design Elements

    For c-store operators to distinguish their brands from others, they must choose certain design elements for differentation:

    Colors and textures. Examples of this include Monster Energy’s easily recognizable neon yellow and green on a black backdrop. At Maverik, the company uses hardwood, patent leather and carabiners to give an outdoorsy feel.

    Image and visuals. In one Maverik ad, a hiker is standing in the mountains with a bag of Maverik jerky, staring at the upcoming peak he will climb. This reinstates Maverik’s adventurous side.

    Font. Choose a typeface that reinforces the brand personality. Maverik uses bold, standard typeface for its corporate letters, but when it comes to its advertisements, it uses distressed fonts to “show we’ve been dragged through the mud,” Harker noted.

    Vocabulary. What words or phrases will you use in your advertising and messaging that will strengthen your brand? Maverik uses words and phrases that connote a feeling of attitude and adventure, like: trail, climb, extreme, alpine, summit, camp, peak, amped, and nitro.

    The company also uses unique phrases and spellings for its products, including Monster Trakker, Lumber Jack’d and The BEAST.

    Step 7: Actualize Your Brand

    In this final step, c-store brands take form through seven elements:

    Logo/sign. Harker’s advice for a c-store logo is something that captures the essence of the brand while showcasing the company’s name. It’s important that it’s well-designed and easy to read. “You create meaning with your logo. It becomes shorthand for everything you do,” he said.

    Tagline. The tagline sums up the brand in very few words. A tagline is often semi-permanent or campaign-related. The ideal is two to four words, Harker advised. Examples include: Apple’s “Think Different," Nike’s “Just Do It,” McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It,” and Maverik’s “Adventure’s First Stop.”

    Packaging. When it comes to packaging, Harker recommends running private-label packaging through the brand descriptors using the company’s predefined design elements.

    Interior and exterior design. This element allows c-store operators to identify opportunities they can take with the interior and exterior design to reinforce the company’s brand image and personality.

    Develop your own definitions. By creating names for teams and departments, companies can reinforce their brand and bring it into the daily lives of their employees. For example, Apple calls its team members “geniuses.” At Maverik, the CEO is known as the “Chief Adventure Guide" and store associates are recognized as “adventure guides.”

    Uniforms and dress code. Here, a company can identify what the appropriate dress code is for its corporate office support group, and what store associate uniforms will reinforce the company’s brand.

    Strategize your advertising campaign. In this element, companies develop advertising campaigns that highlight their unique selling proposition, guided by the tone and personality described in their brand descriptors and design elements.

    Overall, Harker suggests that c-store operators treat their brand like a national brand. That way, companies discipline themselves on creating fan-worthy brands.

    “Maverik wasn’t always cool — we’re still not cool. Build your brand. Don’t be swayed by price and convenience. Consistency creates a solid brand,” concluded Harker.

    The 2016 NACS Show took place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta from Oct. 18-21.

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