Your brand isn’t hero: it shows your customer the way in their own story, Retail Hive delegates told

Jonathan Gabay, author of Brand Psychology, spoke at the latest Retail Hive meeting in London on the importance of storytelling to engage the connected customer. Yet unlike the usual ‘storytelling’ we’ve come to expect from retail marketing, Gabay took the emphasis away from the brand and placed it firmly with the consumer.

Speaking to a room of over 100 senior retail professionals at the members-only meeting, Gabay explained that customers aren’t playing a part in the brand story – it’s the brand that’s fulfilling a role in theirs. If the customer is the hero, then what is the villain in their narrative – and how can we help them towards the solution?

In this sense, that villain is something that is making the customer’s life difficult. It’s up to brands to position products and services that provide a solution: that makes their lives better. In Gabay’s words, if the customer is Luke Skywalker, the brand is their Yoda.

This is why engaging customers is crucial. Yet with digital communications – and customer expectations – moving at breakneck speed, engaging effectively can get complicated, not to mention risky. As communications develop, retailers are faced not only with opportunities to engage, but a responsibility to engage effectively, usefully, and without intrusiveness.

A large part of that responsibility rests on retailers ensuring that their systems and strategies line up in a way that’s conducive to offering a service to customers, not becoming a nuisance. With so many channels and communications in between brand and customer, that can be easier said than done, with plenty of potential for miscommunication, or missed opportunities. 

In his opening speech, Mike Durbridge, CEO of Andrew Martin International and chairman at the event, likened this tangle between brand and customer to a bowl of spaghetti – the longer it’s left, the harder it is to pick out the strands. But once you do unpick this, you’re left with a clear line to your customers: an opportunity to connect and communicate in a way that provides a valuable service and inspires loyalty.

Sally Green, managing director at The Retail Hive, commented: “A lot of retailers are rising to the challenge of utilising the oceans of data that are sloshing around in their organisations. There is a genuine aspiration to nail the “connected customer” conundrum: to extract value from data that has an impact on customer engagement, loyalty and of course results. No one feels like they’ve got all the answers, but it’s brilliant to see people coming together to help each other and rise to the challenge collectively.”

As members came together at roundtable discussions to discuss these issues and share their experiences, The Retail Hive identified a few common themes.


This has to change just as much as the logistics of engagement. Until company cultures change to embrace and prioritise engagement, it can’t be truly successful.


Retargeting and data profiles give retailers responsibility to their customers as well as an opportunity. Brands need to consider the balance between making personalisation ‘useful’ and ‘unnerving’.

Routes to market

Amazon is always a hot topic for retailers – but is it the “Retail Death Star” or a cost effective opportunity? Channels like Amazon, Zalando and the like can be a viable strategy, but getting the solution that’s right for each brand is essential.

Cross channel customer journeys

Customers are looking to brands for a simple solution. How can we create a single customer view that presents are brands as a seamless, connected service across all channels? It might feel hard – it is hard – but it isn’t impossible. It’s time to look past the obstacles and find a solution.

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Green said: “It all comes back again to this idea of the story: the narrative that we all create around our own identity.  “In his keynote,” adds Sally, “Jonathan spoke about stories: how we are all telling stories to ourselves, and to our customers. Here, at meetings like this one, brands are telling stories to each other. It’s not just inspiring – it’s useful. Because the outcome of all these brands collaborating and joining those narratives is the story of tomorrow’s customer.”