European brands, particularly British high-street ones do not have a brilliant track record when it come to cracking the American consumer market. For this reason more than any other, many people are already forecasting doom and disaster for Primark’s foray into American retail. They’re wrong, and we’re going to tell you just how wrong they are…
“It’s from Primani, darling”
In our previous articles we’ve explained how selling any product or service is really a process of selling an experience to your customer before, during, and after their purchase. Primark may not seem like the first name that springs to mind when thinking of “experience” brands, but it should be.
Budget stores come ten-a-penny (joke most definitely intended), but Primark offered something unique from the very beginning – they offered not only volume, but also style and value. Discount fashion chains traditionally imitated higher end brands, but usually did it very poorly or still charged a premium for it – in contrast Primark quite frequently replicated catwalk fashion designs before luxury retailers had sold the real thing (and did it well).
Fast fashion met disposable fashion, causing a seismic shift in high street retail forever.
They also achieved a level of quality that consumers found acceptable for their price point. Doing one or two of these things is usually the best a budget chain can do, but all three (quality, speed, style) gave Primark a huge advantage over their immediate rivals. Fast fashion met disposable fashion, causing a seismic shift in high street retail forever.
Perhaps more importantly, Primark created a social phenomenon too by making cheap clothing something people had no reticence about openly wearing. There was a sudden explosion of self-aware consumers who felt happier saying they paid less for a luxury-styled item from a budget store than pretending it was the more expensive original. It was a feedback loop that has rocketed their brand to enviable heights.
In The Land of the Free (Shopping Bag)
There is without a doubt a touch of envy (or snobbery) in some of the criticisms being levelled at Primark today, but there are also some serious issues to address as well.
America has had discount clothing chains for a long time and while none are household names in the UK, they do very well and continue to expand in their domestic market. The note of caution being sounded for Primark here is that they’re trying to penetrate a saturated market, but that completely misrepresents what Primark are taking to America.
they’ve turned that into an experience for their customers that reflects the synergy of disposable and fast fashion
Their unique selling point (USP) is the experience they offer – both before, during, and after a purchase (see where we’re going here?). Primark are lower priced, more relevant, and faster from catwalk to shop floor than most of their competitors. As discussed above, they’ve turned that into an experience for their customers that reflects the synergy of disposable and fast fashion: The excitement of discovering what is available, enjoying being able to purchase so many items for an acceptable price, and knowing it’s both on-trend and socially acceptable to wear (or enviable depending on the scenario).
Although this article is primarily about their marketing and brand image maintenance, it’s also worth noting that Primark has stayed responsive. They restock their stores on an almost daily basis, meaning lines can be replaced or maintained depending on sales data in something approaching real-time. A good stock management and business intelligence system is vital for this kind of decision-making, and something we try to encourage all retailers to install. We’ll come back to this concept in future “The Startup Story” articles.
The other reasonable warning being issued by cautious observers flags up Primark’s traditional strategy of relying on “word of mouth” marketing. The argument, in short, is that America is too big to rely on that strategy while trying to penetrate a saturated market. We’ve already successfully debunked the “saturated market” argument above, but what about the size of America? Can Primark crack this nut without a substantial marketing war chest?
True Primark does rely on word of mouth marketing, and certainly relied heavily on it during their early growth. In a traditional analysis of a marketplace like America, word of mouth would not be high on a list of successful brand awareness strategies for a new entrant. That misses the reality of modern marketing however, because today social media makes word of mouth take on global proportions. “Word of app” would be a better term to use. A single recommendation can influence consumers hundreds of miles from the originator. A note of a caution however…
What social media giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other
There’s no escaping the fact that Primark will still need to spend money to make money in the USA. What social media giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other – if they get this first period of customer experience wrong or let the brand image become distorted, it will spread like wildfire across every target state they planned to expand into.
That’s why we always recommend having a long-term brand management strategy, and continue to promote the importance of brand identity to SMEs no matter what industry they’re in. Luckily for Primark, this is something they’ve managed to keep on top during their European operations and we see no reason why they can’t do it in the USA.
Wait, why should I care about Primark in America?
Anyone who sells a product, a service… or an experience(!) should care whenever a successful brand enters new territory, because it teaches lessons that scale up and down no matter what the size of your own enterprise. Primark’s entry into America demonstrates that there is no such thing as a saturated market if you have a strong enough Unique Selling Point, and that there is no such thing as “too big” a territory if you have the right brand awareness strategy.
The final takeaway for most SME owners and decision makers is that Primark’s apparently effortless brand awareness is anything but effortless. They have spent a great amount of time and money managing their image, exerting just enough influence over the organic growth of their brand identity to keep it positive without making it artificial.
As always we look forward to receiving your feedback on today’s article, and of course we’re more than happy to answer any questions you have about your own marketing issues. Do you think Primark will succeed? Do you have your own concerns about establishing your brand image? Let us know below…