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The Magic of Target: How Clever Positioning Made This Retailer Irresistible

A friend posted this meme recently on Facebook, and I had to laugh. Can’t we all relate to the experience of going to Target for just one or two items and coming out with a cartload?

I remember my budget-conscious brother telling me once that he had to have a serious discussion with my sister-in-law about the fact that she couldn’t seem to leave Target for under $200.

How did this come to be? What magic spell has Target cast on us that inspires this kind of following and willingness to empty our pockets for stuff we didn’t know we needed? And how can you recreate that magic in your own business? According to retail experts, there are several aspects of Target’s brand that have created a strong loyalty.

It’s perceived as more than just ‘low-cost.’

If price were the only consideration, there’s a good chance that Walmart might prevail. However, Target combines price and value with something more. As one Forbes writer puts it, “Even those that shop at Target would hardly recognize it as a discount store but rather a superstore where you can buy everything you need in one convenient place. It’s with this in mind that Target has set the bar for other retailers when it comes to creating an in-store experience that encourages you to spend more than you planned to and return sooner than you thought.”

Some observers attribute this perceived added value to the responsiveness of Target employees. Why deal with a surly associate elsewhere when you can enlist the help of a friendly person in red? Others believe that it’s the store’s aesthetic and atmosphere. While it’s still a big-box store, the layout is intuitive, and signage is clear and inviting. Well-designed packaging for its store brands – whether it’s Up and Up, Room Essentials or any of Target’s 41 private labels – elevates the experience of buying even the most generic of products.

For your own brand, how can you add more perceived value through your user experience?

It chose good design as its differentiator.

Target is staunch in its commitment to creating goods that are visually appealing. In fact, it’s been said that the company chose that direction decades ago when it realized that Walmart would be difficult to compete with because of its prices. Retail writer Jon Bird explains, “In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, then Vice Chairman Gerald Storch said that the company had three strategic choices: ‘to specialize, to become the low-cost producer, or to differentiate (itself).’ Option one would have stunted growth and the second choice had already been nabbed by Walmart, so differentiation was the only path left. Target decided to reposition itself as a mass merchandiser of affordable chic goods.”

As one example, an early advertising campaign paired $20 Target stirrup pants with a $175 Adrienne Vittadini sweater. Bird says, “In the popular imagination (and lexicon), Target became Tar-zhay.”

The takeaway? When swimming in a sea of competitors, consider your strategic choices for differentiating your brand.

It’s a destination.

Much like Starbucks has created a niche for itself as a place where people can work and hold informal business meetings, Target has created an experience that nearly promises a mini vacation for the tired and stressed out. What new parent hasn’t enjoyed the guilty pleasure of being able to get out of the house, grab a coffee and get lost in Target’s aisles? Some have even likened the shopping experience to that of a treasure hunt or even a social event among friends. Clever merchandising, such as the Dollar Spot, well stocked seasonal sections, and eye-catching clearance stickers are what keep shoppers piling their carts high with stuff they can’t resist.

What can we learn from Target’s success?

When thinking about your own brand, ask yourself how you can make it more irresistible. Emphasize what makes your company different from others, highlight your special qualities, create a unique and engaging experience for your customers, and add in a measure of fun.

This post is courtesy of MMC Content Manager Beth Glavosek.

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