The objective of this study is to briefly capture the essence of branding, the nuance of strong brands and how powerful retail brands can connect with their consumers. It determines how product based branding is different from building retail brands especially with focus on fashion retail brands in Europe. This paper explores indepth the relationship between store experience and the perceptions of brand image with emphasis on the importance of product and mix in retail, role of merchandising, multi sensorial store ambience, displays, quality of staff and consumer loyalty. The methodology is based on the current body of theory in the area of building strong fashion retail brands and experiential marketing. The hugely successful fashion brand, Zara, has been studied indepth to explain the strong linkages between fashionable merchandise and delightful store experiences in creating powerful and differentiated retail brands.
The notion of the "brand" has a long history. Brands have always been closely related to cultural values. The word "brand" (marque) originally comes from French and means "appropriate sign". The brand has always been a promise to deliver a unique product with constant performance and features. This promise leads to Brand Equity. Brand Equity is a set of assets ( or liabilities) linked to a brands symbol that adds to ( or subtracts) from the value provided by a product or service to a firm or its customers . The major attributes of brand equity are brand name awareness, brand loyalty, perceived quality, brand associations. Brand loyalty and brand awareness provide value to customers by enhancing the consumers interpretation of information and confidence in the purchase decision leading to user satisfaction. Perceived quality and brand associations provide value to firms by enhancing effectiveness of marketing programs , brand extensions, trade leverage, and competitive advantage ( Building Strong Brands , David Aaaker, Pg 7,8) . Thus Quality hallmarks, such as those to be found these days in the Swiss watch industry, with its "Geneva Seal", are continuing this tradition in the new millennium. Therefore, A well-recognized and accepted brand image is one of the most valuable assets a firm possesses. Brand managers and manufacturers are concerned with managing brand equity and capitalizing on the value of a brand image (Aaker, 1991). The Brand image consists of consumer knowledge and beliefs, stored in memory as associations, about brand attributes and the consequences of brand use (Peter and Olson, 1994). These associations are usually organized in some meaningful manner (Aaker, 1991). ( The Influence of Brand Recognition on Retail Store Image by Stephen S. Porter and Cindy Claycomb)
Fashion Brands as Retail Brands
In the context of Fashion Brands, who are mainly manufacturer or pure retailers owning a brand or store labels, the meaning of brand assumes a different hue. The traditional approach to branding views brands as reflections of a companys name, logo and advertising which is also called the Brand ID. But brands are not just identifiers. Brands are first and foremost providers of experiences.' Companies need to move from Brand ID = Brand EX. ( Experiential Marketing, Schmitt Pg 30) The fashion brands especially those like Zara or Esprit have to go beyond product attributes and positioning. They have to deliver not only the product but they have to do sell it in a theatrical style at retail. Brand a is deeper and more complex subject issue for retailers, because for retailers the " brand" consists of both the brand image of the products being sold and the brand presentation of the store itself'. ' ( Built for Growth, Expanding your Business around the corner or across the Globe , Arthur Rubinstein & Collings Hemingway, Pg 4 ) .
The retail brand has two cornerstones : the quality of packaging of what is...