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What’s your Big Idea?

Big idea

What’s your Big Idea? The transformational power of understanding what your retail business is for.

What is your retail business for? Can you answer this question in one sentence? If not, then you have a problem.

What would someone working on your tills, in the stock room, on the customer service line say if you asked them this question? If it is something different to your answer, then that’s a problem too.

A retail business must have a clear and fundamental understanding of its Big Idea – the human story behind what it sells. Big Idea can motivate staff, engage customers and boost your bottom line. It can become a rally cry, a unifying force, and it can turn a store into a success story.

What is Big Idea?

Big Idea is behind almost every great modern retail success story. It’s the foundation they are built on. And it’s a really simple concept.

Big Idea is an understanding of what a retailer is for.

It’s not “mission”, or “retail purpose”, or marketing strategy or company tagline (although Big Idea feeds into all of those). All these things can change over time, but Big Idea rarely does.

Big Idea is the human story behind your business.

Big Idea is a single sentence that describes what your customers are really buying when they shop with you.

20 Big Idea examples

Successful retailers have Big Ideas that are so clear we can all articulate them without much thought. Here are 20 great modern Big Ideas that have underpinned success for the retailer.

Ebay – Auctions of everything, by everyone. 

IKEA – Democratise access to great design.

BrewDog – Make people as passionate about craft beer as we are.

Bloom & Wild – Help people show that they care.

Deliveroo – Help people enjoy great local restaurant food at home.

Halfords – Use our knowledge and expertise to help people cycle more.

Walmart – Every item in the store will be offered at the lowest possible price.

Aldi – Simple presentation of edited range at the best possible price without compromise on quality.

Costco Warehouse – Offer a limited bulk range in vast depth to trade and employee groups.

Joules – Give families who love the countryside practical clothing with a stylish edge.

Peleton – Use technology to bring the boutique gym experience into our homes.

Net-a-Porter – Sell luxury fashion online with a style magazine’s editorial presentation.

Subway – Assemble sandwiches fresh to order.

Boohoo – Give women access to the latest fashion trends at low prices.

Apple Store – Show people how Apple can improve their lives.

Hotel Chocolat – Get people excited about good chocolate.

Foot Locker – Offer sneaker lovers the best sneakers at the best prices.

Lush – Engage customers and reduce waste by letting them try bathroom products before they buy.

Screwfix – Be the easiest, quickest way for tradespeople to buy DIY supplies.

Why does it matter?

Clarifying your Big Idea send a ripple of effects right through your business.

  • It automatically generates your mission and retail purpose, because they both work to make your Big Idea a reality
  • It makes it easier to direct investment to the most effective places in your business, because Big Idea tells you what is important and what isn’t
  • It helps you identify the best way to offer reward to your customers for choosing to shop with you

Big Idea and Friction vs Reward

In this era of ultimate customer choice, retailers must give customers what they want or risk losing them to the competition.  To retain customers, vendors must reduce friction by making it easy to buy from them and increase reward by making it amazing to buy from them.

Knowing your Big Idea helps you to fill in detail on the reward side of this equation, because it helps you understand what customers are engaged by when they shop with you. And that helps you find ways to increase the reward you offer customers for choosing you.

When you know the human context of what you exist for, you can create products, experiences and formats that provide rewards that customers respond to.

What to do with your Big Idea

Once you’ve defined your Big Idea, you will need to align your business so that every aspect of it is working towards it. That might mean adjustments to staff training, messaging, marketing, product line, store layout, signage and more. The changes might be tiny adjustments or larger strategic decisions.

When everyone in your business knows your Big Idea, consistency, authenticity and passion follow. Your staff aren’t churning out lines lines from the employee handbook, but speaking from the heart. When this happens, you’ve got something special on your hands.

How do you define Big Idea?

What do you sell? This might seem like a straightforward question, but the answer isn’t the product on your shelves or the service you offer. They are just the tools that help you deliver what you really sell: the emotion behind those products.

Boohoo doesn’t sell clothes; it sells the feelgood factor of a new Saturday night outfit. Deliveroo doesn’t sell a food delivery service; it sells the comfort of treating yourself to a restaurant quality meal at home. Bloom & Wild don’t sell flowers; they sell the ability to show someone that you care about them.

How do your customers feel about the things their purchase unlocks for them?

The question isn’t “how do customers feel about our products?” Customers don’t feel anything about a dress or a delivery driver or a bunch of delphiniums. But they do feel something about what the purchase unlocks for them; self-confidence; comfort; communication.

This question isn’t easy. Retailers are trained to think product, product, product. We think about moving product, pricing product, merchandising product, selling product. It’s hard to break that conditioning and think beyond product to what a customer is really buying when they shop with you.

Defining your Big Idea starts with understanding the emotional context behind a customer’s decision to purchase from you. You must get to the heart of what you’re delivering to your customers.

7 questions to help identify your Big Idea

  • What are your customers trying to achieve when they spend money with you?
  • What problems are your customers solving with your products or services?
  • What common emotional trends can you find?
  • How does your product improve people’s lives or make them happier?
  • What are your competitors’ Big Ideas and how are they different to yours?
  • How does your product or service engage customers?
  • How would you summarise what you really sell in one sentence? 

Now try writing a single sentence to answer that crucial question – what are you for?

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