The role of visual merchandising in brand building

The role of visual merchandising in brand building
Visual merchandising (VM) is not a new term. In fact, it has existed since the 19th century, but what surprises me is its prominence today in the world of fashion, and more so in India. Undoubtedly, the boom in retail in the past decade and with so many international brands foraying into the country, the need of VM has become more pronounced. Internationally, trained professionals have been around for many years now, but now India, too, has a fair share of experienced VM personnel today as most premier fashion institutes offer visual merchandising courses now.

While studying marketing a decade ago, I had learnt about the role of packaging in retail-based companies along with the strong product, but one could never imagine the huge amount of money that is spent on visual merchandising today. The irony is that according to certain surveys, some brands in fashion and retail industry spend more on VM as compared to the spending on research and development. Apart from displaying the product, VM also includes signage, lights and placement of equipment to engage customers and encourage sales activity.

I was going through a retail blog where VM pictures of many brands were shown and I was mesmerised by the look of it. International designers like Roberto Cavalli, Christian Dior and many others have changed the meaning of VM. In fact, they have raised the bar to a different level altogether. Seeing the trends set by them, all brands (designer or retail) are using all tools of marketing to differentiate themselves and this is the reason we see so many innovative ideas in VM today. Hiring artists to create textures on walls, object installations or graphics signifying a theme, unique ways of displaying logos, installation of customised racks and mannequins are some of the techniques used these days by brands. There are brands that even decide the costumes of fashion consultants beforehand to articulate the brands story.

However, there are some old school marketers who question the amount invested in these activities and believe that the client still looks for a strong product at a value for money proposition. Yes, to an extent, one may agree with this opinion, especially in view of India’s price sensitive market, but research has suggested that the psychology of the young consumer has undergone a tremendous change in the past decade and the significance of such initiatives on sales and brand perception is quite remarkable. One also understands that consumers prefer change in the ambience which makes VM more significant. Globally, brands have raised bars year after year as far as VM is concerned and now even domestic brands are using unique ways to display their products.

It is said the only thing constant in the world is change, so one needs to accept that times have changed, tastes have changed and perceptions also change. Therefore, one can say that visual merchandising is a very important tool in brand perception in today’s day and age.

(The writer is a Delhi-based fashion designer)

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