I might be dating myself just a bit, but do you remember the hot days of summer when you got dropped off at the mall? Like when your mom finally said yes?
With Claire’s Boutique faux diamonds dancing in your eyes, you couldn’t wait. You pulled together the coolest outfit you could assemble and packed a purse full of makeup to put on once you got there, because you wouldn’t have a face to put it on if your mom had seen it on you (maybe that’s just me…Air Force dad and teacher mom).
You’d get to the mall and spend hours strolling the corridors, hanging out in the food court, and laughing with your friends.
And then you’d go back and do it all over again the next weekend. The same people were there with whom you’d weave in and out of all the same stores (The Body Shop or Spencer’s, anyone?).
There are still busy times and seasons at the mall, but it’s not exactly the same. In fact, there’s more mall real estate than ever. So, why are malls in this predicament? Of course, the apparent prevailing wisdom- Amazon killed malls. However, I think we might be giving the giant retailer a little too much credit as the mall serial killer.
Think about this. Malls were as American as apple pie until they weren’t.
I’d offer a different reason for the situation shopping malls are finding themselves in.
All businesses must evolve, and malls simply didn’t. They stopped delivering relevant experiences and messages. It’s like they got stuck in an early 90s messaging time warp and became growth stunted.
In the hey-day of hoards of teens conducting all manners of teen business in the mall like finding a new date, exchanging beeper numbers, finding the perfect outfit to end the day at the Olive Garden with girlfriends, and breaking up on mall payphones, much of pop-culture was set around mall scenes. We had movies like Mall Rats and Clueless that glorified the experience of mall culture, Mall Madness (remember the board game with your first piece of plastic currency?), and music videos set in malls. Even pop star Tiffany had a mall tour. Different times.
It was easy for malls to keep stores full when Hollywood and MTV championed mall marketing. As a young public, with our wad of babysitting monies in hand, we followed the Pied Piper of media which showed us that the mall was the “it” place to congregate and socialize- the perfect place to chill and buy.
We still follow the media’s lead, but the desperate bleating mall cry started when the media stayed relevant to technology and how people socialize and abandoned mall marketing in movies and mainstream music. I needed the mall’s music store for years before I could download my tunes.
The mall industry overrelied on pop culture to send the message of relevancy. At 16, I thought I needed the mall to socialize, to stay fashionable, and for peer acceptance. My perception was that I needed a mall to fulfill my most basic need as an American teen of social status. Interestingly, though, that belief system wasn’t coming from genius mall industry executives. The movie and music industries were doing the marketing heavy lifting for the malls.
I’d challenge the mall company execs to tell me why now, as an established adult, income-earning, wine-loving, woman who still seeks relevant life experiences, why I need the mall at this life stage. If they can show me that and millions of consumers like me, they can save the Titanic.
Your customers need you to show up in a way that registers to them that you are a need, a must-have, and not just something that would be nice to have. How do you do this? You have to identify the very relevant crises of the day and tell your audiences why this is a problem for them. Many businesses wait on their prospective customers to just get the problem, but it’s your job to use your marketing to shine light on the problem for which only you have the best solution. This will be even more important to consider if we head into a recession. Let that sink in for a minute. How are you letting customers know that they need you?
They didn’t do anything to change the message they were sending, but perhaps they never had much of a message anyway. Have you seen or heard any commercials from Simon, Westfield, or any big mall parent companies to tell us why malls are still cool and we want to be there?
Take a note of what not to do out of their playbook. The strategy seems to be to put lipstick on the pig. Throw in a few new restaurants. Remodel the outside. Build a big carousel next to the food court. Toss in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.
Throwing more things at a business (at your business) doesn’t fix foundational relevancy problems. Ever.
Department stores…same story. Vanilla. No relevancy. Nothing special. The stores around mall circles also need to figure their branding and marketing out pretty quickly, as we’ve already seen casualties of the mall crisis.
Toy stores are probably the saddest of the mall and neighboring business casualties. Toys R’ Us kids are extinct. Kids could have had a new experience with the once toy store giant of America, but they sadly didn’t tell kids and their parents that story.
In 2020, NBC reported that 25% of malls would shut their doors within five years. If that’s the truth, American towns are going to have a big gaping hole in their landscape. But I have hope that at least some malls have a chance of survival if they can figure out their relevant messaging.
I’m not telling you to stop your social media, BUT I would go as far as to say if you are a business in 2022, you need to be building your email list and absolutely need a well-designed and written website. Yes, you friend, with no website, please hear me… There’s a very relevant and wildly popular thing called Google, and everybody’s doing it, and you need an online presence to attend this party!
If you’re looking for a fresh, relevant message for your website and other marketing outlets, I can help you. Contact me today to develop a new brand story that is timely for today and lets people know how they need you.
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