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Concocting a formula for success

Victoria Suffield strives for the perfect marketing chemistry to send her store's profile soaring

In a quest to seek the global recognition we at The Hambledon feel we deserve, we have taken the first step to worldwide brand domination by having a 'chemistry' meeting with an advertising agency.

It seemed like the right moment to think about promoting the shop in ways other than direct mail to our customer list. And it seemed like the right time to canvass some outside opinion about the way we manage, or utterly fail to manage, our marketing strategy. It was also definitely the right time to hook up with a friend whose new agency seems designed to serve just such troublesome, niche businesses as ourselves.

The brief, in essence, is simple: from our one store site, we want to extend the reach of The Hambledon, both locally and nationally.

What has been really exciting about the process so far (apart from a licence to talk about retail for hours and having other grown-ups pay attention to my opinions) has been the breadth of the discussion.

Where advertising may once have meant a local press advert, plus radio airplay if we were feeling adventurous, it now encompasses all kinds of media and necessitates a lateral thinking approach to self-promotion. While we may still be considering an old-school local press ad campaign, we've also been thinking about adverts elsewhere.

We have considered how we market ourselves using the internet more effectively, not just looking at direct sales on the web but also looking at how the personality of the shop can be reflected online. We have thought about joint promotions and who we might approach - who could complement, but not duplicate, our existing customer list.

And we have had to think carefully about how we manage our PR as a tool, because PR done well is fantastically effective - and currently woefully underexploited by us.

However, the single most important issue in these considerations has been the importance of accurately conveying the tone of the store. Conveying the scale, the product range and the customer demographic is all relatively easy, but capturing the feel of a place, giving a sense of the intangible, is, by definition, pretty difficult.

And I have really struggled to identify whether the tone should be funny or witty (humour is only funny if it is funny), authoritative or modest (modest but with a self-deprecating tendency to bossiness), slick or homespun (I am erring on the side of homespun with class). And so the questions continue ...

- Victoria Suffield is the owner of lifestyle retailer The Hambledon in Winchester, Hampshire.

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