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Rita Clifton

The boss of consultancy Interbrand tells Laura Weir why retailers should be ‘totally paranoid’ about running their business

What are the things any retailer should remember when looking at the branding of their store?

It’s really important for retailers to think beyond the shop. Your online presence is important in creating the right expectations. With any brand, you have to have clarity about what you stand for and how you differ from the competition. You have to be distinctive. It’s hyper-competitive and you need a distinctive edge, whether it’s merchandising or service. Consistency is key. There is no point putting across a premium feel if your staff aren’t dressed well. Leadership is a critical characteristic of any brand - it’s not just about who runs the business, it’s about innovation and setting the agenda. You’ve got to be totally paranoid thinking about what else you can do. You’ve got to stay on top of what your customers want.

Which independent clothing retailers have impressed you with their use of advertising and branding?

My personal favourite is premium womenswear indie Square in Bath. It has a distinctive look and feel and interesting assistants in store. It’s a genuinely enjoyable experience and it has great labels.

How important is branding now we are coming out of the recession, as often the marketing spend is the first part of a retailer’s budget to be cut?

The brand is your business. That’s the main promise you’re making to your customers, that’s what needs to drive and organise everything you do. Some retailers think about having a shop first and use the brand to stick on top as a fascia. As far as the downturn is concerned, if you’re selling less volume you have less to spend on communications, so it makes it even more critical that your people are great ambassadors and that you collect customer information in an efficient way.

Over the years, which fashion designer has impressed you with their use of branding?

Alexander McQueen was always the epitome of fashion designer branding. He absolutely understood what it was that was special and different about his brand; the drama of the catwalk, the craft and skill - it was an extraordinary experience. Some [fashion branding] feels very self-conscious, tries too hard and feels very managed, but there is something very special about the McQueen experience that makes his death doubly sad and tragic.

How did you get to where you are today?

I used to work in a record and toy shop every weekend and I met most of my boyfriends there, so that was an interesting time.

After university I knew I wanted to do something that involved the media. I happened to get a graduate trainee position at [advertising firm] Saatchi & Saatchi. I spent 11 year there and then Interbrand phoned me and asked if I would like to be chief executive.

What was the last thing you bought?

I was at a meeting in Glasgow and I bought a black leather Prada jacket from Cruise. It feels like butter, so soft.

What is your business pet hate?

Jargon. Every area has its own special jargon, whether it’s finance or marketing, but it can get in the way and complicate thinking. If you can’t express things vividly it’s difficult to take people with you.

Who is your favourite designer?

I don’t really go for French designers as I find the cut doesn’t suit me. They have strong label presence, but more for women who haven’t got curves. Alexander McQueen was fantastic at cutting for women, as is Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci, and I really like Rick Owens.

Which city do you think best understands retail and customer service?

It’s difficult to beat New York on service, but if you’re talking about truly knowledgeable staff, then it’s hard to top Milan (pictured) or, indeed, Rome.

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