Mobile devices serve as a shopping research tool both before and during the purchase path, often giving users more up-to-date insights than store salespeople have access to.

Whereas many retailers have concentrated their mobile app strategy on consumer-facing, deal-oriented offerings, for the past two years, upscale clothing chain Brooks Brothers has instead focused its efforts on smartphone tools to educate, train, and instantly notify its 3,692 sales reps.

The app’s content is populated by a small team under Kelly Stuart-Johnson, Brooks Brothers’ director of Learning and its official Brand Historian (why not? The company was founded 198 years ago in 1818, after all).

Appearing at a Tuesday afternoon NRF Big Show panel session with Rich McGrath, David’s Bridal’s senior director of Learning and Development, and Jodi Harouche, Multimedia Plus’ chief creative officer and president, Stuart-Johnson spoke to GeoMarketing about the development and goals of the company’s associate-facing app.

GeoMarketing: What’s the purpose of an app that’s aimed only at store employees?

Kelly Stuart-Johnson:Obviously, the number one purpose is that the app is a sales tool. That’s the first thing. It’s also a way for us to build a community of sales associates.

The idea was to create something that would feel like an in-person tutorial emphasizing authenticity and relationship. When we decided to step out and carve out this app, the questions were: “How do we make sure that we’re capturing everyone? How do we make sure that we’re being inclusive of everyone?”

What’s the approach, in terms of regularity, to creating and distributing content?

The content is constantly updated, as we are constantly making deliveries to stores. You’re a reporter, so you understand the necessity of maintaining your audience. You need to continue to communicate with them, and you need to give them “newness” all the time. You have to continue to engage all of their different kinds of sensibilities.

It’s the nature of the brand identity that we tend to be people who love history. But at the same time, we’re building a brand and not a museum. This is a way to get out selling knowledge, but at the same time, make sure that while we’re doing that, we’re also having fun, peppering things in about the culture.

Brooks Brothers' Kelly Stuart-Johnson
Brooks Brothers’ Kelly Stuart-Johnson

Can you offer an example of the style of the content Brooks Brothers disseminates to its sales staffers via the app?

Perhaps someone is a new store associate at one of our Midwest locations. Maybe they’re far away from the “brothership” of 346 Madison Ave. How do we make sure that they feel just as much a part of the company?

Since our founding, there’s always been a large affiliation with the Northeast — that’s what you think about Brooks Brothers’ identity, although our presence is worldwide. How do you make sure that every associate in all of those different places feel like they’re home, and feel like home is the brothership? That’s what the content is designed to instill.

Do you see the app as a complement to the more basic forms of employee communication, such as email and in-person meetings and presentations?

The app can handle all of those things. It can handle a newsletter, it can handle a video message. If we wanted to, we could change things every day. We don’t have the team to be able to do that, but the app has that capacity.

Brands like Lowe’s — obviously, quite a different kind of retailer from Brooks Brothers — have used beacons to communicate special messages about inventory and other immediate consumer needs. Has Brooks Brothers considered augmenting its app with a beacon feature also aimed at sales associates?

It’s not something that we currently use, but there are other people in the company that specialize in those things. It is something that’s interesting to us. But we’re interested in all forms of communication and the technology that supports it.