The New Age of Experiential Retail

It’s Time for Brands to “Meet & Greet” the Consumer Audience of Today

Rodrigo Espinosa

Rodrigo Espinosa, VP, NA/LA Growth & Development
Passionate advocate for the human brand. Integrated marketing strategist with experience in purpose driven brands, sponsorship, social media, sustainable practices and experiential marketing. 20 years in the business.

Brand strategy and marketing have changed dramatically over time, a move that feels like it happened overnight. With the rapid evolution of technology and social media, we’re in an “always-on” world where consumers are in the driver’s seat. As this transition takes place, marketers are being asked a question by consumers, one that will ultimately test the success and viability of campaigns, especially in the experiential space: “Do you really know me?” 

With experiential marketing, it’s imperative to not only bring manifest the brand, but to provide personalized human connection between the consumer and the brand. Focusing on efforts in the retail industry in particular, it is evident that the most innovative brands have headed into uncharted territory where they’ve relinquished more control to the consumer. Winning brands are the ones who listen to their stakeholders and implement strategies that respond to their wants and needs. Today, all marketing is human-to-human – and brands must be human too.

Brick and mortar, for example, has undergone a major shift—malls were built to optimize square feet but now, size doesn’t matter. The experience is what counts. Brands that put their customers at the center of their experiences – will win. Retailers have recognized the immense value of experiential marketing and are utilizing their budgets accordingly. Instead of square feet, retailers are focusing on interactive showrooms, pop-up experiences and activations at the most popular festivals in the world – bringing value to customers’ actual lives. While certain legacy brands have struggled to adapt, there are a handful of iconic retailers making the transformation alongside the newbies.

 

EXPERIENTIAL IS KEY FOR RETAIL

One strategy to consider is: reverse engineering—go retro. Brick and mortar can still exist, but in limited doses. Think of this in the sense of nostalgic pop-up experiences that bring people back to a place of simplicity. As much as society thrives on the alternate reality of social media and instant gratification, we’re hungry for authentic experiences of the past. Retailers have an opportunity to remind people of that time, and also educate new generations on what life was like during a simpler time when phones were attached to the kitchen wall and household items were purchased from a five-pound catalog that came in the mail. 

 

AMPLIFY CREATIVITY

Be even more creative than you ever thought. Bring audiences connection, personalization and interaction between them and the brand. Without creativity and uniqueness brands will not stand out. Consider a concept called the “imagination glitch.” It appears to be a virus infecting well-established legacy brands on the brink of extinction. It’s manifested by limited creativity, a delay on innovation and a slight wrong turn away from strategic growth. If these brands continue using an antibiotic to treat a virus (which simply can’t cure it), they’ll end up flipping their own companies into the abyss. Those with the humility to recognize threats and weaknesses survive by correcting and pivoting their strategy to re-calibrate efforts and ensure success for the future—creating experiences that match audiences and ultimately, win them over. 

 

DON’T JUST SURVIVE, THRIVE AND CONTINUE TO INNOVATE 

Retail has reached a point where it’s not just about surviving–brands must stand out from the crowd. It takes strategy, innovation, and most importantly imagination to connect brands to consumers where they already are. To do this successfully brands need to create supplemental, in-person experiences that are memorable and relatable, and in some cases, spark a sense of nostalgia that connects people to a time that “once was.” 

With the new “self-made” influencer era, niche marketing is also crucial and should be a core pillar of any successful campaign. Partnerships between like-minded brands and influential leaders in conjunction with basic practices like the elevation of customer service will allow for a new and improved marketing strategy that takes legacy brands to a whole new level. Doing what’s never been done before in each respective arena is what’s required in today’s highly competitive world. 

 

EXAMPLES ALWAYS HELP

For instance, The North Face has established brand equity in the outdoor-lifestyle-apparel niche. Their digital capabilities are strong, their brand core is solid, and their retail strategy is impressive. Their stores have become “showrooms” over “transaction centers.” The purpose is to highlight the brand in a non-cluttered, friendly environment, with their sole purpose not to sell products, but to engage with the consumer to forge engagement and loyalty. 

Warby Parker is another great example of a brand doing it right.  Founded to sell glasses at a more economical price point, they began solely as an e-commerce player, and then moved into stores – or more specifically, showrooms. You cannot walk out of a Warby Parker retail location with a pair of glasses, they only ship their products to your house. But, you can visit their showrooms and try on glasses, talk to a representative, place an order, or just hang out in the lounge-inspired space.

 

GAIN THE LOYALTY, THEN, KEEP IT

There are legacy brands and digital-first brands that are hitting all the right notes in this new retail landscape and gaining customer loyalty as a result.

In order to survive this competitive landscape (or enter the competitive ring in the first place) brands need to engage in a way that creates an experience for people who are desperately seeking connection. Activations should complement communication and personal interaction, making the voluntary choice to participate a joy rather than a chore. It takes creativity, strategy, research and dedication to understand your audience enough to keep them glued.