In today’s retail landscape, everything is just a few clicks away, with fast delivery (sometimes even same-day) becoming standard. On the surface, this might pose an existential threat to brands: when brick-and-mortar is no longer necessary for purchasing products, where does the physical store fit within the modern customer decision journey? The answer lies in leveraging digital in-store experiences that forge a meaningful connection with your audience.
But challenges remain in achieving that relationship. Consumers have become bombarded with an overflow of messages, resulting in a cluttered digital environment in which anything deemed irrelevant becomes relegated to background noise. In an age of hyper adoption—the unprecedented rate in which consumers adopt and leave behind new behaviours—brands hold little control over the conversation, making it difficult to stand out and keep relevant amidst competition.
I believe it’s time for brands to look at reinventing the full purchase funnel to include discovery and purchasing, seamlessly integrated across both digital and physical, becoming fully interactive, personalized and connected. It’s coming back to a simple truth: We need to define how brands can connect with consumers on a human level. To deserve consumers’ attention, we need to give consumers something worthy enough to spend their time with—and retailers can achieve this through constructing creatively differentiated experiences that establish meaningful, emotional connections.
In-store experiential changes the game
Developing meaningful experiences offers a necessary opportunity for retailers to extend their purpose beyond simply being a showroom for product displays or strictly a space for transactions. And audiences are ready for this: it’s widely acknowledged that consumers prefer experiences over material things. Nearly three out of four millennial consumers choose to spend their hard-earned money on experiences and events over items, according to a study by Harris Group.
There is huge potential to connect with your audience by tapping into this desire, creating incredible experiences through storytelling that is informed and augmented by the tools offered by today’s technology. 80% of companies believe they deliver “superior experiences,” but only 8% of customers agree—companies have a long way to go in delivering the experiences that resonate with their audiences.
For retailers, the brick-and-mortar shop is an opportune stage for delivering unique, hands-on and customer-focused storytelling experiences. The conversation we often have with marketers is one that’s focused on reach, impact and conversion. Brands commonly perceive traditional storytelling methods like film as having greater potential for reach, though it’s important to realize that much of that reach is owed to media buy—which has little effect on engagement and connection. While traditional stories still have their place within the customer decision journey, retail experiential offers opportunity to put individuals into the cockpit, so to speak, offering a direct connection between consumer and brand.
What a creatively differentiated experience offers that others don’t is stickiness and lasting memory. The moment people experience something in action, when they truly interact with a brand, it sticks—and those memories influence future purchasing decisions. As Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, “While memory might be a reflection of our past, its purpose is to determine the decisions we make for our future. It’s the remembering self that chooses what to buy the majority of the time.”
Yet although experiences are often set up to create a buzz around the brand and to play into long term effects of memory, it doesn't mean it cannot drive immediate impact to the bottom-line. We recently created an experience for Puma right in front of one of their biggest retail locations in Shanghai. The experience aimed to reinvent the trialling experience for the launch of the Hybrid Astro running shoe. Puma’s brief focused on the beauty and fun of ‘running your own way’, stripping away the competitive tone of most running campaigns. That freedom led to a truly engaging fantasy world for runners to just enjoy, channelling their run by becoming an ‘actual’ puma. The campaign was live for a week and drove 60% uplift in sales in store during that week.
Customers know best: Let their needs lead your innovation
When interested in offering an experience like those mentioned above, this is my advice: resist the temptation to embrace novel tech. At MediaMonks, we continuously research emerging technology to find its best application. While it’s at the core of everything we make, it’s not the hero—we don’t believe in tech for its own sake. The consumer is the hero, and it’s the story that connects them with the brand.
Our VR experience made in collaboration with Calvin Klein, for example, uses immersive storytelling and mindfulness practices to prompt customers to meditate on the qualities of heat and cold, drawing attention to the thermoregulating ability of its 37.5 line of jeans line. The experience offered a unique and intuitive environment for raising awareness of the product’s crucial, differentiating feature.
Retail has the potential to become a one-stop shop for your brand to raise awareness, inspiration and loyalty for your audience, all in one go. But taking advantage of this opportunity requires retailers to reinvent their approach to the customer decision journey, closely aligning digital and nondigital shopping behaviours through best-in-practice creative experiences.
Sanne Drogtrop is executive producer at MediaMonks Shanghai.