It’s no secret that the consumer-brand relationship has changed, and continues to evolve. Consumers expect — and demand — more, particularly from the brands they’re loyal to. And in a competitive retail environment, it’s up to brands to deliver the kinds of experiences their customers expect. Across all platforms.
This means it’s no longer enough to rely on products to attract and retain customers; in fact, the products brands produce and sell are rarely what define them anymore. Instead, it’s the experiences customers have with brands in-store, online, or through various marketing and communications channels that determine whether a consumer-brand relationship is healthy and profitable, or ultimately disposable.
By now it’s common knowledge that retail brands in particular need to move away from a purely “selling merchandise” strategy toward one that puts the customer experience first. We know it isn’t solely about redesigning brick-and-mortar physical space (though that may be a part of it), but creating consistent, memorable interactions at every consumer touch point, both physical and digital. The question going forward is, how should we be doing it?
This might have seemed counterintuitive even 10 years ago, when brick-and-mortar retailers and e-Commerce brands operated in distinct channels, and big box retailers de-prioritized the customer experience in favor of volume-driven discounting. Now, when it seems like Amazon knows its Prime members better than they know themselves, and Internet-born e-Retailers are opening zero-inventory pop-up showrooms two storefronts down from Macy’s, the game has changed. The consumer — and how they experience the brands they shop with — is now the focal point.
When it comes to companies that are excelling at creating memorable, relevant customer experiences across touch points and channels, some are nailing it:
A Fantastic In-Store Experience
To promote 2018’s holiday blockbuster Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, AT&T & Warner Bros. Pictures launched a successful takeover at four flagship stores. By transforming its retail spaces into interactive, augmented-reality-enabled magical realms, AT&T not only helped promote the premiere of a major motion picture, but created unexpected, engaging experiences for the public. From wands that cast spells, memorabilia and costumes worn in the film, to becoming part of the Living Portrait Wall, the Fantastic Beasts project demonstrated AT&T’s ability to move beyond the strict, traditional utility of its retail square.
Exploring Every Angle
Breville, a well-regarded appliance brand with no shortage of presence in home goods retail locations, approached its recent gift guide initiative from a different customer experience perspective. Instead of presenting a static list of Breville products, the brand’s gift guide offered ways to bundle, enhance and present your gifts (“Gifting Inspiration”), complete with step-by-step instructions. This demonstrates how the brand puts itself into the mind space of its customers, anticipating their experiences with the products even through the online channel.
A Millennial-Era Mash-up
A new entrant to the retail marketplace combines both an imaginative physical space with customer-centric digital offerings, all while hinting at (but not quite re-creating) the commuter convenience of the old-school newsstand. The New Stand self-describes as a combination of “your favorite bodega and favorite blog,” selling a curated, rotating selection of goods in its pop-up and permanent shops, while distributing news, playlists and other digital content through its app and social media feeds. What the New Stand stocks is driven by what its app users show particular interest in, and the stores serve as attention-drivers to its digital properties. Here, the retailer can learn even more about its customers’ preferences, creating a cycle of ongoing engagement.
Going into 2019, retailers will need to follow these brands’ examples and refocus their customer engagement strategy. Here are three ways your retail brand can start building a customer-centric, multi-channel strategy:
- Start by asking why your customer engages and in what medium. Then listen — because we bet the answers have changed. Do they engage with your brand online, in-store, or both? When they’re in those channels, how do they like to be interacted with? Would they be intrigued by VR or AR experiences, or do they prefer more informative encounters? This behavioral data is critical for understanding your customers’ preferences and knowing what will be the most effective way to engage with them.
- Build a retail strategy and continue to refine as you learn — it’s not ‘one and done.’ Not every retail brand has the bandwidth (or resources) of AT&T, but retailers of any size can start small, learn and evolve their customer engagement strategies incrementally. Consider engaging with your customers differently, whether that’s at your brick-and-mortar location, your web site or on social media, and continue to build on its success.
- Supplement your marketing efforts, in all categories. Support your in-store initiatives with value-add offerings. Offer useful, thoughtful content, even if it doesn’t seem immediately conducive to the next sale. Aim for “surprise and delight,” not just the efficient movement of inventory.
Most importantly, be willing to take risks and embrace change. There’s no going back to the customer-brand relationship norms of years past, and that’s a good thing. With so many platforms, channels and touch points to engage customers, retailers need a new strategy. Brands should act now to create consistent, positive and authentic experiences, because in 2019, more and more brands will pursue that exact strategy. Transitioning to a customer engagement and experience strategy will inevitably involve some risk, but the payoff — increased loyalty and advocacy — is well worth it.
Mimi Lettunich is the founder, president and executive creative director at Twenty Four 7, a creative agency that reimagines how customers experience a brand, and how brands use experiences to grow their business. A seasoned strategist and advocate for testing new ideas, Lettunich brings an “anything is possible” mentality to business and creative. Working alongside her team to strategically connect people with brands in unique ways, she translates consumer passions into authentic brand loyalty.