Brands can no longer simply be a product or service that is offered in a store. They have to shape the entire way people engage, shop, and buy. Brand experiences are not solely comprised of a website, an app, delivery options, the service you receive in-store, or the retail space itself. It’s all of these things, designed as one seamless, frictionless experience. Successful brand experiences connect people, are driven by purpose, and are led by the consumer.
Consumer expectations are higher and more fluid than ever before. Brands like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, and Uber have set the standards high, and consumers are bringing these same expectations to all categories—so much so that even other brands like Glossier, Ikea, and REI are beginning to follow suit by rooting themselves in meaningful stories that people are seeking; stories that shape a part of their personal identities and are embedded in the fabric of their lives.
Starbucks has set the precedent by designing brand experiences that focus on more than just products and retail environments. They have tapped into the fact that a personal connection is key to creating an experience. The products, services, and the environment are all tools that enable these connections. Starbucks has created meaning and relevancy with a purpose behind its brand, and people understand the brand proposition, are loyal to it, and they are willing to pay for it. They have a brand experience where ever you interact with it, whether that is in their store, online, through their app, or within another environment.
Glossier has applied a similar focus on connection. The company prioritizes co-creation with its consumers, fostering a “people-powered beauty ecosystem,” which has been the key to their business success. In the social media age, every one of Glossier’s customers has the power to be an influencer, which instantly creates a personal connection with the brand.
Every touchpoint matters
To create truly differentiated brand experiences, a company must consider every single touchpoint throughout manufacturing, design, distribution, and even the user experience after the sale. Apple set the benchmark and remains a leader of the “age of experience” that it ushered in. Apple delivers beautifully inspired brand experiences that seamlessly connects people with its products. The focus is actually the user experience more than the products themselves. This comes to life through their use of technology, the aesthetic, and the ease at all points you encounter brand. Apple has mastered the creation of human connections through brand purpose, while also ensuring quality in its products, spaces, and user experience. They connect to people’s values, is customer-led, and maintains a unique perspective on design, leveraging it as a point of difference for the brand. The constant drive to innovate in order to define the future is embedded in Apple’s brand.
Innovators & disruptors
All market segments are in a constant state of disruption across all categories in today’s increasingly competitive environment. In the consumer goods sector, the drive to innovate is not just at the product and packaging level. The full customer journey is rapidly transforming as well.
Restoration Hardware, which is known for its high quality furniture, has redefined how it sells its products. Its flagship store in Chicago, IL functions as an experiential gallery, a café and wine tasting room operated by restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, a music venue, an all-season courtyard (thanks to a new pyramid of glass and steel), and a rooftop garden. The venues are often booked year-round, making the store a hot spot. As strange as it may sound, consumers are drawn to the novelty of a furniture store as an entertainment venue; the offering is unique and disruptive. Restoration Hardware has introduced a level of hospitality never before seen in a store, welcoming guests to an inspiring setting where they feel at home.
Brands that are experiencing growth are not only focusing on their product as a differentiator for their brand, but they create a sense of community through events and experiences as well. Since jeweler Kendra Scott launched its first store in 2010, it created a customizable color bar as part of each location. This brand found a means of differentiating itself in an industry in which it’s hard to innovate. They did so by bringing new, sought-out, customized experiences into every store. This is clearly a factor in the growth of Kendra Scott, which hosts 10,000 events across its 27 locations annually.
Brand experiences have taken on a predominant role as physical retail continues to transform. Today, almost any product can be purchased online, but customers still crave physical experiences and connections. As such, experiential, rather than transactional, uses of retail spaces are becoming increasingly commonplace. Whether it’s Lululemon hosting yoga classes in its stores or the slew of coffee shops, banks, and stores (even your local Staples if you live in Boston) creating community work spaces, brands are finding unique ways to connect with consumers. It isn’t just about selling, but elevating the experience in order to cultivate personal connections. These connections are being fostered with the brand as well as other consumers, creating strong communities people want to be a part of.