Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The future of retail is about experiential and contextual marketing

14 years ago almost to this date, Apple changed the way retailers engage with their customers when the iconic brand opened its first two stores. Since then, successful retail brands have moved away from merely displaying lines of products on their stores’ shelves to creating show-room type experiential spaces.

The future of retail is all about the consumer. Consumers make the rules and now have total access to whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want it. The power has shifted away from retailers who long held it—and now the ball is in the consumer’s court. Brands and retailers are forced to play on the consumer’s terms to be successful. And the more brands can understand, connect and delight consumers instead of sell to them, the more long-term success and sustainability they will enjoy.
In that regards, retailers such as PIRCH have partnered with experiential design agencies like Fitch to transform the shopping experiences. PIRCH stores offer customers the opportunity to test products and enjoy using them before purchasing - 'try before you buy’ becomes something new and powerfully branded. Shoppers enjoy the opportunity to cook with a real Chef while testing the kitchen’s appliances. For other, they can reserve a time at the “store’s spa” to test showers and bathtubs. After testing products, shoppers “can enter a 'dream room' to meet with a designer and plan their homes”.

The Robin Report delicately describes what the Apple or PIRCH experience is about. “These brands are not retailers. They are neurologically addictive experiences, co-created by the brand and their dopamine-addicted consumers”. The brick-and-mortar retail business has a bright future provided that it transforms its physical space into an experiential space. The Robin Report suggests that such retail brands stimulate their visitors’ dopamine. It is almost like a sport performance-enhancing drug, except in that case dopamine is “a chemical in the brain that gets released every time we have an elevated experience. It provides feelings of euphoria, self-satisfaction, wellbeing, and can lead to addiction. The dopamine-releasing brands headlining this report (and there are others) are such because the experience they have developed requires that the customer participate in creating or shaping that experience to satisfy their own personal desire at the moment they engage with the brand”.

No matter what happens in the physical or digital shopping experience, successful brands know that the key is to build brand loyalty. The store experience is an important component, among others. But the way brands communicate across various channels with their customers is critical. Loyalty requires communicating brand values that people want to be affiliated with. Consumers today have many options, and more than ever they choose particular brands to communicate something personal about their own beliefs and priorities. The best way to establish and reinforce common values is to create content so highly specific that it defines not only the brand, but the customer.

To do so, many brands invest in original content to communicate with their customers on a more personal and emotional level... to build brand loyalty. Now that the vast majority of the population is connected 24/7/365 through their mobile devices, the solution to creating a branded content experience that delivers results lies in a centralized mobile content marketing strategy. By integrating content channels and reaching all consumer touch points, brands can maintain open access to content assets, encourage ongoing engagement, and build affinity.
“Location-based marketing is an effective new way to deliver timely and relevant messages to consumers”, states Alliance Data Retail in their report on Geofencing technology. The key is context: reaching them precisely where and when they’re most likely to engage with a brand. Content is important for brands to engage with their customers at a personal level, but content mostly remains generic of time and location. “With the mobile economy here to stay – and the cost of ignoring it unrecoverable – location-based communications are a very attractive next step in marketing. Geofencing technology enables timely, relevant and powerful messages to modern consumers at the right place, at the right time, and in the right way”, according to the report.
Apple is very well known for transforming the way we live. After all, this is Apple’s brand promise. Their latest initiative, “Proactive” is going to redefine the brand experience. This is taking location-based marketing to the next level. The augmented reality feature will allow a user to hold up her iPhone in the Maps application, and point her camera toward a particular business or an area. Pointed towards a cafe, for example, the screen could show a virtual view of menu items or daily specials. If the user points her phone toward a street, a virtual outline of local businesses, restaurants, shopping stores, or coffee shops could appear. In return, businesses will be able to communicate back to the user with a personalized offer.
Today’s technology has redefined the way brands can interact with their consumers. Content and context are intertwined, and brands’ mobility and agility are key to provide a unique and ongoing experience.