Part 1: Age of Re:Engagement
Retail & Brand Spaces
An undeniable desire to reidentify and reconnect with what it means to be human is driving heightened consumer demand for tactile interaction, sensory stimulation and social experiences. Welcome to the age of Re:Engagement.
Digital channels have been a major focus for brands and businesses over the last few years and will continue to be so in the decades to come. While it’s true that our digital age has impacted us positively in many ways, it is also diluting our attention, dexterity and emotional resonance in equal measure. There is now a growing counter-trend driving re:engagement strategies that indulge the human characteristics that have been substituted in our digitally overloaded lifestyles.
People are innately social animals, with inherently curious natures. We crave belonging, exhilaration, escapism and tactile experiences – all of which have a positive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing by reigniting what it feels like to be human. Purposeful brands are now facilitating experiences where consumers are physically present, genuinely immersed and emotionally connected on a much deeper level that fosters greater brand advocacy and engagement.
Over the course of this series of articles we will be exploring the possibilities of re:engaging these human cravings in; Retail and Brand Spaces, through Experiential & Sustainable Brand Activations as well as what we believe this means for the Future of Digital Engagement.
Beyond Transactional Engagement
At the start of this decade Accenture predicted “that the next 5 years will bring more change than retail has seen in the last 100 years”. So how has this change played out and has retail lived up to the challenge?
Undeniably, all categories have seen major disruption from online challenger brands, new ownership models and the experience economy redefining consumption. Legacy brands that have failed to adapt or innovate during this time have become victims of the ‘retail apocalypse’. On top of this we have also seen a parade of digital gimmicks, bandwagon tactics diluting ideas almost as quickly as they emerge and pockets of experimentation that haven’t filtered across the entire customer experience or retail landscape.
So while there has been noticeable change and disruption, looking forward there are growing calls for retailers to be even braver with their physical brand spaces and digital ecosystems. The future of retail is a complex mix of ingredients but one thing is certain - branded spaces must offer more than a traditional transaction. Look at progressive brands like The Conservatory at the recently opened Hudson Yards in New York which foregoes transactions and inventory completely, focusing instead on discovery and inspiration with a ‘try not buy’ strategy; or ACNE’s Project store in Shibuya which amplifies the transactional experience, changing the entire interior aesthetic and experience with each new product drop. Both of these concepts demonstrate approaches which nurture far deeper emotional connections with consumers.
Using Brand Spaces to Re:Engage People & Places
The evolution of permanent retail spaces beyond a place to purely hold and distribute product demonstrates a clear opportunity for these spaces to be re-purposed, providing greater meaning in people’s lives.
Brand spaces can and should play a vital role within our communities, connecting people and places to build a sense of belonging and human connection that can’t be replicated online. Taking up the mantle as facilitators of meaningful social engagement, brands can utilise new and existing spaces to address the isolation and disconnect felt in our digital age.
We like to think of these spaces as orchestrated experiences, a place that indulges the key human characteristics of play, socialisation, curiosity and status; allowing people to co-create the narrative of the space, to immerse themselves in the brand culture and connect with like-minded communities. Not only does this lead to a greater sense of purpose but also greater commercial outcomes. This is one of the approaches we have collaborated with the most progressive retailers to test, try and develop - with impressive results.
adidas Originals : The Local Hang Out
In the heart of Shoreditch, 15 Hanbury Street is a multi-layered experience that is shaping the future of physical engagement. Together with the adidas Consumer Experience team, we created a destination for the sneakerhead that offers limited edition products and exclusive apparel, while playing host to local creatives, activations, product drops, DJ sets and panel discussions.
The thinking behind this concept was to create a malleable, living space that was embedded into the community and sneaker culture. Somewhere to be entertained, be highly informed and meet like-minded people. This new way of engaging the sneakerhead community has proven to be a commercially effective proposition, with the space now one of the most successful in the brand’s portfolio.
AE Studio : Creating Brand Fans
The AE Studio forms an extension of the diverse and vibrant NYU community, with every aspect of the experience being designed with the target audience and locality in mind. From the staff, who include knowledgeable, local residents to meaningful in-store services such as free laundry for students, to positioning the space directly under the place where their audience hangs out – NYU’s student gym.
Students can relax with friends while waiting for their laundry or study in the studio bar which offers free WIFI, refreshments and a view of Union Square. A maker’s studio also facilitates on-the-spot alterations and customisation, empowering this creative communities desire for self-expression. Even the store’s product collections are tailored; a ‘dorm-edit’ features homeware products and NYU merchandise is available to buy in-store. Furthermore, American Eagle’s social media team are housed onsite, placing them directly in the heart of the action - to engage with customers, create content in real-time, and keep their finger on the pulse of the brand. This space formed part of the brand’s overarching strategy to appeal to a younger audience, and they have now successfully established themselves as the second favourite brand for U.S teens!
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