The speed at which retail theory evolves has meant that the language and terms we use quickly become overused, obsolete and obfusticated. This means goodbye to ‘experiences’, ‘omnichannel’ and ‘phygital’ and our associations with them. This also reduces our ability to clearly define our brief and brand expectations. However, there is some enduring retail language worth investigating further, to gain a more insightful view of how we might approach this evolution.
Let’s consider ‘value / values’ as a persistent term, associated with retail…
A brand’s value could be said to refer to its customer’s relationship to the product or service and the financial worth attributed to it. As this is calculated on investment in marketing versus uplift, and is exclusive of cost and margin it is sufficient to measure Return on Investment. However it begs the question: Where is the longevity in the relationship? In this sense, Value is subjective and reliant wholly on a brand’s marketing skills to establish and maintain this. The ‘storytelling’ is unilateral, non-interactive and lacks true engagement. We experience this historically in the cosmetics industry, witnessing a pot of cold-cream, increasingly miniaturized, slathered with impenetrable pseudo-scientific jargon and afforded an exorbitant price tag related to perception, but not necessarily performance. Brand loyalty in this case is garnered only by the psychology of limitation and the need for ‘the latest’, not necessarily ‘the best’.
A brand’s Values however, when carefully considered and delivered, can significantly alter this dynamic. Values are inherent components of the human individual that govern selection in most things. They are subconscious and can be subjective, but share commonality that is regardless of gender, race and social background. If you are able to appeal to the fundamental psychological level of shared human values, empathy is generated, inclusivity prevails and lasting engagement is the result. Let’s not forget that humans process their relationships with brands, with the same part of the brain that they use to generate and evaluate friendships and social bonds. If brands and designers engage with and stimulate this process in the same way, through generating genuine empathy and understanding, a lasting retention of the brand experience is created. It results in authentic engagement, and trust – friendship in other words.
So, the ultimate question no doubt is how do designers appeal to these values? Reflecting on the time-poor nature of many consumers, the brand message needs to be focused both on individual relevance and wider cultural inclusion. Generosity, inclusivity and wellbeing are just three arenas in which we to battle for the hearts and minds of customers. We see brand generosity increasingly reflected in conversion of prime retail space, into complimentary service areas. L’Occitane and Lululemon, both on London’s premium Regent Street estate, dedicate their first floors to a focused extension of the main brand. Make no mistake, these are conceptually indulgent, committed, beautifully designed environments, devoid of direct sales and suggesting a wider world beyond the brand. Inclusivity and empathy with alternative social and cultural sectors generates that fundamental feel-good factor, especially alongside the feelings of indulgence during purchasing. US online retailer Zappos understands this and parallel with their retail website has a compelling, but most importantly, easily realised methodology of donating used goods. The customer simply prints and attaches their own label to a box of donations and drops them in the post. Domestic and foreign charities benefit, and allow selection of specific destinations. Physical ease and altruism are a winning formula
Wellbeing and social conscience continue to be enduringly historic on the high street. Arguably, Anita Roddick began to extol the virtues of brand Values with the first UK Body Shops in the late ‘seventies, infusing the brand with ethical sourcing and moral leadership. That trend extended to physical health over a decade ago with Innocent Smoothies 5 for 5 cafes, aiming to serve 5,000 people their 5-a-day for a fiver. We now see slowly increasing focus on mental wellbeing, with active wear brand Ivy Park consulting mental health charity MIND, to help positively empower women by increasing self-esteem. Similarly Boots is focusing on positive engagement with teens regarding their mental and physical wellbeing.
How do designers initiate this process with clients? It all leads back to Values. We need to remember that our clients are human too. Engagement and empathy with their brand aspirations is just as important as translating it for their customer. Understanding the traditional ‘goods-for-money’ transaction is dead. We need to embrace the fact that information is the new currency and investing in understanding any customer or client, taking time to listen and empathise is going to give us a return on experience.