As online engagement continues to increase, brand elements like positioning and concept along with visual and verbal touch points are finally getting the attention they deserve. For better or worse, “Branding” has become a part of the everyday vernacular and as such, it has grown exponentially broader and deeper.
Earlier today I spent the morning walking The Mall at Short Hills, focused on identifying and experiencing some of the more nuanced and subtle Luxury brand retail touch points exclusive to brick-and-mortar locations.
TEMPERATURE & CLIMATE
This is a summer-themed blog post, so it’s not surprising that the first thing I notice when I enter is the difference in temperature and humidity. Clearly, we all expect the temperature to be controlled inside but when the mercury (and humidity) rise outside, the contrast is even more noticeable. Should retail brands take advantage of scorchers and rainy days? I think so. Affluent shoppers like little perks as much as anyone (in fact, they expect them). Some stores offer small bottles of water. While the practice isn’t very eco-friendly, I really appreciate it. I feel like the brand is thanking me for braving the weather and that I’m truly welcome. Oh, and ready to shop.
I’m amazed at how much lighting differs from store to store. Whether bright, soft, dim, backlit or otherwise, all substantially impact the shopping and by proxy, the brand experience. Surprisingly, there are a number of stores whose lighting is not at all flattering to the products and fixtures. Personally, I’m more comfortable shopping in a well-lit store. It seems obvious, but I’ve had too many mishaps in the past where in the light of day, my purchases lost their luster.
MUSIC & SOUND
I know that most people are aware of background music on some level. As I walk from store to store, I wonder how much in-store sound effects and informs shoppers. I pick up on the overall ambient sounds. Does every brand have some optimum decibel level?
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT SOUND HAS THE ABILITY TO TURN PEOPLE AWAY AS MUCH AS DRAW THEM IN
I quickly learn that focusing solely on music and moving quickly through the mall is like hitting the Random play button on someone else’s iPod. I can say that I definitely prefer music that’s a bit more recognizable (real songs played on actual instruments) to a lot of what I heard (watered-down hits and spa-themed “whoosh-tings”). In-store audio has to be on brand. The volume and tempo must instantly appeal to the target consumer, otherwise it’s just noise.
When done right, scent can be a powerful branding tool. There are instances, however, when it’s a huge turn-off. Aside from Department Stores, I recognize that there are (mostly fashion) brands out there that do big business in fragrance, so they pump their stores full of perfume and cologne. For me, it’s just way too over the top and aggressive. If I can smell it from across the mall, it’s too much. (This applies to individuals too, but we all know that, right?) I prefer stores with a clean, light, invigorating scent. Also the coffee, tea, and chocolate stores where scent and smell really had some appetite appeal make perfect sense. (Side note: I’ve read that Scent will be an option on upcoming Mercedes Benz models. Stay tuned.)
ATTITUDE & APPROACHABILITY
To be clear, I’m at the mall at 10:00am on a weekday. That being said, I’m being greeted, welcomed and chatted up at virtually every store I visit. This is big. I don’t look sloppy, but I’m dressed very casually. Again, I feel fairly well taken care of. Because I’m accustomed to shopping on the weekends, I feel like I’ve got some sort of VIP pass. The salespeople seem happy to help. The experience is more collaborative. I could get used to this. In fact, I’m thinking back to times I’ve participated in private, pre-opening sales (no, not Black Friday) and when they’re done right, how they can be a totally different, very pleasurable experience.
SAMPLING & THRESHOLD
I walk past a tea store that consistently offers samples to passers-by. I’m glad that other shoppers seem into it, but I’m not a huge fan of their tea and wasn’t interested. I support the idea of brands offering something in exchange for my attention (or my information, like an email or address), but in the brick-and-mortar Luxury environment this kind of overt wrangling feels not quite right. Contrast that with fragrance-sampling, which seems to have finally understood that not everyone is interested in getting spritzed.
THE DIFFERENCE RELATES TO THE THRESHOLD
In the tea example, the brand is physically calling out to me and making me accept or refuse the offer. In the fragrance case, I’ve already entered the store. It’s subtle, but I had to walk past one store, and had chosen to enter the other. When I opt in, it’s OK to ask. When I’m walking by, I feel I’ve been put in the uncomfortable position of saying no. To me, that’s poor engagement.
LOCATION & SETTING (SIGNAGE, DISPLAY & VIDEO)
I begin to discern loose sections or “neighborhoods” in the mall. For example, there are parts of the mall that feature a higher concentration of European fashion and jewelry brands, as opposed to areas where stores with more accessible price points are located. Makes sense. There are similarities too, in how these stores are designed and merchandised. These stores and brands reflect on each other. Even within an enclosed environment, it’s the whole “company you keep” mentality. Three hours flies by when all you do is walk the mall trying to read between the lines and make interesting connections.