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‘Reasons to believe’

cheungvogl_aesop_taiwan_03.jpgIn a recent article, I outlined the important differences between being a ‘liked’ brand or a ‘loved’ brand. There are some essential principles which I use to help clients’ brands move to the ‘loved’ place. The first principle is to give customers clear and relevant ‘reasons to believe’ in the brand.

Let me start with a simple question – name the Australian brands that not only stand out from the competition in this country, but are also benchmarks for great retail experience design on the international landscape?

Aesop? Definitely. T2? Yes. Kikki K? For sure.

It gets harder after this, doesn’t it?

What connects these world-class Australian brands is the tangible promise they deliver across an exciting combination of products, service and environments that are designed to affect how customers actually feel. They’re visceral experiences that customers can’t get anywhere else.

I’ve shopped at Aesop for many years before moving to Australia, and have been lucky to visit their stores around the world. Not surprisingly given its name, Aesop consistently tells its story brilliantly wherever I’ve experienced it. Not through conventional branding and advertising, but through the design of unique spaces, exceptional merchandising, desirable packaging and immersive product testing.

I don’t know what Aesop’s precise promise is, but based on personal experience I can imagine words like ‘unexpected, aromatic, soulful, invigorating, creativity’. I always recognise the feelings I get when I try the sample bottles outside the store; the sense of anticipation when I enter the retail space; the calm, knowledgeable service I receive; and the refreshing, sensory product engagement. Not only do I emerge from Aesop feeling revitalised, mentally and physically, I feel special.

Great retail brands like Aesop recognise the need to bring their promise to life through what they do experientially, not by what they say. By making and then delivering their promise, they give customers more reasons to believe in their brand. And more reasons to return.

The fact that there are so few Australian retail brands delivering distinctive experiences that deserve to be benchmarked globally, demonstrates how difficult it is to move from a ‘shopping for commodities’ position to one of ‘shopping as experience’.

Part of the challenge for brands in achieving this is to recognise and respond to some key areas of customer expectations:

What’s the sector?

Providing ‘fresh abundance’ if you’re in the food and beverage sector, or ‘easy connectivity’ if you’re in telcos are simply tickets to the game. Try to go beyond the best in class anywhere and everywhere.

What’s the price?

As customers we expect to get what we pay for. Price is a core indicator of the quality we expect from a retailer’s products and we’ll pay more for a better retail experience. Conversely, customers will thank you today for low prices, but will not reward you with love and loyalty when someone else undercuts you.

What’s the service?

The important thing you can do through the service you offer is to make the retail experience as easy and stress-free as possible. Delighting customers can only follow once you achieve an ease of shop.

However, whilst a full understanding and response to these expectations is essential, even when addressed together they are not differentiators.

The single factor that has real impact on customer expectations is how you articulate and deliver your brand through brilliant experience design. This means committing to a core objective:

Who is your brand?

Make a meaningful promise that has recognisable characteristics for all brand, physical and digital touch-points across your customer’s experience. Then innovate to create ‘signature moments’ you could deliver through your products, service and physical/digital spaces that could only come from your brand.

This approach will deliver a strategic platform consisting of the ‘3 P’s’ which I believe are fundamental to world-class experience design: Promise; Personality; Principles.

I believe there are many Australian retail brands that have a great opportunity to become world-class if they rise to the challenge of making a promise and delivering it, not just through the product but also the experience. To do so they should be brave in terms of the international brands they would like to be benchmarked against: why not Myer and Selfridges, Woolworths and Waitrose, Telstra and Apple, or Country Road and JCrew?

Simon Stacey is creative director of experience design at Designworks.

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