Winning the battle for brand engagement

by Kirsten Ward | CMO Situ Live

Oct 1, 2020

The traditional retail model simply isn’t working for high consideration purchases.

Brands know it, retailers know it, and consumers have known it for some time!

Even before a global pandemic wreaked havoc on the high street and changed how people view the retail experience, frustration and lack of engagement were the defining features of so many interactions.

Shop floors focused on driving sales per square foot within strict templates couldn’t facilitate the memorable moments that engage, fascinate and, ultimately, build brand love.

Yet, in a world filled with demands on our time and attention, shoppers are craving these moments as they look to be inspired by something new. And that craving will only intensify as people seek out the human connection that has been missing throughout 2020.

We know consumers are far more likely to make a purchase if they have meaningful interactions with retail staff who are passionate, knowledgeable and approachable. But brands can’t rely on retailers to exude real passion for their products above all others. They can’t even be sure that sales assistants have the basic knowledge to explain and demonstrate what their products can do.

That’s why it’s become harder than ever to create cut-through, build awareness and drive loyalty. Brands are left with limited choices like trade shows, pop-up events and lifeless shop concessions, which come at great expense without much commercial benefit.

The only defence against distraction

In our report, Retail: The Quantum Shift, we explore the battle for brand engagement and how innovative, lifestyle technology products in particular need to be brought to life with meaningful demonstrations and fascinating stories within the retail environment.

“Shoppers are more likely to make a purchase if they have meaningful interactions with retail staff who are passionate, knowledgeable and approachable.”

As Sally Hogshead writes in her book Fascinate: How to Make Your Brand Impossible to Resist , attention spans are shrinking as distractions grow. “Our brains are becoming trained and rewarded to be distracted,” she says.

“For a brand, the only defence is to get and hold customers’ attention by fascinating them.”

Research by Kelton Global, conducted for Hogshead’s book, highlighted the importance of going beyond the ordinary - beyond the templated experiences consumers have come to expect.

“When fascinated by a product, 80% report behaving differently,” it said. “Doing research, talking to friends... even reporting a physical response when in contact with the item of their fascination.”

If fascination is key to engagement, where does this leave the brands that are creating life-enhancing products, but don’t have the physical opportunity to demonstrate what they can do in an inspiring way?

Beautiful online videos certainly help, but in such a distracted digital world, are they even seen by anyone but the most avid searchers and early adopters?

Capturing the imagination with experiences

The sad fact is that the majority of consumers easily miss out on discovering such products, leaving many brands struggling for some time before they get the traction they deserve. They have to get creative in exploring new and alternative routes to attract and engage consumers directly, in the most cost-effective way.

Of course, this has led to many brands incorporating experiential marketing and brand events as a vital part of their advertising strategies. High touch, high engagement opportunities to capture the hearts and minds of consumers with the aim of influencing purchase intent and, ultimately, building brand love.

Live events and experiences come in many different guises and we were already seeing some bold initiatives from a number of brands and retailers before the pandemic. However, these were often short lived and didn’t always put the customer’s needs at the heart of the story.

A whole new way of thinking is needed to help brands truly capture the imagination.

It’s time to redesign the game

Not all retailers are clinging desperately to outdated models and approaches. Some are investing in better service and technology that enhances the shopping experience, whether it’s interactive POS, applications of AR and VR, or handheld devices replacing traditional queues and tills.

But is it enough?

All too often, these moves confound or disappoint, rather than making a crucial difference in influencing the path-to-purchase in-store. It’s playing at the edges, rather than redesigning the game.

59% of shoppers expect the majority of retail space to be dedicated to offering up experiences by 2025.

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield - Westfield How We Shop: The Next Decade

As McKinsey recently highlighted in a report on the digital future of the retail industry, nearly every change a retailer makes depends on technology solutions. But these “often fall short of expectations” and fail to deliver real value and demonstrable return on their investment.

And does any of this really help brands? Not when the retailer still controls the experience, clings to outdated commercial models, and shares little data or insight with them.

That’s why the day-to-day shopping experience needs to fundamentally change.

The Kelton Global study found 81% of us have our most fascinating conversations in person, rather than online. It’s just one of the reasons a physical destination is so important, so Situ Live is creating venues that facilitate deeper direct relationships with consumers.

Venues that give brands an opportunity to truly fascinate, by shining a light on their innovative products and concepts, and giving consumers a chance to genuinely understand and appreciate them.

Venues that enable brands to create their signature moments.

We believe the much needed shift in the retail environment should be about more than just sales tactics. The next wave of retail experiences should genuinely help people discover and choose products that will help them lead a better life every day.

This is the key to the engagement and loyalty that will empower both consumers and brands in a post-pandemic world.

We call it a living magazine, and you can read more about how it will redefine the very concept of retail in Retail: The Quantum Shift.