The physical brand

Our physical experience with a brand is the brand. In our digital world, physical is disruptive.

Dan Sills

Associate Director at C Space

Daniel Sills is the producer of Outside In, a podcast that explores changes in business and consumer behavior and where the two converge. The Huffington Post dubbed Outside In one of “The 7 Best Business Podcasts You Should Be Listening To,” and Entrepreneur named it on its list of “Best Podcasts for Entrepreneurs.” A talented writer and storyteller who could win an analogy throw down handily, Daniel performs on stage in Story Slams and was a GrandSLAM finalist The Moth.

Scott Galloway makes lots of predictions. Some right, some wrong, some kinda right or kinda wrong depending on what side you’re on.

As a marketing professor at NYU Stern, he has a lot of insight into the future of brands — especially when it relates to the companies currently ruling our world: Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Galloway’s bestselling book The Four describes why and how each is so successful (and in many ways, unstoppable) and the effects each company will have on our lives — and on business — in the years to come.

It’s not so surprising that each of the 4 are either tech or digital companies. (Isn’t everything digital now?) Galloway was a recent guest on the Outside In podcast. His mind is equal parts encyclopedic and clairvoyant. He’s also really funny. Our lives are being shaped by these West Coast tech giants, he says, and, like it or not, that shape will continue to be formed by machines, algorithms, and an exclusive group of super smart people. But what really surprised me during the interview was a prediction he made about the future of marketing: It’s distribution. And it’s physical.

It’s all about “controlling the experience,” he says. Or, more precisely, the retail environment that products live in will have a greater influence on our pre-purchase decisions than traditional advertising. Galloway is pretty blunt with his prediction: “Retail is supposedly dying? I think we’re going to see a massive reallocation of capital out of traditional advertising into distribution. That’s what Apple did. And there’s a ton of people who should think about doing the same thing.”

Apple’s aim was never to be just another tech manufacturer, sold only at Best Buy or Sears or whatever store would have them, where people make rational decisions about “Which of these MacBook features will work for me?” and “Can I really afford this iPhone XS?” Instead, Apple turned itself into a luxury brand. And anyone who has ever aspired to own a little piece of luxury will tell you that functionality, features, and value for the money all take a backseat to emotion. Does an Hermès Birkin bag cost as much as some people earn in a year? Yes. But it’s the feeling you’re after. What matters is the way the bag makes you feel and what people who see you with it feel — or how we think they feel. Apple has created that same mystique.

Part of Apple’s luxury strategy is to create luxurious stores, or as Galloway notes, “Temples for the Brand,” a.k.a. the Apple Store, which is really like a Gucci store or a Louis Vuitton store. “It created more shareholder value than any single decision,” he says about Steve Jobs reallocating billions of dollars from Apple’s traditional advertising budget into physical retail.

When I walk into the Apple Store, it feels like an art gallery. Store employees are the docents guiding you through the low-slung labyrinth of white tables displaying the latest in minimalist technological artistry. If you wanted to buy a non-Apple phone, you would have to go to a Verizon or AT&T store, or some other third-party retailer. Often these places feel more like car dealerships for tech products. They’re nice enough, the carpeting is OK, and most of the employees are helpful and have their shirts tucked in. But it’s not luxurious. According to Galloway, that affects my perception — and reinforces my romance with Apple.

Our physical experience with a brand is the brand. In our digital world, physical is disruptive. We’ll all continue to buy online, but our physical encounters will shape our perceptions and decisions, inspiring us to say, “Alexa, buy me more Crest whitening toothpaste” rather than, “Alexa, buy me some toothpaste that makes my teeth whiter.”

Sure, opening a whole bunch of stores to sell your products may work for companies like Microsoft, PepsiCo, or Samsung. Will we see Product Stores for everything we buy? Probably not. But there are other ways for brands to get physical.

For one thing, they can start small and create physical experiences that a consumer may only have once in their journey but that leave a lasting impression. That’s what Chobani is doing with its Chobani Cafés in New York’s SoHo and TriBeCa neighborhoods. You can buy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the café. But the purpose is to celebrate the product in a hip NYC café scene, to teach us that it’s OK to mix avocados with yogurt, and that the Chobani brand encompasses more than just yogurt.

Or, you can go big and host memorable events that are gathering places for fans — making it less about selling products and all about celebrating the community that loves them. Hasbro, for example, has its annual HasCon. Families are invited for a 3-day weekend at Hasbro HQ where they get to dress up like Transformers, see the latest in Play-Doh innovation, hang with Mark Wahlberg, and meet toy and game designers. When they think of the Hasbro brand, they remember the awesome time they had at HasCon.

There’s another area that has a huge influence on the physical encounters we have. The people we meet. The employees. I’m reminded of another recent Outside In episode with Bluemercury co-founder and COO, Barry Beck. He told us that the beauty retailer (which sells its own products, too) deliberately hires “beauty junkiesˮ to staff its physical stores. They aren’t just helpful and friendly to customers, they’re legitimately obsessed with beauty products. They act like personal beauty consultants. Google or customer service bots can’t replicate that. Its “junkies” are a big reason why Bluemercury is enjoying so much success right now.

The transition to physical won’t always be easy for marketers. That alone should tell them that it’s worth doing! I’ll tell you this: it will be a lot more fun and creative and experimental than buying ad space. I’m excited to see what brands can do. I’ll be there in person.

Are customers connecting with your brand?

 

At C Space, we’re experts in decoding the emotional aspects of customer experience to fuel company growth. Learn more about how we can help you.

You may be interested in:

Generation Wealth

Generation Wealth Looking back at the ostentatious tribes of the early 2000s   By Lauren Greenfield, Director of Award Winning Ad Campaign “Like a Girl”, anthropologist and writerLAUREN GREENFIELD/INSTITUTE Xue Qiwen, 43, in her Shanghai apar​tment, decorated...

The Renaissance of “Me”

The Renaissance of “Me” By Franco Bonadio, Managing Partner, Human TruthsBill Alberti, Managing Partner, Human TruthsAntoinette Jones, Associate ConsultantMachiko Wilson, Associate ConsultantBy default, we tend to look at one thing as “better than” another. It doesn’t...

Introducing the Express Arena

Introducing the Express Arena By Jessica DeVlieger, Global CEOA surprising new behavioral trend has been observed in the UK; British people - a nation famously obsessed with class - are starting to hide their privilege.In January 2020, Sam Friedman, a sociologist at...

Rebuilding Women’s Health from the Patient Up

Reimagining Women’s HealthThe world of women’s healthcare is primed for disruption, at least if you’re talking to the women who comprise the market of this $10B*+ industry – and we are. In this report, we reimagine women’s healthcare with everyday women leading the...

From push to pull

From push to pull Jessica DeVlieger, Global CEOHow do you move your brand from push to pull?You communicate at eye-level.You speak to people’s souls.You act more human.You become more relevant.Push marketing has been stuck in controversy for some time. Consumers'...

Mary Barra, Chair and CEO, General Motors: On The Road to an All-Electric Future

Mary Barra, Chair and CEO, General Motors: On The Road to an All-Electric FutureSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: At the beginning of 2021, Mary Barra, Chair and CEO at General Motors, set an ambitious goal for the legendary automaker: end tailpipe emissions from...

John Kotter, Harvard Business School: The Principles, Practices, and Science of Change

John Kotter, Harvard Business School: The Principles, Practices, and Science of ChangeSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: Change is hard. And it never stops. The volatility, speed, and uncertainty that comes with change has been increasing exponentially over the past...

Pam Lifford, President, Global Brands & Experiences, Warner Bros.: Fans and the Power of Listening

Pam Lifford, President, Global Brands & Experiences, Warner Bros.: Fans and the Power of Listening Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Harry Potter. Batman. Looney Tunes. Game of Thrones. Each of these iconic franchises has shaped popular culture for years....

Reshma Saujani: Fighting for Gender Parity and a ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’

Reshma Saujani: Fighting for Gender Parity and a ‘Marshall Plan for Moms’Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, with a mission to close the gender gap in computer science and educate and prepare girls for careers in the...

Franklin Leonard: The Black List That’s Changing Hollywood

Franklin Leonard: The Black List That’s Changing HollywoodSubscribe to the Outside In podcast: Before “Argo,” “Juno,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The King’s Speech” became some of the most successful films in Hollywood (and subsequently went on to win Oscars), they...