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:

Brand matters… now more than ever

Brand matters... now more than ever In the face of rapidly shifting customer expectations, it can be hard for brands to maintain relevance. Charles Trevail, CEO of C Space and Interbrand, delves into the recent changes in consumer behavior, and why,...

Rita McGrath: Inflection Spotting

Rita McGrath: Inflection Spotting Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Any company can detect early warning signs of a looming inflection point. They just need to know where to look and when to act. So says Columbia Business School professor and author...

C Space launches ‘Customer as a Service’ scheme

C Space launches ‘Customer as a Service’ scheme

Research Live

UK – Global customer agency C Space has consolidated its insight offering by launching a new toolkit, ‘Customer as a Service’ (CaaS).

Branding with Soul: Q&A with Tina Sharkey, co-founder & CEO, Brandless

Branding with Soul: Q&A with Tina Sharkey, co-founder & CEO, Brandless Tina Sharkey is an entrepreneurial force. Since the days of the dial-up modem, she has been building communities, companies, and brands “with soul.” Today, she’s co-founder and CEO of Brandless, a...

Tom Siebel: What Exactly is Digital Transformation?

Tom Siebel: What Exactly is Digital Transformation? Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: In the corporate world, it’s evolve or die. Since 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have either been acquired, merged, or gone bankrupt. Tom Siebel believes digital...

Customer Values: Q&A with Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

Customer Values: Q&A with Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Peter Fader has written two books, both with “customer centricity” in the title: Customer Centricity and The Customer Centricity Playbook. You’d think...

Research experts even more vital in big data era

Research experts even more vital in big data era

by James Gordon
Raconteur

For companies to add value through data science, they still need market researchers to interpret the “what” from the “why”. C Space Regional CEO, EMEA & APAC, Felix Koch provides comment.

The Collaborative Advantage

The Collaborative Advantage7 Ways to Combine Big Data Methods with Active Customer Collaboration The huge promise of Big Data also lies in its biggest limitation. There’s a temptation to think that companies no longer need to bring the active, knowing, feeling human...

Customer Inside: A Practitioners Guide to Online Communities

Report Customer Inside: A Practitioners Guide to Online Communities C Space partnered with the Market Research Society (MRS) and 130 client side practitioners to explore & understand how to get the most out of online communities (and the agencies that run them)...

Kate Tellers, The Moth: Principles of Great Storytelling

Kate Tellers, The Moth: Principles of Great Storytelling Subscribe to the Outside In podcast: Stories are the great unifier. When told well, they create a powerful connection to the human experience. No organization knows this better than The Moth. Since...