Customer engagement is becoming more than just wayfinding and information; now we often find that we’re creating a place that the customer experiences rather than just sees. Many companies find that building the feeling of community with their brand increases sales through repeat custom.
Digital technology alongside good design can evoke a sense of place that gives your customers that all-important sense of belonging to your brand and being “somewhere”. It’s rarely ever just about the digital though; it needs to address the environment you and your customers will share. To create a sense of place there should be an invitation to join in or at least to enter that special place.
The place doesn’t have to be one physical location although that can be a goal of our design.
Pre-digital, we the consumers showed our appreciation for a brand by purchasing products out of catalogues and sometimes even seeking out their bricks and mortar locations to experience the brand first hand. I’m thinking about the pilgrimage to LL Bean in Maine or traveling to New York just to shop at Macy’s. As the brands grew, the stores expanded to have locations nationwide.
Today, designing of the customer journey needs to encompass the brand identity from every aspect; blending the technology, the location and all of the channels and senses that we can address. That means great content from the smart phone to the store and everywhere in between that the customer interacts with the brand.
So how do we create that place. Let’s look at some basic questions about where we ourselves like to meet. How many people are going to be in our new space? Will it be experiential for all the senses like sight, sound, smell and touch? What message or ideas are we trying to convey? Do we want our customers to spend time in our “place” or just experience it?
Let’s look at a few examples. First the Sports Bar. This one is easy as most of us have been to a bar with lots of televisions on the wall, speakers to play the sound of the game and maybe even memorabilia from the local team to give the customers a feeling of being part of the action. We sit at the bar or a table, order some food and drink, talk about our teams and enjoy a lunch or dinner. There’s a great sense of place created and we feel like we’re part of the crowd, cheering on our team.
Now let’s look at a retailer like Hollister. They’ve used big video walls facing out to the mall or street to show the surf conditions at beaches where the shoppers who can’t be on the beach might like to be. Those shoppers are enticed into the store, rather successfully, to buy into the lifestyle.
The store design once you’re inside relies less on digital and more on the experience of well-lit products and the cool atmosphere. Quite often there’s a feeling of being in somebody’s living room with chairs and tables, lamps and rugs, sometimes even the smell of cologne; all together these combine to evoke a relaxed atmosphere and sense of place.
Both of these examples give the customer a sense of being part of the community and perhaps even aspiring to be part of the team or the brand. That sense of place doesn’t rely on a single element of the store, whether it’s the products, the service, the walls, the advertising or the digital but a combination of these that helps make a positive impact and instils the desire to return in the customer.
So how do we emulate these places in our venues? If we want to start utilizing digital hardware and content effectively as part of our “place” and identity, it requires a plan that starts with the Store Design and Brand teams. They have the ultimate responsibility for creating the environment and if they choose to add digital tech to that space they need to decide what senses they are going to focus on.
Consideration to the technical requirements is needed at this point. If you’re going to build a place that has sound, lights, video, point of sale, touch screens, charging stations, ordering kiosks and tablets alongside the furniture, you need to be sure you plan for power and connectivity. Being mindful of the infrastructure at the early stages helps to build that sense of the space when it’s been planned well. Clean lines, no cables running across floors and hidden speakers and peripherals can demonstrate your commitment and be a powerful subliminal message to your customer that they are important.
Now let’s identify some key elements of place as it relates to our brands and the experience. The fundamental thing to know about a place is why it’s there. Are we creating a representation of the brand or the culture? Who or what is our identity? What do we want our customers to take away and why do they want to come back!
Take away the brand and the products and we have a space that may be in a room or a mall or a stadium. The bare walls and floor don’t evoke any sense of place for ourselves or our customers.
Let’s decide on some key features that will give the space purpose. There might be shelves and racks with some lighting and a place to try things on or it might be chairs and tables and menu’s. Let’s make this space into a place by creating interest and a desire by our customers to take away a positive experience. We like to be able to see through a space to our destination or to be guided to it easily which is an important step in getting our customers to their place.
Strong memories are created from sights, sounds and smells along with positive impressions about the experience. My colleague Mr LaPorte once told me that a brand should have a face, by which he meant an identity; somebody or something that the customers could relate too. His experience was that this identity was the beginning of the journey and the venue was a part of the customer experience. When the identity was something that your customer aspired too, the sense of belonging in a place and wanting to return to it was strong.
The features we choose need to relate to each other so they create a tempting environment. Using digital to show attractive images might get a customer to walk in the door as much as a brightly lit table with nice clothing or shoes. Once in the store our customers want to be engaged. Let them see the products they want, whether it’s food, clothing or cars. They should want to explore the options and see what else is of interest so they move deeper into our environment. Good lighting, nice music, accessible technology and salespeople who are knowledgeable all help build the sense of being welcomed into our brand.
Every step deeper into that experience helps build our sense of place. To create a sense of place we need to make each step of the journey pleasant and importantly, worth repeating. Digital should be a part of this as we move forward and now is the time to start planning your future. Our brands can certainly have stores and online presence but creating a great “place” for our customers is how retail, restaurants, museums and stadiums can continue to be relevant in the 21st century.
Photo Credit: iStock
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