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Multi-dimensional storytelling: Brands should follow Hunter's lead and design sensory retail experiences

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Checkland Kindleysides’ Kate Shepherd takes a look at multi-dimensional brand storytelling through the retail environment.

When online retailing emerged in the 90s, many predicted we would soon no longer wish to shop in stores at all. Today a very different future is taking shape. Physical retailing is flourishing and, according to eMarketer, 87 per cent of everything bought in the UK is purchased in-store.

Even Generation Z places high value on personal interaction. Although the digital world is all they have ever known, research by Innovation Group suggests they crave real, physical experiences as much as those who have gone before, with 67 per cent stating they would rather shop in stores than online.

The future of retail is a fusion of digital and physical, with bricks and mortar and online stores learning from each other and brands playing to the inherent strengths of each, creating a virtuous circle whereby all brand communications and experiences support one another. Naturally, the distinction is the sensory experience provided by an immersive and engaging physical environment that is entirely unique to the personality of the brand and store locality.

The role of the store is to reward the consumer with experiences they could never receive online; providing the very best opportunities for product test and try, enabling personalisation and social interaction, wrapped up in a store environment that is highly emotive and multi-sensorial. However there is a danger the pressure to entertain could lead brands to take it too far, with unnecessary gimmicks and gadgets. Ultimately, the design must be guided by meaning and relevance; not only to the brand, but also the consumer.

As designers, it is important to truly understand the mindsets and motivations of the target consumer. By looking at life through their lens, we are able to uncover a rich source of inspiration, as well as providing a valuable filter for our creative ideas. Equally, it is essential to understand the unique brand personality and values and to share these stories in the most imaginative and surprising ways.

We consider brand storytelling on a multi-dimensional level, as every element of the retail environment presents the opportunity to convey the personality of the brand. The most effective spaces have layers of detail; each with their own narrative. This approach engages all of the senses, stretching far beyond the obvious methods of communication to include touch, sound and smell; all of which evoke a deep emotional and intuitive understanding of the brand.

The Nixon brand story is shared in-store in a way that touches every sense; connecting the consumer to the spirit of the ocean and the sense of freedom in surfing the waves. We translated these feelings into physical and digital experiences, where watches are displayed on white ‘floats’ set into translucent blue glass, as if bobbing up and down in the ocean like surfers, and a horizon line runs around the store broken by digital rolling waves.

Equally, the Hunter store on Regent Street takes customers on a dreamlike journey through British urban and agricultural architecture, through landscapes and gardens. Each step of the journey is played out with a sensorial burst of digital and tactile experiences and playful elements of visual illusion. Atmospheric live weather forecasts fill the store at regular intervals, while gentle birdsong in the fitting rooms encourages moments of calm and reflection; demonstrating how digital soundscapes create a brand narrative of their own.

This is a thoughtful and considered approach to retail design that takes the whole experience to another dimension. It enables consumers to understand the brand and product offer on a deep, emotional level, whilst genuinely rewarding them for their visit. None of this could be emulated or recreated online, or even described to another with the same effect. You simply have to go there and experience it yourself.

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