More Than Skin Deep: Transcending to True Brand Essence

Just as brands strive to build relationships with their customers, we look to do the same with our clients. Through immersive partnerships we are able to broaden the lens of what design actually is; to go beyond the look and be more about the feel.
Eric Kuhn Final

So I've come from a truly remarkable client meeting. I'll refrain from the specifics of the client who's and what's but suffice to say, in my many years as a creative lead, few outcomes measured up to this particular interaction. And what made it so remarkable? There was not a single visual associated with the meeting. It was a lengthy, intense, emotional and revelatory dialog revolving around not how this particular brand wants to look but how they want their customers to feel; what they want them to do in lieu of what they want them to buy.

And this is as succinct an explanation of experiential design as I can articulate. And this is the future, or rather the now, of where our design practice is going. That's not to say aesthetics are no less important. They are implicit in creating a thoughtful solution. They are the truest mirror of a brand's persona and - with skillful hands - produce a seamlessness that amplifies the overall experience. We are no longer just designing the architectural vessel. We must think in a more holistic manner if we're to enable our clients to succeed in standing apart from their competition. The shaping, guiding and enhancing of human interaction within our client's environments is what experiential design is about.

Unfortunately, this simple fact is lost on many retailers. Very well established retailers in fact. Over-confidence can be a giant killer if not careful. If a brand is in need of an overhaul, a simple aesthetic recladding won't revolutionize its business nor drive significant growth. The brand might get an uptick of new followers due to curiosity. But once that has faded and the public realizes it's the same brand in new clothes, well, the interest fades.

Given we are (actually have been) in the age of "experiential design," the path to success has drastically changed. It doesn't start with merchandise plans, material boards and renderings. Those things are, without a doubt, critical in the process but there's a vast amount of understanding that first must occur before any pencil is put to paper. And through this understanding the intangibles of a unique brand experience can surface.

The following are the imperatives of a sturdy foundation. And only with this can a great brand experience be built upon. Brands first need to...

  1. Be introspective and assess who you are, who you want to be (be realistic about this) and get comfortable with it. Every brand has unique DNA; a distinctive voice, point of view, service and product offer. Find yours and carve out an own-able territory.
  2. Don't try and appeal to every market segment under the sun. Being laser focused about who your customer is will allow that distinctive voice to be heard and build a stronger bond with those targeted segments. Brands that demonstrate that degree of integrity benefit from a monumental halo attraction.
  3. Be consistent in how you speak and engage with your customer. Nothing scuttles a brand's authority more than incongruent messaging. And while the buzz over omni-channel has subsided, the value of what it is intended to do hasn't. Failure to deliver at any point along the engagement continuum destroys relationships.
  4. Transcend the act of shopping into building relationships. If you know your customer and genuinely have something to offer them and can illustrate those core values throughout the journey, you are building a relationship. The challenge is to not overstep boundaries and invade their personal space. Allow them to come to you.
  5. Don't chase fads and trends that don't resonate with your brand. In turn, don't shy away from exploring a point of view that is authentic to who you are simply because you feel your customers won't get it. The unexpected is what keeps a relationship interesting and engaging.
  6. Don't let customers lead you. While reciprocal, the brand should guide the customer. When the model flips the brand loses its integrity and the relationship falls apart.

Indeed, times are a changing. On the consultant side, we are seeing a monumental shift in how we work with our clients. I'm hopeful meetings like what I described at the opening become the standard. We here at Bergmeyer promote a process that is more inclusive and integrated beyond the standard interior design parameters of the past. Just as brands strive to build relationships with their customers, we look to do the same with our clients. Through immersive partnerships we are able to broaden the lens of what design actually is; to go beyond the look and be more about the feel.

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