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Brands Don’t Lose That Human Touch – Time to Get Creative

Brand ‘touchpoints’ are increasingly becoming digital, rather than physical, in a world of social distancing. With physical retail in a cycle of lockdowns and people subject to ongoing restrictions, the world of browsing and the art of touch are becoming lost – a necessity of social distancing and hygiene measures. But this key ‘human’ sense influencing purchase simply can’t be replicated in the information-led, online realm.

Luxury brands immerse a consumer in plush carpets underfoot, theatrical lighting in opulent surroundings in glamorous locations complete with the meticulous attention of an expert who has your undivided attention, making you immediately feel the brand is worth it. But with all of these luxury stores having faced periods of closure, we have seen a large reduction in footfall across major cities globally. The ability to capture the essence of the brand online is compromised. The case in point is Burberry who is perhaps a brand more advanced in e-commerce approach to high-end retail. However, the company saw a decline in profits of an estimated 80% coming in at £42m for the six months to September. Other luxury brands are not immune either, with Mulberry reporting a 29% decline in revenue for the first half of the year, due to store closures.

So how can brands fill the void that perhaps we all took for granted and relied so heavily upon? The role of other ‘touchpoints’ becomes even more vital in creating a customer journey that captures the consumer imagination and creates intrigue in the brand to explore more and make a considered purchase.

The new nature of shopping

When retail opened after lockdown one, we at Gekko uncovered a trend that consumers, starved of retail, were returning back to store and shopping with purpose. The journey was necessary and, on arrival, the budget in mind was set and the expectation to part with money was resolute and implied. We looked at all of our return-to-store campaigns across the considered purchase CE sector, focused on 6 distinct categories of Computing, Mobile, White Goods, TV, Smart Home & Wearables, and measured them week on week. The result was that we saw an increase of 28% in conversion rate from demo to sale and 22% in the average basket value.

Now, the increases can be attributed to consumer behavior but also significantly to the assisted sale element of the customer journey that facilitates the sale. The socially distanced engagement remained personal to the shopper and the ability to ask questions was imperative in not only cloning that sale but also increasing the consumers’ spend.

The best strategy and playbook in this new world to maximize the other senses to really sell a brand’s quality are a challenge. We must, therefore, meet the need to make traditional retail a destination worth a consumer’s time and safety.

The voice

Key to this is voice: A trained sales advisor, who can extol the virtues of a product and close a sale even if this is over the phone with outlets locked down or in person with a shopper making a ‘purpose-driven’ shopping visit. To engage the advisor in training, brands and retailers must adhere to covid-secure protocols, so the approach also needs to be reimagined. By keeping it succinct and energetic, and not like training but more a story with several chapters, some yet to be written but lined up to create excitement. By taking it virtual you can still be engaging if you follow the same approach and have the same energy as being in the same room – as if it’s still personal. Online, it’s a harder sell but call it engagement rather than training and it can become more creative. Gamify the process and link it to rich online content from your website, also advertising campaigns and events.

Product knowledge and brand advocacy amongst retail sales staff are crucial components to success in retail. It starts with effective product launches and is something that traditionally relies on face-to-face engagement and hands-on time with new products. Again, the lockdown has forced us all to think differently about the approach. A virtual approach can enable brands to create genuine excitement for new product launches, engaging retail sales staff and cascading knowledge and know-how to them, again making them more effective in their shopper conversations.

Don’t lose your touch

Touch: Displays of action and demo devices demarcated or constantly wiped down more often than they would probably do if in your possession as your own device. Keep it straightforward and clean. Stand back, encourage play, and keep the conversation flowing using open questions. Learn through specific questions and examples about the customers’ usage habits, likes and dislikes about their current device, and link to features you know are relevant to the user.

When it comes to effectively demonstrating products to shoppers, creative thinking can pay dividends. With some of the limitations indicated above, brands can take the initiative and facilitate the demo experience. Think creatively! Another initiative we implemented was taking the demo to the store and controlling the experience whilst on site. The brand was able to tell the story in their own distinct voice.

Leave a lasting memory

Finally, think about the memory that consumers will be left with. Poor knowledge and advice – when asked for – and an ill-thought-out display will create a negative lasting impression. Missing product information, price tickets, and the devices not being demo-ready will all provide a bad customer experience. The decision to purchase should create a smooth transaction for the customers and, if not in stock, it shouldn’t be a problem. The retail sales advisor should be able to order it online enabling the customer to click and collect or have it delivered. If in stock, the customer should be looked after through to the point of transaction and be on hand to answer any question on set-up and integration of the new device further validating their purchasing choice.

The positive engagement with a brand ambassador or retail sales advisor is the game-changer that increases conversion rate and average basket value, achieved either through a higher purchase price or connection sale and, perhaps, an advocate of both brand and retailer. This is much harder to achieve online and never as gratifying for the end-user as a customer journey that enhanced the individual’s perception of the brand, and worth in relation to their own very personal budget.

As a brand, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what you aspire to achieve, and redouble your efforts. Use this personal approach to enhance the customer journey, engaging in the most effective manner possible with your target consumers. This begins with training that grabs the imagination. Explain creatively how to tell a personal story on the shop floor, that envelopes the consumer, enough to become a customer through informed choice and not merely through distress or promotion. In a world of reduced physical contact, we need to think creatively to ensure brands stay in touch with the needs of their customers.

To read the full article please visit Branding Mag.

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For Conscious Generations, Will Luxury Brands Become Irrelevant?

Branding Blog

With a market of over £200B globally, the luxury fashion brand sector is significant; you only have to look at conglomerates such as Richemont, LVMH Group, and Kerring which within their stables boast, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Chloe, Cartier, Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Stella McCartney to name a few.

Whilst in China, the market share is set to increase with 14% by 2025, it is set to contract by 8% in Europe and the US. However, the global trend of luxury consumerism seems to be on the increase, with 43%. It is forecasted that within the next decade Generations Y and Z will represent approximately 55% of the luxury fashion market up from 32%, offsetting the sales decline among older generations. But can perceived ‘luxury’ brands be so sure that their mass appeal can extend beyond the superficial?

Is fashion, in general, no longer tribal? The vast majority of Gen Y, Z, and Alpha, the less ‘well off’ generations, seem to adopt a more fluid approach to fashion as they may do to gender, sexuality, technology, socializing, etc. That sees an anything-goes approach in fashion, focused less on brand and more on individualism.

Long gone is the need to conform to a stereotype, or compete with others. The fashion I see is an eclectic mix of second-hand clothes – let’s avoid the pretense that it’s ‘vintage’ and be realistic – combined with fast fashion which is naturally, ethically sourced to create a look. A look that’s unique to a persona and voice, occasionally punctuated with luxury brand items to complete the style.

So will this approach to high-end fashion make the luxury sector grow in particular for the brands that ‘get it’ or contract with perhaps some brands becoming obsolete to generations X, Y, and more importantly Alpha? After all, this generation which may be on a budget, won’t necessarily be in a decade’s time and if they have no aspirations to own luxury branded items, they may choose to share the budget more sparingly with brands that speak to them – investing in brands that resonate with the zeitgeist, not tradition, and demonstrate a social conscience in manufacturing, environment, sustainability, and how they give back a proportion of their vast profits to society.

Some high-end brands are already evolving to appeal to the upcoming generations, Supreme and Balenciaga have adapted to meet the needs of their new consumers. From their collectible, Instagram ‘like-worthy’ pieces to the gender-fluid online shops, the brands are listening closely to their audience and are adjusting accordingly, seeing them become more popular than the traditional stuffy luxury brands.

With both ‘luxury’ and ‘fast fashion’ known to be a considerable contributor to global greenhouse gasses, water and air pollution, combined with poor working conditions, we are seeing a conscious effort by many people to change their fashion habits. These changes include a ‘less is more’ strategy, buying second hand, opting for natural fibers, and researching brand practices, often cajoling them to share the manufacture process and provenance.

According to Oxfam, over eleven million items of clothing end up in the landfill. The charity has launched its Second Hand September campaign, with artists who performed at Glastonbury 2019 donating stage outfits for auction or win. Its purpose is to change habits and encourage people not to buy new apparel for one month and thereafter wear clothing more often and not throw away unwanted clothing.

In contrast, the recent ‘willy-waving’ that was the ego-inflating philanthropy towards the drive to rebuild Notre Dame topped $700M with the billionaires behind these luxury giants pledging $339M. Without question, this landmark is culturally worthy and should be rebuilt, however, some may argue that these donations serve to demonstrate that the priorities of the owners of luxury brands may not be in tune with the market they will be designing and marketing to in less than a decade and beyond. With the Energy Agency estimating that by 2030 the planet will require 50% more water and 50% more energy, scarcity of natural resources will be a known factor forcing every brand to change. No one is immune.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, fashion retailer H&M has reported an 11% increase in net sales to 57.4B in Swedish kroner (£4.8B) in its Q2 results (July 2019), compared with the sales rise of 2% seen during the same period last year. It is the fifth straight quarter of consistent sales growth for the company, but despite the increase, shares in the retailer dropped by 1.8% in early trading in July, with H&M saying “hard work and many challenges still remain.”

Developments in the Luxury sector are slow compared to ‘fast fashion’ and with a year-on-year decline in revenues and profitability, there are not only economic factors at play but also the way that Generation Alpha consumer will be more selective and conscious. From 2025, it is estimated that Generation Alpha will be over 2 billion-strong and anticipated to start spending their own cash. Therefore, the change in narrative and approach ‘brands’ chose to market to a growing generation, needs to begin now.

Much like those brands who were considered too big to fail, is the end in sight for many luxury brands who continue to focus their attention on a dying generation?

To read the full article please visit Brandingmag.

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