Let’s get physical Part 3: The Future


The Future…..

M Worldwide has been instrumental in developing and implementing the brand realisation strategy for the all-important physical environment in which a host of high-profile brands operate. Ian has partnered with clients across sectors to clarify their brand promise and create the optimum internal culture keep that promise. Looking to the future, as a modest “think tank”, what developments can we expect in terms of the way brands will evolve their spaces and places and what are some of the changes we will see in terms of the relationship between internal and external brand stakeholders?

Banks of check-outs?

Not any more.

  • Superficial product information on flimsy bits of A4 paper?

Not very 21st century. The love and the embracing of technology by online brands means established in-store retail norms are increasingly being replaced by a ‘have a go’, no barriers approach to the bricks and mortar environment. Digital signage, mobile pay points, home delivery order points, magic mirrors in changing rooms, music that changes to match the clothes you’re trying on using RFID tags etc etc. Exciting stuff for customers as well as employees who, lest we forget, are customers in their own right after all and can have a significant impact on the design of these spaces.

Smartphone penetration in the UK has now reached 45% – and growing. Converging phone, video, internet, wallet, apps and social media, it’s the bridge between the physical and digital worlds. It links shoppers to their friends, bringing them into to the browsing and shopping mix. McDonalds and Superdrug have already trialled prepaid technology for smaller purchases. And in February 2012 Barclays Bank launched Pingit which allows users to transfer cash between mobile devices.

Even the tedious chore of queuing to pay will soon be alleviated thanks to near field contactless technology. Once payments are made, loyalty schemes and vouchers that drive future visits will be delivered digitally. This places a great responsibility on employees, however, to ensure that all face to face interactions are maximised as there’s much less room for hit and miss encounters.

Consequently, employee workplace experience is going to matter even more than it does now .Sales staff increasingly access more knowledge about products and services through smartphones – supported by videos and digital demonstrations. There have been some impressive developments in the use of online learning solutions and virtual reality technology in corporate training, especially useful for global organizations and those who have a high proportion of remote workers. And gamification is rapidly gaining more air time as an involvement-driven engagement phenomenon.

Gone will be the days when products are cheaper online than in-store, where customers go to shops to road test products and then go away and purchase them at a cheaper cost online. Retailers will provide transparency and in-store price matching there and then through mobile or in-store technology.

The shopping environment will be all about experience rather than stuff. Stuff in all its ranges, sizes colours and packaging will need to be available, but it will not be the main attraction. Apart from all the emotional, rational and functional aspects of making choices and purchases, people also need somewhere to go, to hang out, to see and be seen. Employees will, therefore, be more conscientious about the “hangouts” and brands they want to be associated with.

The food/cafe offer as part of a retail experience is now a hygiene factor. Events, demonstrations, activities, in-store theatres, bars and gardens are what’s needed. But only those with the right mind-set, belief and attitude can deliver them. Compare the lackluster sampling and demos seen in UK supermarkets to the browsing experience in the toy store Hamleys. Supermarkets are the biggest food retailers in the land yet their cafes are hardly temples of food love. Quite some improvement opportunity.

But even the more conservative players are loosening their ties and getting in on the engagement act. At the end of 2011, online bank ING Direct launched its eighth bricks and mortar outlet in New York City’s Union Square. This is a 17,000 square foot cafe. You can’t make a deposit or a withdrawal, but you can grab a cup of coffee, take advantage of the WiFi, and enjoy face time with others. The bottom level of the three-story space allows small business owners and non-profits to host meetings, free of charge, for as many as 40 or 50 people. If you think this all sounds a bit too touchy feely, consider this: ING Direct found that deposits increased by about 10 percent in the cities where they have a physical presence.

Traditional retailers, especially those in fashion, often excel in terms of product newness, but lack originality in how that’s presented. Etailers, on the other hand, excel at fresh and new ways at looking at content. This puts them in good stead to make stores feel really different on a regular basis.

The real innovators will also be those that harness the power of their employees through effective engagement channels and consumers through social media, creating and driving content with imagination and clear focus about their point of difference. They’ll also leverage their supplier brands to do more and be more active.

Humans are inherently social animals.While there are those for whom shopping is a chore to be done as quickly and painlessly as possible, for many others shopping is an art in itself — and stores are the galleries. Innovative retail brands have the chance to embrace true multichannel retailing in a way that most traditional high street retailers can only dream about. This should lead to a virtuous circle for the enlightened…great online and physical environments leading to more customers and in turn attracting and engaging more visionary employees who, if properly treated, will care enough to create more of those environments………..

Here’s to true engagement inside and out leading to brand-based innovations that will benefit all stakeholder groups.

Authors: Ian P Buckingham in conjunction with Chris Hill & David Martin of retail design experts M Worldwide. (Published online in 3 serialised parts & also appeared in specialist marketing magazine Admap M-Worldwide_Admap_ShoppingAsArtForm_1Nov12).


Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual)


“If the work you are doing is what you chose to do because you love it then it may well be your bliss. If not, then it’s your dragon. (Joseph Campbell 2001)

I was reflecting on Campbell’s quote recently while re-watching Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and was reminded of the Kurtzman dilemma I wrote about in Brand Engagement.

The Kurtzman dilemma alludes to the flawed notion that we can somehow entirely divorce the “work” me from the “home” me and is caricatured by the famous scene in which Mr Kurtzman, the sinister, institutionalised manager and un-civil-servant is undermined by his own “army” of clerks.

The scene starts when Kurtzman is suddenly disturbed in his grey factory of an office by the sounds of cinematic gunfire.  When he throws open his glass office door to investigate, shouting for his deputy Sam Lowry, contrary to his suspicions that fun rather than work may be afoot, the general office of clerks is unexpectedly a hub of normal industrious activity. Behind his back, however, his personal monitor switches from the spreadsheets he’s been working on to a classic Western movie.

Returning to his office, the moment he closes his door the spreadsheets re-appear on his own pc and the movie resumes on the monitors in the general office, the clerks once again grinding to a leisurely halt as their movie re-starts.

The scene repeats itself several times over, the manager, Kurtzman obviously growing increasingly paranoid and agitated with every iteration.

As the viewer we’re complicit in the subterfuge which is revealed to us whenever Kurtzman opens and closes his office door.  It’s a memorable parody of the “us” and “them” mentality and the way we’ve been conditioned to view work and leisure activity as polar extremes.  It also illustrates how, despite even the most draconian of regimes, the human spirit of rebelliousness and mischief in pursuit of some form of involving interaction will out and ironically that this could and should be harnessed in some way.

In my experience of working with brands across sectors and with people at a variety of levels, it’s that self-same human spirit that makes or breaks organisations. Most people can force themselves to be “on brand” when on the spot. The trick is to ensure that they care enough to want to be “on brand” even when the boss isn’t watching. To this end, people are undoubtedly more comfortable, more engaged and more productive if they are self-aware enough to understand their deep-seated hopes, desires and ambitions and the values and behaviour that can lead to the fulfilment of those desires and dreams.

In turn, organisations are much more engaging, successful and sustainable if they care enough to be clear about their goals, values and culture and to engage their employees appropriately and sustainably. Put another way:

Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual)

Sure, it’s natural for leaders to become obsessed with survival and enforcing the ”day job” in the tough times. But the sooner we all recognise that it is the day job of leaders at all levels to encourage self-awareness, self-actualisation and to cultivate a true performance culture in which people feel free to be themselves and thereby share in the ownership of the organisation’s goals, the faster the recovery process will be.

And that’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t it?