• Transform magazine
  • February 04, 2023


Five minutes with Gareth Rutter

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As brand and experience converge, what customers expect from brands is changing too. How can brands go beyond digital to add value and create a holistic experience? Gareth Rutter, creative director at Household Design, explains the emerging relationship between retail and brand experience

Brand experiences are changing. How does Household approach this shift across its diverse range of clients?

Brand and experience have generally been considered as separate siloes, only converging towards the end of the process. But this approach simply no longer suffices. Whether on phones, timelines or in the high street store, people now spend more time than ever with brands. This exposes brands to criticism from eagle-eyed customers who can spot areas where brand and experience are not aligned.

The deepening relationship between brands and people is fundamentally transforming the way brands ought to think about the relationship between brand and experience. Rather than two separate machines arriving at the same goal independently, brand and experience must be two cogs in the same machine that thread seamlessly throughout the product as one ‘brand experience.’

Identifying what binds them should always start by considering the customer as a co-owner of this brand experience. Christian Louboutin treated fans to an exclusive glimpse into the designer’s life through an immersive pop-up at the Le Bon Marche Paris Exhibition, replete with fairground photo boards and selfie booths. The brand understood that its founder’s humour was what bound the brand and experience together and found an artful way for customers to be co-architects of the brand experience.

This points to the need for all brands to identify their role in ‘retail culture,’. This is a phrase Household coined, to describe modern customer relationships with retail brands – one based on lifestyle and experience compatibility, rather than purchases.

The convergence of hospitality and retail is fast becoming a reality in certain spaces. How does Household approach this?

Household uses insight-led research to understand how people are seeking to engage with brands and how this is redefining the way they want to shop. A key area where insights research can add value is in the customer experience of service, which is rapidly becoming a make-or-break experience. As people have more one-to-one experiences with brands, service becomes their conduit to the brand. It mustn’t be seen as just an add-on – it’s essential.

For example, Japanese lifestyle brand Muji has extended its presence beyond household and consumer goods and into the hospitality sector. Muji hotels and restaurants artfully ensure that the brand experience remains true to its brand roots – simplistic design with a no-logo/no-branding heritage. In doing so, Muji has blended clever retail-thinking with customer culture insight to create spaces where brand and customer can come together for mutually valuable and worthwhile signature experiences. Not only can customers feel like guests of the brand, they get to touch, taste, feel and experience the range of lifestyle products Muji is famous for selling.

Other non-traditional hospitality brands are also entering the hospitality sector, such as Converse launching a pop up ‘One Star Hotel’ and Brewdog opening the world’s first beer hotel. These experiences provide curated journeys that enable guests to explore and interact with the brand up close and personal.

How do you think brands will be approaching retail in the next 10 years?

The future of retail is heading towards customer engagement through curated experience journeys, where each touchpoint adds unique value to the brand experience.

Brands must cultivate a less pressured sales environment, viewing play, learning, self-improvement and community as added value to a customer’s experience and interaction with brands. Brands ought to see this challenge as an opportunity to redefine what increasing dwell time should look like in-store. For dwell time to mean anything at all, it needs to maximise minutes with added value and purpose.

Brand spaces will therefore become lifestyle marketplaces, where the customer experience is augmented through exploration and the ability to build an identity with the brand – similar to the direction in which Muji, Brewdog and Converse are currently taking the brand experience. This approach helps brands add real value to bricks and mortar locations through curated experiences that allow people to connect with the brand in a much more visceral way.

Connected experiences are driven by this innate understanding of the customer’s wants and needs. However, the approach identified by Household, augmented by online and digital-based services gives customers a full brand experience that online alone cannot achieve.

Gareth Rutter is creative director at Household Design

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