This relentless retail industry discussion is farther reaching than the coverage. Boiling down to people and lifestyle shifts, all consumer-facing industries have skin in the game – from real estate to hospitality to entertainment. It’s time to regroup and recover.
STEP 1: LEARN LESSONS
Not putting too fine a point on it: eye off the ball. Certainly not intentionally – running a business is demanding – but while the day-to-day was tended to, new consumer dynamics and behaviors quietly took hold.
Demographics blurred. The generations started to look alike behaviorally and characteristically. Universal truths set in, in shopping habits, wellness concerns and style preferences. Once again we thank Millennials, for teaching Boomers and Gen Z to leverage Millennials’ best qualities.
All-access was granted. Data and research at their fingertips, unlimited choices, and a voice to trumpet their opinion, social media gave the consumer a wide-angle lens on the world; brands gained exponentially more exposure and a new commerce model that goes beyond “omnichannel” emerged.
People became the brands. Not a new notion, but one to add to the list in the spirit of comprehensiveness. Now, people are all at once influencers, entrepreneurs and evangelists for a product or service. The goal was (and still is) individuality, with the consumer taking pieces of many brands to build their own brand.
Culture took the lead. Never before have arts, entertainment and politics been so universally experienced, shared and dialogued about. Culture is mainlined by the consumer to the effect of heightened awareness, increased activism and elevated design.
Experience trumped acquisition. The result of a “woke,” conscious consumer and a general feeling of being at peak ‘stuff’ prompts purging and reselling. Travel and adventure, gastronomic exploration and live events (including sports, music festivals and alt-interest festivals) get a bigger piece of the pie.
Change was good. People got used to changing scenery – from the images of Acai bowls and infinity pools on their phones to their expanded-palate cuisine to their face- swapped digital personae to an anything-from-Stranger Things-to-Friends-redux watch list – variety and especially-for-you solutions made traditional formats uninspiring.
STEP 2: EXERCISE EMPATHY
Myopia has a way of creeping up on businesses, especially as technology offers more and more historical data. Best exercise: walk a mile in their (the customers’) shoes.
Big is uninspiring. The something-for-everyone strategy feels like throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks. A more thoughtful approach is recognized by today’s audience. Respectfully, if you can’t be everything to everyone, be something to someone.
Conventional is static. Let’s take the department store shopper. They’re expecting the usual – brands presented in a large and impersonal format. Tough going against the smaller, more unique brands and emerging business categories. Disruptors can only disrupt that which stays the same.
Specialty is prescribed. In a time when no consumer is filling the prescription, this feels contrived and unoriginal. Individuality is tracking and the customer isn’t buying into a “lifestyle” vision anymore. Change it up.
Brands make stronger impressions on their own. New and niche businesses can build a following quickly and creatively through digital and social media and capture the customer directly. Lean in to this and leverage the tools available to you.
The middle ground is weakening. There is a polarization among success stories. Either big and dominant or small and niche. The middleman needs to take on niche qualities if being the biggest isn’t an option. The customer feels most comfortable at the ends of the spectrum.
Fandom is fanning out. YouTube and the entertainment sector’s prolific content offering set the wheels in motion for a splintering effect in fandom. Meaning, there are fewer fans for more properties and influencers, but those fans are superfans – uber-interested, achingly loyal enthusiasts.
Tech is second nature. For the consumer, tech is not an initiative; it is seamlessly woven into their lives. Any solutions that offer speed and efficiency, or better yet, alter environments and experiences for the better, are welcome. The key is not to follow the leader, but to find the combination of tech enhancements best for your business.
[Collaboration has evolved the commercial landscape for the good. Partnering up has become the most efficient way to become interesting.]
STEP 3: MASTER NEW MINDSETS
Reset required. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, shake off old habits and develop better ones. TOBE’s best advice, pep talk-style.
Do a clean slate experiment. Gather your best brains for some blue sky thinking. What would you build if you could start from scratch? Now, reconcile that wish list with what you have: see where you can make adjustments to get closer to where you want to be.
Look at every initiative from all angles and get fresh eyes on each new undertaking. You’d be surprised what another perspective brings to the table (and only ask the opinion of people not afraid to tell you the truth).
Be early on long-term strategies that require planning, mid-range on consumer shifts for appropriate product and presentation prep, and be closest-to on language, marketing and digital that can be changed on the fly. Accurate lead times keep you fresh and relevant.
Practice curation over creation. Have the discipline to develop only what you really need to make a killer presentation of your content/product/service that really tells a story the consumer wants to hear.
Brands and businesses need personality to stay in step. Shift the common practice of personifying your audience to personifying the brand. If your brand or business were a person, what kind of person would it be?
Everyone deserves … nope, scratch that … expects beautifully designed product, brand messaging, digital experiences, packaging, etc. Dumbed-down design is an insult to the consumer; they know better.
The consumer’s on the move and you should be too. Consider each part of your business an opportunity to create energy and excitement about your brand or business. Craft the perfect cocktail of brand awareness, showrooming, collaboration, and digital and physical flexibility.
About the writer: Leslie Ghize leads the TOBE braintrust in decoding the cultural signals, aesthetic cues and social movements informing the consumer-brand dynamic. With a fresh-eyes perspective, TOBE curates a steady flow of inspiration to spark innovation and creativity for clients in fashion, beauty, entertainment, food & beverage and hospitality.
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