In design, the opportunity to depart from the cookie cutter, shoe horning strategy of the past, to a brief that gives the designer permission to utilise local culture, assets, and materials to inspire new locations, is inspirational.
From a brand strategy perspective, this is a big step towards developing experience identities. Rather than a brand defined by a logo, colour palette, and graphic language, all of a sudden an experience trademark is being defined by progressive brands that rely on their presence across physical and digital channels.
Hyper localisation has moved beyond merchandise and marketing strategies into digital, and increasingly, physical expressions of a brand.
Take skincare brand, Aesop. From day one it has been fastidious about selecting locations that are on-brand. Its design strategy uses cues from the existing environment to inform the store design. An exposed wall might be the inspiration for the way the shelves stretch across the wall. All at once the brand respects the history of the place, while imbuing the brand values throughout.
The store becomes a gallery that offers consumers something new to see while knowing the experience will still be Aesop. The design strategy gives consumers a reason to visit for the unique yet consistent Aesop experience across the network.
Starbucks is another brand that has embarked on a localised store design strategy. For a global brand of significant scale that was once a global monoculture, the strategy is a bold and admirable one.
Critically, it seems to be working for them. It was only six years ago that Starbucks closed 600 homogenous stores globally. Today, the brand is experiencing revitalisation via a localised design strategy.
Japanese stores embrace the minimalist aesthetic, while a store in New Orleans lives and breathes music and art for which the community is known. It is adding value to the space it inhabits beyond profit.
Starbucks has created so much buzz with its design strategy you could almost call it the Apple of 2014.
The downside of a local store design strategy is that it is more complex and expensive to implement, but if you take the Starbucks example of closing 600 stores six years ago that all looked the same, to become the talk of the town via design this year, there seems to be a case for revisiting the value equation.
We have recently had a number of conversations with clients of all shapes and sizes about localising the store network. Is it local if we simply localise the communications instore? Not really. Local marketing doesn’t ladder up to a local experience.
The hallmarks of a successful localised store design ultimately stem from the authenticity of the brief and brand.
First, is your purpose worth being experienced? Starbucks’ mission statement is to inspire and nurture the human spirit. Lovely! Not a word about coffee in there. Challenging to deliver with integrity but they have managed to do it.
Second, is the brief to design an experience or a store? One is a brief to evoke a feeling in the visitors to the space, the other is to fit out a space. If you are evoking a feeling the execution can be flexible. If you are fitting out a space, then economically you’re better off doing the same fit out every time. Framing the challenge correctly is critical.
Hyper localisation is about mattering more to people. Globalisation, digitisation, and urbanisation are dehumanising cultural context to which brands must respond. In retail, omni-channel personalisation and hyper local experiences help brands to do that.
To win in the future, organisations need to learn how to accommodate this complexity if they expect to be loved by customers.
Clair van Veen is strategist and acting GM at strategic design agency, Designworks.