1. Edited Retail: Branding in 3D

Technology and new expectations have made confident, purposeful retail ranging a more valuable asset than ever before. In the attention economy, Edited Retail rules!

More than a decade after the inception of Internet 2.0, most brick-and-mortar retailers have, by now, worked out the value of building eCommerce and investing in digital content. And while there is wide understanding among retailers of the opportunities digital platforms offer to grow sales, build communities and tell stories, across the retail landscape we see many more examples of brands talking product or telling stories, than of brands using products to tell stories. Yet, for decades, consumers have been giving retailers permission to do precisely that.

Since the beginning of time, shopkeepers’ ability to curate relevant offerings for their customer base has been turning the wheels of commerce. In recent years “curation” has become a rather abused term, but few would deny that shoppers are generally becoming more discerning and responsive to hand-picked selections. With reputations built on curation, brick-and-mortar retailers have the ideal DNA to respond to this evolution, but need to adapt to the speed and heuristics of the attention economy in order for their talents to be valued. For retailers, an important success factor in the brave new world is their ability to connect product ranges to culture by thinking like editors.

KITH EEA Capsule SS18: “Utah”

Edited retail is the art of purposefully curating products to be discoverable and discernible to a wide audience in search of thrills and trophies. Alongside product and place, editorial intrigue provides a crucial third dimension that enables products to shine in today’s cluttered landscape. In the attention economy, branding in 3D wins.

Encoding ranges with references and terms favoured by media and social media puts brands in the path of discovery-seekers. Without an editorial approach, brands not only miss opportunities to develop and grow, they face having their market incrementally chipped away by others with a more recognised flair for curation.

Recent years have seen an explosion in concept store openings – Colette may have bid adieu, but H&M Group has green-lit several new multi-brand concept chains. Specialist brands and eCommerce exist for practically every category and interest. Publisher and blogger eCommerce platforms like Hodinkee have transitioned from community to commercial platform with spectacular success. Meanwhile, buying clubs like MassDrop, as well as custom and aftermarket shops like ColorWare are banking new sales and margins from obsessive shoppers. Besides taking revenues from conventional sellers, these disruptors are also helping to expand common perceptions of value and redefine consumers’ expectations.

Some retailers may believe that zooming in on a narrow range of products misrepresents the broader assortment, or risks cheapening the brand. In making these assessments, management should take into consideration the rising proclivity of consumers to seek out remarkable experiences at the expense of average ones. After all, for close to twenty years now we have watched society emphatically prefer singles over albums: consumers are curating their lives and identities with a select mix of hits and rare grooves.

Which select tracks did you rely on to drive traffic last season? Whose mental playlists did they make it onto? Many times, retailers struggle to take the actions that answer these questions convincingly.

Multi-brand retailers enjoy great freedom to merchandise around editorial ideas and, compared to monobrand competitors, have more credibility as curators. To create editorially engaging product campaigns, multi-brand retailers have two key avenues at their disposal:

i. Boutique Collaboration

Developing exclusive products with key suppliers and (for extra editorial intrigue) auteurs and/or outlier brands. The best examples use strategic market units sourced from different suppliers and coordinate them around a theme that resonates with internal values, cultural factors, or current trends;

Barneys, Hudson’s Bay Company, aesop

ii. Direct to Retail (DTR) Licensing

Licensing is a turnkey resource for cultural connectivity. Offering a vast range of cultural content, licensed material can be used to boost private label product or, via sublicensing, to create a red thread between products from different sources. As with boutique licensing, editorial appeal and exclusivity are heightened when iconic intellectual property is fused creatively to a specific story or theme.

South Park, The Life Aquatic, MLB, Jean-Michel Basquiat, (PRODUCT)Red, Valvoline

Exclusive styles and licensing can hardly be considered new additions to the retail management arsenal. What is new, however, is an information ecosystem increasingly geared to favour remarkable, extraordinary ideas. Also new are the disruptors and progressive retailers gaming the system to command attention and showcase their curatorial skills to an audience far beyond the shop window. Retailers of all kinds need to sit up and take notice.

The above is an edited version of an article published last week on the retail strategy site, Brand Growth Inspiration. Link to the full article.


2. Earth Day

Sustainability was a major theme of last month’s Milan Design Week and continues to gather pace across practically all product sectors. As previously reported, this most recent wave of eco-awareness seems to run deeper than previous periods, as environmental concerns continue to grow and brands are increasingly obliged to give evidence of their social value.

Earth Day is another fixture of the April calendar and a key date for brands to announce new products and technologies. In a climate of considered consumption, collaborations take on additional significance because they provide tangible symbols of solidarity and cooperation – key behaviours for overcoming global problems.

Check out the gallery for examples of products released last month that used brand collaboration stories to make their sustainable innovations more relatable and remarkable.