When working with a client, the most important goal of the architect is to develop a design that conveys the client’s vision in a way that is functional for its intended use. In the realm of retail architecture, the designer must delve deeper to define the client’s vision for functionality and experience. It is through this exploration of a retailer’s identity that designers can uncover aspects of the brand that will help in providing the overall design concept. But what qualities should designers be searching for to best enhance the experience retailers wish to convey?
The omnichannel world we live in demands that brands identify themselves with consumers, not just as entities that sell goods and services, whether it be in a physical store or through a website. Brands must now create personalities that connect with the needs and values of their consumers. It’s more than attracting consumers with great deals or convenience; retailers must now build deep connections that warrant customer’s loyalty to their brand over all others. We call this connection brand significance, and companies that have mastered it essentially display three qualities.
Brand Clarity: These companies know who they are, what they stand for, and where they want to go. They have clear-cut ideals that are apparent in everything they do, from the design of the spaces where they sell their products to the interface of their apps and websites. Authenticity is at the forefront with these brands. They do not try to be something they are not; they are genuine and they make sure you see and feel that when experiencing their stores and/or websites. These retailers don’t merely settle on making any decision that involves their brands, no matter how minor the detail. Whole Foods Market doesn’t just use a generic plastic bag for their customers to put their purchases into at the sales counter, they select the well-designed, 80% recycled and 100% reusable bag because it’s quality reinforces their brand’s beliefs. Successful brand clarity involves holistic brand experience in any interaction with a customer, which often leads us to…
Image via Live Simply.
Connection to Customers: Customers of these companies become loyal to them. They will spend an extra 10 minutes driving in order to purchase an item at their favorite store instead of making a similar purchase from another retailer that’s more convenient. These brands successfully create a relationship with their customers where the customer believes they are listened to, involved in, and respected by the brand. The result? An army of consumers waiting for the opportunity to be a brand ambassador for their favorite marque. This connection isn’t just about retailers providing discounts and using loyalty programs to create an almost forced sense of devotion. More so, it’s about providing such great quality and service that people find themselves emotionally attached. It’s this kind of loyalty that makes it impossible for me to pull out my Android device around friends without having to answer why I would be so rebellious as to not have an iPhone. Apple users truly believe their devices are a cut above the rest, whether they’ve used a competitor’s products or not. This is because Apple has not just created a line of electronics; they’ve created an entire culture people feel privileged to take part in, show off and vouch for.
Image via AdWeek.
Appropriate Use of Technology: These companies know that technology provides an outstanding tool to bolster the image and awareness of themselves, while also gaining sentiment and loyalty from their customers. We’ve reached the point where websites and apps are no longer at the forefront of technology. Brands successful in this area are always a step ahead of the technological curve. These companies use technology to drive what they sell, how they sell it, and how to tailor their products to individual customers. For example, Zara’s use of technology improves their logistics so they can quickly flip high-demand seasonal products. Technology makes it possible for Lowe’s to sell incredible amounts of merchandise in its 30,000 square foot Manhattan store. Sprouts can now automatically inform customers of discounts on their favorite items as they walk into the store through the use of their mobile coupons app. Brands using technology successfully and appropriately aren’t forcing you to use dated tech in inconvenient ways, but rather making your life easier by using new methods to simplify your shopping experience.
Image via Vomela Companies.
While architects are not typically marketing experts or a web developer who can build websites and apps that will inspire devotion and loyalty to the brand, we can use our expertise to sculpt retail environments that strongly reinforce the vision of the client. Our responsibility is to stay current in trends not just concerning design, but also in the newest technologies and logistics in retail. As we design spaces to maximize and reinforce our client’s brand significance, it’s crucial that architects consider every angle.
While it’s an architect’s charge to develop spaces and facilitate their construction, in commercial and retail design, we often see uninspired concepts that do little to stimulate excitement or convey authenticity. We have found this can be remedied through listening and understanding the needs of our clients at the earliest stages of design. Before pen hits paper, we make it a priority to understand the holistic goals and aspirations of our client’s company. Once the idea of who we are working with and what we are working towards is fully understood, that information is used as our overarching concept.
In commercial and retail architecture, it is important that clients’ means of improving their company’s brand significance serve as our design concepts. Brand significance provides a method for we as designers to remain focused on developing a holistic design that feels more cohesive, which will ultimately lead to a better end product. Letting brand significance drive how we design every element and detail for our clients ensures their best interest is always considered and thus, their vision is most completely achieved.
Jon is a member of BRR’s Design Team whose passion for architecture derives from the ability of built spaces to positively affect the way we live.