The larger big data grows, the more transactions, information, and knowledge brands have to deliver exceptional experiences to customers, right? This isn’t always the case. As the industry changes and with even more information on hand, we find that brands are becoming increasingly distanced from their customers’ ideal experiences.
Because today’s big data is mostly about tracking and measuring the details of transactions, it’s a look back into customers’ past purchase behavior. To make this information meaningful and beneficial — and position your brand for future success — you’ll need to apply design strategy.
Overall, “transactions” are not just about money and goods changing hands anymore. They’re about a transfer of trust. A vote to affirm personal beliefs and corporate missions. Shoppers are looking for experiences that go beyond their purchase; they’re looking for a richer relationship with a brand that aligns with their values and understands that transactions are a two-way street. The shopper provides more information to the restaurant or retailer, and the restaurant or retailer gives them a more personalized interaction in return.
How can retailers and brands meet shoppers’ growing expectations and create engagement informed by the massive amounts of data available?
ELEMENTS OF ENGAGEMENT
Each brand has an underlying structure that makes it complete, as well as uniquely identifiable. These individual elements are the driving force behind its overall personality.
For our case, we’ll concentrate on how these elements come to life specifically within a brand’s store environment, because whether you’re embarking on a new design concept or updating an existing one, harnessing the factors that contribute to your brand’s success can uncover what drives customer engagement.
Domino’s, for example, was modernizing its brand and wanted to (and deserved to) take credit for its improved menu, new recipe, and advanced technology. The company wanted to communicate their real changes across all channels, and approached CG to tackle the in-store environment.
To begin the process, CG’s design strategy team conducted in-home and shop-a-long research that helped us fully understand customer desires, impressions about the existing environments, and which environmental cues were most important to include. Domino’s used these findings to communicate the brand’s new positioning around quality ingredients.
Continuing, we mapped all possible customer journeys, qualitatively tested initial concepts, and quantitatively tested final concepts to understand the impact of each design element along a customer’s engagement with the in-store experience.
The result was a new restaurant prototype that allowed the brand to continue to accelerate their carryout business, while better connecting with customers in-store.
To accomplish this, we recognized that today’s customers appreciate the art of cooking, and want transparency. We brought the art and skill of pizza-making forward with Domino’s pizza chefs on center stage. With 40% of the new store now designated for the front of house, the dining area was redefined to provide comfortable seating, entertaining elements like a chalkboard wall, and enhanced technologies for customers to see the pizza process.
While the space was designed to cater to shifting consumer expectations, operations were not. The team completed extensive work in the kitchen centered on time and efficiency modeling. We looked at how the product moves through the space and how associates work within the restaurant to create an efficient flow that support the brand’s mission to be a leader in speed.
Our research further enabled us to maximize design impact with the development of a tiered implementation approach to affect Domino’s fleet of stores. We created a roll-out strategy based on our understanding of the highest performing elements and adapted these attributes for each store location, including in-line and stand-alone stores.
MAXIMIZE YOUR CORE FIRST
We eat an apple and throw the core in the trash. When growing your brand, we do the opposite: the core is king. Brand growth means more than gaining new customers; often, the greatest opportunities exist with current customers. After all, don’t your current customers best understand your mission, and aren’t they poised to spread your message? The truth is, amplifying the voice of your existing customers is the most cost effective way to sell your brand, rather than capturing new customers. How do you learn to fully develop the core customer you already have?
When working with art and framing retailer Aaron Brothers, the CG strategy team utilized a quantitative research tool designed to combine customer and financial information to create a clear, immediate picture of how the retailer could most effectively respond to its core customers’ needs.
The team quickly identified categories that offered the best growth potential. Using insight from these existing customers, as well as data from where competitors were most vulnerable in those key categories, we informed our design. The data led Aaron Brothers to a new prototype design that edited categories that presented less opportunity, maintained core category offering, and expanded strong categories.
If Aaron Brothers had only looked at sales data, instead of mining data and developing insights, they could have headed in the wrong direction. Our research helped Aaron Brothers determine where its core customers wanted the retailer to go and supported those recommendations with monetized options—metrics often missing in the traditional design process.
MINDI TRANK Q&A
Mindi Trank, VP of Strategy at Chute Gerdeman, shares the viewpoints she’s developed through her experiences working with clients in retail and restaurant categories.
How do insights fuel strategy and creativity at CG?
Insights are core to both the strategy and design teams at Chute Gerdeman. By gathering, analyzing, and digesting insights, we create exceptional experiences for the brands with which we work. That’s why brands come to us: to create and use experiential currency to differentiate their brands from a crowded marketplace – to cut through all of the noise and start a differentiated dialogue with their customers. Insights are critically important within experience design; they define the context of the moment and inform the content of strategy recommendations and orchestrated experiences.
What is the biggest challenge consumer insights and design research faces?
Everyone is talking about “innovation”. Marketing campaigns use it, shareholders use it, creative firms use it, and CEOs are demanding it. Our challenge is to make innovation meaningful to the consumer and respond to the increasingly common requirement to provide ROI with every recommendation we make.
Another big challenge facing brands today is to construct a meaningful inter-relationship between the individual touch points along a customer’s journey. This complex system of consumer-facing moments needs to be relevant, impactful, and flexible in order to meet increasing consumer expectations of powerful seamless experiences.
Luckily, there are emerging research platforms that help us analyze data within experiences, such as measuring emotional and functional responses to define the most valuable design elements.
How are brands using insights and analytics today? How is it different than a decade ago?
Obviously, the shift in our economy has been the biggest driver of design strategy during the past few years, along with changing customer expectations. The move from a goods-based economy to a shareable, service- and experience-based business ecosystem has opened new doors for brands across the globe.
Brands like Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Uber, and Blue Apron have introduced integrated experiences, tapping into the full suite of disciplines through new or unique channels and offerings. This shift has included products and services, channel delivery, and an open dialogue with consumers. It is no longer a monologue or dialogue, but now a mega-logue. We can break down the complexity of each
customer’s journey and use data to serve creativity (not limit it, like in the past). Insights can play an important role by uncovering fundamental brand pinnings and emotional threads. These allow us to develop and deliver content to users, shoppers, and guests by arming a brand with the knowledge to execute anticipatory triggers. We understand what real people do more clearly, what the real paths to purchase are, emotions at each touch point, and how to create unique sustainable advantages for brands.
What brand do you think has its pulse on the consumer and continues to innovate with the aid of insights?
New Balance is employing the use of insights. They embrace the notion that staying current requires constant evaluation and change. Their positioning and activation around “Always Beta” brings this to life.
This positioning, which is more than a marketing campaign, is fundamental to the brand and part of its brand ethos. They’ve shifted from a monologue of talking at customers to a mega-logue of interactive communication with shoppers. They keep in mind that today’s best brands are more than a “thing”, but a part of the shoppers’ lives.
As designers, we need to be comfortable always testing and allowing ourselves to fail-fast in order to gain fresh insights and continue to push for even better solutions. This freedom allows us to make informed recommendations and always be in beta ourselves so we can drive higher returns for our clients.
Many brands today are testing ideas and innovations with “learning labs.” How does this dimensionalize data and insights with real-time action?
While many brands are featuring learning labs, we believe “agile” is the new “smart”. This goes beyond methodology – and the idea of a lab. It is a mindset for brands that are looking for innovation and change to create defining experiences. The best brands are obsessively consumer-focused, lean, accessible, and always plotting the future with informed strategy in order to create a well defined own-able position in the customer’s life.
The rapidly changing tastes of today’s consumers means there is more of a need than ever to move beyond data points – we need to tap into real human emotions. Codifying human emotion may be the next frontier in understanding the impact that a fully designed retail or restaurant experience has on brand engagement and loyalty.
Traffic drivers are one piece of a store’s design that have an effect on a customer’s emotions. These traffic drivers, like windows, have stopping power and can make potential customers actual customers by making casual strollers curious enough to come inside.
In the past, heat mapping was all the rage, but today we need to understand why shoppers choose their paths and or densely congregate in certain areas. What are they feeling? Are they entertained, confused, or learning what they consider to be meaningful?
The deeper the engagement, the more lasting the emotional imprint for the brand, and the richer the customer experience (and loyalty). As the industry learns more about emotional impact conversions, we will be able to tap into that knowledge to craft well-rounded brand experiences across channels.
BUILD ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS WITH DATA
Data is powerful, but thoughtful insights are golden. How can you put insights into practice so that your research drives ROI on the bottom line? We call it “Design Activation,” mobilizing not just what you have learned, but having a true understanding of why it matters. This will empower you to create experiences that convey a strong emotional connection with your customers.
An on-the-ground understanding of customers’ impressions, desires, and engagement methods is essential. Observational research can fill in your understanding of the “why” behind research results that only tell you “what.” When reviewing data, consider what it means for your brand and your best customers.
Test ideas early and often, and don’t be afraid to prototype insights in 3D models for customer or associate feedback. Your diligence will be rewarded with higher returns, increased loyalty, and passion for the brand.