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How brands are shifting to become "cultural hubs"

RIchard Dodgson
28 April 2016

What it means to be a retail brand has changed and brands are immersing themselves into a new world of cultural expectations. It is no longer just about products and keeping the shop floor fully stocked - consumers have come to expect a lot more from their favourite brands. The main reason for this is because technology is changing the way we shop and brands are transforming themselves to create a whole new experience, in order to meet the ever-growing expectations of the modern-day customer.

The rise of digital channels has shifted brand focus from structural to cultural and, through the use of events; we are seeing brands become cultural hubs that offer consumers much more than the traditional shopping experience. Milan Design Week is an excellent example of how brands are using events to realign themselves with this new demand.

Why retail brands are embracing events

Events such as Milan Design Week offer a chance for people to interactively engage with a brand and create an experience that people have come to expect. Through a cultural experience such as this, brands can attract and retain the attention of their target consumer. Cultural collaborations at events create the perfect opportunity for brands to immerse themselves in the design and architectural world. A great example is fashion brand Cos, which has collaborated with Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto to create a ‘forest of light’ exhibition, which reflects their new season design. They use the idea of light as an interaction, connecting fashion and people.

But is not just fashion brands that have benefitted from offering a more cultural experience; Galeries Lafayette are collaborating with architect Bjarke Ingels to design its new flagship shop on the Champs-Élysées. In-store experiences are also becoming more important for brands that need to show the customer that they understand their needs and requirements.

How brands are creating cultural experiences  

Retail brands want to show people the importance of a high functioning product and reveal the inspiration behind their idea. For instance, Tom Dixon has created a series of experiential kitchens and turned them into installations. Instead of the brand normally using the event as a showcase of their latest products, Dixon has created an interactive kitchen area which focuses on the kitchen worktop material Caesarstone. The idea is to show people how things really work and get them involved in the discussion. It is not just about the end product, it’s the process at the heart of it.

Tom Dixon and Ceasarstone at Salone del Mobile

Tom Dixon and Ceasarstone at Salone del Mobile

Nike also has a particularly interesting outlook when it comes to creating cultural events. They asked several international designers to create installations based on the idea of movement. This explores the core value of the brand, without showcasing any of its actual products. Retail brands are finding innovative ways to communicate what they are all about and what people can expect from them, all through the use of cultural events. In these instances, it is no longer about the products but the concepts and functionality behind them.

Why a brand has to be much more than just a retailer

Brands have to be innovative and show their design journey; notably what moves a brand, interests them and inspires them to create the products they create. Tom Dixon has proven this with the interactive experience that highlights how his products are incredibly advantageous and applying that to an everyday scenario. While the Cos collaboration has a strong connection with architecture and has an audience that wants to know the inspiration behind their designs, so their collaboration with Fujimoto allows them to communicate with an audience by using a medium that both the brand and the consumer is passionate about.

We are seeing a shift in how retail brands view consumer experiences. They are using events to transform their brand into a cultural hub in order to meet their customer’s needs. Brand customers want to be part of the journey and want to understand why retail brands are offering the answers through the use of cultural events.

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