We Are What We Drink

Just as beer cases have become filled with colorful labels and wine cellars have started to fill with more regional variety than we could ever have imagined, craft spirits are becoming alternatives to the traditional big liquor names. The number of craft distilleries jumped 16% in 2018 and 26% in 2017. In terms of what that represents to the workforce, 19,529 people now work full-time at craft spirits companies.

By far, the greatest number of craft distillers, 32.7 %, are in western states, with the South coming in second at 29.3. Third is the Midwest with 19.1% and the Northeast right behind at 18.9%. Among individual states, the leader by far is California, which has 148 craft distilleries, or nearly 10% of the total. New York State is next, with 123 craft distilleries. Washington State has 106, Texas has 86, and Colorado has 80.

Craft distilleries still represent a fraction of the overall booze market, but they’re steadily picking up sales and volume. In 2016, craft distilleries held 3% of sales. By 2017, that rose to 3.8%. On the surface that seems small, but gaining nearly a percentage point in such a massive industry point to a broader shift, just as it did with beer. Looking at the volume, that becomes abundantly clear. In actual cases, the craft industry has risen from 2.5 million cases sold in 2012, to 5.8 million cases in 2017. Interestingly, more than half of the sales for craft distillers come from customers in their home state. So craft distilling is on the rise, but why? And what does it say about marketing?

Food and drink can have something that the distilling world has long dismissed: a sense of place, drawn from the soil and climate where the grains grow – drawn from the history and cultural patterns that create a sense of meaning. This is tied to a growing international movement by distillers, plant breeders and academic researchers to return distilling to what they see as its locally grounded. Spirits with a sense of place can be made by cultivating regionally specific varieties, along with farming and distilling techniques that emphasize a spirit’s local flavor. But this idea goes well beyond flavor.

Something craft distilleries have done, whether intentional or not, is to tap into or create a sense of history and, in some cases, a sense of mystery. Lifestyle and connectedness have a great impact on consumer behavior and brand preferences. Very often, we choose brands that are considered “appropriate” for our self-image, that fit within a specific context/mood, or are representational of an idea. As a result, we use brands as a relevant means of self-expression and drama. They are “beacons”. Identifying the contexts in which a brand finds life and meaning establishes a sense of connectedness. Tying it to a sense of place and time creates a story that we can immerse ourselves in. For any brand, that crafting of the story can have a huge impact on its longevity and relevance.

We identify and find purpose through the symbols we adorn ourselves with. Those symbols take on the shape of brands, which is probably why a wider variety of cultural expressions among brands can close the gap between the individual self and the commercial self.

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Burgers and Placemaking

Cold, wet, dreary. That sums up the city today. On the plus side, the shitty weather has served as inspiration when thinking about lunch. Today, that’s led to the choice of a burger and sweet potato fries. The place isn’t an example of up-scale dining, but it doesn’t give you the feeling of fast food (though in reality, it probably falls into that category). Unsurprisingly, the place is packed. What is surprising is that lack of business in the typical fast food burger place just down the way. It is partly the quality of the food that makes the difference, but it’s more than that. We’re all in the know at this place, we’re all a bit more discerning, or so we tell ourselves. As it turns out, a burger isn’t just a burger and a burger joint is more than a business. They’re part of a bigger American ideal, rich with history, symbolism, and cultural significance.

Globally, fast food generates revenue of over $570 billion (that is bigger than the economic value of most countries). In the United States, revenue was a $200 billion in 2016. The industry is expected to have an annual growth of 2.5% for the next five years. That is below the long term average to be sure, but it’s coming back from a several year slump. Hamburgers specifically account for almost 60% of sandwiches eaten. They are affordable, portable, customizable, and simply delicious. They are also the quintessential American food. Most fast food and fast casual restaurants do more than hamburgers, obviously, but at their core the burger is the heart and soul of many a restaurant. So what makes the burger special?

First and foremost, hey are made from beef, which Americans do very well. Beef is king is this country. Americans ate an average 55.6 pounds of beef in 2017, according to data from research and advisory firm Rabobank. The first European settlers emigrated from a world where land was scarce and ownership limited. North America was the opposite, where land abundance enabled colonists to develop a meat-centered diet on a scale that the Old World could neither imagine nor provide. Livestock represented wealth and provided the easiest way to convert land to profit. It is also tied to the image of the individualism of the  somewhat mythical cowboy. Beef represents a connection to a rugged past where men (and it is most often represented as men) tame the land, test themselves, and embody the spirit of American greatness. It is an imaginary space rife with contradictions and historical inaccuracies to be sure, but is nonetheless part of the cultural symbolism of the American psyche. So, beyond being tasty, beef is tied to the mystique of individualism, the promise of togetherness, and the display of success. The hamburger is a cultural icon that signifies the underlying American ideal.

Second, burgers are egalitarian. When you eat one, you can bond with a stranger, shoot the shit with a friend, or hang out on a sunny day sharing a meal with someone beautiful. Burgers evoke a sense of communion because they are, in most ways, outside the socio-politics of other cuts of meat. They are a democratizer of food in that they are hand-held, simple, and foundationally unchanging in composition and presentation. Yes, they can be made upscale, and increasingly are, but at their core burgers are accessible and understandable as a food that crosses class barriers. It’s a full meal, but adaptable enough to personalize without losing what it is at its foundation. It is the centerpiece of honest food. And so it is that burgers are a food that telegraph identity.

So with this cultural clout behind the burger, why have places like McDonald’s and Burger King struggled in recent years? To my mind it’s evolutionary – they simply haven’t adapted. They’ve scoured the data and trends, but they haven’t scratched beneath the surface.

Health and Presentation. Generally fast food has a reputation for unhealthy food, while consumer tastes in the United States continue to drift towards healthier options. While still a risk, this is not a new dynamic and the industry is already fighting back successfully. Additionally, casual dining has helped shift the playing field, having a most positive image when it comes to healthiness. It should be noted that “healthy” is a loaded word. In a 2014 study by anthropologists at the University of Kansas, perceptions of healthiness are significantly influenced by the environment in which food is ordered and served. The more “homey” a place feels or the closer its association with “traditional values”, the less likely diners are to associate it with health risks. That burger may have 2000 calories, but if it’s served by a guy who looks like the embodiment of America, the more likely people will be to forgive.

Placemaking. A bare geographic space is like a brand-new home that hasn’t been lived in yet. As people begin to inhabit these spaces, they build into it to make it representative of themselves, much like we design and set up our houses to turn them into homes. This is how a place goes from just being a location to something that has a deeper meaning to its inhabitants. We look to create into the spaces we inhabit our own little corner of what is familiar to us, so that we can call a space our own. And this holds true for restaurants, as well.

But familiarity need not mean recreating the neighborhood joint. It can just as easily reference a familiar point in time or a shared cultural concept (“we’re all ex-pats here”). The point is that place can be constructed any number of ways – it’s a matter of being creative. Customers are looking for more than just a burger, even though the burger is at the heart of everything. They’re seeking a place that makes them feel like they’re among friends, a space where that feels personal. It’s about  more than getting a bite. There is a clear rejection of dining experiences that feel like they lack personality or where the vibe screams mass production.

What all of this means is that marketing a hamburger is a hell of a lot more complex today than it was in 1950. The same can be said for coffee, pasta, or pizza. The good news is that the food is so rich with meaning that there are countless avenues to go down, provided you’re open to embracing the cultural cues that trigger a sense of belonging. That means being open to a creative and sometime unusual approach to strategy and planning.

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In the Age of Emotion

When historians look back on the early years of the 21stcentury they will note a paradigm shift from the closing years of the Information Age to the dawning of a new age, The Age of Emotion.  Now, there are those that would argue that in a period defined by prolonged economic ennui ROI is the only thing that really matters and pricing is the only real consideration consumers think about – the rest is fluff.  But I disagree. Why? Because we’re not talking about trends here, which are ultimately short lived, but cultural patterns which are sustained and signal a shift in worldview.levis-store-lighting-design-4.jpg

On a fundamental level, we are more in tune with our emotional needs than at any time in recent history, or at the very least we have more time to reflect on them.  We focus increasingly on satisfying our emotional needs and pop culture both reflects and creates this. It is a cycle. One needs look no further than the multi-billion dollar self-help industry as an example. Talk shows abound focusing on the emotional displays of the masses and the advice given out in front of an audience of millions.

And this growing focus on the emotional has extended into the shopping and retail experience.  Increasingly we will see a subtle, yet profound difference in the way people relate to products, services and the world around them. Retailers increasingly focus on the nature of the in-store experience, converting the space from a place to showcase goods, to a location, a destination, a stage on which we perform.  And indeed, shopping is as much about performance as it is about consumption.  Just as fulfilling emotional needs has become the domain of brand development, it is increasingly becoming a centerpiece of the retail experience, at least for retailers focused on margins rather than volume. Rationality will take a back-seat to passion as we move from the sensible to the sensory.  While ROI is the obsession today, Return on Insights and Return on Emotional Satisfaction will be the leading factors in the years to come.

For the developed world and the world’s emerging economies, time and money equate to an increased use of brands and shopping as emotional extensions of ourselves.  Status, power, love, etc. are wrapped into the subconscious motivations for choosing one location over another.  And while we are still bargain hunters, the hunt is less about price than it is about the experience of the hunt.  Again, emotion drives the process, even when we say it doesn’t. “Experience” is emotional shorthand.

Successful companies will learn to pay more attention to how their customers react emotionally and how their brands can fulfill emotional needs.  In the Emotion Age, brands will either lead the way to customer satisfaction or be left in the dust.

 

Of Industrial Landscapes and Natural Space

Over the years the world of marketing and branding has come a long way in understanding how color and images combine to shape the brand experience, and the importance of considering these points when dealing with an array of cultural norms and expectations.  We know red is an auspicious color in China, but is often interpreted as being too aggressive and agitating in the US.  We know that choosing symbolically discordant images and colors can have a strong impact on the viewers psyche.

What hasn’t been touched on with the same degree of interest is Proxemics, the understanding that how the use of space, either literally or in visual representations, can have a dramatic effect on the person experiencing the brand.  It isn’t enough to understand the impact of lighting on cognitive processes of the brain, nor is it enough to understand what messages certain colors convey in different parts of the world.  To truly build a lasting brand presence, we need to understand how the consumers to whom we are marketing distinguish a “place” from a “space,” and what meanings they invest in a physical setting.

Proxemics is the understanding of space in the holistic sense, as well as the cultural association we place upon space.  It is the study of how an environment, at the interactive and interpretive level, is bestowed with meaning by people in daily life.  The term “Proxemics” was coined in the 1950s by Edward Hall to address the study of our conceptualization and use of space, as well as how various differences impact our experiences within a given area.  In other words, Proxemics is the study of place and space from the cultural vantage point.

Proxemics, in its simplest understanding, is broken into two wide areas.  The first is physical territory, such as why desks face the front of a classroom or why front yards in America rarely have a privacy fence.  The second broad area is that of personal territory, the space we carry with us.  It is the space we keep between ourselves and the person with whom we are speaking. In both cases, having a solid understanding of how these dimensions manifest in our modes of communication is pivotal to a successful branding effort. But first, what are we talking about when we say Proxemics as it relates to a brand?

Human perceptions of space, although derived from sensory tools that all humans share, are shaped and patterned by culture. This means that differing cultural frameworks for defining and organizing space are internalized by all people at an unconscious, usually shared level, and can lead to serious failures of communication in cross-cultural settings. At the macro-level, these sensibilities shape cultural expectations about how streets, neighborhoods, groceries, retail settings, and essentially every environment we interact with should be properly organized.  This also means that settings can and do take on a “personality” depending on how they relate to cultural archetypes we posses about a given spatial frame.  For example, the living room archetype has specific elements of light, furniture and furniture placement, color, and wall decoration that signal the space is a living room.  These spatial cues are very different from what we expect in a archetypal board room setting. When used in a retail or business environment, how space is used impacts how customers interpret what that space is “supposed to” be.  In some cases these spaces can typify and inflate the cultural frame, in others they are in some way disruptive.

The Apple Store exemplifies a positive and memorable experience by stripping away elements of a tech-centric environment and replacing them with features associated with a non-technology focused world.  Open space is used liberally and allows patrons to scan the store with few obstructions.  Computers are displayed on countertops, not shelves, along the outer walls.  Tables fill the central space.  Only accessory items are stacked, which allows the eye to easily scan the interior of the store. Warm, natural colors are used rather than loud or cold materials, making the store more inviting.

When all these pieces are put together, the environment signals both a sense of inclusion and exploration reminiscent of the natural landscape. This is lacking in most computer stores. Everything comes together in the physical space to create a distinct personality that is mirrored in every other aspect of the Apple brand, from the website to TV ads. The reasons are a combination of biological and cultural principles.  The eye follows basic evolutionary principals of horizontally scanning the horizon to gather information about the environment.  Rather than focusing on vertical scanning, as in done in most computer and consumer electronics stores, horizontal scanning also promotes eye contact and person-to-person interaction instead of interaction exclusively with the products.  Stools are available at display stations and invite patrons to sit as one would at home, rather than stand. The cultural signal is that we are in a home rather than a store.  Products are de-commoditized and given a warmth that is normally lacking in the cultural understanding of technology.

Contrast this with the layout of most computer/PC stores where items are stacked on shelves, the materials used in displays are sterile and cold, and the focus of the experience is on the technology, rather than how technology fits seamlessly into a consumer’s life.

Personal Space

Moving beyond public space, another important aspect of Proxemics, and one a business frequently has less control over, is the use of culturally constructed personal space. Briefly outlined are the four areas that Americans intuitively respect and use to define personal territory:

  1. Public Space ranges from about 12 to 25 feet and is the distance maintained between the audience and a speaker giving an address.
  2. Social Space ranges from 4 to 10 feet and is used for communication among business associates, strangers using public areas (such as in a retail setting).
  3. Personal Space ranges from 2 to 4 feet and is used among friends and family members, and to separate people waiting in lines. Not surprisingly, this is also the distance assumed in certain retail setting where a greater degree of intimacy is to be conveyed (e.g. a lingerie store).
  4. Intimate Space ranges out to one foot and involves the possibility of (and sometimes probability of) touching. This is reserved for people with whom we are very close or for secretive actions such as whispering.

Personal Space varies dramatically along cultural lines and can have an enormous impact on how a brand is received.  As an example, when visiting Dubai, you might find yourself almost nose to nose with a business associate because their social space equates to intimate space in the US.  You would probably find yourself unconsciously reacting by backing away trying to regain what you view as appropriate social space while your associate unknowingly pursues you across the floor trying to maintain what is the norm for him. The result is that you assign negative meaning to that behavior, considering it rude or odd. Now, imagine this happening in a retail setting, a car dealership, or greeting card store. The result is a negative or awkward experience for the consumer, though they may have difficulty defining what feels wrong.  By extension, the consumer then transfers the sensation of discomfort to the brand as a whole. This has obvious implications for the retailer, but what about the products a retailer sells? For these companies, the challenge becomes how to maximize response and design for different environments and cultural contexts while balancing the costs of producing multiple package designs, merchandising displays or in-store advertising collateral.

How personal space is used in messaging and advertising is equally important.  While you are viewing an ad, rather than participating in an experience firsthand, you still register what is and is not “normal” for those pictured in an ad.  So, for example, beer ads frequently make a point of significantly reducing personal space between men and women, while increasing the distance between men.  The subconscious registry is one of increased intimacy and sexual cues.  However, when these ads are run in parts of the world where sexual norms and rules around inter-gender behavior are different, these images signal improper use of space.

From Space to Place

What all of this means, is that cultural differences in how we interpret space and our physical environment, both public and personal, literal and symbolic, can have a enormous impact on how a brand is perceived.

Clearly, investing in the right location with the right amount of space and the right demographic mix for your target audience is incredibly important.  Equally, so is the sound, temperature, amount of “clutter,” color palette and lighting.  But first and foremost, understanding how space becomes a place and thus, a major aspect of brand, begins by defining an environment by its cultural standards.  It includes determining rules of interpersonal interaction with the staff.  It even involves determining how space will translate in ad collateral.

Ultimately, Proxemics can be a remarkably powerful tool in determining how a brand will manifest itself and be assigned meaning in a range of environments.

Shopping and Interpreting Space

Environmental sensibilities shape cultural expectations about how every environment we interact with should be properly organized. The physical construct envisioned by the architect, the interior designer, the store owner, etc. are all varied to some degree based on how they understand and respond to vague notions like “shopping.”  Add to that the varied, contextually mitigated understandings of the consumer about an activity and space, and designing the elements that are meant to fit into a space becomes highly contentious.  Frequently, retailers and CPG companies build around assumptions that rarely factor in the complex underpinnings of why people shop in a broader cultural context. The misunderstanding and conflicts that can occur from mismatches in conceptions of context, time and space can create considerable dissonance in civility, understanding and sympathy.  And that leads to lackluster sales.

While there are a host of theories and design doctrines that go into constructing a retail environment, methods for retail space design have largely cantered around atmospherics for the last 30 years. Basically, the model states that pleasant environments result in an approach response,  and unpleasant environments result in avoidance. Simply put, if the environment is pleasant it increases arousal and can lead to a stronger positive consumer response. If the environment is unpleasant, increasing arousal level will produce avoidance. The arousal quality of an environment is dependent on its “information load,” i.e., its degree of  Novelty (unexpected, surprising, new, familiar) and Complexity (number of elements, extent of motion or change).  People seek out novel experiences, but novelty becomes a burden and a threat if there is too much happening for the brain to process. Humans want to explore and be entertained, but not to the point of confusion.

The problem is that while the parameters of avoidance and approach, novelty and complexity, hold true at the cognitive and biological levels, they can’t compensate for cultural motivations. They are simply too simple. A contextual model expands on these principles and asks what cultural and symbolic elements can be built into the space to reflect context and the reasons people are shopping in a venue. Are they there to entertain themselves or their kids?  Are they seeking escape from a busy mall? Are they looking to the retail space as an extension of the brand they are shopping for and/or using as a means of personal expression? The point is that brands and shopping serve a wide range or roles.  More so in an era of increasing internet shopping, increased expendable income and access to goods.  The retail space is more complex than cognition and biological responses to stimuli.

Indeed, cultural norms often dictate our notions of comfort and self-worth, as do the various shopping contexts in which we find ourselves. The good news is that the contextualization of these actions by location provides a deep and varied “interaction space” and sets the stage from creating a recognizable brand identity. The key is understanding how the product, the retail space and conceptions of self and other work together as a system of meaning. Shopping begins long before the need to purchase an item arises and you get at a deeper understanding of what matters, in context, by exploring the deeper meanings behind the objects and the activities.  Once you understand that selling toilet paper is about concepts of hygiene and purity, that selling heartworm medication is about our deeper fears of pollution and impurity, or that shopping for clothing is frequently about sex, your range of options increase.

What all of this means is how we interpret space and our physical environment, both public and personal, literal and symbolic, shapes on how a promotion, a marketing message or a brand is perceived. Promotions in high-tragic, high-messaging location, for example, are easily passed over unless the offering has a very clear purpose – it can’t simply be clever. As another example, a high-end grocery isn’t just selling food.  For a husband trying to prepare an anniversary dinner for his wife, the store is selling self-assurance, facilitating love and helping lay the groundwork for a pleasant memory.  That means, potentially, decreasing efficiencies and helping navigate the shopper to areas of the store he may not have considered.

 

 

Cognition and Collective Awareness: Creating “Place” in Retail

Humans favor certain environments that satisfy survival needs. Through millions of years of evolution we are hardwired to seek out environments that signal an increases sense of comfort and  a higher probability of survival.  We seek out evidence of:

  • Abundant resources
  • Minimal threat from predators and aggressors
  • Shelter from the outside world

Much of this is subconscious, but it remains deeply ingrained in our collective psyche. Consequently, humans have evolved a visual preference for spaces that allow us to see without being seen when we so choose.  From a retail perspective, this means developing enclosed spaces that downplay threat and encourage complete emersion in the experience.

Even as we seek out environments that speak to our needs of comfort and survival, humans are inherent risk takers. Enticement and peril are part of the exploration process and without this deep-seated need to explore and take risks, we wouldn’t be human.  Humans need to seek new information and test their skills.

Consequently, we seek out new experiences that can be differentiated from other experiences.  We categorize these experiences, giving them greater meaning and a higher probability of habitual use.  Categorizing and differentiating suggest:

  • Diverse resources
  • Greater stability

Ultimately, this appears to be a contradiction. But there is the possibility of resolution.  Environmental psychologists assume that individuals’ feelings and emotions ultimately determine their behavior. The problem is that people rarely shop as individuals, even if they are alone. On the surface that may sound confusing, but the point is simple. Human beings are cultural creatures, shaped by shared experience and the unavoidable truth that we are part of a complex system of beliefs and interactions. Uncovering those cultural processes and designing a retail experience around them offsets the impact of cognitive responses to an environment.

So what do we do to provide a sense of security while playing to the underlying desire to explore and learn knew things?  We strike a balance.  And we strike that balance by thinking in terms of converting space to place.  Place identity concerns the meaning and significance of places for their inhabitants and users. People create memories within places and form personal and collective connections. The stronger the connection, the more likely they are to frequent the space and to bring new people to that place. The goal is to endow a venue with symbolic meaning, memory and significance.

The sense of place may be strongly enhanced by the setting, or the setting it attempts to project, being written about, being party of stories handed down over time, being portrayed in art or being part of the collective myth.  It can be established through modes of codification aimed at preserving or enhancing places and traditions felt to be of value. All this creates a “database” for framing the socio-physical settings we experience.  By providing customers with symbolic cues in the environment that set it apart from the surrounding area, we cater to the need to delve into the new while subconsciously establishing an element of the known, the safe and the familiar.

 

Staging Retail

Shopping is usually thought of in terms of work – procuring goods, meeting needs, etc. Shopping is seen as a function first and something that serves emotional and social needs second. But as incomes have grown, not just in North America but across much of the globe, access to goods has exploded and free time has increased.  And it isn’t just things we need for survival – brands, design, luxury have al begun to drive how and where people shop. Shopping has become an increasingly socio-cultural process that is used to define status, world view and a host of other things.  Granted, shopping has always been about these things to one degree or another, but in this postmodern world where we are increasingly defined by the things we own and the places we go, the intangible increasingly outweighs the tactile, the symbolic supplants the functional.  Shopping, as I’ve said before, is entertainment. Even in an unstable economy, the decision to buy is driven as much by value as it is by need (perceived and real). In fact, entertainment and a memorable in-store experience probably have more to do with a sale than the product or the ease with which people find it. Choice equates with enjoyment, turning shopping from labor to leisure.

As I have said in the past, entertainment is not the only way to look at shopping, but it does provide a different lens through which we can examine a retail space. Shopping becomes entertainment depending upon the function, need, and desire for the object being shopped. For example, shopping for bras can sometimes be a pain in the butt if it is “needed” for a “utilitarian function” (a “work bra”), but it can become entertainment if the bra is “desired” for other cultural functions. People can also use shopping at second hand stores as a form of entertainment if there is a piece of clothing that is “desired” (a cheap pair of designer jeans), yet if one “needs” to shop for work attire at second hand shops because of a limited budget, it can cease to be entertainment and fall into the world of “errand.”

However, even big box stores, seemingly devoid of emotional or cultural dimension are invariably about more than getting that 25 pound block of cheese.  As an example, a participant I worked with not long ago spent every Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at his local Coscto, even though the purchases he made “rarely added up to a car full of products,” or so he believed – in reality he spent quite a bit at Costco, quite happily in fact.  But he chose to think of himself as spending les than he did because Costco was a place of rich meaning to him, not a place of transactions.  And as we talked, it became evident that believing he spent less than he did was a way of diminishing the transactional element of the shopping trip. He used Costco as a destination. It was a cheap lunch for his kids, it was an inexpensive adventure for his children while he gave his wife a break from the kids and it was a place he could teach his children about the value of a good deal.  Costco became a setting for instilling certain cultural values in his offspring.  It was also a place where both he and his children could play (indeed, he referred to it frequently as a play ground). While this example may seem extreme, it is meant to convey a simple point: people use retail spaces in unexpected ways.  The more you understand what the retail space means beyond the obvious location of things, the more likely you are to create a repeat customer.

What this means for shopper marketing is that the best retail experiences, those with the highest degrees of loyalty and sales, are those that project a story and invite the shopper into the narrative. According to the Richard Ellis Group, 92% of retailers plan to increase store openings in 2010. More stores means more opportunity win customers. Or to lose them. Increasing sales revolves around more than getting people in the store, it involves getting them to think of the store as a destination and thinking of it as a “Place” rather than a “Space.” Place comes into existence when humans give meaning to a part of the larger, undifferentiated space. One of the most affective ways to do this is to incorporate people into an entertainment experience and directly involve them in the story.

Again, there are a host of ways to think about the retail environment beyond functionality, entertainment being one of many.  It just happens to be an approach I find very useful.  The point is to think about the space more broadly and consider dimensions that you may have overlooked in the past.  So what are some of those dimensions?

Language:

In the past, language emphasized the skill and mastery involved in shopping. There were very real, practical results stemming from skill as a home manager. With time, the primal need to “hunt” has changed. Hunting and production are no longer about survival, but about the challenge and the social capital it brings. Lines between work and leisure are blurred. Language used in advertising and inside the retail space needs to speak to the romanticized view of the hunt as much as it does the material benefits of the products. Rather than speaking about functional benefits, the focus needs to reflect on the social capital gained by the shopper and the storyline of the shopper’s life (or desired, projected life).

The Stage:

The store is indicative of a theater. Even without the direct associations with a specific story line a retail space should still conform to some very basic principles. Namely, escape, fantasy, and inclusion. The total experience speaks to cultural and psychological triggers of enjoyment and participation. People create memories within places if storylines develop and form personal connections. The stronger the connection, the more likely they are to frequent the space and to buy. A good retail space needs to be create a shared identity, connecting the company and the shopper by developing clear imagery and displays that create the sense that there is a narrative behind the facade.

Foster Social Roles:

When shopping is done with others, as a family or with a friend, it is as much about establishing social bonds and being an outing as it is about fulfilling specific needs. It has replaced the park, the lake, etc. Natural space is replaced by constructed space. Retail spaces that encourage people to interact both with each other and the space leads to a greater sense of calm and reinforces the roles people have adopted for that shopping excursion. For example, placing small sweets throughout a lingerie store (returning to our bra example) increases the sense of romanticism and allows people to “play” to the underlying storyline the shopper and her counterpart are seeking.