3 Ways Retail Brands Can Break Through the Traditional Mold With Experiences

Experiential marketing can reconnect consumers to the market

If products don't have experiences attached to them, consumers are less interested. Getty Images
Headshot of Alexis Vera

The bazaar, the souk, the forum—wherever it emerges and whatever it’s called, the market has long served as the center of society. When the invention of agriculture brought the need for trade, towns grew around central gathering places where people could exchange not only goods and services but also ideas and inspiration.

Along the way, the market became the mall, the mall became a Costco and the Costco became Amazon. As commerce increasingly became a commodity, the social functions of the authentic, community-making aspects of the market largely retreated behind shelves promising unlimited choice and convenience.

As a result, a new paradigm emerged, one where community building and shareable, physical experiences serve as the foundation of commerce. The convenience and selection of ecommerce don’t connect communities nor do they meet the standards of today’s experience-seeking, socially conscious shoppers: A whopping

So why are traditional retailers still shilling more commodities than connection? It’s time for the market 2.0. Forward-thinking brands are shifting perspective and budgets to optimize experiential marketing. They’re connecting technology and nontraditional physical spaces to create emotional, frictionless connections. Cost, convenience and choice still matter but only as spokes in an experiential flywheel primed to generate authentic brand love.

Digital-native retailers have joined

Brands like Outdoor Voices wouldn’t exist outside of this brave new world. Launched online and grown through social media, the athleticwear brand targets active consumers who don’t necessarily consider themselves athletes. This digital native was savvy in building a brand dedicated to providing compelling experiences for their fans, where anything that’s not a commodity would be wise to adopt. Following the trend of digitally native brands opening traditional and nontraditional retail spaces (such as Glossier), Outdoor Voices invested in physical experiences like retail and events to provide an outlet for fans to connect with their brand on a deeper level.

A whopping 78 percent of millennials say they prefer buying experiences over things.

Outdoor Voices shows up at retail strategically, with expertly branded spaces and events designed to create community. Outdoor Voices’ retail locations are unique, designed with a hyperlocal eye to speak to the culture and activities that specific community enjoys. They serve as hubs where community members can meet up for dog walks, running clubs, surfing lessons and more. Their #DoingThings social media campaign aligns with OV’s focus on getting people outside and fueling a wider conversation.

Technology is a great enabler of connection for Outdoor Voices, not the platform for it, and it’s strategically applied to feed and amplify a physical experience.

Could Outdoor Voices survive without any physical brand expression? Perhaps, but the company has realized that physical experiences are key to its growth. Experiences that connect communities and power a brand with purpose will increasingly become the differentiators that transcend digital offerings.

Traditional retailers must challenge the standard metrics of success

Retailers looking at cost-per-square-foot against revenue generated aren’t measuring what matters. Overindexing to get as much as possible into a space generates just one thing: a degradation of experience.

Why not transform the sales floor into a community-gathering place? Athleisure brand Lululemon custom-designs its stores to reflect the communities they are in and hosts yoga classes and events to activate community building. Why not selectively curate products and put your service on display? Nordstrom opened a store with a footprint a quarter of its usual size that carries almost no inventory. Instead, the store features personal stylists, tailoring services and manicure appointments.

The shifting of success metrics isn’t squeaky-clean yet. Experiential marketing doesn’t fit neatly within the confines of traditional product marketing and spend-per-customer isn’t always as easily calculated. Yet consumers say events and experiences are more effective than retail stores and online advertising in helping them get to know a product, according to Event Marketing Institute’s (EMI) 2018 EventTrack Report.

Ninety-eight percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase a product after experiencing it at a live event, EMI found. It’s time for retailers to stop chasing costs-per-square-foot and start setting sights on experiences that drive user-generated stats and shares.

Community is the currency

Historically, community and commerce have gone hand in hand. Yet over the past generation, they’ve been overtaken by fast, cheap and easy.

But the human instinct to gather and share information and experience never went away, and that opens an opportunity for community and commerce to reunite in a new age of consumerism, one that elevates experiences and is markedly conscious, smart and shared instead of dumbed-down and dirty.

The millennial generation is the first to have been flooded by digital, online and mobile marketing and advertising since day one. They’re savvy, skeptical and uncompelled by traditional advertising strategies. And they’re in charge of when, how and where they want to interact with brands.

The dynamic has flipped for all of us, and the push of traditional marketing and advertising strategies threatens to alienate instead of endear. Brands that win in this new dynamic are becoming more intimate and transparent, finding ways to invite consumers to participate in organic ways that build emotional connections, cultivate community and, ultimately, win loyalty.

Don’t miss Brandweek, coming up September 23–25 in Palm Springs. No panels, no sales pitches—just three days of interactive discussion, problem-solving, entertainment and networking. Learn more here.


Alexis Vera is executive vice president at IDL.
{"taxonomy":"","sortby":"","label":"","shouldShow":""}