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Sam Langley-Swain, Strategy Director

The Green Room team attended the September ’15 Stylus Innovation Forum. We were after the latest thinking on how brands and retailers engage consumers in ways that are relevant, digitally appropriate and consultative.

We’ve picked out three key findings from the session entitled ‘Beta Brandscapes’. This wonderfully alliterative term describes how consumers want to engage with the unfinished, exemplify the imperfect and involvement in product development.

1) Co-creation (and the rise of the prosumer)

Research from YPulse states that 81% of millennials would be interested in helping a brand or company design a new product. There is an appetite for consumer involvement. And this has led brands to open up to accommodate consumer viewpoints and co-creation opportunities.

British/Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, launched a beta menu in 16 London outlets, with consumers being able to sample trial dishes and leave feedback on its social media channels to influence future menus.

Wahaca Beta Menu

Topshop asked customers what classics they should bring back. Consumers photographed themselves in their favourite Topshop garments and with the help of social media, consumers helped design the next season’s collection.

Lego is also famous for embracing the creativity of their consumers and inviting them to showcase their work online and contribute to the next Lego kit.

Collaborations can create strong bonds of trust and inclusion. However, brands need to retain a voice of authority as ‘expert enablers’ rather than becoming mute vendors.

Consider what parts of your brand/retail experience can be offered up for consumer-collaboration, and the areas within which you should maintain authority.

2) Always in Beta

Brands can utilise the ‘Beta’ mentality to engage today’s fail-fast generation of consumers. 71% of American teens now expect to have “a few major fails before achieving success in their lives” according to Deep Focus. The attitude around failure has changed and is being replaced by a belief in trial and error. This is creating an opportunity for brands to expose their products in beta, no longer needing only to showcase unachievable ideals.

US sports brand New Balance has quite literally adopted the beta movement with its 2015 campaign ‘Always in Beta – Balance the Storm’ (in a similar vein to Under Armour’s ‘Underdog’ campaigns’). The campaign tells us, “Beta is a state of relentless improvement. There is no finish line. We dream; we wake up and improve on yesterday. Always pushing. Always pursuing better. Failure is a test. And success is not an end. We are constantly evolving. There is no end to what we become.”

New Balance Beta

The journey to perfection is now seen as more rewarding than the final result and brands/retailers that tap into this can create a meaningful dialogue with their consumers. Design for fluid, flexible and short-term consumer mindsets – trial and error can present a significant opportunity.

3) Stores as incubators/elastic flagships

With the trial and error culture seeping into brand and retail experiences, stores are changing to more fluid and flexible formats. Space to offer exclusive experiences and draw consumers from online and mobile shopping. For example, retail incubators are hybrids of retail and R&D that enable brands to study consumers without the contrivance or presumptions of traditional focus groups.

A great example is the Target Connected Homes project. This encourages crowd-funded products to be investigated in a live trial, home of the future environment. Consumers can see products in action and feedback/purchase with a deeper understanding of their functionality.

Target Connected HomesTarget Connected Homes

LojaAoVivo in Brazil is an excellent example of an elastic flagship. The store is a stage for live events such as fashion tutorials, cookery classes and music gigs, with product merchandised accordingly.

Loja A Ovio

This cultural change embracing trial and error allows stores not to strive for a permanently perfect experience. Designing for the future is about spaces that ebb and flow, spaces that educate and facilitate experience, and spaces that consumers will want to be part of and return to.