Humans need other people to feel human — the importance of connection at that fundamental level simply cannot be overstated. Brands, in their never-ending quest for relevance, must dive deep into human experiences, connecting with consumers at an emotional level.
Before these connections can be manifested in the built environment, however, the foundation begins with a strong brand culture and purpose. Each employee or consumer must feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Tools like storytelling and narrative, tone of voice and key visuals help brands create transformational rather than transactional experiences that connect us, regardless of demographics or generational differences.
The physical space must be defined by the kind of relationship that consumers want to have with it — giving them what they want and need, delivered in a way that creates an authentic relationship and a personalized experience that is frictionless yet sticky.
The design of these spaces must offer us a sense of community, engage our five senses, and deliver a level of engagement that is only possible through in-person interactions. What can you show, tell and teach the consumer? Invite them to be part of the story, not as customers, but as human beings. Focusing on engaging, authentic, relevant experiences, stories and environments centered around purpose enables us as humans to align with those brands that share our values and principles, making an indelible impression on our memories and uniting us in a common mission.
When considering generational differences, we find that consumers are more similar than different at their core. In this “me”-centric world, they are now fully in charge. So what does this mean for brands? Until now, consumers have had agency but lacked power. Now because of technology, social media and the blurring of the physical and digital worlds, they have both.
Considering this shift, dynamic design details that engage the human senses must speak directly to consumers’ hearts and heads. These details should fuel curiosity, and make customers feel alive, heard and special through unexpected relevant moments and experiences — all of which should inspire, educate and connect them emotionally, ultimately creating brand loyalists.
Consider the opportunity to create a sense of community or recognize and embrace local cultural or behavioral nuances. Or for brands with solid sustainability values approaching their design with details that reinforce their position will strengthen their relationship with consumers aligned with this belief. Incorporating elements such as recycled materials or energy efficient lighting, for example, are effective strategies that speak to a brand’s commitment to sustainability.
We know that Boomers prefer in-store shopping and seek experiences that emphasize convenience and value. They also prefer to browse the aisles as a way of discovering new products or categories. For this cohort, focusing on sales associate interaction and brand services, the consumer journey and amenities that encourage dwell time are key. Like Gen Z, the human-centered approach is still the core strategy. How it’s expressed is what differs.
Gen Z’s Push for Equity is for All
Gen Z’s influence on retail shopping trends is extremely strong. They are a generation that prioritizes inclusivity, among other values, and seeks spaces that are accessible to all. When designing sensory experiences, brands must allow for neurodiversity among their customers. Design acoustics heavily affect those with hearing sensitivities or neurodivergent individuals. Knowing this, we can design spaces that utilize a balance of soft and hard materials, allowing sound to flow fluidly throughout the environment. The same applies to harsh or flashing lights and strong scents.
With the rise of technology, social media and digital channels, brands and designers today must be cultivators of change in transforming all dimensions of the human experience within the built and digital environment. Real-world experiences cannot and will not ever be able to be translated into a digital space.
How humans are influenced by color, scent, sound and lighting differs by person, but we are all influenced by these elements in one way or another. These elements, along with materiality, are translated into trust, comfort, emotion and relevance. Together, they shape the retail experience.
Experience is the battleground for differentiation today, so let’s focus on what’s important and valuable to the consumer — no matter their age or generation. Being human is what truly connects us all, and what an amazing time to be part of this reinvention!
Chief Brand and Creative Officer Bevan Bloemendaal is an influential thought and creative leader with a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach to turning strategy and ideation into disruptive marketing solutions. An expert in brand vision and storytelling through design with over 40 years of experience in the industry, Bevan is a firm believer in uniquely combining innovative design with research. At NELSON, he cultivates an unparalleled forward-thinking, whole-brained approach that strengthens the bonds between brand and consumer. Bevan is the recipient of numerous awards for his leadership and projects. He also sits on the board for the Columbus College Art & Design and has served as an Impact Juror for Design and Art Direction (D&AD).