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How Brands Build Style Buzz

April 2010

By Claire Brooks, President, ModelPeople Inc.

For this annual Style issue of CultureBlog, we focus on retailers and brands that are breaking new ground in design aesthetic, merchandising innovation and customer service. What we discovered from our international team of City Correspondents is that the most successful retail and consumer brands seamlessly interweave these elements into a finely curated, multi-sensory, interactive and customizable brand experience.

Automotive brands have been among the most innovative in redefining the retail space. The Fiat Caffé in Tokyo resembles a small art gallery with changing exhibitions plus authentic Italian food and music; their goal is to offer "quality modern culture." Similarly, Scion Installation L.A. is a space that allows cutting-edge contemporary artists from across the globe to explore their creative vision through art shows and art-related events.

The promotional trend du jour - the "pop-up shop" - continues to gain momentum around the world, with an entire pop-up community forming in London and a Volkswagon "pop-up ice skating rink" in Tokyo enticing consumers on a seasonal basis. The pop-up model not only offers financial and marketing flexibility for the retailer, but a buzz-worthy, experimental approach to engaging the consumer. If successful, the pop-up can be made permanent, like the Gap "denim bar" on Robertson Boulevard in LA, which is now a permanent 1969 jeans store.

Crowd-sourcing merchandise is another buzz approach used by London online furniture store, which uses shopper votes to determine which products make their new collections; while in the US, vitaminwater held an online contest to decide its next flavor launch.

"Mass Luxury" is a trend that we've covered for several years, which has gained ground in the recession. Target, J. Crew and H&M have been among the most successful at offering designer merchandise to boost buzz and brand equity for affordable style and craftsmanship. Our San Francisco correspondent notes the success of J.Crew’s efforts as evidenced by specialty menswear boutiques like Unionmade carrying the mainstream brand among local and handcrafted designs. In Paris, our correspondent notes the interest around H&M’s COS boutiques, selling upscale affordable chic.

Brands continue to innovate within their retail environments to adapt to the influx of new technologies. While Best Buy's Mobile self-serve kiosks let you pick up a last-minute pair of earphones before boarding the plane, the uWink bistro in LA has interactive kiosks instead of waitstaff; you can order your meal and play video games while you wait. By all accounts though, the fun experience won’t take your mind off the price of the food!

"Green" is a zeitgeist style theme that many brands are trying to leverage through design, for example the Green Grid® roof on Apple’s flagship Chicago store.

Pepsi is perhaps one of the boldest brand initiatives, having focused its entire advertising budget on community support, while its (heavily featured) new logo embodies subliminal graphic references to Planet Earth and the universal recycling symbol.

As consumers begin to spend again, they’re searching out style wrapped in the fun and flair of a multi-sensory brand and retail experience.

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