While the notion of a pop-up store may still be a little new to you as a brand or a retailer, the notion of customer engagement isn’t — it’s what a brand is all about. Assuming that people already know your story is a mistake, and in these socially-interactive times, assuming people will express themselves about your brand, without a reason, can be an even bigger one.
Customer engagement allows for a couple of key interactions. First, it allows customers to experience your brand on a whole other level. Second, and sometimes more importantly, it empowers them to feel like they’re involved in the brand. They begin to feel that their voice is a part of the brand. You see it all the time: customers at a store taking pictures of themselves, which they’re posting on social media with a hashtag. This really allows customers to “inject” themselves into your brand, and pop-ups can provide them with a truly unique opportunity to do so.
Aruba Tourism’s “Pop-up Paradise” was an example of just that. In the middle of Times Square on Valentine’s Day, Aruba Tourism set up a booth for people to renew their vows. It was perfect: a romantic beach area where people could renew their vows and take a picture of what they would look like in Aruba doing that very thing. By appealing to people’s fantasies, the pop-up paradise resulted in hundreds of social media postings. The best part? Some of the participants got free trips, so they could do it for real!
That was a huge way for people to immerse themselves in this conversation about love, Aruba, and traveling. It got into people’s psyches and formed a connection between the words “love” and “marriage” and “romance” and “Aruba” — even the thousands of people who weren’t there but were reached through social media.
Brands need to encourage these kinds of customer engagements for many reasons, but one major reason is that the customer’s point of view becomes, “I have a voice, too.” In this way, you create real evangelists for your brand, because they feel like they are part of the experience of the product: “Look at the picture I posted. Look what I got for it. They valued what I had to say.”
Can’t These Experiences Be Created Online?
Many brands ask, “But can’t we do the same thing online?”
There is an aspect of this type of experience that fares well online: the brand can put up aspirational imagery and give awards and host contests — so, yes, the answer is that you can do a lot of this online. However, in an actual physical space, you can accomplish all that and more. When a customer participates in a pop-up, they are literally walking into the life of the brand. While they might have reluctantly tweeted about your brand for one day, receiving an invitation to share your real experience with the brand is much stronger. You satisfy the touch/feel gap, which creates a much stronger engagement with you as a brand.
The Touch/Feel Gap
An actual physical experience gives customers something they can’t get online: an experience in all five senses. Online, you can certainly see a product, and even though people are trying to develop technology to enable you to touch and feel a product, it hasn’t happened yet! When it comes to the aesthetics of a brand, there’s no substitute for the genuine article, the real physical experience of being surrounded by the brand’s promise.
We don’t pay attention to just touch or feel, either. Notice how often when you’re in a certain store, it even smells a certain way? Certain restaurants and clubs are famous for using trademark scents that customers associate with them. Luxury body and bath shop, Sabon, is the classic example of this. The way they involve a customer with the touch, feel, and smell of the product immediately leaves the customer with all five senses influencing how they feel around the brand. It’s a total package.
Also, don’t forget the opportunity to hear from, and speak to, a designer or brand ambassador. Yes, you can chat with somebody online, but it’s not the same as an in person meeting.
So the “touch/feel” gap is actually much bigger than even one sense — it encompasses all of them. What you see, what you hear, and what scent surrounds you all contribute to how you feel about a brand. These things can’t be replicated online.
The Aspirational Connection
What makes people want to share images online? What makes them proud of the picture they’re putting up? What makes them excited enough that they’ll decide to become ambassadors for your brand?
Customers get excited about situations that, in most cases, aren’t attainable. When Sarah Jessica Parker worked at Nordstrom helping people try on shoes, that was a dream come true for a lot of people. How often does somebody that you watch on TV help you to try on your shoe? That’s a pretty big hook, and it inspires you to want to tell everybody you know. Something that you can’t normally get every day, something aspirational, is what turns the key. I aspire to win the morning. I aspire to be in paradise. I aspire to . . . whatever. Fill in the blank!
Aspirational is a great umbrella word: it covers a lot of territory. In order to be aspirational, a brand needs to really know their customer. This allows them to evoke key emotions — love, or romance, or being empowered to be more fashionable, to be on the cutting edge — and allow their customer to identify with that emotion and to share this feeling with their friends. So, in that way, a pop-up store can turn create an aspirational connection and, in turn, inspire conversations about your brand.
About the Author
Melissa Gonzalez is the author of The Pop Up Paradigm: How Brands Build Human Connections in a Digital Age, the first book to deeply explore the importance of pop-up shops in today’s retail landscape.
She is also the founder of the Lion’esque Group, a firm of pop-up architects™ who have produced over 80 pop-up retail experiences in New York City, Los Angeles and the Hamptons. Her clients include major retail brands like Marc Jacobs, J. Hilburn and Sole Society.
In 2014, her work was honored with the CLIO Image Award for experiential engagement, and was a finalist for the New York Design Award for marketing and branded experiences.
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