Story: The brand experience

March 20, 2014

Have you ever just read about a new idea, realized how simple and smart it is – and wish you had been the one to come up with it? Well I have. Several times. The most recent being last weekend when I read an article in The New York Times entitled, “A Store with Media in Mind.”

The article reported on a retail store located in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan named “Story.” On a rotating basis, relying on changing themes and products, Story uses products and displays to experientially tell a thematic story. Often times, that story is sponsored by a company. Themes seem to change monthly; the store even closes down for several weeks in between themes to source, prepare, and create the experience.

Voluntarily closing down a retail store and forgoing revenue? That’s just heresy in a traditional retail model. But Story’s profits are not solely derived from product sales. The store solicits large companies to sponsor each theme. For instance, Benjamin Moore created a “color story” while GE sponsored a “making things” theme. The end result is the intersection between brand and experience. Additionally, Story’s model enables brands to have their customers experience their brand, their products, and their services in a controlled and compelling environment. It’s a win-win.

Story’s owner, Rachel Shechtman, perhaps described her idea best. She is quoted in the article as saying, “A magazine tells stories between pictures and written words, and we do it through merchandising and events. And our version of publishing is sponsorship.”

In one fell swoop, Schechtman has reinvented retail. And with a keen understanding of the impact of brand and storytelling, reinvented the consumer experience. Brands are all about storytelling. And stories can be told at varying touch points. The amalgamation of those stories defines the customer experience.

Take for instance your laptop. I write on a MacBook Pro. My laptop is synced to my iPhone, which is synced to my iPad, and my music is replicated from my iTunes on all devices, as well as my iPod. Getting the story? Apple is about simplicity. Simplicity in connections. Simplicity in interface. Simplicity in accessing the information that is important to me no matter where I am. That simplicity is translated to Apple’s retail environment.

Walk in to an Apple store and you don’t see rows and rows of products, but rather tables with products set up for you to experience. And Genius Bars, where you can have your products repaired. And Creatives prepared to answer questions, set up your devices, or teach a litany of other skills. Apple understands its brand and it has effectively translated that brand to a retail environment. We may not be able to verbalize that we are experiencing a brand in action, but we do seem to inherently know that Apple is telling a story. We know the shopping experience is different than had we gone to BestBuy or another big box outlet.

Now imagine if every brand had the ability to create its own retail story. Imagine the strength of being able to have a one-on-one conversation with every customer, to test new merchandising ideas or to have a living, breathing brand lab. To show “Imagination at Work” or demonstrate what it feels like to be “In Good Hands.” Story offers that ability.

Tying brand so closely to customer experience is where the world is heading. Brands are no longer lofty ideas, but tangible experiences. Those who are successful will see this connection and focus on creating those experiences – in the real world and in the virtual world – that tell the story of the brand through real, tactile and engaging methods.

I haven’t been to Story yet, but you can bet I will be taking a trip next weekend. What stories do you think Story should tell next?

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