“So, you need just one size bigger?” asked Jiro, a Japanese goldsmith famed for telling new stories with old materials, fusing colored sunglasses, camera lenses, and dichroic filters with precious metals to create collections of premium jewelry.
I was visiting Jiro so he could adjust the size of a ring I had him make for my then-girlfriend. I couldn’t resist the urge to travel to his studio from my residence in Berlin and see his process for myself after discovering his work at an art fair years before. His studio, housed at the Academy of Fine Arts, was a portal to another time, filled with a collection of wooden workbenches, machines and tools from a bygone era. Excited to be there, I replied: “Yes, please. I came to Munich just for this. Can I watch?” After accepting a cup of tea, I soon found myself mesmerized by Jiro’s craftmanship and mastery of light.
Years later, he made an exquisite pink diamond ring for my engagement. And after all this time, his jewelry continues to remind us of memorable moments in our lives. Social occasions trigger the routine to wear his pieces, which keeps them on regular display and the brand top of mind for my wife and me. Since the studio visit, I haven’t purchased jewelry for my wife from a more established brand. That’s because a goldsmith has chained his brand irreversibly to our collective memories. It all started in his studio with a moment that mattered.
Physical retail has faced a series of challenges during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Many retailers and businesses have pivoted to selling online, but most have failed to make a lasting impression in the speed-dating world of online retail. Through their online experiences, they’ve struggled with creating the kind of customer connection that lasts, similar to the one I forged at a goldsmith’s studio in Munich. And with an end to the pandemic in sight, it’s essential to examine how the offline world can fill an important gap for brands struggling to connect.
At Lippincott, we believe that stores, showrooms, and branches are places where the human touch of your brand can create memories that last for a lifetime.
Take Gumption Coffee, an award-winning Australian coffee brand. To make a bold entrance to the U.S. market, Lippincott reimagined the brand identity elements and its Manhattan retail location, emphasizing the in-store experience.
Why? For the Gumption customer, its physical stores create a sense of belonging for customers and drive connection with its brand.
According to Anju Abrol, a Singapore-based investor backing the brand’s international expansion, Gumption’s physical location is synonymous with the experience she has, even when enjoying the coffee from the comfort of her home.
“Drinking Gumption coffee in my Singapore apartment always makes me feel as though I’m sitting in the coffee shop,” she said. “The world has largely moved to digital, but I think that the connection between brands and consumers doesn’t quite have the same strength without a physical outlet.”
So, we propose four principles for successfully creating moments that matter.
Physical stores create a sense of belonging for customers and drive connection with the brand.
1) Find out what’s important to a customer’s life, empathically and systematically
“Physical stores are windows to showcase the DNA of your brand,” said an executive of a Swiss luxury watch brand. “You want to turn this window into a unique experience, tailored to each situation and individual; this is what we as a brand are developing right now.”
What a beautiful watch. Did you purchase it or receive it as a gift? Does it hold any special meaning to you? By empathizing with the customer, you start to explore much more about this person and their emotions. You start building a connection, a relationship.
“If someone comes in with a dog, for example, this dog more likely than not holds a special place in this person’s life. Our staff are trained to remember the dog’s name and we have systems and team briefings to ensure it becomes collective memory. If occasion permits, we follow up with a surprise,” he continues.
At Lippincott, we observe that brands are investing heavily in training their sales staff to focus on creating that special moment in stores. Because memories are planted in the subconscious, motivated by emotion, not reason, scripts and checklists have been replaced by brand personality intents and tonal flex charts to be adopted by staff in rigorous role play.
2) Get customers to respect your craft
Vineyards host audiences to explain the painstaking process of making wine—such as how it takes a whole year to make the bottle they will be tasting—to command respect and appreciation for the craft. Watch collectors understand the complexity of designing and creating watches, the uniqueness of the mechanics and constraints imposed by the tradition of making a particular watch brand.
“I like to visit the factory whenever I get a chance to see the watchmaking process firsthand,” said a serial watch collector, “I think for most collectors, you’re also collecting a bit of the history,”
By getting customers to understand the intricacies and uniqueness of what you’re offering, you create a connection to consumers via these shared moments that matter. And, if you can, bring your craft to the store.
“Our baristas are trained to make 500 cups a day with speed and perfection. We call it the ‘dance of baristas’ on full display at our Gumption Coffee locations.” said Anju Abrol.
Not only do you command consumers respect, but you also allow them to feel like they’re part of something bigger; that their purchase of what you’re offering is not a mere transaction between buyer and seller but a relationship between maker and user.
3) Create an unspoken ‘club membership’
Experience-driven brands are masters at designing and hosting events that bring customers back to their first physical point of contact with them, creating a strong pull for consumers to feel a sense of belonging to the brand.
“We say music, fashion and design are in our blood,” said a luxury hotel executive. “Thus, we’re always hosting music festivals or exhibits and workshops conducted by local artists.”
Upon further research, we found that it wasn’t so much the event itself, but the distinct followership it creates becomes the magnet for repeat business.
“Experiencing the product as part of a curated event is one thing, but what you don’t want to miss out on is meeting peers that you feel very much connected to,” said the watch collector we spoke to earlier. “We don’t officially call it a club, but, psychologically, it feels like one. And there’s this undoubted desire to stay with a brand because of the people you get to meet.”
4) Understand routines associated with your brand
At Lippincott, we consider routines a powerful window to connect with customers. Routines are instrumental for many in getting through difficult times—tough meetings, tricky situations, or even the mediocrity of ordinary days. We are creatures of habit, after all.
Successful watch brands are well aware that winding a mechanical watch is a routine for many of their clients that calms them down, often helps them get through a tough day, or deal with particular anxieties that may plague them.
“By winding the watch, you can feel the movement of its cogs and gears. You feel the power needed to wind it and how much you have wound it. Once you have done it daily, it starts giving you a certain pleasure, a reassurance of sorts,” said a watch brand executive.
Its routines like this remind customers of the special moment when it all first started—often many years ago, in a store. Routines can repeatedly bring back fond memories, a cycle that nurtures the desire to return to where these memories originated.
Putting these principles into action
On a business trip, I once stayed at one of the branches of the luxury hotel mentioned earlier in this piece, which positions itself as a boutique brand around fashion, design, art and music. On a Monday morning, I had sprinted to the hotel’s business center to get some last-minute prints for my workshop with a client. A staff member in her early twenties recognized me as the “often-seen stressed person of a usual Monday morning” and went ahead to get my A3 prints sorted swiftly and politely. Her calm demeanor and professional service got me oversharing about my genuine dislike for Monday mornings.
Later that evening, when I returned to my room, I found a drawing of a grumpy face in the morning on an envelope which I proceeded to tear open with much curiosity. The face turned into a smile on the inside, and in the envelope was a folder with a drawing of me running through a finishing line, breaking the ribbon that says “Monday,” along with two drink vouchers for the rooftop bar. This moment became something I’ll always remember, and because of it—when given a choice—I’ll always pick this particular chain of hotels over any other.
Just like that, through training their staff to be empathetic, they had made me a member of their unspoken club, where I share an affinity to loud house music in lobbies, bars, and pools, along with glitter on the walls and pop-art sculptures lining the corridors. Even the drink vouchers they gave me started a habit of its own. I now routinely do my emails in the hotel bar of that brand, be it in Bangkok, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, seated comfortably in a place I’ve grown to love, typing away over some—you guessed it—loud house music.
An untapped opportunity
We know how the mantra goes: you’re not selling products, you’re selling memories.
Creating moments that matter is an untapped opportunity in today’s business world for non-luxury businesses. As we see with Gumption Coffee, a physical store can advance a sense of belonging that the patron then replicates wherever home is.
Brands that connect with their customers in physical spaces, whether it be stores, showrooms, or branches, have a unique opportunity to unleash moments that matter, creating memories beyond the digital experiences that consume our attention. Creating these moments that matter enriches the customers’ experiences and creates more profound and more meaningful connections.