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Comment: Eight steps to creative disruption

Alastair Kean, development director at retail design agency Dalziel & Pow, explains why retailers and brands should use the coronavirus shutdown to pivot creatively. 

As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a change in behaviours and raises considerable challenges for brands and retailers, it also offers opportunities for innovation and growth. Agile brands who are able to think and act creatively, and pivot their focus during this time will reap the rewards.

In the past, brand consistency resulted in a successful and sustainable business. You could create something once, repeat and adapt. Essentially, it was eat, sleep, brand, repeat. But now, consumers are constantly seeking the new.

It’s not enough to be “creatively consistent”, which can lead to being left behind and forgotten. Brands have to be consistently creative and bold, and shake things up to engage audiences.

When brand consistency was prioritised, consistent delivery of the visual identity was considered one of the few ways to demonstrate strength and popularity, and public awareness was about visibility on the high street. Brands were built around an identity, rather than their purpose, vision or experience, as we see today.

At Dalziel & Pow, we believe experience is everything a brand does to engage the customer – from its vision to its purpose to how it inspires, communicates and engages. The value of creativity can’t be ignored, particularly in the current situation. Winning companies turn creativity into business value and growth. The October 2018 McKinsey report, The Business Value of Design, suggested the best design-led businesses outperform their industry counterparts. 

Brands need to discard the rulebook. Creativity should be viewed as a fundamental business tool that, when harnessed, creates real and measurable value. But to achieve that you need the right strategy and culture. So how should brands respond?

1 Localise, don’t homogenise

As today’s consumers crave newness, it’s all about localisation, not homogenisation. You can be consistent in your values and purpose, but don’t have to be consistent in delivery. Visual consistency matters less than social and cultural relevance.

Nike by Melrose is an example of a brand adapting a space to its locality. The Los Angeles store offers city-specific styles and uses data to bring shoppers what they want when they want it.

It also acts as a hub for NikePlus members, with rewards in the vending machine that can be unlocked and Curb Services, where members can make returns or exchanges on the kerb outside the store.

2 Offer something more

People are looking for magic in a world of convenience: for differentiation and personality amid the mundane. As our expectations are increasingly fed by the growing speed of fulfilment online, brands are looking to create standout and memorable experiences that rise above convenience.

At eyewear brand Gentle Monster, imagination and theatricality is unleashed in an explosion of creativity in its stores, each one different from the next, giving people a reason to visit.

3 Brand stretch

Brands are launching into new sectors and products, inventing new services and revenue streams, stretching the brand to alter perceptions. For example, Muji has strengthened its core offer by thinking holistically, covering every aspect to live the brand and expand the influence beyond its everyday consumer goods.

The “anti-label” label has opened several Muji Hotels. More than just a place to rest, the spaces act as flagship stores, galleries, restaurants and creative hubs all in one.

4 Brands in beta

Some of the biggest brands are adopting an unconventional response to creative disruption. Focusing on continuous iteration and agility, they are restless, relentless and fearless. Ikea is leading the way with its SPACE10 research and design lab “on a mission to enable a better everyday life for people and planet”.

Part of Ikea’s bold strategy is to become a “truly circular” zero-waste business by 2030, and SPACE10’s research initiatives – including projects on solar energy and sustainable housing – will surely help to make it happen.

5 Ecosystems

A brand today needs to be holistic: everything should interconnect, work together and breaks boundaries with shared budgets and ambitions. Businesses must see themselves as ecosystems, driven by transparency and fed by cross-functional talent.

Workforces should become communities with broken-down silos. From finance to property, logistics to HR, all segments need to step outside of their safe place and get involved, be connected and accountable for success.

6 Unchain the store

The chain store retail rollout has led to predictable spaces in homogenised high streets replacing the craft, personalisation and personality that was once there. This can be remedied with creativity. Take beauty and homeware brand Aesop: it was one of the first brands to use creativity as a business tool. It delivers quality and localisation in its stores around the globe.

7 Divorce the sector

Brands should be driven by what they stand for, and buck the market trend in terms of culture, appearance and even audience. Apple looks more like a fashion brand than a computer business. Sonos isn’t so much a hi-fi company – it’s about music in the home.

Doing what’s not expected can pay off. Lush has helped reinvent the way we think about the beauty market by creating a democratic experience that’s engaging, colourful, theatrical, fun and accessible. It has divorced itself from an established approach.

8 Follow four metrics

Brands need to discard the rulebook and be creative to remain relevant, strong and successful – particularly in the challenging era we find ourselves in. The worlds of branding, marketing and retail need to be merged to deliver relevant, effective models, driving our four metrics for success: awareness, engagement, advocacy and growth.

Necessity is the mother of invention, but today we think the phrase should be “Creativity is the mother of innovation” – where the best idea wins.

We believe it’s an exciting time to be a brand – an engaging brand. The question is how will you engage creativity to consistently deliver? It’s a call to action for all business leaders, retailers or service providers. 

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