Information overload has led digital-native brands to come up with innovative strategies for getting in front of potential customers. Here are four analog strategies brands are using to differentiate themselves:
High visibility pop-ups and collaborations
Some brands are experimenting with innovative retail touchpoints and collaborating with other like-minded innovative brands.
For example, womenswear startup M. M. Lafleur is testing out an “M. M. Lafleur to go” concept. It is meant to be “a first touchpoint for people who have never seen the brand before,” according to Caroline Brown, the company’s associate director of experiential design, via Glossy.
Other brands experiment with pop ups alongside major events. I first met California-based Cremo company at a pop up barbershop they set up alongside SXSW. Now I’m a regular customer.
Complementary, and sometimes competitive, micro-brands and emerging startups are also joining forces to get in front of customers through joint pop-ups and temporary retail installations.
I had a great time meeting more than a dozen innovative micro-watch brands at a past Windup Watch Fair, which is a terrific example of collaborative retail.
Northern Grade is another example of a cool collaborative pop-up concept.
This can happen casually: A group of complementary brands, including one of my favorite online custom tailors Black Lapel, got together way back in 2013 to host the Dapper Man Shop around the holidays, showcasing their menswear products at a highly-trafficked retail pop-up for New Yorkers.
It turns out some people want to try on glasses in person before shelling out 100 bucks for them (though the proliferation of home-try on programs for eyeglasses suggests others are perfectly happy to never visit a store).
Many consumers also find it nice to be able to touch and try on pants, dresses. button down shirts and sweaters to get a feel for a brand’s fit.
In fact, more than two-thirds of customers prefer shopping in person for clothing and apparel, home and consumer groceries and more.
Bononbos, M. M. Lafleur and Warby Parker are among the best examples of online-first brands that discovered it was useful to set up showrooms around the United States. Take a look inside Bonobos’ Guide Shop in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood to get to know their showroom concept.
These digital retailers are contributing to a transformation in retail and ushering in Brick and Mortar 2.0.
Full on retail establishments
Other digital-first brands are giving new life to traditional retail spaces.
Brands like Canada’s made-to-measure suiting startup Indochino and New York-based Untuckit have embarked on a full-fledged physical retail strategy, opening shops in malls, high streets and town squares around the United States. (Untuckit has opened several shops in the greater Washington, DC-metro area, and Indochino recently opened a store in Georgetown.)
Ministry of Supply, which makes office-appropriate performance fabric clothing for women and men, maintains retail locations in Boston, Chicago, Georgetown, New York, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Aman Advani, Ministry of Supply’s Co-Founder and CEO, told me that, “experiential retail, partnership, and flashy campaigns can be fun and impactful in the short-term, but we try to focus the majority of our time and resources on nurturing authentic connections with our core consumer community.”
He noted that Ministry of Supply “sees our retail locations not just as sales channels, but as relationship and education hubs,” and as “amazing places for us to have 1:1 conversations with our consumers.” He added that these retail establishments allow Ministry of Supply to help shoppers curious about the brand “understand the breadth of what each garment has to offer” as well as gather insights and feedback that “help us constantly improve and iterate on our products.”
Traditional mail order catalogs
Some e-commerce retailers are turning to an old standby that was declared dead: Snail mail.
Online retailers including Amazon, Boden, Bonobos and Untuckit will send consumers a printed catalog in the mail.
I never even glance at the overwhelming marketing messages I receive, but I will gladly lead through a promising catalog I receive in the mail.
Enabled by digital marketing companies, other lifestyle startups are banding together to offer brand introductions and deals via joint mailers.
Among the companies enabling these collaborations is Share Local Media, a digital marketing startup founded by Teju Prabhakar, who had prior roles at the parent of Diapers.com and cleaning startup Handy.
Prabhakar specializes in mixing the right brands and getting them in front of the right customers, using data analytics that sounds a lot like Facebook Pixel.
These direct mail experts work with a stable of aspirational brands including Casper (a bed that loves you back), Joybird (custom modern furniture), Winc (discover great wines), Blink (smart home security), Upwork (hire expert talent), Mott & Bow (elevated basics, grounded prices) and Away (first class luggage).
This is not a new concept. Growing up, I would leaf through various coupon book mailers offering deals on everything from movie tickets to roofing.
This is Valpac for Millennials and Gen X.
Are these bricks and clicks strategies effective?
Have you had a positive experience with a brand employing any of these retail strategies? Share your perspective in the comments.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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