Forget purpose-driven brands: the future will be about purpose-driven places
A view from Michelle Du-Prât

Forget purpose-driven brands: the future will be about purpose-driven places

Brands like Apple and Amazon are reinventing the nature of physical locations, to everyone's benefit, writes Household's strategy director.

Move over the old hat conversation on purpose-driven brands: the next idea it’s time to learn about is purpose-driven spaces.

Place-making, long heralded by town planners as the gold standard to deliver places and spaces that enhance people’s wellbeing, is now the goal of all leisure spaces – whether that be hotels, high street retailers, or even supermarkets.

Why? From a commercial perspective, research has shown that combinations of retail and leisure can offer much higher rates of growth.

And from a guest’s perspective, feeling connected to a place by helping to co-create it delivers upon our innate desire to belong to and be part of something bigger. Shopping centres have long tapped into this by privatising place-making within their shopping centre walls, to lure back declining footfall and deliver compelling reasons to visit, from day to night and every day of the week.

Now the likes of Apple are place-making within the walls of the store. Their "town square" concept is bringing like-minded people together with a constant programme of free activities, making the brand appear generous while delivering the largest windfall of them all.

Apple Store in London's Regent Street

The result? Apple is grossing the highest sales per square foot in retail globally.

This is place-making’s latest iteration, and where it will begin to hit mainstream retailers: brands creating a sense of place within their own spaces, and stores becoming the new service hubs. #

Beyond selling just their product, retailers are the new landlords, merging like-minded partners that meet the lifestyle needs of their target audience with a diverse product mix, services and more.

Ultimately, the winning retailer is the one with the customers who don’t want to leave and don’t have to. That’s where retail-culture is fostered – a term describing the places and spaces where people and brands come together on equal terms for co-ownership of a worthwhile experience.

It’s what draws people back for more, playing to the strengths of physical retail to complement, rather than compete with, online retail.

It’s not as simple as bolting a juice bar or coffee shop onto a store. What’s key is first uncovering what people say they actually want, love, need and feel frustrated by in a given locale.

Beacons, location data and other mobile insight technology provide the information from which retailers can create an authentic space which delivers on their customers’ unmet desires and needs.

But it’s important to get the narrative right. Although the first port of call in place-making is often drawing inspiration from the existing narrative of a locale, it can be powerful to challenge conventional narratives of place to position a brand at the forefront of retail-culture and challenge brand pre-conceptions.

Fashion brand, Jigsaw, have done exactly this with their current "Heart immigration" campaign, created by The Corner, which both challenges customers to rethink their associations with place and transforms the public spaces where it’s displayed – in this case, the Underground – with bold and uncompromising statements such as "there’s no such thing as 100% British".

What’s next is brand spaces designed entirely as place-making experiences which are brand-building, rather than transactional.

Eataly World, a "food fantasyland" set to open this month in Bologna, Italy, is place-making on a grand scale. The 20-acre complex, with farmyard fun, educational classes, 25 restaurants, and a 200-room hotel planned, will flex to meet multiple needs and moods.

At a $106m development cost, Eataly is hoping to swap free admission for brand love that gives back many-fold.

Or how about Amazon, whose growing physical retail drive has been the story of 2017 amid questions about physical retail’s future.

The tech giant is going much further than bookshops and Whole Foods stores: it’s re-imagining what can constitute physical space with its Treasure Truck (main picture) by taking the convenience of large-scale ecommerce and providing the excitement and spontaneity that inhabitants of cities like New York, Seattle and Portland thrive on.

This is about more than creating destinations. Destinations have one-way pulling power for retailers to draw in consumers to simply consume product, but place-making goes beyond product.

Single-function spaces simply aren’t relevant anymore. Instead, thriving brand spaces are those which foster community and allow co-authorship of a space, where guests can get hands-on and learn something new.

The brand’s role is elevated as an enabler, facilitating meaningful interaction and skill-sharing between like-minded people. Watch this space – because place-making will be the saviour of the high street.

Michelle Du-Prât is strategy director and co-founder of Household