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Editor's pick Retail technology

Exploring Google’s experiential London pop-up: the Curiosity Rooms

Google's The Curiosity Rooms
Google’s Curiosity Rooms

Google has opened a month-long pop-up on London’s Regent Street, called the Curiosity Rooms, which offers a balance between connected moments and digital detoxing over a cup of tea.

The space is dedicated to encouraging visitor curiosity, a theme the tech company has embraced with the launch of its new Google Pixel 3 phone.

The result is a plethora of workshops, talks and experiences that have welcomed crowds of people since it opened last week, with most of the events planned sold out for the month.

The biggest lines when I visited focused around the “All-In Auto Wash” room – where groups can take selfies with the new Pixel phone, framed by pink carwash wipers – and the invite-only activation in the basement with pop band, Little Mix.

In between the mania, however, is a little haven of quiet in the form of The Pixedilly Café, a pink and blue 60s designed space. Here, guests are invited to experience one of the new features of the Pixel 3 phone, which invites a more mindful approach to digital communications.

The simple idea is that when you turn the phone over, all notifications, messages, calls and any other digital noise is turned off. Only when you are ready to get back to the real world, can you see all missed communications, simply by turning it back over.

To celebrate this sense of digital freedom, Google wants you to relax and enjoy in the most English-way possible – with a cup of tea. You don’t just get any old tea selection though, but instead the perfect one for you, based on a tasting menu that asks you four questions, all connected to how you would spend your perfect (digital) day-off.

The tongue-in-cheek asks include what type of weather you are, “warm and sunny” or “dark-and-stormy”, in order to concoct your custom brew. I ended up with the “Perfect Wind Down Cuppa”, a hot and spicy fruit tea mix.

Google's Curiosity Rooms
Google’s Curiosity Rooms

The pop-up space is otherwise spread over three floors in total with a multitude of further areas dedicated to different experiences.

There’s also the Google Maker’s Studio, which sees space rented by local London vendors, including flower-delivery company called Patch, and a small designer hosting workshops every week to teach children how to make clothes. There‘s also another space for creative talks, a coffee bar and a children’s play area with a giant “Not Pink” slide that allows those of all ages to travel down to the ground-floor again.

Meanwhile, the changing roster of events, with different talks, workshops and live podcast recordings, all tie in with the themes of health, mindfulness and millennial mind-sets.

A notable kick-off to the store space saw writer and activist Scarlett Curtis recording a live version of her Feminists Don’t Wear Pink podcast. Visitors have also been privy to a one-of-a-kind dining experience with food writer Grace Dent; a talk by entrepreneurial creative Sharmadean Reid, the co-founder of WAH nails and founder of beauty platform Beautystack, on how to use everyday technology to reach your goals; and further live podcast recordings with Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes and their weekly The High Low show.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail

Matchesfashion.com opens experiential five-storey townhouse

MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place
MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place

Matchesfashion.com has opened its latest store at 5 Carlos Place, a prime pitch in London’s Mayfair, that takes the idea of experiential retail to the next level.

Housed in a grand five-storey townhouse, elegantly refitted to allow shopping, live events and art exhibitions, the store also features in-built recording facilities, a fully functioning kitchen and a courtyard garden.

“The house becomes a place where there’s a full experience every second of the day. Everything is built around the lifestyle of the luxury consumer,” says Ulric Jerome, CEO of the brand.

The first two floors will be open to the public, featuring retail spaces in a state of constant churn, with total product refreshments every two weeks.

Crucially, much of it will be exclusive to the store. Sometimes that will look like a full brand takeover, like a collaboration with Prada this week, bought to life by set designer Robert Storey, or the vision of specific curators. Names confirmed so far also include auction house Phillips and designers Hillier Bartley and Grace Wales Bonner.

Those floors will also stock the company’s new homewares line, delivered in monthly drops throughout the year, while the opening events programme includes a Phaidon book signing planned with Kate Moss and Mario Sorrenti, a floristry masterclass with Scarlet & Violet, and a series of talks on sustainability during London Fashion Week.

Meanwhile, upstairs are two floors dedicated to appointment-only private shopping (including 90-minute delivery for anything that’s not there already) and advice from in-house stylists, and an attic that houses the broadcasting space for the brand’s podcast, pop-up cafés and further events, including supper clubs with chefs such as Skye Gyngell.

MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place
MatchesFashion.com at Carlos Place

All of the Carlos Place store’s events will be streamed live on the website and available thereafter, enabling anyone to tune into what’s happening. Such a move follows a test from the brand with a series of live events in 2017 when it celebrated its 30th anniversary. This saw pop-up stores featuring different experiences over five days each in Paris, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. The initiative reached 1.27 million people through the Facebook Live stream alone.

This also ties to the fact the brand considers itself an e-commerce company first. Today, despite having four stores and a private shopping townhouse in London, 95% of its sales are made online, 82% of which are from outside of the UK.

MatchesFashion.com’s latest results show revenues up 44% year-on-year to $394m, driven mostly by international growth. In September 2017, it also hit the headlines when funds advised by Apax Partners acquired a majority stake in the company, valuing it at a reported $1bn, making it one of the UK’s few unicorns (a start-up valued at more than $1bn).

While it is the online drive that is really powering MatchesFashion.com forward, the business remains bullish on bricks and mortar, explains Jerome. “There’s no such thing as digital versus physical. It’s really combined. We just call it commerce. It’s just how you make it work together.”

A full version of this story appeared online and in print for Wallpaper magazine this month.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Events technology

Vote for us at SXSW: How streetwear turns hype into $$$

Louis Vuitton x Supreme
Louis Vuitton x Supreme

In 2019, we’re returning to SXSW in Austin, Texas – but we need your support! The festival is a hotbed for innovation and while TheCurrent will be on site gathering insights and producing exclusive events like podcast recordings, we are also aiming to host three panels. But we can only get on the official schedule with your vote.

One of our panels, “How streetwear turns hype into $$$”, will look at how streetwear labels are now catering way beyond hip-hop artists and skater kids on the fringes of society. Trading on scarcity and hype, this is a business on an unstoppable rise, with its poster child, Supreme, now estimated to be worth $1bn. From coveted collaborations to luxury department stores releasing ‘drops’, everybody wants to satiate the young consumer’s appetite.

But what can other industries learn from such masters of frenzy? Listen from a group of experts that include Swan Sit, VP of global digital marketing at Nike; Ferdinando Verderi, creative director at Johannes Leonardo, the global ad agency for Adidas Originals and responsible for the Alexander Wang x Adidas Originals launch; and Aaron Levant, founder of the ultimate streetwear festival ComplexCon and now CEO of NTWRK, an upcoming HSN-like shopping channel for Millennials and Gen Zers.

The panel will dissect this highly engaged community, and help the audience better understand what makes the thrill of the chase such a successful retail strategy.

Click to vote
Click to vote

So if you want to see this panel at next year’s edition, please vote! But be quick, as public voting closes this Thursday (August 30). Doing so is easy, just login or create a quick PanelPicker® account via panelpicker.sxsw.com. Then find our How street turns hype into $$$ and all you have to do is click on the “Vote Up” button in the top lefthand column.

Streetwear has had an increasingly strong influence on how young people consume fashion trends and engage with brands, and the luxury industry in particular has taken notice. Last week, Balenciaga launched exclusive sneakers at Selfridges, but they can only be purchased by appointment; earlier this year, Moncler announced it will launch monthly collections, as opposed to seasonal, in a collaboration model not too dissimilar from the streetwear industry; and lastly this November, TheCurrent will be present at ComplexCon for the very first time.

Our other panels at SXSW include Blockchain for radical transparency and The future of connected beauty. Please vote for them too!

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Campaigns e-commerce Editor's pick Events film Retail sustainability technology

Cannes Lions 2018: the award winning campaigns to know

Trash Isles' official currency, 'Debris'
Trash Isles’ official currency, ‘Debris’

At this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the most awarded campaigns echoed the sentiment that consumers want to engage with brands with a higher sense of purpose.

Sustainability and the environment came out top in that regard, with two initiatives scooping five of the top prizes. But other concepts continued a broader marketing focus particularly relevant to those in the consumer retail fields, from playing with the rules of what conventional advertising looks like, to evolving the notion of online and offline commerce in new ways.

Here, we highlight the ones to know from this year’s festival:

Stories with purpose

The idea of purpose and its continuing impact on creativity isn’t new to Cannes Lions. While the big talk on stage this year was around how brands can stand for something authentic all the while driving true action, award winners throughout the week highlighted some particularly innovative ways to do so. 

The small nation of Palau took home not one, but three Grand Prix awards  (Direct, Sustainable Development Goals and Titanium), for Palau Pledge, for instance, a campaign that asked tourists visiting the Pacific Island to sign a pledge to protect its environment. Those arriving in the country now have their passports stamped with a pledge to be considerate of the environment they are visiting. The campaign extends further with a video playing on every flight arriving, and the nation’s Ministry of Education creating a program to educate their children on sustainability.

Meanwhile, Trash Isles, a campaign partnership between Plastic Oceans (a plastics pollution organization) and media company LADbible, also took home two of this year’s top awards – the Grand Prix for PR and for Design. It did so for its aim to highlight the problem of plastics in the ocean by registering the patch of trash as its own country, including a flag, (recycled) passport and currency, and then taking the concept to the United Nations.

The idea was that as soon as the area was registered as a country, people would start taking the problem seriously. Within the first week the country had 100,000 people signed up to become citizens, making it the 26th smallest country in the world – honorary citizens include former US Vice President, Al Gore, and Dame Judi Dench.

This notion of purpose and sustainability also trickled down to fashion where Lacoste won a Gold award in the Design category for the way in which it played with its iconic logo in a bid to help raise awareness about species’ conversation. The limited edition “Save our Species” collection it created, saw the crocodile logo it is known for replaced with 10 of the world’s most endangered creatures. To add a level of urgency, the number of polo shirts available for each species corresponded to the number of them known to remain in the wild.

Rewriting the rules
adidas x Alexander Wang
adidas x Alexander Wang

The second trend this year came from brands challenging public perception of what is known about them – from remixing their visual identity, to speaking to such niche audiences that they risked alienating a majority.

Nike has particularly played in that field by tapping into niche cultures with its Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign, which took home a Grand Prix in the awards’ new category, Social & Influencer. This initiative honed in on London youth culture with an energetic spot that pays homage to urban living, highlighting how challenging it is to practice sports in the city. The campaign was well received as an anthem to young brand fans who recognized many of the 258 athletes and influencers featured in the full three-minute piece.

Meanwhile, Diesel’s Deisel launch, which popped up in New York’s Chinatown with a series of real ‘fake’ goods, took home Gold in the Outdoor category. The campaign showcased the brand’s sense of humor, which has been a part of its DNA since its inception, while modernizing it for a younger generation who is keen to tap into irony and subversion.

The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang season two launch was also noted by the way it took inspiration from underground culture to create a shopping chatbot, in doing so taking home Bronze in another new category at this year’s awards – Creative E-Commerce. Consumers had to text a number found on billboards across the city to begin communications with the bot and complete their purchase. Items were then home delivered by bike couriers wearing the collection head-to-toe. The idea of bootlegging retail follows on from the collaboration’s season one launch, in which shoppers could only purchase items off the back of a truck, and then carried them home in trash bags.

Retail 3.0

As retail giants including Amazon and Alibaba set the benchmark for what a good retail experience is, this year’s winners from Cannes also brought differentiation by navigating between creating learning experiences in brick-and-mortar, to playing up to the consumer’s digital nature.

As previously covered, Apple took home the Grand Prix in the Brand Experience & Activation category for its Today at Apple programme, which hosts over 18,000 in-store classes globally a week. On-stage at Cannes Lions, Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, described the retail spaces as Apple’s biggest product, explaining: “Retail’s not dying, but it has to evolve, it has to continue to move – and I think it has to serve a bigger purpose than just selling, because anybody can do that faster, cheaper.”

The Creative E-Commerce category inevitably also brought relevancy here, with Xbox taking home the Grand Prix for its “The Fanchise Model” project, a store that allowed gaming fans to not only design and buy their own controllers, but earn commission through subsequent sales to their peers. Users who customized their own controller could claim ownership of it and share their artwork on social channels and forums. By co-creating with consumers, the brand encouraged a sense of ownership and opened up the conversation to a much bigger story that spoke to their fans’ lifestyles.

Nike’s AR Jordan launch on Snapchat otherwise picked up a Gold in this new category. The campaign, in which fans could purchase limited edition sneakers on Snapchat and get them delivered in under two hours, reached 2.7 unique users and 9.7m lens views, according to agency R/GA. The activation featured four major elements: augmented reality through the Snapchat partnership, 3D modelling of Michael Jordan, mobile commerce and lastly, express delivery fulfilled by Darkstore. Together, they created a fleeting experience that saw the sneakers sell out in 23 minutes.

Technology’s impact

Other notable Grand Prix winners highlighted the power of artificial intelligence and the use of data to spread a bigger message. Creative Data winner “JFK Unsilenced” by The Times UK, analyzed 831 speeches by the former USA president to create a AI-powered speech 50 years after he was due to talk at an event before getting killed in Dallas, Texas.

Similarly the ALS Association took home the top honor in the Good category for giving Pat Quinn, the person behind the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge”, his voice back through using a bank of audio recordings to create an artificial voice. Elsewhere in Colombia, the Ministry of Communications and Technology took home the Grand Prix for Innovation for allowing people in remote areas – who only have access to legacy phones – to call a phone line and ask questions to a Google voice assistant, thus connecting them to the Internet and wider pool of information.

Unlike public perception and debate about the threat of AI to humankind, it is quickly becoming clear that for advertising, the technology is more friend than foe. As the majority of this year’s winners show, deploying technologies can only serve to enhance connections, and often add an additional layer of emotion between brand and viewer.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Cannes Lions 2018: Apple’s Angela Ahrendts on the human side of retail

Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions
Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions

“We decided it was important that the largest tech company in the world, makes the largest investment in humans in the world,” said Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, with regards to her ‘Today at Apple’ initiative.

The scheme, which picked up the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix at the festival’s awards last night, sees 18,000 events held in Apple stores around the world every week. The focus particularly is on education, both in terms of helping consumers understand technology, but also the creative or liberal arts.

This links back to something founder Steve Jobs said in 2011: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As a result, the teams at retail had to evolve too. While Ahrendts has been leading a mass redesign of the stores to what are now referred to as “town squares”, in a bid to drive a sense of community, she has also been rethinking who services those spaces.

The renowned Apple Geniuses continue to exist, but so too do new “creative pros” as a result. These are to the liberal arts what the genius is to technology, she explained. Today there are 3,500 of them worldwide, who all teach everything from photography to art, music and design skills in store.

“These people are our secret sauce,” Ahrendts explained. “This is something Apple has, and Amazon or Alibaba doesn’t: people on the front line.” What’s key is that they are hired for their empathy, rather than their ability to sell. In fact, no one who works at Apple is on any quotas or commission, which is also something that goes back to Steve Jobs’ original vision.

“He told all of the original employees when he opened the first Apple stores, that they weren’t allowed to sell, that their job was to enrich lives and they had to do so through the lens of education,” Ahrendts outlined.

That objective is currently rolling out worldwide, with Apple upping the size of its retail footprint (doubling and tripling some of the existing ones in the process) in order to make space for the boardrooms and educational forums accordingly. Upcoming new openings include a legacy theatre renovation in Milan, a five-storey flagship on the Champs Élysées in Paris, and a reworking of the Washington Carnegie Library in DC.

Retail isn’t dying, said Ahrendts, but it’s evolving fast and it’s only through focusing on human needs that you can today survive. Apple dedicates 40% of its staff hours to service and support and a third of its square footage, she noted. All of that is aiming to cement the notion of the company being primarily a “human” business.

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Editor's pick Events technology

Sitting at the edge of culture: How SXSW has moved from tech to brand playground

Viceland's baby goats at SXSW
Viceland’s baby goats at SXSW

How do we know when we have hit peak SXSW? Was it the year grumpy cat stole all the headlines? Was it the hotel-sized vending machine from Doritos? Was it when homeless people were rather uncouthly set up as wifi transmitters?

Or will we look back and think about when baby goats grabbed our attention in 2018? With a solid dose of irony, Viceland went above and beyond to get people to pay its parking lot spot a visit this year, with a pit full of real-life “kids” available for petting. How else are you going to spend your time in between hopping from keynote sessions to tacos and barbecue. after all?

Jokes aside, that move represents quite a significant shift that’s happened over the past five-plus years at the Austin-based festival. At one point the Interactive portion of the show, which precedes Music and runs alongside Film, was really about new tech launches – the place to discover the latest startups, and the big event for the likes of Twitter, Foursquare and beyond to get off the ground.

Where once it was really a haven for geeks, and a playground for all things B2B, slowly but steadily it has shifted to become more and more about marketing, and then carried through to be a representation really of broader culture and society.

Let’s not forget how much more pervasive the internet has become in our lives during that time. SXSW Interactive is really about everything cultural because tech infiltrates that in every single way today. In doing so, the festival has therefore simultaneously ended up being phenomenally consumer-facing.

2018 is the perfect culmination of that evolution. On the one hand, the big speakers on stage this year are discussing everything from female empowerment, diversity and transparency, while out and about around the city there’s a mass takeover by fashion brands, not to mention the most impressive activation from entertainment entity Westworld, that has ever been seen at SXSW.

TheCurrent's founder, Liz Bacelar, "wanted" at the Westworld SXSW experience
TheCurrent’s founder, Liz Bacelar, “wanted” at the Westworld SXSW experience

The audience mark-up of the event is inevitably behind this shift as well, with that focus on culture driving it. No longer is it just comprised of developers or startup entrepreneurs, but rather a perfect slice of the typical “millennial” target consumer. Is it fully representative of America? Perhaps not. But there is certainly diversity on the ground in many more ways than you would have imagined from a tech conference, and than you would have seen 5-10 years ago.

The big consumer-facing activations used to arrive only for music. Doing them during Interactive isn’t entirely new – Nike, Levi’s, Game of Thrones, even Warby Parker have had a presence in previous years – but 2018 stands out for its pervasiveness.

In terms of hype, the big activation is Westworld, as mentioned. Today, there are people lining up for hours to get a secret shuttle out to Live Without Limits, where HBO has built a replica of the fictional town of Sweetwater to kick off marketing activity around the show’s second season.

Under Armour's Hovr activation at SXSW (Image via AdWeek)
Under Armour’s Hovr activation at SXSW (Image via AdWeek)

Back in downtown, meanwhile, technology isn’t entirely missing from the experiences put together, but a lot of it is on consumer tech for today, rather than tomorrow. Highlights include the Google Assistant house touting the future of voice tech on the one hand, and Under Armour’s push for its latest cushioning technology, Hovr, on the other. The latter was teased as a zero gravity experience, but turned out to be a group of trampolines to take photos on, proving the value of Instagram-worthiness remains (with long lines out the door to back it).

The move to represent the technical ability in product, has also been the case for L’Oréal this week with the launch of its Custom D.O.S.E. skincare line – a technological service that can scan and evaluate an individual consumer’s skin and create tailor made serums as a result.

And tech is a consideration for Outdoor Voices too, with the launch of an augmented reality campaign that encourages SXSW attendees and locals to get outdoors into a park to get access to exclusive product. In addition, Bose has also been thinking about AR, but this time demonstrating a pair of smart glasses that use audio rather than visuals as the overlaid digital information. The result is that you can hear what you see – when you look at a building for instance, it tells you what it is in your ear.

Our friend @jennifer outside the Hermèsmatic store in Austin for SXSW
Our friend @jennifer outside the Hermèsmatic store in Austin for SXSW

Some of the other experiences meanwhile are more traditional in their programming. A line-up of talks, a store and a DJ for happy hour does the job for fashion brand Express, for instance, while the Create & Cultivate pop-up, which is focused on “women to watch” and backed by watch brand Fossil, is not dissimilar.

Laying on top of all that is also some truly lo-fi consumer focus. Wrangler has teamed up with Modcloth to offer denim customization in the latter’s store, for instance. Meanwhile, Hermès is probably the most surprising attendee. The luxury brand has brought Hermèsmatic – a laundromat-inspired customization and repair service – to this year’s festival to offer fans the chance to update their vintage scarves via washing and dip-dying services.

SXSW may not be the place to discover the latest big tech before anyone else anymore, but it is certainly somewhere to come for a jump into how modern culture is evolving at the hands of our connected era, and inspiration around the kind of brand activations targeting tuned-in millennials accordingly.

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Events technology

TheCurrent’s essential guide to SXSW Interactive 2018

TheCurrent at SXSW

For both first timers and longstanding attendees, SXSW Interactive is one of the most exhilarating, educational, insightful and inspiring events at the intersection of tech, culture and design. That said, it’s also one of the most overwhelming and exhausting, with hundreds of panel sessions, keynote talks, meet- ups, happy hours, parties and more to make your way to.

Not sure what to do when The Terminator is on stage, but there are tacos calling your name? Never fear, TheCurrent’s Essential Guide to SXSW Interactive 2018 sums up the best of everything you need to attend, and provides a handy guide for the week ahead in the process.

From the best sessions to head down to (ranging from artificial intelligence to blockchain, experiential marketing and beyond), to the FOMO-inducing activations that should be top of your list, we have it all covered.

We’re also on site ourselves, with two speaking slots on the main stage:

The first will see our founder Liz Bacelar hosting a big interview with none other than Farfetch CEO José Neves, discussing how disruptive innovation and technology is redefining the industry and the future of luxury retail.

The second will focus on biotech’s impact on the future of fashion with our chief intelligence officer Rachel Arthur in conversation with Bolt Threads, Modern Meadow and the H&M Foundation.

And join us at our meetup specific to fashion, luxury and retail, for an opportunity to meet the team, explore what’s pushing the industry forward & chat about the untraditional partnerships at the forefront of innovation.

Download our SXSW guide for more info, and do drop us a note if you’ll be in town. We look forward to seeing you!

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Editor's pick

Topshop takes a leaf out of Apple’s book with more in-store experiences

Topshop's in-store events are based on offering consumers a happy, healthy and successful 2017
Topshop’s in-store events are based on offering consumers a happy, healthy and successful 2017

One of the key trends we highlighted for retail in 2017 surrounds the idea of more visceral in-store experiences. Adding a ‘third space’, or the idea of services in store that encourage dwell time, is no longer enough however. Success will come to those who push for differentiated experiences to their competitors, with emotional and educational connections playing a significant role.

Enter then Topshop, which has just announced a series of events in its Oxford Circus flagship in London focused on helping consumers achieve a “happy, healthy and successful 2017”.

As written on its blog: “It’s all about experiences – from yoga classes to creative sessions and a series of talks – based on health, wellness, lifestyle practices and learning new skills.”

In-store events aren’t new for Topshop – it’s long held different talks and workshops, including a recent example ahead of Christmas enabling shoppers to customise their gifts. Nor is it for many other fashion and beauty retailers – from the likes of Selfridges to SpaceNK or Lululemon. But there’s a big focus today on occasions built around the lives of the consumers, and not just the items they might look to buy.

Wellbeing is central to that at Topshop, but so too are inspirational business talks and even workshops to help women in their professional, personal, financial, and habitual goals.

Inspiration comes from the likes of Apple, which has not only long run events focused beyond the items it sells, but also recently removed the word ‘store’ from its destinations altogether, and instead started referring to them as ‘town squares’ – places where consumers want to gather and spend time. It’s all about community, entertainment and education.

Expect to see more of this trifecta as 2017 progresses. In the meantime, check out the list of what Topshop has on offer from January 26-29 over on its blog. All events cost £5 to book, though are cleverly redeemable on product in store thereafter.

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business Comment Events fashmash

Redefining legacy: why fashion brands need to focus on meaning and values to win

FashMash Live
#FashMash Live

The way the fashion industry approaches innovation today is akin to leaving the house without trousers, said Pia Stanchina, former industry manager for fashion and luxury at Google, now independent start-up advisor and consultant, at the inaugural #FashMash Live discussion held at Huckletree in London last week.

It’s an oft-used analogy, but one that seems highly appropriate to a market primarily driven by PR headlines over lasting returns. To explain it in more depth, Stanchina said: “Most fashion brands think of innovation the way that women think of earrings – they do the sort of things that are really jingly and sparkly, offering short term wins, when what they need to do is think of the sort of strategy that’s like the trousers of the outfit – the long term business objectives. The point is, you can leave the house without earrings, but you can’t without trousers.

“Most brands are leaving the house without trousers… they’re saying look at this amazing campaign that we have, but actually there’s no real meaning to it and it’s not unlocking any sort of value for the brand.”

Of course the fashion industry is not alone. A recent study from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising showed that campaigns with a short-term goal grew from 7% to 33% between 2006 and 2014. This idea of short-termism, where the aim is to activate sales over less than six months, is considered significantly less effective than those with long-term, brand-driven growth in mind.

Coupled with that increasingly narrow view is the advent of ad blocking. Nowadays, consumers are increasingly able to tune out and turn off. The most recent survey from the IAB UK, for instance, shows 22% of British adults online are currently using ad blocking software – a rise from 18% in just late 2015.

In other words, advertising at large is currently focused primarily on quick wins and doing so in such a saturated market that the audience is increasing looking for ways not to have to receive them.

The average consumer sees 6,000 brand messages per day, Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB Worldwide North America (and former CMO of Coca-Cola) said at this year’s Cannes Lions. “If that’s the case,” she added, “more [content] is not an option. It needs to be more good.”

FashMash Live
Rachel Arthur, Nicolas Roope and Pia Stanchina speaking on the #FashMash Live panel

In an age of too much noise, marketers need to be thinking about the sort of long lasting messages that achieve cut through, she added. They need to be building legacy in order to create brand equity. So they need to be thinking about trousers, more than earrings, to return to Stanchina’s reference.

And if trousers are strategy and legacy, then the belt to them has to be relevancy, and that’s also something often missing in fashion marketing.

“Most people in luxury brands today haven’t really thought about what makes them relevant anymore, it’s always harking back to where they came from, and not to what people who buy from them actually care about today,” Stanchina explained.

She used the example of heritage – something that many brands have latched on to in order to try and achieve storytelling. We see countless videos of craftsmanship in the ateliers of big fashion houses, showcasing the little hands, or “les mains”, at work for instance, she explained. But this is becoming a tired view, not to mention something that doesn’t work for digital as much as the industry seems to hope it will.

Take Chanel’s couture show in Paris just last week, which was set inside its atelier, showcasing the couturiers as they constructed the garments. “It was probably an amazing experience if you were there… really magical,” Stanchina commented. “But if you were watching it on Instagram, it was really dead. It was a complete anti-climax. It didn’t translate well to digital at all.”

Stanchina also talked to the idea that luxury has long traded on friction in order to create desire – from limited distribution to high price points. Both of those things would have once been considered pillars of the industry (along with craftsmanship), she said, but they’re crumbling away; they’re not relevant anymore. What is, of course, is still that sense of desire, but it has to be done in a way that is more meaningful, she added.

When it came to meaning and value, Nicolas Roope, who joined the discussion from creative agency Poke, where he serves as both ECD and co-founder, said this has to be baked in from the start in order to be successful with digital today.

“The reason [brands like Ted Baker, Reformation and Redbull] are digital first is not because they sat down and decided they were going to be digital first, it’s because they have that natural spirit and they’ve built their business and the way they operate around it. They were perfectly ripe for becoming digital because they were already clear about what they stood for from the start,” he explained.

Indeed the technology, or setting the platforms up to enable full digital integration, is the easy part, he added. “The hardest thing is to help [brands] to understand being digital first is about having clear direction; something to offer that’s really valuable and that’s defensible.”

Stanchina agreed, adding for those just starting out in the industry: “We’re in a very specific moment in time when starting a company is easier than it ever was before, but it’s also the most competitive time it’s ever been to do that. [Success] is about understanding what it is your company is doing, what you create, what makes you defensible and different in the marketplace, why there’s a need for your company in the first place, and then really going after it.”

For those back in established brands, Roope noted how difficult it can be to drive change or indeed value tied to digital if there isn’t yet full leadership support internally behind it.

In a bid to seek a pair of trousers that have long lasting value, over that pair of sparkly earrings, he advised brands to try and find a middle ground – a low risk environment and some steady gains to prove the change you can effect through innovation done in the right way. “Most organisations are very respectful of success, so how do you get to success in the smallest, cheapest, most risk free way is your aim, and once you have it think about how to celebrate it and build momentum around it to move it upwards,” he added.