Retail in Asia


Gusto Collective founder Aaron Lau on crafting immersive experiences for digitally native consumers

In 2020, Aaron Lau  established Gusto Collective as Asia’s premier brand technology group with an aim to merge tech-powered storytelling and cutting-edge brandtech solutions. Lau and his team at Gusto Collective, whose expertise lie in immersive narratives, Web2 to Web3 activations, and metahuman IPs, have since worked with a number of brands to craft next-generation consumer experiences, most recently with Shiseido Travel Retail and Nars.

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Over the summer, in collaboration with Gusto Collective, Nars Travel Retail introduced an unprecedented metahuman experience with the ‘Light The Way’ campaign, mounted at an offline pop-up store at CDF Sanya International Duty-Free City in July through August.

Retail in Asia speaks with Aaron Lau on emerging consumer behaviours and designing innovative and forward-thinking campaigns.

RiA: Can you share with us your thoughts on how luxury consumer attitudes and behaviours are evolving? 

Lau: Undoubtedly, the past couple of years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, have ushered in significant shifts in consumer behaviours and preferences. During this period, we witnessed a substantial decline in luxury consumption, with Chinese consumers experiencing a notable 33 percent reduction in their spending on luxury goods. 

Source: Gusto Collective

However, with the world reopening, a compelling surge in demand for luxury goods, particularly among Chinese consumers, is palpable. Yet what truly defines the current narrative of luxury goes beyond the tangible realm of products. Today’s luxury consumer seeks experiences that resonate deeply and offer lasting memories. This extends to embracing transformative travel, immersive dining experiences, and elevated hospitality that goes beyond the ordinary.

Our recent collaboration with Global Blue yielded insightful findings that shed light on the shifting landscape of luxury consumers. Notably, the average age of the Chinese luxury consumer is now approximately a decade younger than their global counterparts. Astonishingly, this younger demographic contributes to an impressive 46 percent of luxury purchases within the country.

More importantly, the new digitally native generation, perceive brands not merely as products but as extensions of their identity. The act of purchasing luxury goods is no longer confined to ownership, it’s about an immersive experience that resonates with their values and beliefs.  We also see an evident gravitation towards brands that champion social and environmental causes. This signals a significant departure from the conventional luxury narrative, as consumers now seek brands that align with their own ethos.

RiA: Would you say you are an early adopter of the metaverse? What other technologies do you think could become influential for brands and retailers?

Lau: The metaverse represents the natural progression of the internet. Our firm belief is that brands should venture into this realm, even if tentatively, to gain a grasp of its potential.

At present, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are garnering substantial traction among our partner brands, particularly for social activations and event enhancements, enabling a richer narrative framework. Our engagements have encompassed using AR to animate the art at the Hong Kong Museum of Art to captivate the public audience with dynamic interactions.

RiA: Can you tell us about the concept of metahumans?

Lau: Metahumans have also emerged as a captivating avenue for brands, exemplified by the Nars campaign featuring Gusto’s own metahuman personalities, AjA, metahuman influencer, and MonoC, the world’s first metahuman artist.

Nars’ ‘Light the Way’ campaign. Source: Gusto Collective

This trend isn’t confined to borders – think of Imma in Japan, Lil Miquela in the U.S., and Ayayi in China. These metahumans serve as campaign ambassadors, influencers, and even hosts for live sales broadcasts. The surge of AI augments this trajectory, democratising metahuman content and real-time chats, fostering personalised experiences on a broader scale.

Finally, although it’s a nascent technology, the integration of NFTs into marketing strategies has ignited excitement. NFTs create multi-dimensional dialogues between brands and their communities. The Louis Vuitton Via Travel Trunk NFT is a testament, commanding prices upwards of USD 32,000. Its holders not only possess a virtual asset but gain exclusive access to Louis Vuitton’s forthcoming products and immersive events. This type of engagement heralds a novel approach to customer relationship management, ushering in new possibilities of brand engagement.

RiA: Tell us about your latest campaign with Shiseido. Do you think we will see more of these types of experiences in the beauty industry?

Lau: This innovative campaign for Nars under the Shiseido group exemplifies the dynamic fusion of brand marketing and cutting-edge Web3 technologies to drive the brand experience. The program, named ‘Light the Way’, comprises three integral components.

We’ve created a WeChat Mini Program that has a digital collectible component. This interactive space serves as a portal to engage users in a compelling virtual realm.

Secondly, our metahuman hosts, AjA and MonoC, play pivotal roles in crafting distinctive experiences within the Nars virtual universe and produced a TVC for the program. AjA, known for her enthusiasm for sports, entices users to enter a VR portal to amass digital collectibles, while, MonoC, a metahuman artist, curates an array of AR makeup filters. These filters are unlocked as users redeem their digital collectibles, resulting in a truly immersive engagement.

Thirdly, the campaign materialised through an offline activation in Hainan last August. This phase enriched the user journey, with a pop-up store situated at CDF Sanya International Duty-Free City. Here, visitors could personally interact with our metahuman hosts, experiencing the virtual world in a tangible setting. One remarkable feature was the aura reading, conducted by AjA which not only added intrigue but also facilitated tailored product recommendations and sales.

A collaboration with Rosewood Hong Kong. Source: Gusto Collective

The inherent aesthetics and experiential nature of beauty products align seamlessly with tech-driven narratives. We anticipate a surge in these interactive engagements within the beauty sector since these brands often boast more substantial budgets, enabling the creation of visually appealing and engaging events. Moreover, these immersive journeys translate into greater talk value and brand enhancement exercises, combined with physical activations, Brand Technology can help directly engage the audience throughout the full consumer cycle. 

RiA: Tell us about gamification in retail. What opportunities are you seeing in this space? 

Lau: In the current retail landscape, where consumers are inundated with a constant influx of campaigns and information, the challenge lies in maintaining sustained attention and fostering meaningful interactions. This is precisely where gamification comes into play, brands need to cut through the noise and seize the attention of modern consumers.

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The significance of gamification amplifies when we consider the broader context of consumer behaviours and evolving expectations. Modern consumers seek more than mere transactions; they desire experiences that resonate deeply. Gamification, when thoughtfully executed, serves as a powerful tool to encourage desired user behaviours, driving deeper engagement and building stronger brand loyalty.