Leading "environmental branding" consultancy Equal Strategy in August 2009 helped US footwear brand New Balance achieve the total sensory experience the brand was looking for with its first Experience Store, located on Beijing’s historic Qianmen Avenue. Designed with a 1950s and ’60s look and feel, the store showcases New Balance’s century-long heritage over two floors with framed archival photographs, vintage advertisements and brand paraphernalia dating as far back as 1910.
A DNA-style ribbon extending from the first floor entrance to the second floor is the story of the brand’s past, present and future. Complementing the store’s design are audio, visual and olfactory experiences including a woody fragrance with a touch of leather, to evoke the scent of a mid-20th-century shoe store, and 1950s bebop music. Customers can "bop while they shop" to the sounds of Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis.
In-store messaging designed by Equal Strategy invites customers to check out the store’s second-floor merchandise and highlights New Balance’s Performance DNA concept. Scientific research has shown that 40 percent of shoppers are influenced in their purchasing decisions by in-store audio messages.
"This sort of sensory branding has fast become the brave new world of retail. It’s no longer simply enough to present or provide your products or services in a strongly branded visual context; the brand needs to connect and engage with all five senses of the customer in order to create resonance and establish long-term loyalty," said Equal Strategy’s sensory marketing guru Simon Faure-Field, who has spent the past decade installing music and scent projection systems in retail and hospitality environments. Brands including Pan Pacific, Starwood, Raffles, Mercedes-Benz and Changi Airport have sought his expertise in order to form an emotional connection with their customer base.
Scientific studies have shown that the brain’s olfactory centre is the only sensory-perception centre directly connected to the centre for memory and emotions. According to research, more than 80 percent of customer decisions are influenced by scent. In olfactory studies conducted in the US, trainers scented with a barely perceptible fragrance sold more pairs and for a higher premium than unscented trainers.
"I’m often asked if what I do is ethical, and my response is to ask whether creating a pleasing, memorable experience, which customers are keen to repeat on a regular basis, is an ethical endeavour," said Faure-Field. "Of course it’s ethical – and also desirable, in a retail context. Shoppers find the environments we create pleasurable and engaging and this translates to good business practice when customers go on to repeat their business with a brand over time."
Faure-Field notes that the New Balance Experience Store posed its own set of problems and challenges. "How to reach out on a sensory level to customers to whom the idea of sensory brand presentation is completely and utterly new? We were helped by the fact that Beijing consumers are increasingly sophisticated in their brand awareness and patterns of consumption – they no longer simply go for price or value alone, but are open to the concept of a retail experience."
He added, "This particular New Balance store was all about conveying the brand’s history and heritage over a century of business, so the human senses have been stimulated to project this kind of ‘time capsule’ look and feel."
"We are very pleased with the way the music, messaging and specially formulated New Balance aroma are integrated within the New Balance Experience Store," said Bob Neville, regional retail manager for New Balance in Asia-Pacific. "We want to create an experience that is totally reflective of the brand essence and as such it has to go beyond what you see and encompass all of the senses. The Experience Store in Beijing marks the first of a global roll-out [that will enable customers] for the first time to see, hear and smell the New Balance brand as part of an integrated experience."