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By Ellie Richards

The evolution of brand building in the digital era, what’s new and effective?

Can your brand survive the pressure from evolving e-commerce? Is retail dying as a result of  e-commerce? Its hard to know who has it better, and what’s still working with regards to brand building and making sales. While certain businesses might be booming in the digital age, even online retailers are facing critical setbacks. E-commerce shopping is fast, convenient and anonymous, so a perfect vehicle for a socially awkward younger generation. Despite this, online returns and abandoned cart numbers are increasing. So how are big brands doing boosting consumer engagement, satisfaction and in turn, sales in an rapidly evolving market? And more importantly, how can YOU do it, as a smaller brand? Don’t worry, even if you’re a technophobe or not creatively inclined, this blog has lots of tips and innovative ideas to implement into your own business.

“The issue holding back retailers is the inability to understand the technologies that will further their brand ethos.” – Forbes

Creating an experience that’s cohesive with your brand is the best way to establish yourself in the e-commerce market and keep yourself relevant. In retail, customers are looking for more added value or a greater reason to part with their hard earned money and brands have to work hard to keep customers engaged. For brands that are based heavily online, creating a brand extension/ retail experience without a physical outlet can be challenging – nothing online can be as immersive. Pop up events, which can be both PR, marketing and/or sales tools, are still a popular choice for all levels of brands. For example, this year Selfridges collaborated with Google Pixel, Louis Vuitton and many other brands to create a multi sensory exhibition that invited you to explore “altered states of luxury”. The Selfridges’ website described the experience as “Part art exhibition, part performance space – The Flipside is the first destination of its kind. As you journey through The Flipside, you will enter a series of extraordinary installations and experiences, in the company of some of the world’s most innovative brands.” The art included the opportunity to have an animated photo taken of yourself (using AR – augmented reality), conceptual brand pieces such as garments encrusted with floral decoration on an interactive table and clever use of projections/lighting. The best thing about a collaborative experience like The Flipside is that  innovation and experience are the key message. Therefore, every consumer recollection of the event acts as advertisement, brand building and engagement for the brands involved  and for the audience/customer it was a free experience that leaves a ‘feel good’ emotion that can be associated to the brands.

Another example of a pop-up concept exhibit was a collaboration by famous set designer Es Devlin, Chanel and i-D magazine, titled Mirror Maze. Aptly named, the mirrored maze was set up in a disused warehouse in Peckham, South London. Devlin, who has worked on set design for the likes of Kanye West and Taylor Swift, created the concept keeping Chanel’s brand authenticity at heart, with four rooms including mirrored staircases reminiscent of Coco Chanel’s salon in Paris. The entire exhibit was fragranced by a bespoke Chanel perfume created exclusively for this project, and only lasted for 5 days. “I wanted to try to make people have that feeling that I have when I open a cupboard door in a strange hotel in Belfast and smell moth balls and plummet – literally no part of the cerebral cortex engaged, pure ancient lizard lymphatic system kicking in – transporting you to how it felt when you smelt that smell when you were a child,” commented the artist to Dezeen.com. Chanel have used this concept as a way to maintain their luxury image, while having fun collaborating and producing an artistic experience that changes the public’s view of the brand.

You might be thinking, now, how can a small business replicate the same effect without the big budget that established brands have? Take the essence of the ideas brought forward by Chanel and Selfridges, create an experience with what you have and are about. Decide on your objectives, whether it is strictly for creating more brand awareness or to focus on marketing, PR and/or sales. All of these objectives should involve ultimately speaking to customers but marketing is more focussed on promoting your brand or the specific event, so always be aware of your key objectives and plan accordingly. See if there are any creative outlets that would be open to collaborate on ideas, design and letting space, this is a great start. Often pop-up outlets in trendy areas can be inexpensive and can position your brand for a low investment. Through a collaboration, you can raise your brand awareness to a wider audience and market. Further, you can bounce ideas off of each other, fuelling creativity and pool a budget to set up a bigger event than what your own resources would have enabled. Think, Better Together! Searching through social media and hashtags can help you sort through what type of brand you can work well with, how popular they are and their online aesthetic. Once you have established your event, start marketing it. Pop-up events are a great way to build around a specific product, to speak direct to customers and gain feedback, data capture for future sales and create content for social media. The idea is to get your brand name out there, with an experience that is memorable for the audience making them want to return and shop with you now or at a later date.

If you have a retail offer that doesn’t seem to be working for your brand in the way you planned, you maybe have to take digital technology and e-commerce further than before. We’ve all seen the headlines this year, hush words of “bankruptcy”, “store closure” and “retail dying a great death”. Yes, in store sales are down, but this isn’t the death of retail, rather an evolution that brings us boundless opportunities. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there creatively, being disruptive and innovative, if executed properly this can only benefit your brand. You just need to stay ahead of the game, and have a basic grasp of how technology is improving customer experience on a daily basis. As IDG’s website cio.com captioned this shift, “See online shopping and e-commerce not as an enemy to retail, but a tool for the exciting and growing industry.” There are many ways in which brands are incorporating technology in-store and online, from accessibility, advertisement and customer service.

Let’s talk about AR – Augmented Reality. It’s more than likely you’ve tried the fun dog ears on snapchat, or the one with a dancing Kermit in your living room. This relatively new technology  uses mapping sensors and facial recognition to layer a 3D image on top of your phone’s camera, and has been coined a ‘filter’. E-commerce giant, Amazon, has integrated this idea to allow you to see new items in your home before you buy. Not sure if the new coffee machine will look good in your kitchen? Simply hold up your phone’s camera to your kitchen counter and see how it looks. This is the biggest setback for online retailers and cause for returns, the inability to fully visualise items in their intended environment. This new technology takes out the guess work, and leads to greater customer satisfaction. It’s not just effective for choosing homeware; beauty and fashion brands are all jumping on the AR bandwagon. With apps and even virtual mirrors becoming the new norm, consumers can try on different shades of make up and clothing colours without even touching the item. L’Oreal have launched their app to allow consumers to try on make up with different filters, as have plenty of luxury eyewear brands. Clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Zara have incorporated virtual mirrors in selected stores so customers can simply stand in front to try on clothing, cutting out the need for changing rooms entirely. Zara, in particular have implemented AR and much more technology in store, removing the need for cash-desks and having staff focus solely on customer service. This is the future of physical retail.

Creating an AR masterpiece is easier than you think, no endless coding necessary. If you’re a technological novice, try using the website/app Blippar. Using your laptop you can upload images in a particular shape around a selected image, for example a magazine cover or your favourite mug, then turn it into an animation with a soundtrack. Using the app and your code, watch it come to life.

Shopping is changing. Consumers are becoming so focused on the experience and aesthetic that come with the purchase that brand and business owners need to do more for satisfaction, engagement and retention. With that, technology is changing our lives every day, in ways which you may never even notice. These opportunities are being explored by more and more brands online and in store to improve consumer satisfaction, are you? Make sure you stay ahead of the curve and be excited by the possibilities.


  • No matter what you sell, someone has got there first – or you’ll be copied in due time for having such an innovative idea. This means you need to focus completely on what differentiates you and your brand on a wider scale from the crowd, what makes you special and how can you use that, creatively.
  • If you don’t have a retail store, that’s okay. You can make enough, if not more profit through e-commerce, providing your tools, marketing and aesthetics match the clientele you have in mind.
  • Collaborations are an amazing way to make long lasting relationships, expand your creative outlet and double your awareness and broaden your market. Lay out your objectives clearly together, what do you want the customer to experience/take away from your pop up or joint product/experience and what you want to gain for your business?
  • Don’t be afraid of technology, its here to make your life easier! Staying up to date and getting involved isn’t as hard as you think, just be innovative and disruptive, the credit will come to you.

If you liked this blog, you might be interested to read about Diversity & Representation?