The road to retail success for growing brands is a difficult one. And yet, so many choose to endure the path knowing full and well the twists and turns, the sharp rocks and steep edges. Every step has hidden trap doors –– many of them stemming from individual self-doubt. Startups launch and then fail. Capital is raised and paid back in the lost jobs of a once-hopeful and now-shuttering business idea.
Perhaps it is our narcissism that keeps us going. The idea that “that won’t happen to me,” even though there is very little separating “me” from all of those who have tried and failed. Then again, there is very little separating “me” from those who have tried, and immensely succeeded.
Hard work is what the experts will say is the key to true success. They’re right –– but they aren’t being specific. Knowing what to spend your time on as a leader of a scaling business is fundamental to the overall lifespan of the company. And every passionate business owner wants that lifespan to be never ending.
Brand immortality is the overlapping goal of most commerce businesses. Yes, you want to make an impact on the world. You want to give back. You want to be seen. You want to be useful. But, more than anything else, scaling businesses today are looking to achieve brand immortality –– the creation of something that outlives those who first built it.
Where Art and Business Meet: A Lesson in the Graceful Balance of Uncertainty
In order to grow the idea and cement the brand in the mind of consumers, it is up to you, the steward of the ship you built, to bring the dream home and to find that safe, welcoming harbor. You are taking an idea, and manifesting it in reality. Successfully doing so makes you an artist –– if only by definition, though likely by trade, as well.
After all, in order to properly steer your ship to safety, you need to be able to both presently acknowledge and see past the billowing waves and jutting rocks. And to do that, you will need help, from other ships, your own crew and likely even from those waiting for you in the harbor –– explaining to you the best way to make it in. These are your customers, your colleagues, your competitors and the industry at large. And as the steward, you must learn how to properly balance their needs with your own, to plan a path they are willing to take with you, to see a light in the darkness past current desires and into what the needs of that harbor will be once you get there. A foreign ship offering no aid isn’t a welcome guest. One providing value? Well, that’s a different story.
So, how do you build loyalty and admiration while balancing uncertainty and constant change? It’s a challenge to be sure, and only the best artists ever truly master it. Here is how three of them have done so.
- Steve Jobs successfully proved to each of us that what we thought we wanted in the future of technology was wrong –– and that touch screen and aesthetic lettering was right. He was an artist. He saw the light.
- Tim Berners-Lee knew from day one what the world wide web would mean –– how the spread and easy access of information was crucial to an educated and equal world. Today, he still fights for our digital freedom, supporting net neutrality and encouraging online users to use the web, responsibly and collaboratively. He is an artist. He sees the light. History will remember him well for it, even if our laws and actions get it wrong.
- Jeff Bezos dedicates his life to solving consumer problems. These are the people in your harbor, the ones who will exert the energy to pull your ship in with glee –– if only you serve them well. In the commerce industry, we all know that Amazon has well served the customer –– and has risen the bar for all retail businesses doing the same. Sure, not all of these changes have been ideal. Free shipping hurts the margins of smaller businesses when not accounted for as a marketing expense. Yet, just because the rules changed doesn’t mean they were traditionally right. Bezos is an artist. He sees the light. And he is spreading that vision throughout the industry –– using consumers who have come to expect such high-quality, high-speed service.
What do these three men have in common beyond their gender and race? They turned their point of view, in essence, their style, into a brand and built an audience around it. Sound familiar? It should. This is exactly how the most well-loved artists earn their status, as well.
For scaling businesses looking to solidify their brand immortality, there are quite a few lessons to be taken from the artist’s world. Here are the two most palpable, actionable and immediately relevant for retailers this year.
Provide Timeless Value
Photo: Birkin bag, Flickr, Wen-Cheng Liu
A Beatles’ song never gets old. A Van Gogh painting never tires the eyes. A Birkin bag never goes out of style. This timelessness needs to be a product your business sells –– especially if you’re looking to cement your brand in the consumer’s mind in 2016 and beyond.
See, in a backlash to planned obsolescence (products designed to last a short period to ensure replacement and thus continued sales), today’s most successful designers are focusing on items created to last decades. This means that many retailers are beginning to offer free repair for the lifetime of an object. For instance, if that cashmere sweater does catch a snag –– free mending is guaranteed.
“The recent boom in repairwear services and businesses is driven by two key factors: sustainability and an emotional connection to the product,” writes Andrea Bell in a WGSN report. “As people redefine value, both in the purpose of the item and the monetary worth, there is an increasing importance on repairing cherished products rather than replacing them.”
This mindset is fueling the rise of niche repairwear services and serves as a direct competitor to the pricing race to the bottom with which so many retailers are currently struggling.
Aspire to Aesthetic Excellence
You’ve heard it before: few creators of any kind ever truly feel their work is ready for their audience. These people are perfectionists in an ever-changing world, where even their own opinions about the word they wrote there, the color they used here, are in constant flux.
Yet, you have to go to market at some point in time. You have to see if what you are doing resonates with the audience. You have to test if your idea is meaningful only to you –– or if you’ve struck a chord of universal truth and subsequent mass brand adoption.
There is a difference, however, between minimal viable product readiness and paralyzing aesthetic perfectionism –– and the most successful artists and businesses find the middle ground. They deliver on aesthetic excellence with a high-quality product that leaves room for improvement only for those paying insanely close attention. These people are called critics. These people are industry experts. These people are who you need to impress –– though only after you’ve done so with the public.
It’s safe to say that these days, fast fashion is slowing down and consumers are fully realizing the extent of their purchasing power. Value must be delivered: sustainably, ethically and interestingly. According to WGSN, these 10 key ideas will begin to influence design this year –– and those brands which are fast adopters will likely win over the highest number of loyal consumers in 2016 and beyond.
- Virtual reality: A powerful new medium for design experiences as well as for gaming and travel
- Free-from design: Clean eating extends to clean living and ethical interiors
- Beautiful waste: A new attitude to sustainability will drive architecture, product design and materials
- The kindness economy: Brands and consumers will focus on the good, with small acts of kindness
- Tech woven in: Smart textiles and wireless charging will bring seamless tech to the home
- Bio hacking: Cutting-edge designers will experiment with growing their own organisms
- Think like a lab: The retail lab will redefine how to bring actionable innovation to design and interiors
- Design for wellness: Product design focuses on mindfulness, mood and emotional sensitivity
- Play with me: Interactive retail, tech and home accessories continue the emphasis on fun
- Archive ideas: Exhaustion with the new leads to a refocusing on classic designs and low-tech ideas
Whether or not you see the immediate connection, each of these concepts influence the design of your commerce experience –– online, in marketplaces and in brick-and-mortar. How you allow each of these to influence your design in order to appeal to the new consumer mindset is what will spell success for your business. Remember, we are now living in a channel-less world. Consumers want full experiences, not simply a destination.
Creating unique, valuable products with customer service built into the lifespan of the item as well as crafting immersive and ethical commerce experiences are two key trends likely to resonate with consumers for the next decade. Build them into your business strategy now –– and then reap the benefits for years to come.
Think like an artist. Think like an innovator. Think like your brand will live long after you’re gone –– as will its reputation. Make it memorable.