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David Kepron

Brain Food: “Creative Collaborative Consumerism”

Engaging the maker-culture in the creation of relevant shopping experiences

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Shopper-storytellers are now influencers. And they know it.

Armed with smartphones, customers now create digital stories fed into the “digi-sphere” at almost every opportunity. This sort of customer empowerment is not something to be feared or abated, but to be carefully studied, understood and harnessed by retailers and brands.

Generations of technology users are becoming very comfortable with the idea of “now.” For them, now is natural and waiting is wasteful. They expect things to happen in an instant because they expect the delta between cause and effect in the digital world is continually diminishing. A defining feature of the new, digital economy will be that “normal” will be in a constant state of flux. And, this is not a top-down change, but one that’s being driven from the bottom up; from consumers pushing content into the system against the traditional flow of brands to retailers to customers. It’s a good thing that shoppers’ brains like change and novelty, because it will be the predominant theme defining the future of digitally driven shopping places.

Our life experiences are increasingly recorded as memories in pieces – digital factoids that can be quickly stored and distributed – rather than complete stories. As an experience unfolds in front of us, we grab the smartphone, record and hit send. We seem to experience life episodically, rather than holistically.

As life accelerates around us, we see that customers are naturally more impatient. Brand messages need to be conveyed quickly, as well. Transmitting relevant content to potential customers has got to keep time with everything else that’s speeding by in their lives. When conveying a message to a shopper, it must be to-the-point and uniquely crafted for the individual, rather than for the masses, and remain relevant enough to capture and retain their attention.

With the increasing use of mobile devices to create image-based content, shoppers may also come to expect that their interaction with the environment can be as easily modified as a picture they take, changed by the addition of a filter, an added texture and lighting effects, and finally cropped to post to social media. The ability to edit images or video content for rebroadcast is equipping people with the ability to create and express decontextualized visual memory segments of their lives.

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In the emerging culture of media creators, it isn’t enough simply to capture an image of the environment the way it is. Capture, edit and archive to our digital life stream, is the way we share our life stories.

What does this imply? People will claim more creative control over their environments than ever before, modifying as they participate in them.

I can see this in my 13-year-old son’s skill at “doing an edit” of his experiences. This is more than adding a little personal touch, to “make it his own.” Remaking the world in his own image gives him a sense of agency, as well as the validation that he’s part of a larger whole. As he participates in experience creation, it is inherently more relevant to him – they are uniquely about his view of the world, even if through the editing process the projection of the experience is less “as lived” and slightly more “as imagined” or “hoped to have been lived.”

As the adoption of wearable technology takes hold, it will support the customer’s desire for the creation of relevant personal experiences. AR overlays seen through wearable technology will not only be under the retailer’s or brand’s control, customers will want a say in what they’re seeing in the stores they visit. They will want to actively co-create digitally augmented spaces or access on-demand media content that becomes part of the shopping journey as they live it. When customers equipped with wearable technology can project their own digital content into a blank space on the wall, how will the idea of digital signage be transformed?

In future shopping environments, big data, predictive analytics, facial recognition systems, wearable and haptic technology, and the co-creation of digital content, will coalesce in what I call “Creative Collaborative Consumerism.”

Shopping experiences will not be a one-size-fits-all solution based on demographics, but on the opt-in exchange of digital life-stream content and the collaborative co-creation of merchandise assortments and, quite possibly, the actual physical environments in which they are displayed. Customers will actively participate in and “own” the stores they visit because they will have, in part, made them. For my soon-to-be-avid-shopper young son, he will come to expect what he creates on his digital device to translate to his shopping experience.

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It’s crucial to observe social media trends and how they’re being ushered in, filled in, tuned in (and out). These observations can help retailers and brands prepare for the shopper-storytellers of tomorrow. In a retail world that will be less and less about delivering relevant shopping journeys, or satisfaction through price points and endless choices, retailers that engage the customer in creatively making a positive experience will have a competitive advantage.

Capturing the attention, imagination and wallets of shoppers will be no small task. It will require the collaborative creativity of the masses. As the Internet enables the extension of the shopper’s brain across a vast network, like-minds will form creative coalitions that will share energy and information. They will provide feedback throughout the making of stores, from product design to environments that will have the capability to change in real-time to meet the needs of the individual.

“Creative collaborative consumerism” co-ops the creative process, where designers, brands, retailers and shoppers are truly in sync as quick-change artists who will use traditional architecture and digital media to engage the creative right-brain in making relationships and relevant experiences.

David Kepron is the creative director of Little’s Brand Experience Studio and author of “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World,” published by ST Media Group Intl. and available online from ST Books. His retail design work focuses on the creation of relevant shopping experiences at the intersection of architecture, sociology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies. @davidkepron; www.retail-r-evolution.com; www.littleonline.com

Be sure to see David's session (“Design is Not a Department: Understanding and Engaging the Creative Mind in Retail Place Making“) at IRDC this year, Sept. 9-11 in Austin, Texas! For more information about IRDC, visit IRDConline.com.

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