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Retail Cinema: Bridging the Multigenerational Customer Experience

How a unique cinematic approach can help heritage brands engage both Gen Z and older generations

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As retail designers, the most common question posed by the heritage brands we work with is “How can we engage and retain a younger customer without alienating our loyal, older customer base?” This arduous question plagues numerous retailers within the industry and isn’t isolated to a single sector.  Although the solutions are rarely a one-size-fits-all answer, each sector has its unique obstacles. Fearful of pushing the needle too far in one direction or another, retailers can become paralyzed with indecision. In our hypercompetitive retail landscape, any kind of inaction can swiftly prompt the decline of a brand. How can heritage brands encompass the “best of both worlds” and be both reliable and consistent to their loyal customer base while also being cutting edge, relevant and inventive to attract younger customers? Perhaps the approach isn’t to examine the retail industry, but to look at other industries that have confronted similar dichotomies.   

One such industry is cinema. Perhaps a unique storytelling approach used to engage a wide generational audience could benefit retail brands: the use of anachronism.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the term as “an error in chronology; a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects or customs in regard to each other.” In film, however, the use of anachronism is intentional and used as a way to improve an audience’s understanding of characters and events of the narrative particularly for younger audiences with no cultural connection to a historic plot or time period.

Although unique and sometimes controversial, several notable film directors have utilized anachronism in historic adaptations. In 2013, director Baz Luhrmann released his cinematic version of the iconic novel, “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Leading roles by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire and the use of modern-day music to depict the electrical party culture of The Roaring Twenties were the notable chronological departure. Pop music and rap music replaced the jazz of that era in the movie’s soundtrack, because rap and pop music are now what jazz was back then. This approach made the culture of the ’20s relatable to modern audiences.

Music appears to be the most common way cinema integrates anachronism. Heritage brands can utilize other methods and approaches to achieve the same or similar effect to create an emotional and relevant connection to the brand regardless of the customer’s age.

Gen Z is comprised of those between the ages of 7 and 22, generally born between 1995 and 2010. Research is already indicating this will be the most elusive customer generation for retailers to engage. Heritage brands will have the best opportunity to utilize an anachronistic approach in retail environments because of their story, honoring their loyal customers while creating a relevant and modern retail store experience that captures the attention of Gen Z.

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Here are a few ways heritage brands can use anachronism in store experiences:

·         A comfortable ratio of heritage versus modern, with heritage being the dominant feature. The historic roots of the brand should remain prominent throughout.

·         Historically relevant finishes and materials (an homage to the brand’s origin and time period) paired with subtle yet powerful modern finishes and materials. Wrought iron mixed with titanium or suede and velvet textiles with modern patterns and colors.

·         Vintage tech with modern content. An antique television set or a projector with modern brand imagery and video. The use of old-school projection on rough surfaces (brick or stone) can be visually powerful and a welcome departure from the omnipresent LED-screen tech that appears to be taking over retail. Rotary phone? Not many Gen Z customers have seen a rotary phone.

·         Curated modern playlists within a heritage environment. Pay tribute to all generations by selecting music that can elevate a retail experience for all, but is still in alignment with the brand presentation.

·         Traditional brand messaging but in modern graphic design. Words of wisdom from our grandparents but in a modern typeface. Fresh interpretation of heritage brand messages incorporated in subtle ways and locations within the store.

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As the retail industry continues to struggle bridging the gap between older and younger customers, sometimes the solutions to consider reside in other industries facing similar challenges. Cinema is powerful, emotional and memorable. Heritage brands should take cues from cinema to elevate their retail brand experience, ultimately becoming timeless.

Myra is a principal within the retail market at MG2, an architecture and design firm based in Seattle. From established global retailers to the start-up brand about to make its mark – she enjoys partnering with clients seeking to be pioneers in their industry. By always raising the bar, she seeks to foster collaborative and creative partnerships that generate successful store design and implementation. She brings a constant curiosity of consumer behaviors, brand experience and a passion to retail and architectural design projects.

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