My worlds are colliding. Immersive Experiences and Innovation Labs are coming together to give corporations a way to experiment with lean startup methodologies to capture some of that D2C magic. In the past, Innovation Labs or Skunkworks, were hidden away from corporations and VERY far away from consumers. The wild laboratories where mad scientists could try new things without fear of harming the bread and butter of the corporate machine. But as the lean startup and agile methodologies have gained business momentum and D2C products have sliced away at market share, larger corporations are putting their test labs front and center for their consumers.
We saw the power of immersive experiences when we helped to launch the Museum of Ice Cream and have been helping corporations build out their corporate innovation practices for years. To put them together enables corporations to test new products in iterative sprints and gauge real customer reaction. It also enables brands to provide unique experiences that lead to loyalty, new customer acquisition, and a monetizable test kitchen for taking chances. Here are a few of our favorites.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery – NYC
We went to the opening of the first Roastery in Seattle a few years back, and it was nothing short of Willy Wonka for coffee. The new 23,000-foot grandiose coffee experience in the Meatpacking District opened this week and allows consumers to try small-batch coffees, mixed coffee drinks at the bar, and delicious pastries. “Much of what we think about the Roasteries has not only created that elevated experience for our customers, but it’s an innovation lab for us,” CEO Kevin Johnson said. “This is a place for us to try new beverages, experiment with new things.” Its AR experience showcases “key elements of the bean-to-cup journey that starts by planting a virtual coffee tree, then dives deeper at select points to understand the art and science that goes into cultivating, roasting and serving our coffee.” Of course, you will need to download the Starbucks app for this experience.
Kellogg’s NYC
Kellogg’s cereal café in the heart of Union Square allows Kellogg’s to test celebrity collaborations, new flavors, and new business channels such as catering, birthday parties, and delivery. Kellogg’s Marketing Director Aleta Chase said in a statement, "We are excited to bring even bigger ideas to life in our new home and create fun, unique cereal experiences that feed into foodie culture." There’s an Instagram station with props for social media sharing and as Chase continued, "allows us to continue appealing to millennials and feed into foodie culture." Executive Director of The Union Square Partnerships Jennifer Falk stated that, “As a neighborhood that serves as an incubator for new food concepts, we are excited to welcome Kellogg's NYC Café to Union Square's vibrant, ever-evolving culinary mix."
Macy’s Goes Story & B8ta
Earlier this year, Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette outlined "Growth 50," a new plan to bring experiments to 50 stores nationwide. The first major steps in that plan were acquiring Story, a Manhattan-based concept store, and making Story’s founder Rachel Shechtman Macy's new Chief Brand Experience Officer. Story has the point of view of a magazine, changes themes like a gallery, and sells products like a store. We first experienced it as a Mr. Robot takeover for USA Network. The second major step was a strategic alliance with B8ta, an experiential retailer and technology platform.
B8ta describes itself as “retail built for discovery” and believes that “brick and mortar should be as easy, smart, and open as online.” Their NYC store is within Macy’s, which is part of their larger retail strategy that has included opening 70 shop-in-shops across the U.S in addition to their 9 flagship locations. In 2018, they launched Built by B8ta to create world-class flagship stores for brands. “We've changed the landscape of retail for the better—but we're just getting started.”
You can read more about our take on Nike and Cover-Girl’s new NYC retail experiences here. But this type of beta-retail test-kitchen isn’t just for the huge corporations. There are several concept stores that enable brands to test-out their products in a retail-as-a-service model. Two of our favorites are Appear Here, which rents pop-up spaces around the world, and Sourced Market, which allows local food startups to have shelf space and crowdfund their growth (think Kick-Starter Brick-and-Mortar style).
Corporations are starting to realize that the customer is the channel. Regardless of where the customer wants to shop, you need to be there with them and deliver new thinking and experiences for them. This allows you the freedom to try new things to excite them. So, much like D2C brands test their products on kick-starter or Indie-Go-Go, larger corporations can create experiences to get direct feedback from their customers and build their relationships even as they test out the future.
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