Don’t get stuck in the middle

Brands must strategically commit to either a high-end or low-fidelity value proposition.

We are seeing a new polarity in brands: companies offer either a low-cost, low-fidelity value or a high-end experience. Consumers will pay a premium for brands that provide a unique über-experience but they also want brands that provide what they want at a low cost. Even mainstream brands need to offer unique experiences in order to influence engagement and commitment and to drive repeat purchase. In 2019, brands that operate in the middle, offering utilitarian value without a distinct point of difference, will die.

Target Smartly
Smartly by Target

On the low-fidelity side, consider food retailers Aldi or Lidl whose value proposition is rooted in an ultimate no-frills experience that provides high quality at low prices. Another example is Public Goods, whose mission is to make healthy products affordable to all by cutting out the middleman. Similarly, Beauty Pie offers “luxury beauty at factory-cost prices” with subscribers paying as little as $10 a month to purchase unbranded beauty products (with a great online experience). Oral care brands such as Boka and Selahatin are going against the category norm by creating elevated but simple packaging for toothpaste. Smartly, Target’s new personal care brand provides fresh looking, effective products in single-serve packaging rather than in bulk for space-and budget-constrained consumers at prices mostly under $2.

Mainstream brands are differentiating through experience, which also includes employing packaging design. For example, enjoyable unboxing experiences drive engagement and brand loyalty while turning everyday items into Instagram-worthy moments. The women’s clothing line MM.LaFleur has an unboxing experience akin to opening a gift on your birthday. Consumers often film themselves unboxing and becoming YouTube stars. Even beverages are getting into the act with flexible, sustainable packaging: Ooho is one that you can eat.

A great example of immersive design comes from Gwynnie Bee, a size-inclusive clothing subscription service. It provides a voice-activated, Alexa-enabled choose-your-own-adventure unboxing experience, allowing customers to interact with and learn about the product as they open each box and try on their selection. The subscriber, acting as the main character of the story, is taken on journeys that place her into unexpected, exciting, and entertaining situations. Each scenario illustrates how and where Gwynnie Bee clothing can be put to use—from the everyday to the unpredictable.

Brands like luxury sunglass retailer Gentle Monster or the Japanese consumer goods retailer Muji are standing out with design thinking. They have engineered every aspect of the customer experience to deliver on their brand ethos.