The keys to unlocking a desirable and engaging brand experience in 2024

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

By Marco Passoni

There is no doubt that brands are working hard in both the luxury and travel retail sectors in 2024, but I increasingly find myself asking if, in travel retail certainly, they are working in the right way. Or even, are some working as hard as they claim?

Think back to your last trip to the airport, what stood out for you? What made you stop as you rushed to the gate? We talk a lot in travel retail about how to engage consumers in an environment where time and space are limited, but do we truly believe that a brightly coloured stand and some digital screens are going to do that? How disruptive are a QR code and an online game? Or a large branded board? And if everyone is doing this, which they are, is this actually making a difference?

Now, think about the brands you love. Think about the last time a brand experience or display made you stop and say ‘wow’. What was it that set it apart? I would bet that it was a piece of great, branded storytelling, delivered expertly across every touchpoint. A brand’s story is its greatest capital and one of its most powerful assets, but too often today it is diluted and side-lined in favour of what is easy.

I recently read an excellent column by Daniel Langer for Jing Daily, which rightly called out the “sea of sameness” in the luxury sector, calling on brands to not do the minimum expected of them and begin to work on creating truly engaging and desirable moments for shoppers. He highlighted four excellent changes which are needed: Refining brand stories. Understanding and expanding the audience. Elevating the shopper experience. Embracing digital innovation with exclusivity.

It comes as no surprise to me that very similar complaints could be made about the travel retail sector – the truth is that the sea of sameness is something that travel retail brands have swum in for too long. It is time to fly.

Focus on the story

For travel retail, storytelling is key to crafting desirable and engaging brand experiences. But this means that brands must understand their story, how to bring it to life in the world, how their customers engage with it, and then create spaces and experiences tailored to those needs. Each of these spaces must then be brought to life by a trained and supported staff, who have elite understanding of how to engeage shoppers in the high-pressure travel retail environment. Creating pop-up spaces with branding and a social media picture wall is not engagement, it is the bare minimum – the right to play.

Unlock the potential of people

I cannot overstate the vital role that staff play in creating truly memorable travel retail experiences. That is actually as true for negative experiences as positive ones. The best branded space can be let down by disengaged or poorly trained staff. But a team who truly understand both the brand story and the shoppers, and have been supported to deliver the best for both, are an invaluable asset. Travel retail staff must recognise the challenges they face, and how to engage the shoppers in the time they have. This requires dedicated training and support from both sides of the business – brand and retailer. Our people are our frontline, if they are not given the tools to succeed then our brands never can.

Tailor the offer

How a brand story is brought to life is about audience and medium. Brands must fully understand their own shoppers, which shoppers they reach in each space and both the limitations and opportunities of that space. Then each touchpoint must be tailored. Copy and paste is never going to be enough. It is time that travel retail stopped looking around to ensure it is keeping up and began trying to lead. We have shoppers in a small space who are pressed for time, but we have directed footfall and an opportunity to make a stunning impact. But only one opportunity. So how do we do this? We try to do something new. Collaborate, engage your partners and your peers to make something special. From branded bars to luxury brand bookstores, we have seen great examples of how this can work, but there are not enough of them.

And this elevated and unique experience must cross from online to offline seamlessly. Both should be distinct and play to their strengths, but they must be linked. If a brand’s online experience is luscious but its airport space is quickly put together and boring then the online experience was a waste.

Think outside the box

I am not pretending this is easy. I joined a very interesting conversation on LinkedIn this week, in fact inspired by Daniel Langer’s article, which highlighted some of the key issues: space is always a challenge for us, for example. But we were all aware that we must think outside the box, both literally and figuratively. We must move beyond box stores to make bespoke spaces and we must staff them with people who are trained, supported and passionate, to unlock a service which can be truly special.

To make something amazing, brands today must look to craft something which is truly theirs; their story brought to life and tailored to the needs of the people and space it inhabits. If it is the same as someone else’s then either one brand is cheating or both are cutting corners – and neither is acceptable if you want to play at the top.

Marco Passoni has decades of experience in the travel retail sector. He has spent the majority of his career in senior leader positions throughout the market, including a 12-year tenure as CEO of a leading international Duty Free distribution company and a further 8 years running a retail firm that operated fashion mono-brand stores in several international airports.
Today, as Senior Executive VP and founding partner of 2.0 & Partners, he leads the company’s efforts in developing and innovating services which create new opportunities and partnerships for all members of the travel retail Trinity. A former elite-level sailor, with a World Championship to his name, Marco now spends much of his time airside, experiencing the changing travel retail industry first-hand, to better guide partners and clients on the best way to do business in this vibrant and unique market.