EPISODE 082 : 10/06/2022
Ian Johnston is the Founder and Creative Director at Quinine, a world-leading retail experience consultancy that recently won a DBA Design Effectiveness Award. With over 20 years of experience on both the design and retail sides of the business, Ian is well-versed in delivering impactful and meaningful brand experiences.
Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Ian Johnston
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Topics discussed in this episode
- Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
- Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
- Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
- Opportunities for small business loyalty programs
Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel
Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snowshoe. Your smart, your loyalty leader Spark Plug is happy to welcome Ian Johnston to the podcast today. Ian is the founder and creative director at Quinine a world leading retail experience consultancy, they won a DBA Design Effectiveness Award recently. Congratulations. And with over 20 years of experience on the design and retail sides of the business, Ian is really well versed in talking about brand and retail, and he’s been, of course, director in product design at Madrid’s Institute of Design is advised a lot of people and we’re happy to have his advice here today. Welcome in.
Ian Johnston [00:00:46] Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure.
Ned Hayes [00:00:49] Well, could you give us a little bit about your career history and highlights? What’s your path that led you to this place.
Ian Johnston [00:00:55] Led me to this podcast? Well, my path originally I’m originally from Vancouver in Canada, and I traveled to go to school to go to art school in Toronto, study, industrial design. And in fact, industrial design was a bit of a unknown to me at that time. I actually went to school to study branding and communications, and it was only by chance that I took an industrial design course in my foundation and fell in love with it and fell in love with the notions around products and people and understanding behavior. And I guess I was I spent four years there doing that degree and was lucky enough to get a traveling scholarship by a very affluent family in Canada. The husband gave the wife a present for their wedding anniversary, and I was the recipient of that scholarship, which allowed me to travel to the RCA where I took industrial design there as well. And that was really transformative in the way that it really led me to a sort of human centric approach, you know, understanding people and how to solve their problems. And after working here in London, I worked for a number of product design companies here. I was invited back to the Royal College of Arts. In fact, they have a research center there called the Helen Hamlin Research Center, which really focused on inclusive design and designing for the margins and the impact you can have in society around design. And that was really amazing and transformative for me in many ways. When I came out of the RCA, there was this kind of moment in time where, you know, designer as maker and as sort of rock star was emerging, right? And companies were promoting Philip Stark and Tom Dixon, all these guys. And Helen Hamlin gave me an opportunity to in many ways validate my own process, right? Use design and research together, understand people’s problems, and really start to hone in on some research skills. And using design in research in many ways, the project I did was around, remember, this is back in the turn of the century here. Back in 2001, mobile phones were just on the rise and a sort of new remote worker was emerging. And I worked I did a project around fluid workspaces and fluid people. Right. And it was an office furniture maker that actually I collaborated with on the project. And that was really kind of amazing. And the results that came out of that. When I graduated or completed the project, a number of other furniture companies asked me to do the same thing. Can you do that for me as well? I can’t do the same thing, but I can do something slightly different toward your audience and your brands. And I guess from there I kind of happenstance I realized actually I could make a company up. This wasn’t something I actually planned to do. And I started to invite some of my friends and colleagues that I met at college to join me on that journey. And I guess through that did a whole bunch of research based projects and design executions around furniture, school furniture for kids and really, really fantastic. But it wasn’t until a friend of ours introduced us to Orange Telecommunications was a telecoms company here that the world really started to open up for us where we were sort of invited into their world and started to work very commercially with big brands. And that led to Quentin as it stands today, I guess.
Ned Hayes [00:04:12] Wow, that’s quite a journey. I was really struck by a number of the anecdotes you’re related there, but one of them was that you were drawn to work kind of at the edge, at the margins. And I’m curious if that was your original motivation for going into this field, if you wanted to kind of expand the world for people?
Ian Johnston [00:04:28] Well, it’s interesting that you say that. And, you know, in many ways, I grew up as a product designer. Right. And focusing on people and how brands translate themselves physically into objects. And so there’s a real kind of connection around solving people’s problems there. And retail wasn’t really a part of my education, and in many ways it’s not really part of many design schools back then and even today, it’s not something that’s taught. And so we were quite reluctant when Orange called us up and asked us to get involved in a retail project too, as we worked with them, we. Started to see a little, you know, huge gaps in what was happening. Right. There was a great focus on manufacturing. There was a great focus on marketing. But the user, the human experience that was involved wasn’t really understood. And it really started to open up the possibilities for us. And it really brought a new kind of thinking to the table. And it was really, really inspiring, and it just grew from there. We then one project grew into another one. They really liked what we did, had great success, not just commercially, but by the users that were taking it on. And so although it wasn’t the starting point, it really opened up and gave us a point of difference to that discipline in many ways. What we find today, though, which is really interesting, it’s not something I knew back then, but in many ways retail design is such a comprehensive discipline it brings together almost all the disciplines in many ways brings together architecture, branding, communications, fashion. You need to have a strategic mind. You need to think about the operations. It’s very, very complex. There’s so many different stakeholders that are actually involved in it. And for me, that was the really exciting thing about this collaboration you could do with all these different kinds of designers, right? And for me, that was really where where I found a lot of excitement in addition to helping people and focusing on the sort of human centric approach that we follow.
Ashley Coates [00:06:22] Well, I think the night you really started to talk about why design is so important in the retail space, and I think you even refer to it as the power of design, is that the term you like to use?
Ian Johnston [00:06:33] Yeah, that’s a quote. I’m not sure where I got that. That’s definitely not mine, but I really believe in that. And it’s something in many ways we struggled with. You know, sometimes design is considered a commodity, right? And sometimes it’s not fully understood. Right. It’s for me, design is a lot more than just making beautiful things. Obviously, it’s attached to that intrinsically. You know, ultimately we make things or we ask people to make things for us in many ways, right? But for me, design, the power of design is the combination of, you know, design thinking and design making an iterative process that weaves those two areas together. Right? It’s about critically thinking about something coming up with a strategic approach and then delivering that strategic approach and understanding how it comes to life and then iterating on that again. Right? And so that sort of iterative process is really, really, really powerful and interesting. And so for me, understanding that design is not just about making things beautiful, it’s a process. It’s a process of thinking and seeing and doing. And that really expands where you can start to apply it, right? It’s not just at the end of the process. It actually is really, really valuable at the beginning of the process as well helps people see things differently. We always talk about giving people different points of view and linking together things that don’t normally or most people don’t think actually fits in a story. And so for me, there’s lots more to give in design. And we talked about the power design and ultimately making something is such a, you know, when when you cook and you make a meal, right? You get such a warm feeling when you actually can tangibly make something. And so it does have you know, I think it is true the power of design is infectious. Right. People love to be part of that creative process.
Ned Hayes [00:08:14] Well, I’d like to ask a little bit about what your day to day work is like when what happens.
Ian Johnston [00:08:20] Well, it’s interesting. I mean, no day is the same, right? We have a tendency certainly Clinton is very much a sort of we always think of ourselves as a external internal agency. Right. We work very hard for our clients and in many ways we become friends. And so we play many roles in that sphere. Right. It’s not just about making things we play. You know, every day I wake up and some new problem exist, right? Sometimes I’m a psychologist, I’m a maker, I’m a researcher. Sometimes I play strategists, sometimes I play collaborator. Negotiator, right? I play technologist, futurist as well. And so my day to day is somewhat dynamic. I would say no day is the same. I wear many different hats and we play in many different roles for our clients rights. In many ways we’re there and supporting them, helping them answer the questions that they have. You know, whatever those questions are, they might be design related, they might be business related. They’re very, very varied in what we help our clients with. So I still have my hair, as you can see. So that’s a good sign, right? It’s not too bad. I feel very fortunate and in what I’m able to do and the fact that I study and execute what I do in front of business in that way is a pure pleasure. And I feel grateful, very, very grateful for it.
Ashley Coates [00:09:40] Also, when you’re working on projects with clients where some of the biggest considerations that you’re looking at when you’re looking at retail opportunities, what factors are you weighing in your projects?
Ian Johnston [00:09:51] Okay, that’s how long how long do we have to keep it concise? So, I mean, our approach is very holistic, right? It’s a. Considering everything right. In many ways as a designer, considering things upfront is such a you know, it’s a cheap and effective way. You know, if you have to think about things down the line and and address them down the line, that’s where it becomes really, really expensive. Changing things halfway through a process. So we really try to look at things from many, many different points of view. We have a framework we call the kind of happiness circle, right? And it kind of combines looking at a business or looking at a problems through a business point of view, through a brand’s point of view, through a customer’s point of view, and even a staff member point of view. Right? And so each one of those has multiple factors that we include in it. And yeah, it’s really important to, I guess as a designer to take all of these considerations in and find a balance. Right, because everyone can’t every stakeholder can’t have everything all the time. Right. And a designer’s able to in some ways prioritize or find a balance. You know, what are the most important factors and considerations that need to be addressed? Where are we going to get the most value? What is the most cost effective way to achieve those things? Right. And so when I think about the business, I mean, there’s multiple factors, right, for retail sales and service channels, that type of format that you look at, the type of products, the type of segmentation, the services like the list is long, right? When I think about the brand, I think about the positioning, the promise, the palette and tone of voice. When I think about the customer, this is a really interesting one at the moment. I don’t know if it was accelerated through the pandemic, but what people value and what people want. Then the retail experience is changing in front of our eyes, right? We’ve come from a place where convenience and price was the most important value that people expected. Right now, there’s so many different expectations from customers. And so how do we take that into account? Right. Is range a consideration now over price and convenience? Is someone’s customer service an issue? Is quality an issue? And so really tried to help our clients prioritize and look through all these considerations. Right. It’s an ever increasing sort of problem we go through balancing out one part of the business consideration versus another parts and communicating to them why some are more important. Or we can address them in this way and we have to maybe hold tight on those and we’ll deal with them in a different way.
Ned Hayes [00:12:24] I know you mentioned the pandemic and I know with supply chain issues, some consumers are still seeing empty shelves. So I’m curious if there are kind of lasting effects from the pandemic that you’re still helping retailers to deal with?
Ian Johnston [00:12:37] Well, it’s interesting you say there, you know, it wasn’t just supply chains that pulled things off shelves. In our business. We do a lot of, you know, demonstrations and touch. So a lot of things were moved off the shelves because people didn’t want to touch things. Right. And that left for me a very risky strategy, because if you take things off people’s shelves and don’t give them anything to do in retail, you know, will they come back? Right. And so we really pushed our clients at that time to lean into that a little bit. But, you know, the whether it’s the war that we’re experience here in the Ukraine, you know, energy is a big issue, right? There’s some pretty obvious ones that are impacting big factors personal finance, inflation. Right. Increasing rents and the dynamics between landlords. That’s a big one as well. But I guess when we think and in our world, those are bigger business problems and of course we lean into those and talk about those and those are really different in the regions that we work in, right. Whether we’re working in Canada or the states, slightly different approaches to that. But when I think about how we look at a retail store specifically, you know, the factors that are impacting retail, one of the big ones is staff, right? Getting the right staff, retaining them, training them. We were talking earlier, you know, my trips to Vancouver recently, I saw so many signs in stores looking for staff. Right. And so reeducating and retraining the staff. Right. We always think of the store as a tool for the staff. Right. It’s their workplace in many ways. It’s a really good way to flip the whole way you look at a store. And so that, I think, has been a big change. That’s that’s a new thing we’re dealing with. But mostly it’s the shifting sort of consumer mindset. As I said, you know, the expectations of value, how they buy, where they buy, even why they buy is really shifting in front of our eyes. It’s changing in front of our eyes. That’s having an impact on, you know, localization, returns, deliveries, convenience. All of those things are sort of weaving their way into the physical formats. And so it’s a really, really dynamic time as retailers start to figure out how they accommodate those in their formats. Right. Or do they create new formats to do that?
Ashley Coates [00:14:38] Absolutely. Time is much changed. Well, so I know that Quentin is coming out soon with the Let’s Get Phygital report. I believe that’s coming out later this fall. Annette and I were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at this report. It’s quite thorough. Can you tell us a little bit about that support?
Ian Johnston [00:14:56] Well, we hope it’s not too long. It’s not too long.
Ashley Coates [00:15:00] It was very insightful. Fascinating.
Ian Johnston [00:15:03] So this is something we’ve been dealing with Quentin for a while, right? Like Phygital is not a new even though it’s a new word. And we kind of like, let’s get phygital. It’s a great Segway, but we’ve been talking about this for a while. And in many ways the digital conversation has been driven by, you know, digital agencies and marketing agencies for for a long time it has been on one side. It’s been an operational tool, but in many ways it’s been a sort of marketing tool. I get messages into store, right? And I guess as we started to work with our clients, they started to ask us and we always thought this was the remit of the digital agencies. Right. You know, where do we put digital interventions? Why do we put them there? What technology should I use? Right. We started to understand that and working with them, they’re very much focused on the digital interface, right? They call it the customer experience right now. We could write a whole nother podcast about that word in itself and how it’s limiting its possibilities by only contextualizing it to words. You know, the digital interface. And what we find is they’re just really focused on putting those assets in store, you know, how they’re physical sized, right? And so the report really comes from that, the need that our clients had, help us understand where we put it, the technology, what technology we use and why is it part of the customer journey and what benefits is that going to give our clients? And so as we started to think this through, we started to, I guess, pull together some insights, rights. And as you know, the report holds sort of eight principles that we think are worth people reviewing and understanding rights. And it’s things that like, it’s always about flipping things, right? It’s not. We know that digital can enhance the physical, but how does the physical enhance the digital rights? Right now, they use a lot of hand experiences for digital rights, the same content I can see on my browser or on my website. Right? And so that doesn’t really demand, you know, a unique experience, doesn’t create a new experience. Right? And so we got to make sure that we use digital to create really unique experiences. Right. You know, that, you know, that’s true and appealing for people. You know, I love going to the movies, right. Which is a canned experience, I would say. Right. It’s scalable and repeatable. But, you know, going to a theater and seeing a live event. Right. It’s that much more human. It’s that much more unique and special. And so we try to talk about how you can combine the physical and the digital to create those unique experiences. Right. And, you know, touching on that a little bit more, we always talk about how, you know, the best digital experiences involved humans. Right. It’s got to be a human experience as well. Right. Technology too far away never gets used. And so the best experiences I find intertwined, not just the physical, not the digital, but the human as well.
Ned Hayes [00:17:51] So I really enjoyed reading the digital report and I found really compelling the kind of way that you boil it down in the executive summary. At the beginning, the four things that are pointed out are leverage the customer device. You know, customers walk in the store with their device and then define the experience first and the technology is second. I think that’s so key, being able to actually focus on what’s the customer going to experience. So foreground the technology and then creating unique phygital retail experiences and then making things sticky and frictionless. So that’s kind of the high level one page, you know, executive summary for a document that really drills into great depth that, you know, over 100 pages, over 130 pages. So do those four kind of steps, the leveraging the customer device, the planning, the experience, the uniqueness of the experience, making a ticket frictionless. Does that really do justice to the whole report?
Ian Johnston [00:18:49] There’s a few more than that as well, that there’s sort of eight kind of principles that we hone in on. But I think you pick, you know, some of the really more potent ones. And in many ways, you know, the report talks and gives a lot of examples. Right. We talk and try to find some experiences that are happening and use retailers or other parts of our society that bring these digital or phygital experiences to life. But if we go back to the one that you maybe picked out, you know, consider the customer experience first versus the technology seconds. And that really for me is one of the fundamental rights. And that came out of an experience we continually had, right? Well, in many ways, two kinds of experiences. One of them was a senior leader, a CEO, coming to us and saying, hey, I saw this great bit of technology. We need to have it in the store. Right, with no real purpose behind it. Why do I have it? What benefit does it give my customer? Where do I put it? How much does it cost? How do I support it, you know, with assets? And so for me, digital is just another design tool. I have like color, like scale, like lighting finishes. And so it needs to. Be used at certain moments along that journey. Let’s define the journey and then understand what are the tools I want to use at that moment to create that value? If digital is the right answer, perfect, let’s go for it. It has a huge amount of advantages and possibilities, but define the customer experience first and then apply the right technology. The second one was that retail is reactive, right? We’re responding to things that happened maybe with our competitors or happening in society. And that’s a very tactical approach. Right? We always want to think strategically about things. So we were always asked, hey, we’ve got this new campaign and it wants to use this technology. And so we would try to place it in store. The only problem with that is, you know, three months down the road, Q2 comes up. It’s a new tactic we’re going to employ with a new technology. And so we’re just repeating the same process over and over again with new bit of technology. Very little. That technology was used for the next experience. And so that’s not a healthy kind of framework for retailers to work in. And we talk about it, I guess, in the report about thinking strategically, know, understanding what you want to do in five or ten years and working back from there. Right? That’s a much better approach. You’re going to save time and money in the long run if you think strategically rather than tactically.
Ashley Coates [00:21:20] I think that’s a really important distinction that you’re drawing me in. Can you give us an example of a solution you came up with that did involve digital, but it started with that strategic thinking, a question that one of your clients had and you did use digital to solve that.
Ian Johnston [00:21:36] Oh, God. Well, I guess, you know, we’re still in early days as retailers adapt to the new phygital. Right. And the infrastructures and the legacy systems are really quite you know, they’re coming together. One of the big problems is a lot of retailers have these old legacy systems that we’ve got to work together. Right. And so the one that we’ve probably employed the most is around increasing range and stock levels, using digital screens in store, whether you call them endless aisles. Right. You can see it now happen quite a bit. Right. And why it’s strategic. Right. And not just tactical, because someone may think it’s just putting screens in and loading up my Web page. Right. But when you start to think how I can use that technology strategically, it really starts to say, Well, hey, I don’t need 3000 square feet of store space anymore. Right? I want to go into I don’t want to be in strip malls out of town where I get 3000 feet. I want to be in urban centers where I have 500 square feet or, you know, a thousand square feet. And so as soon as I change the dynamics of the range of the products I have in a physical store, I can start to think differently about where I might go. And so my distribution strategy starts to change based on how I employ a sort of digital strategy, right? And so it’s using that back and forth at the moment, right? And so, I mean, we’re right in the heart of it. And I think a lot of the next year, I think 6 to 12 months, you’re going to see some really amazing phygital strategies come to life as really retailers adapt and adjust post-pandemic, right? It’s been a quite a shift for them as they pick up speed and really get into their full stride as they once were.
Ned Hayes [00:23:22] Well, so your agency recently won this DBA Design Effectiveness Award, so could you tell us more about that? How did you win this great award?
Ian Johnston [00:23:30] Awards are always you know, any type of award is an amazing thing to win. But the award for us was a really kind of monumental moment. Right. It talks about not about how something looks. A lot of awards that you get our best store of the year. Right. And it really looks at the look and feel of how a store presents itself. And that’s obviously is really important. But Quentin, we’re really focused on how things work. Right. I talked earlier how they work for the business, the brand, the customers and the staff. And so the effectiveness award talks about the impact that design can have on a brand. Right. It’s not just a commercial impact because obviously that’s really, really important. But we talk about, you know, the impact culturally. Does it change the internal culture or the way a brand is perceived? Right. And so we use metrics like that. We also use metrics around the impact and show the impact in terms of progress. Right. Can you leave a brand or take a brand and grow them from where they were to a place they once were? And so the award itself kind of validated our process. And so for us, it was a huge win, right? And I would really invite anyone to go and look at the DBA because it really going back to the beginning, the power of design, right? Design is a business tool that, you know, brands can use to help them achieve their goals. It really talks to that. It’s an award scheme that really talks to the impact of design. Very difficult. In retail to hone in on certain things that have that impact. Right. Like I said before, there’s so many different stakeholders involved. How do you actually quantify that? It was that this design and that design. And so we went through a real rigorous process of picking out some of the interventions that we employed that had an impact. Right. And we designed the E-Store some of those listeners don’t know is a telecommunications company here in the UK and listening from, you know, having mobile phones or selling mobile phones to bringing in Internet, home security, a whole bunch of other kinds of services to be as well. And so the brief that was given to us was we were designing a store that was going to be rolled out nationally. So it had to be scalable, had to fit many different sizes. But the brief we were given was how do you sell our customers more of the things they don’t know we have, right? Which is a challenge. Right. And so we really started to flip how the customer journey and how someone might perceive a telecommunications store. You know, we put the devices at the back of the store, the classic sort of customer journey and most stories is, you know, they walk three meters and they touch a few phones and then they leave, right? And so we really played on that natural behavior. But the phones at the back, you know, we turned a three meter journey into a 30 meter journey, right? And so on that route to the back of the store, we had these highlights which we called progressive learners that interrupted their pathway and presented these new products to them. And so when you take the phones and or the devices and the tablets and you put them at the back of the store, it really changes what you can do with the store. Right. And so we were able to turn the whole center of the store into a customer service area. Right. And we really looked at how different aspects and different interactions between customers, whether you’re standing at a table, you’re sitting in a booth, maybe you’re sitting on a sofa, how that dynamism and how you can relate to a customer really enhances the way the staff and the customer work together. Right. And by putting the the devices at the back, the service in the center, it opened up the front of the store where we could create an event space, a showcase to demonstrate all of these new products. And so it was those simple interventions. You know, it’s not rocket science. It’s just about listening to the brief and thinking about how I could change the way that we normally do things. And it was those interventions that ultimately gave a really, really fantastic commercial uplift and therefore the award. And so it was great to get that recognition, especially as it’s kind of judged by not designers, right? It’s judged by CEOs and senior business leaders. And so for them to recognize that was a real plus for us and the team in the office. Right. It’s really great validation. All the extra hours and and nights they were it was a great success.
Ashley Coates [00:27:44] Well, congratulations again. That sounds like a very cool shopping experience for the customer. And I know, Ian, that in addition to running in that you also have a focus on education and you work with the Royal College of Arts and University of Creative Arts. Can you tell us a little bit about your. I think you might. Let’s you there do some other work with them.
Ian Johnston [00:28:03] I’ve been doing an involved in teaching and student work for some time. We recently judged a student awards and did a lecture actually at the University of Work around design thinking. And for me it’s an amazing opportunity, right, to give some things back. I’m so grateful for the teachers that pushed me and inspired me. Right? Showed me all the different possibilities. And so for me, I guess, you know, like I said before, there is no retail design, right? Most schools, it’s a very kind of new intervention. There’s only a few schools that have disciplines that focus on that. And so when we go in, we’re really excited and we’re really just trying to give back, right, and inspire the next generation of designers and retail designers and show them that actually this is a really dynamic discipline to follow and the way you can collaborate with so many different types of designers and disciplines. And so for me, it’s really rewarding. It’s probably more emotionally draining than dealing with my clients because you sort of end up investing personally with the students, right? You want them to have success and sometimes it’s pretty heavy, right? Because you just want them to have a great future and thrive in the design sector. And so we do love it. What’s great now is that almost everyone in our studio gets the opportunity to go to a school and teach. And so because it’s very rewarding for the designers as well to talk to students, right? You understand your own process. You understand, oh, wait a minute, I actually actually know something. And so we really encourage all of the people that come into the office, that work in the office to either work with students on a word entries or to do some kind of teaching and just giving back. It is really quite, you know, an amazing experience to inspire the next generation.
Ned Hayes [00:29:48] Right. Well, you just talked about experiences and you really focus at your company on customer experiences and branded environments. And those, too, sometimes can. Out of sync with each other. So how do you put them together? A customer experience in a branded environment? How do you make them sing in harmony?
Ian Johnston [00:30:06] Okay. So I mean, it’s interesting that the way I look at that is customer experience is very holistic, right? The branding environment is part of that customer experience. Customer experience involves every touchpoint a brand has right, whether it’s a website, a TV adverts or a billboard Instagram feed. It’s quite elaborate, right? And a brand needs to think about all of those things. The real powerful aspect of a branded environment, I think, is probably the most powerful opportunity to connect with consumers. Right. There’s a couple of reasons why that is right. We use a lot of our senses. We use more of our senses in that experience than any other kind of experience. I have to walk into that space. So in many ways, we always talk about, you know, the branded environments being a key focus for brands within that customer experience realm. It’s the kind of human qualities you have staff there, representatives that actually, you know, bridge the gap, can fill in any kind of interaction with a human quality. And so it’s very much about personifying the brand in many ways, right. And so I guess another part of that, beyond the immersive qualities that a branded environment has and because it’s immersive, you have such a powerful opportunity to create a kind of the customer experience you want as a brand. There’s another sort of angle that we always talk about, right? And in many ways it questions the sort of engagement I get in some of those other customer experience touchpoints I talked about, right? Like you’re on a website for a certain amount of time, you spend an hour on there, but now you, you actually haven’t spent an hour on there. You went and got a cup of coffee and you came back. So whereas a branded experience environment, there’s a truth to it. You can actually watch what happens, right? I know exactly what you did. I know exactly what you touched. And actually, you mentioned it before. You know, some of the digital infrastructure that we’re putting in is about watching consumers. Right, watching what they do, what they touch, because the data I can collect in-store is so much more powerful than the data I get from any other channel. Why? Because I know it’s true. I saw you do that, right? I don’t just know or just observe. You spent so much time on a website. I know you walked into the store and did this. And so for us, the branded environment shows and offers so much opportunity to create really immersive kinds of experiences for the brand and the consumer, as well as kind of, you know, the back end tracking and understanding, you know, what I do. And that only makes things better in the end, right? I can craft and customize and personalize based on what I know you’ve done.
Ashley Coates [00:32:41] Well, I just want to mention one way you kind of sum this up on the Quinine website is you say that you bring the physical brand spirit to life in three dimensions. And I love that way of capturing what you do. It sounds like it’s kind of a guiding principle for you.
Ian Johnston [00:32:57] Oh, actually, it’s interesting because we’re product designers, right? We really quite understand how the physical qualities or something know a brand can be represented physically. Right. And having that knowledge and then having that knowledge on the side of manufacturing, you know, guiding manufacturers. Now, don’t do it this way. You know, it needs to be a three mile radius, not a five mile radius. Right. I know I’m talking particular details. But when I think about, you know, the bringing to life, the branded 3D, we think about it in a couple of ways. Right. I always look at stores in two ways. Right. You have branded stores and stores that are on brand. Right. And so if I think about I rented a car, I was on the holiday, I went into Hertz. Right. And Hertz is great and the great customer service and everything, but almost in every view I get is a little bit of black, a little bit of yellow. Right. A logo is in there. Right. And that’s what I call a branded experience. Right? When I look at Apple, right. They’ve actually captured the brand promise in many ways. Right. And that’s an experience on brand, right. You don’t see the materials they use in the Apple store that’s not in a pallet. It’s not in a brand palette in many ways. It’s not a branding or communication thing. You know, they were able to turn that experience into a collaborative social learning space, right? And that’s on brand, right? And that’s much more powerful. And so we always talk about, you know, capturing the brand promise. And one of the projects that we recently worked on for a telecommunications company in Canada called Fido. Fido is a sort of value economy brand, and their promise is we always stand beside you with. A funny thing was is that when we did our research and in our research involves us going into a store and becoming staff members and really, really, really exhaustive. And in many ways we realized, you know what, you don’t stand beside your customers at all, right? You stand behind a barrier at the back of the store. Right. And so very literally, we took that brand promise and we kind of deconstructed the store. We didn’t have a barrier at the back. At the store. We put the service in the center. We created a kind of desk that was shaped as a plus sign. Right. And it gave huge amount of opportunities for the staff to stand right beside their customers when they were talking. Right. We created displays that were those right size so that when a customer and a staff member were talking, they could stand side by side with ample enough space. Right. And so it’s just a literal way of taking their brand promise and physical sizing it. Right. And so it was really actually a lovely project, really, really proud of how, you know, that really just changed the whole dynamic of how that brand started to represent itself.
Ned Hayes [00:35:36] Thanks so much, Ian. So what about the future of retail? Where is retail going? Where are we going to be in 5 to 10 years?
Ian Johnston [00:35:44] We’re always thinking about the future. We talk a lot about sort of strategic thinking and casting ourselves in five or ten years. We talk about, you know, retail today, retail tomorrow. We also talk about beyond tomorrow. You know, those three things actually work really well together. And so for me, the future is absolutely going to combine, you know, the human, the physical and the digital right. It’s going to involve frictionless, hyper convenient experiences right alongside, you know, hyper engaged, seeking experiences. Right, in equal kind of quantities. Right now, it’s too much around the focus, around frictionless and convenience. We’re going to bring in sticky experiences. Right? We’re going to move the future is going to see us moving away from this sort of moving towards actually a kind of two way conversation between brands and consumers. Right. We’re going to move towards a kind of new kind of relationship, I believe, a shift from where we are today around sort of brand consumer to an idea around brand citizenship. Right. Where brands and consumers really work together. Right. Grow together and maybe build a better society together. And so this interlinking between people and brands, I think is a really, really powerful future that we see in front of us. You know, why not leverage that? We have an opportunity. In many ways, this is a moment of huge change. Let’s create a wonderful place. Right? A really, really fantastic world. We have the opportunity and I definitely think consumers are after it. And I think brands are now starting to realize that and see the opportunity that there is in front of them.
Ashley Coates [00:37:16] That’s so true. And I think that consumers know that brands are listening to them more now and brands know they need to listen to consumers more now. So that will be very interesting. Well, thank you so much. And I do have one final question for you, which is what do you want your legacy to be? What would you like to be remembered for?
Ian Johnston [00:37:35] Well, that’s a loaded question. Right at the end, I thought I was going to escape.
Ashley Coates [00:37:38] I think the best.
Ian Johnston [00:37:40] Yeah, exactly. And I mean, for me, the power of design is fundamental to what we do. Right. And I use that and I think about Quinnen as a company, we want to be known for really helping people, making people’s lives better, making the world a better place, whether that’s a small little intervention or a big intervention. Right. I want Quentin to help people recognize, you know, the power of design, this kind of notion that is beyond just the beauty factor. It’s really about a process about combining design thinking and design making. And it should be used as a process and a tool. It’s not just something that happens at the end of a process. It can be used all the way throughout. And so if I call my lucky stars and we start to get known for those kinds of things, I would definitely, you know, be happy.
Ashley Coates [00:38:26] Well, I think you’re on a good path to doing that.
Ned Hayes [00:38:28] So lovely. Lovely. Well, thanks so much for your time. It’s been great having a conversation with you.
Ian Johnston [00:38:34] Really, really pleasure, guys. Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s really nice to talk to you.
Ned Hayes [00:38:39] Spark Plug is a wholly owned property of Snowshoe. All content and copyright 2021 Sparkplug Media.
EPISODE 001 : 02/12/2022
Learn about the state of modern small retailers from the hands-on research conducted by an expert in retail technologies. Pre-Covid retail was booming, and instead of falling off a cliff, small retailers during Covid demonstrated surprising resilience. The same group of Pacific Northwest retailers have some interesting post-Covid predictions.
Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Listen to every episode
Topics discussed in this episode
- Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
- Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
- Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
- Opportunities for small business loyalty programs
Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel
Ned Hayes [00:00:09] Welcome to SparkPlug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology.