Authenticity is a hype word brands are hearing a lot recently. Defined as ‘of undisputed origin or not a copy; genuine’, consumers are looking to place their loyalty in brands that are reputable and don’t feel contrived.
Gen Z is growing up with influencers and brands creating a sense of community online: a merging of the digital and physical to an online third place. This ability to connect consumers worldwide has a growing sense of responsibility, as Gen Z grew up with both memes and cyberbullying making them sceptical in a good way.
As a result of this digital disposition, they’re hyper-visual, with strong technical skills, the ability to multitask effectively and demand personalised, in-person experiences. As brands have been tapping into this need to have physical experiences that can be shared online, however, we begin to wonder if these immersive experiences are all authentic in their execution.
In a recent ‘research’ trip to a Nars pop-up, the experience felt extensively immersive but less than engaging. ‘TheO’ pop-up in London’s Shoreditch was executed with precision, with five different rooms aimed at simulating each of the senses. While the Instagram pictures looked beautiful, we were left confused about how appealing the pop-up actually was. There was little sense of community or curiosity involved, with each room feeling like a contrived photo opportunity, rather than a genuinely engaging experience.
At a recent panel on retail experience, the head of Benefit was asked whether their pop-ups were influencer or consumer led. Her response was disheartening but not unexpected, stating that pop-ups are used for maximum posting opportunities for influencers with up to 16 photo points, rather than aimed at the general population.
This is starkly contrasted to Google’s Pixel 3 Curiosity Rooms which felt personalised and enticed curiosity with secret openings, offers and games throughout. Both pop-ups were aimed at engaging consumers, but while visitors left the Nars pop-up just posting pictures on Instagram, they left Google Pixel 3 with a greater understanding and appreciation for the brand and products.
This highlights how younger Millennials and Gen Z’s want to experience brands. They can see through phoney efforts by brands to create shares online, which is the difference between having casual consumers and creating loyal communities.
The current expectation of consumers on brands is extensive. They are looking for brands to be guides through life; to actively be engaging, be immersive, be open about their values and create communities that exist in both the physical and digital realm.