Stephane Zermatten: “We have to look at our customers’ entire travel journey, from booking to destination, and challenge our ways of working together”

INTERNATIONAL. Experiential marketing, brand activation and consumer engagement specialist CircleSquare has called on the travel retail industry to challenge the status quo of customer engagement – and consider a new extended customer journey approach – in what it describes as a “defining moment” for the channel.

The agency said that the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating a digital transformation that travel retail was “bound to go through” to stay relevant. With passenger numbers likely to be depressed for some time the company said that with a smaller customer base, a new approach is urgently needed.

CircleSquare’s Hong Kong-based Managing Partner Stephane Zermatten explained: “We can’t rely on the airport’s natural traffic anymore; we need to think differently. We need to come up with a new customer engagement model that allows us to increase footfall, dwell time and engagement with our customers – a model that even takes the conversation away from the prices.”

CircleSquare – which has offices in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Dubai and Taipei – is a pioneer in experiential activations. Ten years ago it broke new ground in travel retail when it partnered with Hendrick’s Gin for its launch into the channel.

“Since then,” said Zermatten, “to some extent every brand has done a variation of the same, with an underlying model that remains identical: an in-store or concourse activation with little thought given to communication beyond what is happening inside the airport.”

Extending the reach: How CircleSquare views engagement before, during and after the journey (Photo: CircleSquare)

He said that the travel industry can learn from local markets on how brands engage with their customers. “There is no more online and offline engagement, but a complete channel agnosticism. Customers expect to be engaged with a consistent and relevant message delivered seamlessly across all touch-points of their journey.”

“Obviously for travel retail this implies a collaboration between all stakeholders, and I’m glad to see these discussions are getting traction in the industry,” Zermatten added. “Brands also need to consider collaborating with their local markets counterparts to succeed in communicating seamlessly along our customer’s entire journey.”

Traffic to Luxottica’s activation for Oakley at Hamburg Airport was driven by social media, says the agency

He cited the example of the work CircleSquare completed last summer with Luxottica. “We targeted shoppers on social media with personalised messages before their trip, effectively driving awareness for the campaign and creating footfall to the physical activation at Hamburg Airport. The result is one single campaign across digital media and physical retail space.”

Zermatten also highlighted Singapore Airlines’ KrisShop relaunch with technology partner AOE as an example of how a retailer can engage with shoppers across a longer journey and deliver personalised experiences.

Creating new connections: The social media element of the CircleSquare campaign for Oakley sunglasses – driving footfall to the airport activation

The new approach should go even further, to advocacy and repeat purchase, he said. “It is important that customers take a little piece of their in-store experience with them, to share online or pass on to their friends, so the connection with the brand continues after the purchase. In Singapore for example, the average passenger travels six times a year. Is that not an opportunity to work on loyalty at a local level?”

Zermatten noted physical retail is not dead. “Touching, smelling and physically experiencing products will come back in time, but the role of the shops needs to change. It has to be defined by the experiences that cannot be delivered on a mobile phone. It has to become less transactional and more experiential.”

Zermatten concluded: “We have to look at our customers’ entire travel journey, from booking to destination, and challenge our ways of working together. Real value will come from delivering a seamless shopping experience that spans digital and physical touch-points, a consistent message, relevant to the time and place they are experienced.”

CircleSquare has partnered with The Moodie Davitt Report for a monthly column that aims to inform, surprise and provoke, and to offer a fresh perspective about the role of design in the channel. The latest in the series can be found here