Over the years I have conducted more pitches for physical space than I care to remember. As a result I have also had the privilege to work with some amazing people and organisations that have delivered fantastic work. I have also met some incredibly talented creative people who have missed out on work because they forget why they were there – in most cases this was because they had not understood or played back the brief, or in one vivid case I remember, ignored the brief entirely!
This is nothing new I hear you cry. The relationship between client and agency has always been like this – and therefore there are always going to be examples of this. True, but the stakes are now being raised, as the cost pressure on physical space from all the other channels is now enormous. For me, the agencies that will stand out and thrive in this new environment will be the ones who not only understand, digest and play back the client’s brief – but also understand the commerciality of the project better than anyone else, other than perhaps the client.
Clients with physical space are being disintermediated at a faster than ever rate. In plain English, this means they are being cut out by the direct channels. Therefore the role of a consultancy is to add value by demonstrating expertise in understanding the changing role of physical space in the overall channel mix. That physical space, which was traditionally at the centre of a business’ channel strategy, is still important, but no longer dominates and it is now part of a number of elements in the customer’s journey to buy.
Unlike some sceptics, I do believe that physical space has a bright future. Just look at the recent story of the ultimate direct player – Amazon – opening a retail unit. However its role is changing faster than ever and therefore the need for organisations to respond and innovate is huge.
For designers this presents a fantastic opportunity to deliver ‘creative leadership’. This is about how they recognise that they can add value and help their clients with subject matter expertise beyond the creative. This means helping them strategically align and redesign their physical space within the overall channel mix and ensuring the commerciality of the project.
The success, of course, will be defined by whether you have delivered a ROI for the client, which in these fast-changing and interesting times, is more essential than ever for physical space.
Richard Newland is managing director of Customer Expertise, and most recently Global Head of Design and Development at HSBC Holdings PLC.