The typical layperson may not notice, but in the bricks-and-mortar world of retail, the total sensory experience defines everything. Sights, sounds and scents all combine to impress on the psyche the total message a retailer wants to deliver.
Over recent decades, experts have mastered the art and science of harmonizing these elements to achieve maximum effect, while penetrating the sensory overload inherent in our contemporary environment.
Mood Media has emerged as a leader in this specialty. The company is the result of several mergers, including firms specializing in background music, digital signage, audio/visual and scent systems.
Danny Turner, Mood’s global senior vice president for programming and production, frames the challenge when he rhetorically asks, “How do you cut through all the sensorial clutter that’s out there to create a branding experience that has ‘stickiness’ to create a brand affinity?”
Harnessing the decades of research and experience of its legacy companies, Mood understands the nuances that go into providing a total immersive experience for its clients — resulting in a highly customized package of visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli to convey precisely the message the retailer wants to impart.
It all starts by working with the client to delineate the precise message behind the brand. “It all depends on the experience the retailer is looking to create,” says Jaime Bettencourt, senior vice president at Mood. “What makes sense for that brand is where we start.”
Mood’s expertise was put to the test when the company went to work for YETI, an Austin, Texas-based manufacturer and purveyor of premium outdoor gear — drinkware and portable coolers of various shapes and sizes.
The company was started in 2006 by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders, enthusiastic outdoorsmen who became frustrated by how easily inexpensive coolers would break or perform poorly in the field.
“We’ve long had a well-established brand recognition due to our exposure through our wholesale channels, but this store is a unique ‘brand experience’ showcase. We like to call it a Disneyland for outdoor enthusiasts.”
— Tony Kaplan, YETI
The YETI Tundra model is the perfect example. The all-purpose chest cooler is available in 13 different sizes and has over-engineered features such as “Fatwall Design” — extra-thick double walls surrounding up to two inches of patented Permafrost Insulation.
YETI has offered its products online and through third-party retailers for some time, but recently made the decision to open a freestanding, branded store in its hometown of Austin.
“We’ve long had a well-established brand recognition due to our exposure through our wholesale channels, but this store is a unique ‘brand experience’ showcase. We like to call it a Disneyland for outdoor enthusiasts. Our store is a way of taking our brand and making it three-dimensional,” says Tony Kaplan, YETI’s director of consumer experience for the 8,000-square-foot store.
“We wanted a strong partner that could support the pillar of our brand in our effort to make it three dimensional.” To execute this challenge, YETI turned to Mood.
“The YETI store is a great example of all the services that Mood can bring to the table to enhance the retail experience,” says David Van Epps, Mood’s executive vice president and chief global product officer.
Because the products are so high-end — and deliver such premium performance — Van Epps says that YETI has essentially redefined the entire item category, which in turn demands a rethought in-store strategy. Mood’s research revealed that to successfully communicate the brand’s value, presenting the related lifestyle would be the key.
“How can that value proposition best be expressed?” Van Epps says.
“When the customer sees the lifestyle associated with the product’s use expressed in the store, it’s easy to understand precisely why it’s such a super-premium item.”
That lifestyle is rustic and rural, one that embraces all the outdoors can offer — hiking, fishing, camping, etc. A visit to the store makes it easy to see the well-honed connection: Housed in a restored turn-of-the-century building that survived the 1935 Austin flood, the exterior is emblazed with a sign reading “YETI — All Weather Goods and Supplies” reminiscent of an old-fashioned general store.
The store also pays homage to its home of Austin. The music, the displays, the content on the screens, right down to the subtle aroma — all play off the image of the rugged Texan and fulfill an essential role.
Between the product fixtures resembling well-weathered wood are many atypical features — a bar offering snacks, beer, wine and soft drinks; a small theatre presenting classic movies; even a stage where raucous concerts are performed.
“Activating our community space is part of our collaboration with Mood,” Kaplan says. “We have concerts almost every day, speakers and other events to expand our focus beyond that of the traditional retail store.”
YETI opened the store in late February, as it wanted to engage with the South by Southwest event in March — an annual multi-faceted event combining music festivals, networking conferences and film screenings.
Perhaps the most fascinating detail is the Ambassadors Wall — a series of portrayals of dedicated YETI devotees proudly using their YETI coolers, cups and the like. But unlike photographs, these digital images slowly morph and change to reflect the subject’s natural movements. The screens are accompanied by signs profiling the Ambassadors depicted.
The Ambassadors also appear in a series of You Tube videos called “YETI Presents” where they share their personal stories and how they impact their love for the outdoors.
The aim is strategic. “It’s helping you project yourself as someone who may aspire to be a great outdoorsman,” Van Epps says. “It’s an aspirational kind of product purchase.”
At the same time, when a premium lifestyle is being marketed, the currency of the brand name benefits downscale items. For this reason, YETI tee shirts, hats and stickers sell briskly.
Once a customer makes a purchase, she is encouraged to “make it her own” by customizing it with a logo from a favorite college or pro sports team, a service that can be done in-store.
The store also includes digital video touchscreens allowing customers to scroll through products and compare sizes, colors and prices. Van Epps points out that both this and the Ambassadors Wall wouldn’t be possible without digital technology.
Mood also uses scent diffusers to introduce appropriate scents into the store to reinforce the YETI brand message.
“We delivered an aroma into the store to give it a woodsy, outdoor-like sensation — in what is largely a concrete and steel environment. We think of that as using aroma thematically, yet it’s not overly apparent,” says Van Epps.
Kaplan describes it as a “leathery, ranch-type smell.”
Just listening to their descriptions makes it easy to envision the innovative and imaginative store — and then slip on a pair of hiking boots, fill up a YETI cooler and hit the trails.
Detroit-based Paul Vachon writes for various trade publications, in addition to feature stories for consumer magazines and books on Michigan history and travel.