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Future Perfect Retail 2014: Q & A with Alfredo Muccino of Liquid Agency

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Alfredo Muccino, chief creative officer of Liquid Agency, has built a reputation for delivering innovative, purposeful and effective branding solutions to clients worldwide. Today, he is responsible for the vision and the approach behind Liquid’s strategic and creative work. He is also a featured presenter at the 2014 Future Perfect Retail Conference, and will be offering insights on how technology can be used to enrich the retail experience and court consumers. In advance of the October conference, Alfredo shared his thoughts on how technology plays into retail courtship, why retailers need to be thinking about wearables, drones and 3D printing, and what’s the most overlooked aspect of the retail experience.

#FPRetail14: What do you love most about what you do?

Alfredo: Design is an opportunity to change things for the better and to improve the human condition. We use design to achieve our clients’ goals and to influence the way people might experience a brand. Sometimes this applies to the brand language, which includes visuals as well as voice and tone with the goal of creating relevant differentiation. When we’re applying that idea to products, then we’re helping design a product experience – how it might feel to hold, to own or to use a product…and whether it improves the quality of life of the user. In other cases, it may be a more environmental experience, say, you walk into a retail store and you engage the customer through interactive merchandising solutions specifically designed to create delight.

These are the things that I focus on, and why I like what I do. They’re a means to an end, in a way, because our clients hire us to help them become more successful. But we feel the way to get to the end goal for them is to create better, more relevant and more authentic experiences through their brand.

#FPRetail14: What do you enjoy about the Future Perfect Retail Conference and what makes you excited to take part?

Alfredo: It’s important because it’s a forum for people to speak about what could happen for the future of the retail experience. It’s also an opportunity to speak about what it means to our culture and society. I tend to look at retail from a social and cultural perspective, and I’m interested in having the conversation at a higher level. How does it change people’s lives? What does it mean for our culture? How can we play a positive role in the world through this type of work?

We live in a world where consumerism feeds the economy and is the foundation for how we interact. Companies make things, and people buy things in order to use those things. That makes the world go round.

This conference is relevant because it creates an opportunity to have conversations around how we are shaping that experience. And I am happy to see that people are interested in what can be done. Plus, it includes students who are specifically studying the impact of retail. This exposes them to various ways of thinking so they can consider their impact on the future through this industry.

#FPRetail14: What are some subjects attendees can anticipate to hear you explore?

Alfredo: I come from Silicon Valley – the place where many of the technologies that influence how we live, work, play and shop are developed. There’s a lot of rich content here that is relevant to the conference, which fits in with this year’s focus on the future, because technology will definitely play a big role in shaping the retail experience.

In my presentation, I will be looking at technologies like wearables. How will they influence the way we shop? How will a device that is worn on our body affect the consumer experience?

For example, Google bought Nest. Nest makes smart thermostats. Consider the idea that such devices, the thermostats, will be able to send information to your wearables, and your wearables – when you’re in the vicinity of a store – will be able to connect you with the goods you may need. We’ll be taking a look at how those technologies will influence what could happen at retail. This can give merchandisers and brands the ability to consider taking advantage of the possibilities, enriching the shopping experience and creating value for the consumer using those technologies.

I’ll also explore the potential associated with data processing technologies. One of our clients is PayPal. We’re working with them and talking to their futurists about process and payment at the point of purchase. More and more, your phone is your wallet – and there are ways to capture data that can be helpful in creating a richer retail experience for everyone.

We’re also talking to Amazon about drones. You can buy something and have it delivered by a drone. How might that impact the retail experience? We’re also looking at 3D printing – another technology that might influence the way people access to consumer goods. In the future, will Amazon even need a drone if what you’re buying is schematic and you can just plug into a printer and print the thing at home? What is that potential impact on retail and how will that change the dynamic of the purchase on the retail path?

I’ll elevate our conversation beyond what tech does and explore why that is valuable to consumers and how that is going to impact society.

One example of how that played out in the past is how, after the World War II, retail changed in the United States. Malls were created. People went to malls. They didn’t walk to their neighborhood to shop anymore. That changed the dynamics of the culture. As we’re moving forward in a world where technology has the potential to change the landscape. How will people then connect with one another? How will retailers, brands and merchants connect?

#FPRetail14: What technological innovation relating to retail/brand courtship excites you most right now and why?

Alfredo: It isn’t one technology in particular but more how it enriches the human experience. For example, Apple is a tech company, but they’re in the biz of making technology more transparent, easier and more intuitive, and in a way, making it disappear. With them, IT isn’t really about the technology – it’s about making it invisible. Through really good design and execution, they have been able to change the way we interact with computers, music, phones, TVs, etc. They’ve altered the ways we’re connected with each other. Apple is using tech to enrich the human experience without focusing on the technology itself.

To put it anther way, you buy a TV set. You don’t get excited about the technology that makes the TV set work. You get excited about what’s on the TV and what you’re going to watch that evening, the experience of that.

#FPRetail14: What is one challenge of ever-evolving technology for retailers?

Alfredo: There is a curve with technology. People get excited and want to implement all sorts of new technologies. The “You can do this, so let’s do it.” But only some of these technologies take hold [in a meaningful way for your business]. It takes a while to find out whether or not the technology is useful or interesting.

#FPRetail14: What is something retailers often overlook?

Alfredo: The human experience. We work on a lot of projects for clients. At the end of the day, they want to sell something. To sell something, they want to lists out all the reasons consumers should want to buy their products. They want to make sure their consumers see the product, understand it and understand what it does. They often believe that consumers will be so excited they won’t be able to help themselves and will have to purchase it. The problem with doing all that is they’re forgetting to create an experience that might be more compelling in the end. They forget the forest for the trees. Instead of charming consumers into a relationship with their brand, they’re trying to educate them into it. And that can take the romance out of a relationship.

These days, technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in that engagement process – giving retailers new and exciting ways to court their consumers so they’ll fall in love with a brand and product. It’s an exciting time.

#FPRetail14: What are three brands that have charmed you and why?

Alfredo: I enjoy a brand like Camper shoes. They’re always creating surprising environments in their stores. They don’t take themselves so seriously. There’s also Diesel, which seems to engage people in more provocative ways. I also enjoy retailers that are less one-brand focused. There’s one in New York called Story that has been doing some really interesting work in terms of setting up concept stores that become more like galleries or magazines in a way.

#FPRetail14: What are some great resources you recommend for conference attendees?

Alfredo: I recommend these sites, which offer inspiration, ideas and thought leadership for business, tech, marketing and beyond: PSFK Lab, Fast Co Design, Ephlux Insights, Design Retail Online and Wallpaper’s StyleFile gallery of Retail in the U.K.

I also recommend “46 Rules of Genius: An Innovative Guide to Creativity” by my colleague, Marty Neumeier. Marty’s done a really good job of documenting how to jump start creativity, helping people tackle of the biggest challenges they have – which is being able to get to fresh, new ideas.

Learn more about Alfredo and Liquid here or catch them on Twitter at @alfredomuccino and @liquidagency.