Building a post-COVID furniture brand: digitally distributed design

In the second part of our series on how furniture brands can ensure continued relevance and revenue, we discuss the power of digital channels to expand talent networks, challenge entrenched design processes and transform product distribution.


INVEST IN VIRTUAL INVENTORY

The most universally applicable piece of strategic advice of the last few years? Meet your customers where they are. Furniture brands were struggling to get people to walk into their showrooms before lockdown – it’s now even more imperative to find new touchpoints that intersect with where consumers are spending their time.

The assumption is that the world is currently stuck at home, but that’s not entirely true. Social distancing has only accelerated people’s escape into digital environments, both for work and play.

Fashion has been the quickest sector to capitalize on this. Labels are investing significant resources into producing digital versions of their product catalogues. These can be used for virtual events, editorial shoots and interactive marketing, adding flexibility, maximizing creativity and reducing cost. Helsinki Fashion Week 2020 will be completely digital, with designers being paired with a dedicated 3D artist to realize their collection – a decision that was taken before the pandemic but has protected the event from suffering the same losses as competitors.

Header and top: Crosby Studios' AR-enabled Air Max Day Sofa for Nike. Photo: Courtesy of Crosby Studios | Bottom: Digital fashion house The Fabricant's digital collection for Hong Kong-based luxury retailer I.T. Read more here. Render: Courtesy of The Fabricant and I.T

A future economy in which certain product lines exist initially – or even only – in the context of social-media and gaming platforms is also fast approaching. There’s no overall market data for virtual apparel as yet, but Fortnite is likely the biggest single marketplace. The game grossed €2.2 billion in 2018, and according to research by LendEDU, almost 50 per cent of player expenditure was on in-game outfits. Brands are catching on. Louis Vuitton launched a collection within one of the world’s most popular gaming titles, League of Legends, last October. Each outfit cost around €9. This spring they’re launching a physical follow-up to appeal to these same customers, with some items priced at upward of €4500.

Furniture and homewares marques can take advantage of many of the same opportunities, but will have to move quickly if they’re to make sure their brand value is not superseded by more digitally savvy interlopers. Crosby Studios’ AR-enabled Air Max Day Sofa, created to coincide with the annual celebration of Nike's Air Max 1 shoe on 26 March, will likely gain more attention than any product launched by a traditional furniture manufacture in the next few months.

 

CO-CREATE TO INNOVATE

It’s an unavoidable truth, articulated most succinctly by co-founder of Sun Microsystems’ Bill Joy: ‘no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else’. The solution, according to Joy, is ‘to create an ecology that gets all the world’s smartest people toiling in your garden for your goals.’ What that ecology looks like today can take several forms, from crowdsourcing new product ideas direct from consumers to hosting university-backed hackathons to targeting innovators and startups via an open call.

However it’s implemented, distributed problem solving is a powerful way to supercharge internal R&D and expand product portfolios. This is especially true when a company needs to work out which way its brand should stretch, how its customers’ values are shifting or quickly adopt a more agile mindset in order to navigate periods of uncertainty. Take Made.com’s Talent Lab, which not only established a framework for integrating new design expertise, but, by creating a social platform for customers to vote on which designs to action, also indicated which verticals to target next.

Dutch Design Week 2018 installation Space Becomes Sound, developed by Sonos, Studio Lonk and sound designer Mark IJzerman. Read more here. Photo: Cindy Baar | Bottom: Dutch Design Week 2019 installation Apparellel Existence, created by Studio PMS in collaboration with Bolon. Read more here. Photo: Ewout Huibers

For furniture and homewares brands, borrowing such strategies from their more natural habitat in the startup and technology ecosystem makes sense precisely because those sectors are rapidly redefining how we think about and use space today. It’s why Ikea is partnering with companies like robotic-furniture manufacturer Ori to transform our perception of micro-living, or why Casper released its own line of CBD gummies in collaboration with Plus as it seeks to dominate the conversation around sleep hygiene.

At Frame we often see the power of co-creation first hand in our role as intermediaries between brands and leading design innovators. Recent examples include Sonos partnering with Frame to help develop an activation that would speak to a design-first demographic, or how we helped Bolon explore what hyper-personalization might mean for its business.

The numbers don’t lie either, with a survey by Hitachi of 554 senior executives and directors finding that over half had seen a direct improvement in financial performance due to co-creation, while 61 per cent had successfully used the strategy create new commercial opportunities.

Frame has decades of experience in helping businesses within the design sector course-correct, from strategic repositioning to product development, marketing activation and cultural programming. If you would like us to help you adapt during times of uncertainty, start the conversation here.

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