This is What Happened When Some of the Most Innovative Minds in NYC Converged at PSFK



As an overarching mission, PSFK’s 2016 conference was fittingly titled “Ideas that Transform.” The PSFK team – led by its founder Piers Fawkes,– consistently provides a forum for open discussion, bringing in the most passionate speakers from various fields.

After listening to the talks and engaging in the one-on-one discussions that followed, what I took away from this year’s event was that brands are considering the end user’s brand experience beyond the ordinary and expected; leveraging technology, design, and culture to provide not only the best product for the end user but also the best experience.

Nathaniel Ru, Co-founder and Co-CEO, sweetgreen (aka the Salad Rebel) shared his cornerstone value for the company’s brand architecture in building intimacy at scale.

Embrace evolution with modular design:

“We build intimacy at scale through embracing modular design.” – Nathaniel Ru, Co-founder and Co-CEO, sweetgreen

sweetgreen “follows mother nature’s lead” with an ever-changing menu that Ru refers to as a “seasonal framework,” rather than a pre-determined finished product. Even the ambiance is broken down into this modular framework: its front-line food displays have interchangeable arrangements, and the music played in store day-parts into time-relevant playlists per region, per city.

Create stories with style and substance:

“Stories are the currency for human connection.” – Nathaniel Ru, Co-founder and Co-CEO, sweetgreen

Ru breaks this down into two parts: 1. a rational foundation paired with 2. an emotional voice. An example of this is merging sweetgreen’s annual music festival with its menu. Partnering with performer Kendrick Lamar, the company created a “Beets don’t kale my vibe” salad (a play on the rapper’s “B*itch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” hit). It became the most popular salad that season, and sweetgreen donated profits to charity, helping teach kids about the basics of nutrition. By being impactful but staying light-hearted, a brand can find its place in both culture and consumer’s hearts.

Tech enhanced, not dependent:

“Technology is a big part of how we bridge the gap between health and convenience.” – Nathaniel Ru, Co-founder and Co-CEO, sweetgreen

The in-store experience is still the utmost of importance for Ru’s direction of sweetgreen. As a restaurant brand that “prides itself on human connection,” Ru has been tactical with the integration of technology. It has an app that allows customers to order and purchase via mobile or desktop, but consumers must still pick up in-store. Foregoing delivery was a conscious decision for the brand – the experience of hearing the music, seeing the kitchen, witnessing signs of where produce is locally sourced from gives context to what the brand is about.

Ru’s guiding practices for sweetgreen are prime examples of how marketers (or rather, brand evangelists) are progressing the key themes that have come in waves over the past few years in the marketing world: content is king, authenticity, customization, and create technology-driven products.

Technology allows for transparency and real-time feedback, a concept that is now a foundation that brands are built upon rather than the marketer-driven environment of the past. Just as consumers are apt enough to embrace the ever-change technology landscape, so too should brands and their marketers be agile enough to evolve with the consumers they hope will follow and their lifestyles.

With the recent opening of Apple’s San Francisco flagship store, dedicated to a free-flowing consumer experience, Pirch’s opening in NYC recenty also feels highly relevant. In his PSFK talk, CMO of Pirch, Laith Murad even referenced Apple, highlighting the brand’s values and aligned messaging.

I had the opportunity to tour Pirch with Murad, pre-launch. Its Soho store is the first presence for Pirch in New York City, as well as a first for the appliance industry – the company has adapted to the consumer of today who expects to try products before purchasing.

The model of Pirch is set up for people to meander through different spaces with the option to experience how products operate in real-time. There is even a wall with a variety of showerheads that turn on with the tap of a tablet button. Trial kitchens encourage people to see how ovens cook, and chefs will be staffed during store hours to cook for guests and demonstrate the appliances.

Acting as a pop-up experience on a permanent basis, Pirch doesn’t simply tell you about its brand ethos– it shows you.

Create a brand of substance and value

Casper is at the forefront of reinvigorating the sleep product landscape. “We think of sleep as the last remaining thing that people haven’t really started to work on in their lives,” said Neil Parikh, Cofounder & COO of Casper.

Aside from selling the obvious – mattresses – Casper is focused on human-centered product development, according to Parikh.

New Yorkers appreciate the on-demand delivery and compact box Casper mattresses arrive in, as we generally don’t have trucks (let alone cars) or big doorways. And for those whom hasn’t experienced purchasing a Casper will recognize the brand from its whimsical cartoon-like subway advertisements.

Parikh referenced Whole Foods Market as a brand that’s created a place for us to eat healthy and Nike as a brand that reinvented the way we think about fitness – both iconic brands that led this new era of the consumer movement.

“We’re not the people inventing sleep, but if we can be the brand that puts a voice to it, if we think about sleep as a resource that we can optimize, what tomorrow be like if you could sleep 10% better?” said Parikh.

Leverage technology to enhance an experience

Gatorade’s mission is to be the go-to “sports fuel” company. Along this journey, it has identified the place for its brand to go beyond the core physical product and take a broader view of the market it is serving, the problem it is solving. Xavi Cortadellas, Global Innovation & Design Senior Director of Gatorade and Tucker Fort, Partner and Expertise Lead of Smart Design took to the stage to present the concept and goal behind their co-created, smart bottle and customized pods.

By tapping into technology, the smart bottle can identify an individual athlete’s needs for rehydration – and in turn, recommend both the amount and pace of Gatorade to consume. The full 360 integration of data to application is what makes this product so relevant. Rather than just spitting out data of how the athlete is performing, the bottle uses that data to rehydrate and “refuel” the individual through a highly personal experience.

These examples presented at PSFK 2016 all point towards integrated experiences for the end-consumer. This marketing loop encompasses a top-down, bottom-up approach to create brand interactions that consumers will be delighted by and appreciate.




Image credit: @catalinaphotog

About the author: Marley Kaplan

As Head of Innovation at Kinetic, Marley Kaplan is responsible for activating audiences on-the-move. Marley keeps brands ahead of the curve by leveraging her experience with media agencies, global startups and accelerator programs, including 500 Startups and DreamIt Ventures. She resides on the Lower East Side in New York City.

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