Moving blocks on the wall of the entrance to the Google Store in Soho, New York

3 lessons for marketers from inside Google’s first ever US store

There’s nothing for sale, but Google’s first ever US store in Soho uses clever marketing tactics heavy on product and brand experiences.

Rumors have been circulating for years about Google opening a retail store in Soho. Finally it happened earlier this month when Google opened a pop up shop on Spring Street, right in the heart of the famous Soho shopping district in New York City.

I went along one afternoon with my dad, keen to see how one of the world’s most innovative technology companies would market itself inside a store. Here are the takeaways.

1. You can market products without actually selling them

There’s nothing for sale inside the Google store. Instead Google have carefully timed the store to coincide with the launch of several new Google products. These include Google’s first ever phone, Google Pixel, and Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home. Google’s VR headset, Google Daydream, is available to trial before it goes on sale from next month.

My dad tries out Google Daydream inside the Google Store

It’s smart to bring a product like Daydream to the public as ‘try before you can buy’. Daydream represents the first low price VR headset on the mass market. If Google want to win this space, they will need to sell it well and hard. Introducing it here allows Google to build familiarity for a product priced to go mainstream ($79 each) and to an audience who are unlikely to have experienced VR before.

2. Highlight differentiators through an experience

What I didn’t want from the Google Store was a Google version of an Apple Store. Google have carefully avoided replicating an Apple Store experience.

This is evident in how Google presents its iPhone competitor—the new Pixel phone. The Pixel phone is on display in the same way Apple does with its iPhones. Google are playing catch up in the smartphone market and have no choice but to take the selling experience to the next level. They’ve done so by picking a few key differentiating features of Pixel phone (unlimited photo storage, better camera in low light) and turned them into an experience.

You can tell me over and over that a Pixel phone will take better low light pictures than my iPhone—but nothing’s going to highlight it better than letting me experience the feature for myself.

Google shows off the Pixel’s low light ability in a special room. Behind a heavy grey curtain and away from bright light, a Google employee takes you into a room with fiber optic lighting dangling from the ceiling. The Google employee takes your photo with a Pixel phone and invites you to compare the photo quality against photos you take with your iPhone. Guess which photo comes out better?

My iPhone pic (left) in the low light room and me (right) in the same space but taken with Google Pixel.

3. People want shareable experiences of your brand

In the search for new marketing channels and especially ones appealing to millennial audiences, online companies are exploring the jump from screen to storefront. The online eyewear company Warby Parker are an example, having opened their first retail stores earlier this year.

Brands selling consumer goods normally found in the supermarket are also exploring the marketing potential of short-term pop ups. The most prominent example is the American yogurt brand Chobani and its Soho store. The Chobani pop up was so successful it quickly turned into a permanent, thriving store. It’s now a model for other brands on how to provide the “branded cafe” experience.

The moving blocks on the entrance wall is a popular photo sharing spot inside the Google Store.

In the era of Instagram and Snapchat, people are constantly scan their environments looking for these shareable moments—these include shareable experiences of your brand. The moving blocks on the wall and the photo sphere are a popular photo sharing opportunities inside the Google Store.

When you provide these Instagrammable backdrops, you’re organically growing your brand footprint through social sharing while deepening the experience consumers have with your brand.

I shared this photo on Instagram of the photo sphere inside the Google Store

The Google Store is located at 96 Spring Street in Soho, New York. It’s open from 10am–8pm daily from now until the end of the year.

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