I’m sitting in an Italian cafeteria I’ve never before been to, I order a cappuccino and a Caprese piadina (in case you don’t know, they’re fabulous) and I look around.
There are some nicely arranged flowers on the table which somehow perfectly combine with the yellow chair, the dark shade of the wood of the table, the style of the floor and the red bricks on the walls.
Some catchy phrases, written with neon lights, wink at me from there, right next to a board with a #. There is a secluded corner with a big vintage sofa, a huge mirror in a gold plated frame and some black and white photographs of jazz legends laughing together with drinks in their hands.
Very softly Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald take turns singing they’re in heaven…
A charming waiter brings me my cappuccino and I’m astonished by how detailed the image on top of the cream appears. With a laser sharp precision there is a perfect gramophone playing notes while from the speakers I hear the familiar voices:
“Heaven, I’m in heaven…”
Okay…okay, they got me. I feel seduced by the aesthetics, I love the music and the fresh smell of flowers mixed with coffee… it’s like everything is perfectly combined to please me.
And of course, it is. People are meant to melt here.
It is a complete 360-degree sensory marketing and with my next move and probably yours, too (if you were here), we’d become an active part of it. Not just as end consumers, no, we’d be retro alimenting the chain by converting ourselves in its social promoters.
We are now all influencers to some extent, except we don’t get paid, we’re actually the ones paying. (And working for that matter, but I’ll get to that in a second.)
Strangely, as regular clients, we seldom reflect on the meaning of our actions and the motivation behind them when we post our pictures. We are so far away from terms as “user-generated content”, word of mouth marketing, shareability… who cares about that while having a coffee?
I sit and watch the couple close to me take a next level selfie with their tripod carefully positioned from the right angle while they casually pose as if unaware of being photographed.
Next to them there is a girl standing and taking a picture of the whole table, arranging her sunglasses and hat so that they perfectly align with her order.
From behind the shoulder of the guy sitting in front of me, I can see the display of his phone and he is checking this place’s Instagram account.
The really brilliant thing is that before even trying the food or the coffee, we have already taken pictures of everything and we’re already set to rave about the place online. It doesn’t matter if the food is not the best, (which of course, let’s be honest, it rarely is in the really fancy places), in our minds we’ve been sold to the idea that this place is great and more importantly we want people to see us here.
Hopping onto the Starbucks train, businesses from every industry now invest not only in products and services but in creating cultures and communities around them.
That’s how they involve the notion of status. That’s how our egos fall for it.
What we’re truly motivated by is the desire to be associated with what it represents. Subconsciously, we see it as a way to express our own personalities and position ourselves in the right place in the mind of our friends, followers (if you wish) and sometimes even our own.
It is a way to declare our values and preferences to the world. It is creating memories in the common space of social media openly for everyone to see. It is branding taken on a massive scale.
Smart professionals realize that, nowadays, individuals seek opportunities to megaphone themselves through absolutely everything, everywhere at any time.
In these perfectly curated circumstances, reaching for your phone and posting about this online is not a decision anymore, it is an urge.
We are compelled to do so. Our egos command it.
And that’s where the genius lies.
The consumer is now a paying customer, a content generator (thus, the working part), a digital promoter and a member of a community.
This change in our roles originates from our behaviors, continuously reinforces itself through social media and has gotten to a point of literally modifying the physical world around us.
Architecture and interior design are now being orientated and dictated by factors that just some years ago would seem laughable.
We live in a time where whole spaces are planned, designed and created around the concept of shareability. And in many industries, especially the hospitality one, soon this is no longer going to be an extra step to ensure higher chances of success, it would be as basic a requirement for survival as comfortable beds and clean sheets are.
Places need to encompass the tastes of life of their target groups and in the social media world which appeals mostly to our visual sense, design becomes the niche factor that’s curated to attract the right customers and incentivize them to further promote the business.
Like it or not, shareability is the modern feng shui.
Its origin is not China, but the internet. Its practitioners do not fit into just one demographic and sociographic description. Its impact is unlimited. And seriously, we’re just witnessing the beginning.
There’s no point in lying to ourselves that offline and online world would somehow stay clearly differentiated, they are already merging right in front of our eyes. As a matter of fact, you know they’ve been doing so for years.
But as I sit in the coffee house and contemplate people around me, I can’t help but wonder how many of these smiles are sadly just for the camera?
It is a gorgeous theatre we’re playing in, it really is, and you can tell this by our feeds and our stories. Even in our free time now, we’re busy coming up with creative captions, descriptions, photos, and videos.
But in these times of rapid changes and online vertigos, when everyone seems to be strategizing about not staying behind on technology, I wish we were equally conscious about not leaving our humanity behind.
In a constant chase of likes and shares, superficiality tends to be the easier path to follow.
And while this is a visually beautiful ride, please, don’t forget to fasten the human essence in you. For we’re headed fast to an unknown destination and we’d better take our humanity with us.
After all, we have no idea what the world on the other side would feel like.