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Why retail and restaurants brands are looking for instragrammable icons.

Published on: 08 / 29 / 2019

The concept of "New Retail" is not only reshaping the retail industry, but how we talk about the merger of offline and online retail. This concept is occurring in other industries as well - hospitality, hotels and restaurants are seeing traditional physical experiences and personal service evolve as customers bring the online expectations of convince and personalization into every experience.

While stores and restaurants catch-up with higher expectations and shorter attention spans, the benefits and impact of a "visual identity moment" is taking on newfound importance.

These icons, focal-points or centerpieces take a variety of shapes and sizes, with some using technology and others ignoring it. The icons fit within stores or, in the case of The Vessel in the newly opened Hudson Yards, an icon can anchor the entire area.


The McBride Company CEO, Pat McBride added: "We have seen the use of fountains, statues, and signage in retail and restaurant design for years. But there is a new emphasis on these icons because of the pressure of online shopping--getting people out of the home--and the rise of Instagram. It's not enough to have a nice sign, you have to give people a clear signal. We are different, this is new, and you should come over here."


Instagram is not only driving online behavior, but where people choose to go. According to a recent survey from JetCost, 21 percent of Americans between the ages of 22 and 37 said the main reason they go on vacation is to get pictures for social media. With one in nine millennials said that this was their top reason for going away.

Destinations like the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort are creating icons as part of the arrival and departure experience. A giant flip-flop awaits visitors as they enter the hotel lobby, evoking the famous line from the song Margaritaville, "blew out my flip flop stepped on a pop top." The icon is unique, recognizable, and begins to take on a personality of it's own. A connection to the Margaritaville brand that is creating it's own brand story.



"Another great example is the gummy bear chandelier we designed for Great Wolf Lodge" says Chief Innovation Officer, Johnnie Rush. "The colorful glow that comes off that chandelier is an instant draw for kids and adults alike. You just can't help but look at it. But, it also centers the guest in the space, let's them know where to go, and yes, makes for some pretty great photos."

Icons are not just for big brands with well-known logos or evocative lyrics.

"Just look at what we are doing for Grass Monkey. They are a small cannabis dispensary in Portland, Maine. They had a young brand, but an interesting idea. What they were missing was an icon, an extension of their story. The banana made perfect sense" added Rush.

The centerpiece of Grass Monkey is a 4-foot-tall, graffiti covered banana. The piece is part sculpture, part painting, and unique to the dispensary. It acts as an icon, but much like the gummy bear chandelier or The Vessel, it anchors the space. Customers can browse the store, but instantly know where to go for help or a question.

"I am so glad the owners of Grass Monkey understood the impact an icon can make. Even in a small shop, under 2,000 square feet, the addition of a icon can be the difference between a vibrant atmosphere or a lifeless experience."

As the experience of shopping and dining changes with customer expectations, developers and brands have a unique opportunity to create an icon that extends the brand, acts as a focal point, and delights those of us in search of the perfect Instagram shot.