BE PASSIONATE | A Conversation with Jean-Pierre Lacroix

As part of an intimate series to get to know some of our FUTURE5 speakers, Digifest reached out to interview Jean-Pierre Lacroix President of Shikatani Lacroix, a multidisciplinary studio based in Toronto. When it comes to the design industry, JP Lacroix is always one step ahead in the branding and design game. A visionary design thinker, author and speaker, JP maintains an unwavering focus on the latest and emerging trends. Highlights of the conversation are below.

DF: Can you share a bit of your background in the design world?

JP: I started my design practice 35 years ago upon graduating from Sheridan College in graphic design. I worked for a short while for Fifty Fingers (Spencer Francis Peters and now Trajectory) before hanging up my shingle as Boulevard Communications. My first firm focused on private label brands and the food service industry around the globe, leveraging our package design and retail environments. In 1990 I started a new firm, called Shikatani Lacroix Design, with one of the partners from Boulevard when this firm was dissolved. I bought out Ed Shikatani about 14 years ago, and have been running the firm since. In 2014 I brought on two shareholders: Richard Dirstein as EVP of Design, and Derek Pretidis as CFO. We continue to work on projects from around the globe in the area of brand design, environmental and digital experiences and packaging. Our focus has not changed in the 27 years we have been running SLD, owning the Blink Factor and designing compelling immersive at-purchase experiences.

DF: How do you define an immersive environment in an industry that is moving toward virtual and augmented reality?

JP: There will be much confusion about virtual (new technology) and augmented reality (older technology) and the definition of immersive. Although the technology side (hardware and software) are getting all the attention due to new product launches and investor hype, the bigger marketing challenge and key undercurrent to the interest in immersive technology is how to create deeper and more meaningful relationships with customers. Customers today have so many choices of where and how they purchase products, from physical to virtual environments, from online, mobile or in-store. Immersive is really a new frontier which will define the next level of customer engagement. Yes, new technology will help, and will continue to evolve as the nexus of cost and accessibility continue to align. However, the need for brands to have richer and more immersive relationships with customers will continue to demand marketer’s greater level of attention as part of their marketing mix. Today immersive experience as defined by the marketing world is best expressed by the fast growth of experiential firms who create unique and (at times) more emotionally connected relationships with brands. For our firm, this is just the beginning of a new frontier of story-telling and engaging customers in unique ways across the entire path to purchase. Immersive experiences mean brands are able to take customer engagement to a whole new level, well beyond transaction, and into a realm where consumers are helping write and direct the story.

3. How does your ThinkBlink process capture the consumer’s imagination at the “moment-of purchase”? How do you create emotional connections in a blink of an eye?

JP: We coined the phrase Blink Factor over twenty-five years ago while doing some research for a fast casual restaurant chain in the U.S. In those days we had a limited choice of offerings well below today’s complexity of choice and channels, and we still find today this principle of even greater relevance. Consumers are emotionally driven creatures of habit, and the Blink Factor allows a shorthand process for consumers to make purchase decisions in that split second where it counts most, at the moment of purchase. We have found consumers make these decisions through a visual interpretation of the brand through colours and shape. Specifically we know that more than 40% of all communication we absorb is visual, and an astonishing 80% of this visual communication is represented through colour and shapes. Through our ThinkBlink process we have leveraged this critical importance of visuals as the most effective doorway in creating emotional connections with brands. To create this emotional connection at the moment of-truth, we develop visuals such as colours, typography, photography, illustration and overall structural design such as the shape of the bottle that effectively hit an emotional cord with the consumer. More importantly, we bring discipline to what we define as critical to reinforcing this emotional connection in a split second it takes to make a purchase decision, and work hard at eliminating those elements that distract or bring no value. We have found the exercise of elimination is the hardest for clients to understand, where more claims, more messaging and more flames have tended to be the route to finding the right solution.

4. Has a brand strategy ever changed once your have gone through the ThinkBlink process?

JP: Great question, and yes, since, the first phase of the ThinkBlink process is to identify deep emotional hidden need states of the most valuable customers within the target group. Very often the project is initiated with a set of assumptions that our process either validates or refutes, resulting in a shift in direction. Since the ThinkBlink process is anchored in consumer insights and further validated through an iterative design process, we tend to learn and adapt throughout each phase of the process. And this is where the ThinkBlink process brings the greatest value, linking important insights to actionable design solutions. I remember working on the Dairy Queen transformation, where the client’s ask was to brand a larger and more unique burger, when truly the customers did not consider DQ for hot food. No matter how much marketing money was to be spent on launching a new burger, the consumer perception was that the chain was an ice cream purveyor. It was not until we went through an extensive user and attitude study that the client realized the solution was not in food, but in the overall experience we were providing customers. From these insights DQ Grill & Chill was born, which has driven better than-industry growth in same store sales, and also created a platform for sustainable growth.

5. What is your favourite technology/interactive tool that you are using right now?

JP: My favourite and most used interactive tool is my smartphone, and marketers are just realizing the power of this platform. We just completed a major online study in the U.S. to understand how can we disrupt the deep relationship consumers have with their phones. The study identified that we have entered a new generation of “Mobile Zombie” consumers that span Baby boomers, Generation X and Y, who are so tied to their smartphones that they find it difficult to drive, walk, bicycle, eat, entertain or wake-up without being glued to the device. The smartphone is truly immersive, as it allows the user to lose sight of time or where they are. The opportunity for marketers will express itself in two dimensions: the first is how to leverage this behaviour (go with the flow) through new APPS, geo fencing and augmented reality APPS. We just opened an office in Shanghai, China to serve our banking and foodservice clients, and there is much to learn by watching this market which has fully embraced mobile wallet and QR Codes more than five years ago.

The second strategy is to disrupt that relationship by providing a larger, more immersive physical experience delivered either through a store, an experiential environment, or a unique game-driven interactive platform. We are now seeing this appear in sports stadiums in the U.S. where consumers can view the game live, while selecting the camera angle and commentary story on their tablet or smartphone. They can participate in a game on the large videotron screen or order their food from their seat. They can also participate in social commentary and share images with friends within the stadium. For me this is truly an immersive experience that is disruptive, and we will be seeing more on how environments can better link smartphone behaviour with the at-purchase moment.

DF: You have an extensive list of design capabilities, ie: packaging, branding, way finding, interior design…which one is your most favourite to do?

JP: You are asking a parent which child they favour, and like a good parent I will tell you that I love all of our disciplines. For marketers and agencies the insight is that disciplines no longer are a differentiator in what makes firms unique over another. What is more important and relevant is where we choose to play and what is our right to win. For our firm, we are one of the few in Canada and probably in North America that has focused all its disciplines at providing immersive at-purchase experiences that connect in the blink of the eye. We have decided that for all the big investments in advertising, social media, experiential design, the only one that truly has a proven marketing ROI is the disciplines that convert a shopper to a buyer at the moment-of-purchase. This moment can happen on a shelf, in a store, online, or on your mobile phone. We want to be experts in helping our clients own that moment. Ultimately, nothing else matters if you cannot convert preference into purchase.

DF: What advise/words of wisdom can you give to the new graduates entering the workforce inspired by design, technology and entrepreneurship.

JP: First, I would tell them not to fall in love with the technology as this will constantly be evolving. What they need to be passionate about is understanding the deep emotional needs of customers and how these impact the purchase decision. I would tell them to spend more time in the sciences of behaviour, medicine and psychology as the future of effective marketing will be morphing from an art towards a science, rooted in consumer predictable behaviour (if there was such a thing today).

DF: And finally, what are you looking forward to seeing at Digifest 2016?

JP: Great thinkers, and how marketers have converted challenges into opportunities by looking at the problem from new and unique ways. I will be on the hunt for any new trend or emerging processes and thinking that would enhance our ability to own designing immersive at-purchase moments to new levels. Ultimately, I am looking forward to rubbing shoulders with some of the brightest and youngest stars in our industry.

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