The digital-first home goods startup's creative director explains how the brand made the leap from online to brick and mortar with an experiential New York store, as well as why evolving to remain culturally relevant is key to brand success

While retailers of yesteryear may have steered away from aligning with social issues or controversies, some of today's leading brands are doing just the opposite. As this year's Gillette Super Bowl ad proved, retailers large and small increasingly are willing to take the risk of making a statement or choosing a stance on even the most polarizing questions.

Burrow, direct-to-consumer furniture startup with a modern aesthetic aimed primarily at a millennial audience, emphasizes the importance of social and cultural engagement, focusing on speaking to consumers' identities and values to foster and retain interest. In an interview with PSFK, Burrow's creative director, Gianmaria Schonlieb, explains the brand's focus on voice and constant evolution to remain “pop” in an increasingly crowded space, as well as how its New York brick-and-mortar store offered an experiential complement to its online presence.

PSFK: Are there any trends you've noticed within branding and voice that Burrow is leveraging in its strategy?

Gianmaria: In our overall creative landscape, creative brands, especially with an audience in the 26‑34 age group, are not taking themselves too seriously. That's something that has been pretty visible, especially with luxury good brands.

We really think that the furniture space is broken. The industry has been stale and staid for a long time. In this climate, this is the chance to be irreverent and to be different. We want to have that little bit of fun and quirkiness. That's an overall creative trend, which really embodies our creative vision.

On a more tactical point of view, content is key. Right now, every brand is trying to produce a huge variety of content. It's not just about videos, commercials or traditional ad form. Brands are trying to tap into new avenues of content, creating new ways of telling stories so they can involve customers, turning them into their protagonists.

Publishing is big right now, and is something we leverage at Burrow. It's about finding new ways to engage customers with the philosophy at the base of the brand.

Could you describe what you think today's consumers want when they're engaging with a brand? How is Burrow delivering that?

My background is in advertising. Every time that I talk about what consumers want, I always say that everything starts with a good idea. Everything starts with good communication.

The secret sauce has been pretty much been the same forever: Consumers want a brand that gets them. They want a brand that understands them. It sounds like a no‑brainer, but the problem that I usually see is that a lot of brands have not evolved with their changing consumers. They didn't know how to evolve their voice and their aesthetics without turning the whole brand identity upside down.

It's fundamental to understand how a consumer wants to be spoken to, and that that evolves over time. This speaks to the importance of social listening. Everything that we do on social media, I always tell our team, has to be two ways. We need to know what our communities want to know. It’s like a relationship; there has to be communication.

Consumers also want brands that take a stand on a social issue. The main reason is that consumers have strong opinions. You cannot be a brand nowadays and not connect to what's happening in the world.

This is why I usually define Burrow as an observer. From a creative point of view, we want to be observant of what's happening. We want to tap into the conversation. We just don't want to feature our product. Every idea can become a great idea if we know how to make it relevant, listening to what's happening culturally around us.

It's a very interesting challenge because we are not a huge brand yet. Taking a stand on social issues or being culturally relevant is something that big brands can do. Right now, especially through social media, we also have the chance to raise our voice and to be in the know. That is part of our strategy.

How does Burrow approach speaking to its audience?

From a creative point of view and a strategy point of view, we are actually at the beginning of our life. Our focus is on learning how to speak and communicate with the audience with clarity but also with relevancy. We are also focused on creating channel-specific content.

I've been hearing a lot especially from the advertising side how a lot of people always want to create integrated advertising content. I personally believe that doesn't exist anymore. Ideas need to be shaped uniquely for each medium. Ideas can't just be refitted for channels they weren't designed for.

It's very important for brands to recognize how each channel is uniquely specific and how to leverage each channel with different type of creative content.

What are the platforms that Burrow is using? What is its content strategy?

We have a lot of different platforms, and we have an irreverent, creative approach. It's also a disruptive approach, because we really want to change the furniture industry.

Our core business is rooted in ecommerce. I usually say that our approach is 100% engagement and also 100% creative. We're trying to be unique, and engage consumers in ways they've never been before. The store is an offline extension of our engagement strategy.

Our premium approach across our platforms is rooted in being involved with what's going in in the world. I often say, “You must be pop.” You need to understand the broader context, and know what's going on in culture. We are a furniture brand. We will be in the home of very different types of people. We need to understand how to use cultural events to our advantage.

Our core audience is the 27‑44 age group, but we have a big focus on 26, 27 and 34. Our main markets are the big cities: New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago. However, we also have a lot of sales outside of the cities and have a very diverse market. We go from the young bachelor in New York, to the young family that just bought a house in Brooklyn, to the families that are outside of the cities who have more space in their residences.

One trait shared across all of these people is their interest in design, especially interest in the latest trends and in a design that is beautiful and minimal. Customers are probably not architects or interior designers. They don't probably work in fashion.

In the digital age, with such immediate access to art and different aesthetics, people may not be experts in the field, but they have awareness of it. They have the ability to acquire a knowledge and taste that they might not have in the past.

I'm really focused on that democracy of style. We want to be an inspiration for our customers. At the same time, we also take inspiration from our customers—they are diverse and we like to reflect that, learning from them. It's really a two‑way communication.

Could you describe your in-store experience? What do you hope it will accomplish for customers?

Our store is 100% experiential. It's created not to be just a point of sale. It's been designed to feel like a home. We want customers to go inside our home, the Burrow House, and through different interactive touch point to have fun. They get to know the product in a highly interactive way.

The SoHo store is quite unique. It's meant to make shoppers feel that they're stepping into a real home. The invitation is to come check out our products, but also to feel free to chill and relax, sit on our couches, watch a movie.

That also aligns with the philosophy at the base of the brand: to provide comfort and encourage people to relax. We sell the idea of owning comfort. The store gets across that idea of an invitation to relax, an invitation to participate with the brand.

That's also something that we've been doing with events. During Black Friday last year, the store turned into a relaxation space for people who were shopping. Our creative message was, “Come to the store and come to relax. Protect yourself from the menace outside.”

We threw an event providing massages and meditation. That was an opportunity to bring our core message of comfort and relaxation to life. The experience also makes acquiring knowledge of the brand much easier from customer's point of view. At the same time, if they leave without purchasing, they still have a better understanding of Burrow.

How do you take consumer feedback from events and experiences like these and incorporate it into your brand?

When customers provide feedback, it goes out directly to our CX office, and then of course goes into all the different channels where we turn that feedback into something real.

Customers have very good suggestions for the store. The way that they respond to the experiences is going to shape new ones. If we want to add a new type of event or experience, it's all based in the way that we see customers interacting today and tomorrow.

I would define the store as an evolving experience. Every day should be different, and goes back to staying relevant as a brand. Brands that don't change, especially today, are not going to retain customers or get new customers.

Gianmaria Schonlieb.

This is why we're all about evolving, not only with our products, but also with our creative ideas, strategies and communication. This  experiential store is one of them.

Burrow

Burrow focuses on engaging consumers through voice, evolving and maintaining a two-way discussion to stay on par with consumer interests. For more from similar inspiring brands, see PSFK's reports and newsletters

While retailers of yesteryear may have steered away from aligning with social issues or controversies, some of today's leading brands are doing just the opposite. As this year's Gillette Super Bowl ad proved, retailers large and small increasingly are willing to take the risk of making a statement or choosing a stance on even the most polarizing questions.

Burrow, direct-to-consumer furniture startup with a modern aesthetic aimed primarily at a millennial audience, emphasizes the importance of social and cultural engagement, focusing on speaking to consumers' identities and values to foster and retain interest. In an interview with PSFK, Burrow's creative director, Gianmaria Schonlieb, explains the brand's focus on voice and constant evolution to remain “pop” in an increasingly crowded space, as well as how its New York brick-and-mortar store offered an experiential complement to its online presence.