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From Pop-up to Pop-in

It’s very rare these days to wander down a street, anywhere in the UK - and not find oneself encountering a space or environment that describes itself as a Pop-up.

Pop-ups keep popping up everywhere. And I wonder where the Pop-up is going?

The thrill of Pop-ups, when they first started popping up, was that they came with uncertainty. Experiences that 5 minutes ago didn’t exist might vanish 5 minutes from now. Pop-ups were transient and had an uncertain life-expectancy – which demanded that we engage with them while we could.

Today, are Pop-ups in danger of becoming ‘part of the furniture’?

As the high street goes through all manner of transformational change - and as well-established brands and retailers remove themselves to become exclusively ‘digital’ – their presence confined to the internet - Pop-ups have become an essential, if not ubiquitous, way in which the job of ‘selling’ is done. To pop-up is no longer a source of surprise. It’s hard to be recognised as a portal into unique ‘content’ or experience.

The Pop-up is, to all intents and purposes, the 21st century version of the market-stall. An almost permanent Pop-up presence might sometimes be a place to buy a meal. Other times it might be a place to buy a phone… or another type of meal. Traders move in for as long as necessary and then vacate, once margins have been achieved. The products may change, but the Pop-up remains - and all sense of surprise and the unexpected is rapidly diminishing.

Which is a shame. Because we all like being surprised. We all like to find something which is engaging AND unexpected.

There are elements of the original Pop-up phenomenon which brands can surely draw on and make use of – particularly in a marketplace which is increasingly segmented and where customer loyalty is more and more difficult to nurture. I wonder if surprise and engagement might be achieved when brands and businesses that, arguably, have no place on the high-street, suddenly make the high street, HOME.

What does that mean?

Well, try thinking about those brands and businesses with whom you connect in a very specific and restricted way. For example, I drive a car. I have to buy fuel from time to time. To be honest, I’m not that loyal to any one provider, although they all try to build loyalty through initiatives like points-cards. The fact is, when I need to buy fuel, I generally go to the provider who happens to come into view when I am driving. Prices tend to be comparable from one provider to the next. They almost always offer the opportunity for me to buy a drink and a snack. There are often options that allow me to fill-up, pay and get away within five minutes. There is little or no differentiation from one provider to another - and little or no time to build any kind of ‘relationship’ with the provider I am purchasing fuel from.

However, I am not disinterested in the impact my fuel usage is having on the environment.

I might be more inclined to spend my money with a provider of fuel who is investing in alternatives ­- putting their profits and their clever people to work in the service of developing fuels that will make a difference to the state of the planet in the future.

Currently, there aren’t any real opportunities, on the spur of the moment, for me to hear from any fuel-provider, about their vision for the future and my place in supporting it. There is little or no chance for me to ‘pop-in’ and meet and chat and learn, at my convenience, in a place where I am likely to spend time.

If a company or business in this sector where to ‘pop-up’ on the high street and create a place where I can pop-in and get closer to what makes that business tick, then maybe I’d be more loyal when the time comes for me to spend my money. Of course, no one really expects a company in this sector to be part of the high street. And that’s the point.

I might not expect a pharmaceutical company to be on the high street, offering me a chance to ‘pop-in’ and share and learn and refresh my understanding of who they are and what they do… and why.

I might not expect an auto manufacturer, or an airline, or a utility provider to be on the high street, inviting me to pop in and see what’s happening… where the future is going…

I might not expect the National Lottery to pop up and invite me to pop in to chat about meaningful projects that are being supported, thanks to public support.

I might not expect HM GOV to pop up and invite me to pop-in…

Popping in to share a coffee, a conversation and an experience that adds to my awareness and understanding might seem a lot like giving people something for nothing. But I’m not convinced that’s true. Winning people over is often a product of putting oneself ‘out’ a bit, making the effort and being where people are. In creating the opportunity to surprise people, change minds, transform perceptions… in places where people are engaged in day-to-day living, is memorable and adds value.

It might also be a way of invigorating the high street and creating more of a reason to spend time there. Which is good for the neighbours.

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