Local companies are steadily realising that customers are demanding a complete retail experience that encompasses much more than just the quality of the product. This is among the trends being analysed by the ACBM Think Tank as such developments become a vital source of business success. 'The aim is to develop a relationship with the customer before they even come into contact with the product,' said think tank member Charles Ng, who is brand consultant and chief designer with Maxi Communications. 'We're looking to achieve more than just a one-time purchase.' Mr Ng helped develop a 'concept shop' for Hung Fook Tong's Soup and Drinks Square at Elements, transforming the simple act of drinking herbal tea into a leisurely and cultural experience that evokes feelings of home and familiarity. Brands and customer experience must also extend to employees who have to keep ahead of developments in brand management. That is why staff at baby product store 'Baby Creations' are trained in the company's 'Concept Store'. Henry Tong Sau-chai, president of Baby Creations, which sells clothing and products suitable for children up to the age of four, said the entire store was created upon a single, core concept. 'We want children to feel like they have stepped into a fairytale every time they use our products,' said Mr Tong, who is also on the ACBM's think tank. 'Everything, from the store catalogue and store design to the employees' uniforms, has been built from this concept.' The store is decorated like a fairytale castle and the catalogue is in a storybook format. Products and the company's mission values are introduced through workshops and simulation exercises at the Concept Store. 'We need to ingrain the company's branding concept in our employees,' Mr Tong said. Brand perception can be heavily influenced by the shopping experience, Mr Tong said, and this made continuity in frontline service essential. 'Our frontline employees contribute to the customers' brand experience,' he said. 'We need to make sure they can do their part in enhancing the consumers' recognition of the brand.' Fellow think tank member Leung Wai-fung, who is group managing director of Lam Soon Hong Kong, added: 'The customer's brand experience is no longer limited to just product satisfaction, it is a holistic experience that touches on several facets of brand exposure.' Using the Lam Soon group's Knife edible oil brand as an example, Mr Leung told how the brand experience began with the first Knife commercial. Customers then came to associate the product with the homely image of a mother. 'We also paid particular attention to the design of the housewife's attire, knowing that the majority of our customers were women,' he said. Even the plastic container was a deliberate decision, as its transparency allows discerning customers to judge the clarity of the oil, thus establishing 'Knife' oil as a reliable brand with integrity. Today there are online forums discussing recipes and organising social events such as a 'Mothers Club'. 'Ultimately, the goal of brand management is lasting brand recognition,' Mr Leung said. 'And it is this experience as a whole that determines the consumer's long-term perception of the brand.'