At the 2015 Imperial Capital Consumer Summit in Santa Monica, California, Bruce Cohen, senior partner leading Kurt Salmon’s Private Equity and Strategy Practice, led a discussion on the seismic shift occurring within the consumer environment and the implications and opportunities of this transformation for brands, retailers and investors.

What insights did you share?

The current consumer market is allowing for breakthrough growth for small and mid-sized companies at unprecedented levels. Exploring emerging consumer needs, including the demand for authentic experiences, customization and personalization, as well as engagement with a community, Cohen’s presentation delved into how winning retailers and investors can find success in today’s shifting consumer market. Cohen also shared the significant opportunities for growth facing retailers, driven by technological change, the post-recession economic reality, demographic shifts related to the rise of the digital-native generation, as well as today’s unprecedented capital market environment.

What resonated most with the audience?

We are entering the Age of Social Discovery, in which constant Internet access and the rise of social media have given consumers the means to compare prices, read product reviews and get feedback from friends and family instantaneously, oftentimes right in the physical store. Today, consumers want to discover new brands for themselves and share these discoveries with their friends and personal networks instantaneously. As consumers move from simply needing things to demanding authentic and personalized brand experiences, retailers who are able to enable and ignite consumers’ desire for social discovery by offering authenticity, personalization and community will realize exponential increases in awareness, growth and, of course, sales.

What new thinking emerged?

As investors assess emerging retail brands to determine whether they are meeting the criteria necessary for success in today’s market environment, having a framework to guide this evaluation is critical. The components most critical to success in today’s marketplace—authenticity, personalization and community—should serve as a map to guide investors as they search for and determine which brands to invest in. Ultimately, emotional connectivity, the brand characteristic that ties these three components together, is the factor that investors should seek above all else in their emerging retailer investments.