For all the chest-beating by some retailers about their unbeatable low prices, you'd think that the race to the bottom was the only game in town. The reality is, competing on price is not a sustainable strategy for most businesses; after all, it's a cinch for the competition to copy your prices as soon as you change them.
So, instead of asking "how low can I go?" ask "how high can I set the bar to deliver an experience that connects with my customers?"
Today's consumers want to buy from businesses that acknowledge their preferences and desires. They like to buy from brands that forge an emotional connection with them. And they want to take a rewarding journey as they explore, shop, and interact with you.
The foundation of a successful and integrated commerce strategy calls for nothing less than communicating your brand's value and differentiators in a compelling way across all your customer touchpoints.
Know what makes your brand stand out and engage your customers through immersive brand and product stories that create excitement and stir their imagination. As you create experiences that inform, delight, entertain and inspire, you will, in time, build likability and trust that lead to sustained affinity and brand loyalty. The watchword is experience, and the key is sustained engagement.
Here are five tools for building engaging customer experiences.
1. Build your brand with compelling online content
Marketing today is much more than just customer acquisition. It's also about nurturing relationships that create loyal customers who will buy from you over and over, in spite of cheap alternatives that are just clicks away. The ability to continuously provide timely and relevant content is a must for sustained engagement.
No wonder that branded editorial are all around us these days. FitStudio, an online hub featuring health and wellness tips and blogs published by Sears, is a case in point. As its customers subscribe to this content, Sears keeps them in its orbit, building ongoing engagement. In turn, the retailer earns trust, credibility, and authority, with the big proof point being increased sales across its fitness offerings which Sears can attribute (partly) to content marketing.
Take a look, too, at The Journal, the online lifestyle and fashion magazine published by MR PORTER, the menswear offshoot of luxury purveyor NET-A-PORTER. On its pages, whatever a celebrity or model is wearing can be had for clicking the "buy now" button.
That is a brilliant example of creating desire via content then seamlessly connecting that impulse to conversion. How many of us have said "I love that coat" on sight and would have instantly dropped it in the cart if we could?
2. Immerse your customers in rich media
If pictures are worth a thousand words, then rich media is priceless for giving life to your brand and products. Enrich your storytelling via immersive narratives that connect with your customers. It's not simply about hawking your wares; it's about making your brand larger than the sum of your products to spark interest and capture your customers' imagination.
Enthrall them with the theatrics of videos, interactive catalogs, and look books, and provide them with interactive tools to enrich their understanding of what makes your brand different. Make a splash for your product launches in all their splendor and show new and bold ways of using or wearing your products.
Burberry has successfully reinvented itself as a hip brand, shedding its positioning as your grandmother's trench coat maker while still managing to retain its timeless legacy. It launched the global Burberry World campaign last year, wrapping its brand into a single experience that blends behind-the-scenes catwalk footage, interactive content, product stories, and music.
It's entertainment, shopping, interactivity all rolled up into a sensory experience that makes clear why it's not just fashionistas who love this iconic brand.
3. Be omnichannel, be mobile
Today's empowered consumers are blending online and offline experiences—mobile, social, and in-store shopping—to inform their shopping journey. To drive sustained engagement, you need to be where they are and you need to provide the right experiences while ensuring brand consistency across every channel.
Mobile is possibly the most challenging channel. Your content has to adapt to the devices' form factor, features, and capabilities, and that's no cakewalk, considering the myriad devices out there.
Saks Fifth Avenue is one brand that has successfully tapped the potential of mobile. Knowing that in-store customers use their devices to shop, the luxury retailer offers a mobile-optimized website and an iPad app. Those tools allow shoppers to enjoy a seamless experience that combines the efficiency of online interactivity with the sensuous immediacy of in-store shopping. Some Saks products carry QR codes that, when scanned, launch product videos or customer reviews that help inform purchase decisions. On seeing merchandise they love, shoppers can also search on their devices for sizes and colors that are not available in-store.
Not every business shares Sak's ambitions, but it's not above any brand to invest in the right content management tools that can scale to meet growth and take the complexity out of creating and publishing omnichannel content.
4. Build social communities that keep them coming back
Social is a great way to get customers invested in your brand. Allow your communities to become an extension of your storytelling platform and enable rich connections among your fans. Let them talk freely about you and give them a venue to share their own content that features your products. You can open new avenues for product discovery by inviting them to participate in product reviews, forums, and polls. Use your imagination and build a community worthy of your customers' participation.
Philips' online male-grooming destination, "Express Yourself Everyday," is an example of a clever and vibrant community. The site gets the community talking as visitors try on new facial hair virtually and see their brand new selves adorned with beard, goatee, mustache.... The updated images (using uploaded photos, live webcams, or Facebook profile pictures) can then be saved and shared, including on Facebook, so friends can comment on friends' faux new look.
Both practical and entertaining, this community delivers chuckles as the fellows have fun swapping out facial hairs while others seriously consider the fuzzy prospects of a hairier face.
5. Get up close and personal
So you're creating and publishing great, omnichannel experiences, but how do you deliver the right experiences to the right customers through the right channel at the right time?
Today's technologies put us ever closer to realizing marketing's holy grail—that of delivering a personalized, one-to-one experience to every shopper at their moment of desire, impulse, or decision. We already have some very powerful tools that help us understand our customers so we can provide them with very relevant experiences.
For instance, knowing that a visitor landed on your site from a search engine using the keyword "faucet," you can focus them on faucets only rather than showing them the whole kitchen sink. You can also segment your users and create various personas based on their preferences, geolocation, gender, age, and other demographic information to serve up tailored experiences.
Under Armour, the performance apparel and footwear brand, has taken this approach to an art form. To re-engage online shoppers who abandon the purchase path, Under Armour uses business rules based on an analysis of shoppers' online behavior and their calculated abandonment points to generate personalized offers and reminder emails, which are sent 72 hours after an order is abandoned. This program has produced an average lift of more than 300% in conversions, proving that getting personal can pay off in big ways.
Keep Your Ears to the Ground
To claim long-term success, you need to understand how well your delivered experiences are performing so you can improve them. Get your hands on analytics to gain insights into what is resonating with your visitors, what paths they're taking, and what's driving conversion.
As you merge customer knowledge with insight, including quizzing your user community about your products, you can better improve your customers' multichannel experiences as they shop in your store while researching on their mobile devices or consuming your campaigns.
Make the delivery of relevant experiences your labor of love this year and keep tweaking and fine-tuning them. It's a process that never ends; but, with all the tools available today, it's never been easier to start engaging your customers and earning their loyalty.