Visitors to Amazon.com on April 14 saw something they hadn't seen before. After the Amazon homepage loaded, a model in a spring dress strode across the screen. She turned and smiled directly at the viewer before gesturing at the "Spring Dresses" promo and walking off the page.
That one moment changed the rules of online visual merchandising.
The Old Rules
Similar things had been done before but not on the world's largest e-commerce site. Outside of niche sites, mainstream visual merchandising had played by a restrictive rulebook.
What were those old rules? Things are changing so fast that remembering them may be hard.
In the old world, video was directed to stay within the confines of the player box. Different types of visual media—video, spin photography, and interactive elements—rarely mixed. Each type was to be displayed in its own player or in a legacy platform that kept the different media players separate.
The fourth wall was rarely broken. Visual elements waited patiently for a click of permission rather than sauntered out, unbidden, to look the visitor in the eye.
New Rules, Not Just New Tools
The Web has begun to look very different lately. Visuals are no longer "eye candy" or illustrations to supplement text. Instead, interactive visual elements take the lead in storytelling. The Web then becomes a delivery engine for experiences, rather than just content or technology.
New tools and trends (HTML5, CSS3, mobile adoption) enable these experiences, but the driver is a willingness by Marketing to question the merchandising status quo. Why should visual experiences be passive and flat? Why should a marketer's visual strategy be driven by the constraint of a video platform for video and a different display platform for other types of visual content?
Those questions, combined with the new tools, have created a new set of rules for visual commerce experiences.
Rule 1: Content and technology must be team players
Sports Authority recently sponsored a Field Day, featuring Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, to teach baseball fundamentals to local youth. A video crew was on hand to capture the event and create a great marketing video.
However, by layering technology on top of that compelling video content, Sports Authority was able to do more. The video footage was edited into segments: hitting, infielding, pitching, and so on. That segmentation put viewers in control of the story flow.
The same technology was used to turn the video from a passive lean-back viewing experience into an active lean-forward shopping experience. A merchandising pane at the bottom of the video displayed contextually appropriate products, with a call-to-action linked to the product page.
The net impact of putting the viewer in control of his or her own journey is a win for both viewer and marketer.
Today, visual content must seamlessly lead consumers from awareness ("I'm watching a video") to engagement ("I'm choosing to watch the segment about hitting a home run") to purchase ("I'm buying that bat through the video").
Under the old rules, the content marketers responsible for the video content wouldn't have had ways to make the content actionable. The new rules of visual marketing drive collaboration between content marketers, creatives, and technologists.
The new rules require that teams no longer operate in silos but across them. Only with that level of collaboration can marketers make the most of new technologies.
Rule 2: Interactive visuals must bring the store to the customer
Shoppers considering hair care products would typically get guidance from a stylist in a salon. That level of consultation is hard to duplicate on a Website—but in moving mid-funnel shoppers from consideration to purchase is crucial.
Kerastase finds that the right combination of visual content and technology is a powerful substitute for the guidance from a brick-and-mortar salon.
Visitors to kerastase-usa.com are invited to shop by need (e.g., dry hair or color-treated hair). Each solution-oriented "regimen" page features a video with interactive In-Video Shopping technology. The video demonstrates the proper hair-care regimen for the visitor's hair type. The products used in the video are displayed in the shopping panes to the right of the video content for easy purchase.
The combination of the helpful video content and the interactive merchandising proved effective in upselling and cross-selling by promoting the products as best when used together. That combination drove an 18% increase in average-order value for Kerastase.
Rule 3: Visual media must be included along every step of the purchase path
A recent Lenovo email campaign featured a video for the T440s Ultrabook playing directly within the email (once again, demonstrating that content marketing and technology are inseparable).
However, the video in email is only the beginning of what is a well-organized campaign featuring the right visual assets deployed along the purchase path. A click on the "Get Yours" call-to-action drops the visitor to a product page with six videos and close to a dozen images well-merchandised in one player. Spin photography (already used by Lenovo on many other products) can't be far behind as Lenovo is clearly working on making its path to purchase as visual as possible.
New Rules Begin With New Thinking
To be sure you're operating by the new rules, take a look at how your team operates.
Is the team focused only on content and channels, or are team members discussing the experiences they plan to deliver? Is the team discussing how those experiences assist shopper through purchase and beyond? Are the metrics based on true interaction and engagement or solely on downloads, views, and impressions?
If you find your team focused on old-rule thinking, use examples like the ones above to push for new thoughts. Put content and technology on the same team like Sports Authority did. Bring the experience to the customer like Kerastase does. Think visual at every step of the way like Lenovo does.
And remember that the new rules of visual commerce are still being written. So, push your team members to think about experience, rather than content or technology. More than likely, they will add to the rulebook.