There was a time when companies mass-manufactured their products and sold them to an audience not used to choosing from a wide selection. About a century later, the situation has changed completely. Due to an exploding number of businesses using the Internet as a marketing and distribution platform, modern customers are faced with a sheer insurmountable variety of products. What’s more, the market has become more transparent, so customers are well informed about products’ features, prices and availability.
In effect, the power has shifted – away from manufacturers or merchants towards customers. Especially in the digital world, where competitors are virtually only one click away, merchants need to find strategies to target and engage their audience to grow and sustain their business.
As a result, companies have been striving to improve the overall customer experience and invest in measures to deliver the degree of service which they had promised in their marketing campaigns in the first place. For companies such as BestBuy or Zappos, this has led to a higher performance, as the development of companies in the Customer Experience Index (CXI) shows.
Customer Experience Leaders – ie. companies focussing on and investing in a superior customer experience – have seen a stock development of 49% above the S&P 500 Index, whereas the so-called Customer Experience Laggards – who have not yet reached their full potential in this regard – come in at 62% below this average (Source: Winning The Customer Experience Game II, Forrester Research).
Types of content and their distribution channels
Translated into the digital world, this means that brands and merchants can gain a considerable advantage when investing in customer experience. In order to shape the way in which they address their audience, merchants can choose from a range of different content types and distribution channels.
Blogs, microsites and editorial pages
The most common way of presenting engaging content to customers is through blogs or microsites covering various subjects, or editorial pages supporting the commerce elements. Fashion retailer ASOS for example uses a variety of fashion- and styling-related content in the magazine section of its online shop. Customers can access interviews with actors, makeup tutorials and outfits that are directly linked to the corresponding product pages.
Videos are among the most important ways that consumers interact with brands. These videos can be distributed via channels such as Youtube or Brightcove. As Barneys New York demonstrates, merchants are also adding videos to their own sites to let visitors enjoy them without leaving, thus keeping the traffic on their own site.
Though still in its conceptual infancy, content commerce initiatives are already helping merchants to put their products into a context through inspiring narratives and engage their customers. Brands also rely on inspirational storytelling rather than fact-based introductions to their products.
The British fashion manufacturer Burberry was among the first brands who recognized the importance of experience-led approach and since then has been a prominent example of how a fashion brand cannot only develop, but completely reposition itself by using consistent storytelling. In just a short time-frame, former CEO Angela Ahrendts turned a traditional trench coat maker into one of the most popular luxury brands in the world. After Angela Ahrendts had allocated 60% of Burberry’s marketing budget in her digital strategy in 2006, the sales tripled in the following five years. One of the success factors in her strategy was thoroughly connecting the products to high-quality pieces of content:
“We created videos to demonstrate Burberry craftsmanship: All the collars are hand-rolled and hand-stitched. We equipped our sales associates with iPads and our stores with audiovisual technology to show these videos to best effect. We knew that beautiful, compelling content would connect customers to the brand and our iconic trench.”
The esthetics of the Burberry webstore are sustained by large-scale product photos and a “Burberry acoustic” section, where emerging artists present their acoustic music against countryside settings
Barneys New York
Barneys, a chain of luxury department stores based in New York, is using various content elements to support the luxury brands in their webstore. In its editorial site The Window, the merchant offers, beside others, lookbooks and interviews. According to Matthew Woolsey, Executive Vice President of Digital, this site already achieves strong ROI:
“Customers who read The Window spend 40% more than our average shopper,” he says. “So far, customers have responded extremely well to personalized editorial such as lookbooks, exclusive designer interviews, videos and Window stories that are tailored to them. Users who are engaging with our personalized editorial are converting 4x-5x higher than our average user.”
When Lush, a UK-based producer of natural cosmetics, relaunched their website a while ago, they tried to provide an online customer experience that matched the brand’s successful physical stores worldwide. The brand’s success is based on their narratives regarding ethical buying, responsibility towards the environment as well as a dedication to equality.
On their website, the brand is using extensive imagery and inspirational copy to support their products. They talk about how the cosmetics and soaps are produced and let the people behind the products have a say, in video interviews for example. There are also several gadgets, for example the kitchen section where small batches of new products are being produced by the ‘chefs’.
For the company, investment into an experience-driven strategy is already starting to pay off after the initial six months, resulting in:
- 16% decline in abandoned carts
- 64% increase in digital orders
- 75% increase in website sessions
Translating their company values into the digital world through various types of content, Lush has managed to grow their online community and benefit from increasing business metrics.
Merging content and commerce is the best choice for tomorrow’s business.
Retail business is facing exciting challenges. Customers will increasingly turn to brands and merchants who combine information, inspiration and entertainment in a way that makes their offers essential to people’s lives. It’s no longer enough to focus on delivering separate, good-quality jigsaw pieces – the whole picture is more important and longer lasting.
However, the wheel does not have to be reinvented. In many companies, the elements of a modern, sustainable content-commerce-strategy already exist. The key is to adapt one’s organizational structure and enable a creative and productive coworking atmosphere and therefore allow editorial content and commerce elements to merge.
People love stories and both brands and merchants should prepare themselves for becoming superior storytellers.