Summit: Story Telling and Customer Centricity Prevail In Digital Experiences

For two and a half days every year, marketing executives, ecommerce specialists, brand marketers, digital agencies and technology vendors all line up to attend, sponsor, speak, listen, learn and share at the Summit. This year is no exception. Like most attendees, I too have been pondering about the types of themes, insights and trends that I’d see at this year’s event.

While most are now either enjoying a refreshing cocktail, kicking up their feet in their hotel rooms or venturing out to explore all that Chicago nightlife has to offer, I’m recounting the two themes that brands really cannot afford to ignore in this hyper connected environment we live in.

The story reigns supreme
The morning is often the best time to find inspiration and learn at conferences like You’re fresh, eager and ready to be amazed by new ideas and even have some of the marketing concepts you hold dear to not be so true. That is exactly what I found when I sat in the morning keynote, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, presented by Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger. With a title like that, how could this session not be contagious?

Within minutes of taking the stage, Berger asked all of the session attendees (who come from different walks of life, roles and companies) to answer a simple question. Which of the three brands – Disney, Cheerios or Scrubbing Bubbles – have the highest Word of Mouth exposure among customers? Hands began raising one after another. Disney had a whopping percentage of votes, then came Scrubbing Bubbles and in last place, was the household cereal brand Cheerios. To everyone’s surprise, Disney – the creator of hits like “Little Mermaid” or “Aladdin” – wasn’t the WOM winner. The winner was Cheerios.

What was most interesting about this exercise wasn’t in how interactive Berger managed to make his session content. It was the lesson it revealed about the value of word of mouth marketing. As Berger stated, “Word of mouth is much more important than traditional advertising because it has huge impact, is cheaper to execute and is more cost-effective.” But then the question came up – why? In a word, trust. We as consumers trust the opinions and feedback of our friends, more than what brands themselves say.

That’s where something like word of mouth marketing – which might be categorized as less sophisticated and effective by some brands – can use targeting to gain the trust of consumers. Berger wasn’t talking about targeting in the form of what it is known as today – no targeted ads, banners, messaging and offers.

What Berger was talking about is as basic as it gets, but quite effective. To make his case, he shared a personal anecdote of one publisher who recently sent him two copies of the same book to read. The first was intended for him, while the second was meant for him to send to a specific friend within his own network. Targeting made simple. What I found so smart about this is that the publisher used Berger (who is already an advocate of the publisher) to bring in more customers.

It’s time to redefine engagement metrics
With an event of this magnitude, it can sometimes be daunting. Once I spent time maneuvering between the many booths on the exhibition floor and got my fill of the not-to-shabby Mexican buffet lunch, I was ready to get back into the swing of listening and learning for the afternoon. When I scanned the conference agenda and saw the track session – Stop Marketing, Start Inviting: Draw Customers Into a Real and Relevant Digital Experience – I knew where I’d be spending my afternoon. Before the panelists began to share the road they’ve taken (and are still taking) to improve the digital experience for their customers, a slide popped up with some telling stats. We receive 247 messages each day on average. We receive 183 emails each day on average. “If that doesn’t get brands to believe in the power of stories your customers are telling about your brands, you’re missing it,” said Katie Keim, CMO of Lithium. I couldn’t agree more.

With senior digital and ecommerce executives from David’s Bridal, Alex & Ani and Pet360, the panelists didn’t disappoint. Although somewhat of a newcomer to the digital space, Pet360 talked about the gradual shift their brand has made from thinking about “how do we optimize for conversions?” to “how do we look at our business and what does each customer engagement asset mean?” For Pet360’s EVP and CMO, Rose Hamilton, “engagement metrics are about value.” To create value, brands need to shift their thinking and decision making to be customer centric.

Most of all, it’s the words of Bradley Kapcar, VP and GMM of David’s Bridal, that should resonate true for any brand in the ecommerce and digital space. “Our customer is overwhelmed by the process of buying bridal gowns. Our role is to help her in that process and present her with the right content and communities that help her move through the process.”

What struck me in this statement was his repeated use of the word ‘her’ when describing the brand’s customers. By personalizing the experience to meet the individual needs of ‘her,’ David’s Bridal as a business understands why customer centricity is the only way to prevail among digitally savvy consumers.

Ragini Bhalla is Director of Content and Communications at Maxymiser.

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