Founder, CEO of Vesta, an all-in-one community platform to nurture consumer relationships, mobilize advocates, and drive emotional loyalty.
Marketers and consumers alike have benefitted from advancements in e-commerce, but I’ve noticed that when things become adopted by the masses, they become overly common. I’m not alone; a recent study of the future of commerce found that “of consumers polled, 64% agree that few web sites are unique or have unexpected functionality.” In fact, when given a blind test to distinguish between the websites of a mass market retailer and an upscale direct-to-consumer brand, 41% saw “no distinctiveness of look and feel.”
So the question is: How can you differentiate your brand’s digital presence? What actions can you take today to ensure that your brand doesn’t get lost in a sea of sameness?
There are many benefits to homogenized e-commerce websites (and, for that matter, loyalty programs and emails). There is a universality that is familiar to most consumers and makes for easy online shopping.
But when loyalty is declining (especially among younger generations), shopping patterns aren’t patterns anymore, and emotional brand connection and social proof can make or break your business, it’s critical to invest in creating a vibrant, engaging and diverse digital ecosystem for consumers to interact with.
That same commerce study found that a whopping 80% of consumers “expect brands to be multidimensional, evolving to fit new customers and environments.” Here are three ways for your brand to set itself apart and keep up with expectations.
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Use Zero-Party Data To Help You Deliver Personalized Experiences
With third-party cookies disappearing, many brands are investing in owned data, most notably zero-party data. This kind of data is actively given to a brand by a consumer and typically reveals highly prized information related to lifestyle, preferences and personal values.
Zero-party data collection should be done progressively, and you should accumulate the data over time. This helps you secure consumer trust and deliver value. It should be a delicate dance of asking and receiving, and it only works when the consumers believe they are receiving something valuable in return.
Aim to include zero-party data touchpoints in as many engagements as possible. This could be anything from a poll or lifestyle quiz on your website to a discussion or an interactive game.
For example, suppose you delivered a lifestyle quiz, and a consumer identified that they have a photography interest. This data should be “stored” in the consumer’s profile and used to deliver a relevant offer like a photo contest.
Personalized promotions, product suggestions and tailored messaging are a surefire way to create a positive feedback loop. Data can also be used to surprise and delight consumers and to gamify the brand experience.
Spotify is one of the most widely recognized examples of data in action. Through complex machine learning, its “Discover Weekly” feature boosts brand equity and consumer trust. As users choose songs on the app, Spotify gathers data to provide further recommendations. Spotify’s “Wrapped” is one of its most popular features, with users anxiously anticipating a visualized roundup of their favorite and most-listened-to artists at the end of the year.
Create A Community Destination And Cultivate Relationships
Consumers often look to a brand’s online presence for more than just the details of its product or service. As loyalty becomes more about value alignment, many consumers expect digital environments to bring that to life. Flashy technology and seamless online purchasing are important, but when consumers visit your website, many will look to engage with other consumers who are like them. A winning digital ecosystem can emerge from a winning community strategy.
An online brand community integrated into your marketing strategy is a powerful “secret sauce” that can determine whether a consumer goes with you or your competitor. As consumers become more discerning about fake reviews and paid influencer campaigns, your community can become an always-on resource to spark authentic advocacy.
To get started, we always say to remember that community building is akin to gardening, not carpentry. The goal is to grow relationships, not just hammer your own brand. Every brand has an audience of consumers. A brand community is simply a way to mobilize them in one place and bring forth the values and energy that already exists.
Perhaps you have a Facebook page that has been hard to activate, an email database that needs more engagement, or a customer relationship management or loyalty program that could be so much more. You can invite those consumers to seed your online community while driving more sign-ups from social sharing and referrals.
Introduce On-Brand Consumer Engagement Experiences
Consumer experience is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and is unique to each brand. For some brands, using augmented reality is a strategic play to boost their competitive advantage. It is especially relevant to companies like Warby Parker, which developed an AR app for virtual try-on of its eyewear. AR has also become an increasingly common feature adopted by cosmetics companies and home decor retailers.
While immersive and interactive experiences are impressive, brands can also provide value through a knowledge or idea forum where consumers can interact with other like-minded consumers or brand representatives. You can deploy surveys and polls to gather feedback and then act on it in product development and marketing campaigns. You can also use the zero-party data collected to provide tailored content creation opportunities, like fun user-generated content contests.
When considering what type of experiences to offer, it’s important to consider your consumers’ motivations. A cosmetics brand might design a VR engagement that fosters beauty confidence, while a technology brand may want to provide resources or tools for productivity. No matter what direction, consumers are more likely to be attracted to outlets for self-expression, creativity and a feeling of being capable.
In the last decade, we saw an eruption of technology that made a visually grabbing online presence possible for everyone. Brand websites have evolved from information-gathering spots to elegant digital productions. The stakes for getting attention have increased ever since. The future of the digital brand experience includes authentic communication touchpoints. If you’re not investing in them now, you might wake up to find yourself lost in the crowd.
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Author: Susan Frech, Forbes Councils Member