Retail happens both on and off the screen. For those working in REALtail the dreaded line, “Thanks, but I’ll just buy it online,” is becoming all too familiar. However, webshops do not have to be the enemy. Online shopping is a world unto its own, with its own rules, tricks and possibilities. Approached with the right mindset, the digital plane can open a whole new world for brands and have a positive influence on the customer’s journey.
The Dawn of Digital
The dawn of digital sparked a new era of marketing and retail. An era where we the consumer were promised greener pastures. Gone were to be the days of the crude one-size-fits-all ads corrupting our eyes and ears thought up by men in suits high atop their steel towers. But yet, here we are instead in the days where any smartphone wielding, social media having, conscious being more than likely contributes to the inundation of videos, gifs, blogs, memes, texts, podcasts, photos and animations infiltrating our field of vision from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep. You no longer even have to be able to spell the word “content” to create it.
Even as I write this, an ad for “Blow away those Monday blues with a new pair of shoes” continues to relentlessly haunt me, after innocently searching a brand’s name, and the push marketing does not get any better in the brand’s store either. Yes, in this new promised dawn the sun is hesitant to rise. For instead of shining light on empathic, attention worthy, value creating content, the light exposes a lot of crap. Is no screen, surface or space safe?
The Good ole’ Days
Brands have been creating and distributing content for decades. Michelin began publishing a guide for French motorists in 1900. Full of useful information, the Michelin Guide’s purpose was to help increase the demand for cars, and thus, tires! John Deere, a household name for many, launched its first issue of The Furrow in the 1890s. A magazine dedicated to informative and helpful content for farmers; sharing consumer stories and insights. Still issued today, both new and old publications continue to entertain and inspire more than 100 years later. All to prove that content has not always had a dark side. It was born with purpose. A purpose authentic to a brand’s DNA, offering an experience built around the culture, needs and desires of its consumers.
Between 1900 and today, advertising has gone through puberty, various growth spurts, and is today in the midst of what some consider a midlife crisis. The birth of digital made the market volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. In the face of this uncertainty many brands resorted to muscle memory from traditional advertising, employing the same pitchy and promotional tactics but on the digital plane. Leaving us, the consumer, with little more than Web litter.
Content Marketing does not have to be the villain.
So what can be done to prevent the onslaught of content crap? Simple, put people first! Lazar Dzamic and Justin Kirby, authors of The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing, a great source presenting the varying contemporary thoughts on content marketing state, “Brands can do better if they focus on becoming a relevant part of their audiences’ cultural repertoire, not just purveyors of hardcore ‘buy’ messages. In other words, brands have to become less narcissistic, less vain and less intrusive...” Coined “moments that matter,” the creation of these relevant and memorable moments act as building blocks for nurturing a lasting relationship between customers and brands. According to their guide, it is about how to do less stuff that is more impactful; delivering the right content and message, to the right people, at the right places, in the right moments. Great examples include; Patagonia’s Worn Wear & Unilever’s All Things Hair. In fact, YouTubers are seen as prime examples of impactful creators of content that is built specifically for consumers to connect within a community and ultimately creating commerce. Key to being impactful is also being fluid; having the nimbleness to continually better align brand purpose with profit. And key to purpose is a good ole’ dose of vitamin D.
Vitamin D, the D is for data
It has been said that data is the new oil, but like all things, used inappropriately it does little good and a lot of damage. With online retail ever expanding, a human experience digital design studio in Amsterdam by the name of Wonderland is using data and code to achieve what is still not possible in an offline experience.
Imperative to their approach is ensuring a delivery of emotional information, albeit on a digital plane. In speaking with Wonderland they commented that while they do get strategies from their clients, the strategies are most often based off of flat data and do not represent the true depth of their customers. Part of Wonderland’s strategy is breaking through the big data and diving in and exploring the thick more qualitative data; and this can only be acquired by engaging with the brands’ customers face to face. Consumers are the starting place, the true north, and content provides the means to connect. Customers are not numbers, click-through rates or screen hovers. It is with more enriched, personal data that a myriad of ideas germinate into valuable content for the consumer. Wonderland’s advice: “Start by making customers happy and that will make them loyal. Then they will want to experience everything.” Oh, and “continually iterate, check-in and update,” certifying the optimal service is being provided. An example can be seen in Wonderland’s work for women’s fashion brand Femme & Fierce, the new boss in e-commerce. Wonderland utilized bold, sassy and strong interactive design and animations to put the products front and center. It was only through their combination of big and thick data gained through focus groups, one-on-one interviews with customers and continuous check-ins as rollouts were made that Wonderland was able to perfectly sync the brand’s image and journey with its engagers.
Make Content Great Again
Content marketing must become more empathic, and this only comes from purpose led content acquired from rich (big and thick) data. Remember the golden rule in kindergarten: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you do not like to see, read and/or be exposed to every banner, social ad, billboard or commercial your brand disrupts our day with, why would somebody else? With 5,000 ads per day being the average amount an individual sees a single piece of content has a .0002% chance of standing out. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, then don’t say anything at all, but if you do have content worth spreading, then Dzamic and Kirby’s guide says:
- Respect the platform and the psychology of the audience that spends time there.
- Avoid interrupting the experience the audience wants to have on a platform. Meet them in authentic ways.
- Be consistent in story, tonality and personality.
- Make content that inspires, aids and/or interests people. Brands are promising us, the consumers, many things with their multitude of content. If I walk into your store that promise better be kept. As David Beebe says, “Content marketing is like a first date, if you only talk about yourself, there won’t be a second one.”
Travis Rice, author of this article, is a former teacher turned fashion brander. Inspired by the many industry pioneers and innovators, his interests lie in the sustainable evolution of fashion. Originating from the United States he has called Amsterdam, The Netherlands home for the last 10 years.