As e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailers adapt to a new world characterized by remote work and social distancing, they must cater to virtual audiences while preparing for the return of in-person customers. Fortunately, the techniques used by many leading brands can serve as a blueprint for effectively engaging people — no matter where they are.
Before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers responded to the growth of e-commerce by redesigning their stores to serve as destinations. Whether it was branded cafes, Instagram-worthy art installations, live music, or in-store class programming, these experiences often translated to digital content, such as social posts and influencer plugs, that hit every stage of the marketing funnel.
Meanwhile, e-commerce brands — which had to work harder to cater to customers preferring in-person touchpoints — utilized some of the same tactics by merging in-person and digital experiences at pop-up events. That's why companies like L’Oréal, Warby Parker, and Wayfair created virtual reality features that allow consumers to dynamically interact with products in a digital environment.
Brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce brands that are balancing a hybrid customer base should use digital marketing techniques to augment the overall brand experience. After all, the goal is to build trust by creating a unique and authentic brand experience across all touchpoints. And when consumers trust companies, they become lifelong customers. Here are three effective tactics that brands can deploy:
1. Augmented Reality
The retail industry is just getting started with augmented reality (AR). In 2019, Gartner predicted that more than 100 million customers would shop via AR by 2020, and that number is likely even higher during the pandemic. Even before, shoppers were 11 times likelier to purchase home decor when they had the option to envision their rooms via AR, and most customers already expected brands to offer AR-powered experiences.
Why is AR so effective? The ability to enter a virtual fitting room or apply digital makeup from the comfort of home instills confidence in customers while elevating brand perception. However, AR works only when it’s implemented the right way. Brands must ensure they’re providing an optimal experience from a customer journey and technological perspective, which means they must understand who their customers are and the nuances of their paths to purchase. Moreover, the virtual space that a brand creates must amplify its essence. Just as in brick-and-mortar stores, AR environments should feel unique, memorable and intuitive.
2. Interactive Voice
The coronavirus pandemic might be what finally propels voice technology into mainstream marketing strategies. With many Americans hesitant to touch anything outside their homes, voice represents an ideal means of engaging with consumers.
The widespread adoption of in-home smart speakers means that consumers are growing increasingly comfortable using their voices to interact with devices. Brands that create compelling interactive voice ads and experiences will be able to capitalize on this trend and potentially drive significant growth. Juniper Research estimates that voice-based ad revenue could reach $19 billion by 2022. Moreover, voice technology is an ideal tool for communicating brand values because it allows companies to directly engage with consumers (and vice versa) via highly personalized experiences.
Games built into loyalty programs offer the opportunity to create brand-forward experiences that tap into the passion of companies' best customers. Gamification capitalizes on people's competitive impulses, but like other tactics, it's most effective when aligned with the spirit of the brand and the unique qualities of its customers.
For example, apparel maker Vans' interactive loyalty program recognizes, rewards and celebrates fans. As part of the Vans family, members get insider information, access to exclusive contests and experiences, and sneak previews of upcoming product releases. They also receive points for shopping and engaging with the brand through a variety of channels. As a bonus, members also gain access to exclusive patterns they can use to customize the brand's footwear and accessories.
As the pandemic persists, customer touchpoints will continue to be predominantly digital. However, marketers’ goals shouldn’t change. By harnessing these three digital tactics and applying them to experiential marketing, brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce brands can create virtual experiences that feel engaging for both online and in-person customers.
Jeff Snyder is the founder and chief inspiration officer at Inspira Marketing Group, a brand experience agency headquartered in Norwalk, Conn. and New York City.