Using Digital Storytelling to Improve Customer Engagement
Retailers are all trying to determine the impact of increasing digital maturity on their business models and developing the right forward-looking digital transformation strategy. Yet, despite making significant investment in time and resources, retailers are still faced with distracted consumers who don’t respond positively to their messages.
Consumers aren't short on choices. The average shopper is bombarded with digital offers and propositions from every angle — on smart devices, billboards, TV screens, digital signage, etc. They're “connected” a lot. According to Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report, overall time spent online has doubled in the last decade, with the average adult internet user spending over 20 hours per week online.
When consumers are faced with too many irrelevant choices, they take refuge in a few digital safe havens that satisfy them each and every time. Consequently, many brands and retailers are struggling to reach two-way conversation utopia with their customers, despite the opportunities that digital channels afford. Understanding your target audience and offering them something useful, personal, relevant, entertaining or intelligent is still extremely difficult to get right. So, how do retailers keep consumers’ attention, and which approaches work best? How do they spark a dialogue that goes deeper than just “selling stuff”?
Digital storytelling is emerging as a pathway through the noise and points to a higher success rate for thoughtful, content-focused propositions. Beyond the essential core of strong content, we see trends in embedding design patterns into consumer behaviors across the web, so they face no barriers to engagement and are contextually warmed up when they begin to digest the content. Visually appealing “snackable” content boxes and animations engage and deliver content in the short form many digital natives demand.
Fashion e-commerce sites are moving toward content-rich platforms that satisfy the desire consumers have to get advice on their wardrobes. New mashed up slices of haute couture glamour infused with street fashion from H&M and Primark have given rise to a new generation of fashion choices. And with downloadable apps, such as that by Project September, viewers can easily become buyers by browsing fashions straight from runway images and simply tapping the image of the item they want to purchase. It also creates an ecosystem of financial rewards for those influencers who post popular content.
Other brands always provide a useful barometer and source of digital storytelling inspiration. The U.K. supermarket chain Waitrose recently launched the first-ever campaign featuring same-day reportage from a farm, with Cow Cam (cows fitted with a GoPro camera) taking consumers up close and personal to the source of their milk. It’s dirty, but it’s authentic and has made a big impact with consumers.
All this didn’t come easily to these digital innovators. They've had significant business challenges adapting themselves for delivering effective storytelling via digital channels. It takes the combination of a user-centered mind-set and software development acumen to evaluate and improve the design process and technology platform at the same time. These brands have all taken the time to listen, understand, respond to and then validate user needs. That journey is essential before adjusting digital content workflows to support new propositions.
Here are five tips for a design approach to help stimulate and embed a consistent — almost subconscious — digital storytelling experience:
1. Respond to micro-interactions. By “liking” or “checking in,” the user is offering the content owner an opinion, which is an acknowledgement that their input has had an effect. This is key to starting two-way digital communication between the retailer and customer. The user finds that very satisfying, and the content provider can gather data to make the content richer and more relevant in the future — and dump the content that isn’t working.
2. Boost your company’s street cred with consumer-generated content. When consumers or brand advocates create videos to show impromptu brand moments in non-staged environments, it adds integrity to a brand’s owned social media channels and websites. Encouraging these shared viral moments is increasingly important for companies to enhance the perception of authenticity around their content.
3. Embrace the wheel. Scrolling is fine; repeating the need to “scroll for more” is now an acceptable way to tell a good story. Splitting the scroll intelligently can further improve an experience. Overall, users don’t mind scrolling. It’s become a natural way to discover more.
4. Show me you know me. If you hold data on me and my history, preferences and areas of interest, then show me what you know rather than hide it now and trick me later. Consumers appreciate honesty in their interactions with brands, and don’t get offended by the company demonstrating how modern, sophisticated and integrated it is. Don’t be annoying. Don’t talk too much. Make sure you listen. Overall, I appreciate a personalized experience, which is clearly based on the information I've shared previously.
5. Incorporate new technologies and features. The new Messenger Bot platform announced recently by Facebook harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) to humanize and personalize the interaction between a customer and a retailer. This may sound counterintuitive, but Facebook thinks it's onto something and gave the example of a user wanting “skinny jeans.” The Bot does the rest at speed.
In a world of big data and omnichannel touchpoints, retailers with the technology in place to learn from the usage patterns of their customers (through their journey of discovery, impulse, purchase and sharing) are best placed to identify winning propositions in their digital armory.
Starbucks is once again setting the pace in this race. It succeeded with its mobile loyalty program, promoted the use of gifting between friends and is now trialing personalized, real-time targeted promotions with engaging content. Starbucks added 280,000 new “Rewards” members during one week in April in the U.S.
These tips and examples can help businesses focus on the customer experience and turn the desired mentality of “it’s all about you (the customer), not about us (the brand)” into a reality. Your brand story only gets you so far; hand it over to the people and let them spread the word. Your job is to provide interesting content and a compelling narrative. The rest will take care of itself.
Mark Lister is the chief digital officer of Ness Software Engineering Services, a provider of custom software product engineering services.