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Why you should focus on storytelling to engage your omnichannel shoppers

By Dave Brewis

To be expert in the art of storytelling is to know how to engage an audience. Storytelling has always been used to command attention and impart information. It is often designed to spur a specific reaction, often emotional.

Now that customers shop across multiple channels, delivering personalised shopping experiences which are consistent with brand has become ever more challenging.

Nevertheless, many brands are rising to this challenge by implementing storytelling strategies that embrace omnichannel shoppers, rather than fearing the scale of today’s retail challenge. Read on to discover the case for storytelling in the digital space.

The commercial narrative

Whether they realise it or not, retailers and brands are some of our best storytellers. They use content in its myriad forms – images, editorial, and video – to engage and inspire customers and entice them to act. But content comes in many forms, and retailers now must deliver across multiple channels – channels which continue to evolve at unprecedented pace.

The digital revolution has connected billions of people in all sorts of ways, and built new opportunities for retailers, most of them relating directly to audience reach and participation. The number of touchpoints between customers and brands has increased dramatically, exposing the need for an overarching narrative that unifies a brand’s essence.

During all this disruption, the retailers who are succeeding are those who have understood how these new channels work, and consequently adopted a new approach to storytelling. They have built agility and adaptability into their brand DNA to match the evolution of omnichannel, content-hungry customers. In contrast, those who have employed a traditional top-down, one-way approach have generally failed to engage their audiences, who rightly expect more in this digital age.

Typewriter

The lesson is this: the growth of audience participation and personalisation does not mean the death of storytelling – far from it. Today, brands that fail to explain their purpose or convince customers to join their movement will not survive in the long-term, particularly given the enormous pressure on brand loyalty in the face of unlimited competition. Building a solid base of loyal customers is the lifeblood of any brand, and content is helping forward-thinking retailers do just this.

The first imperative, therefore, is to take a detailed look at how your brand story is being communicated. Is this story embedded and reiterated throughout your content? Is it consistent across channels? Does your content give customers a clear notion of what you represent and what you’re asking them to belong to? Most importantly, does it convince them to join and support your movement?

Microphone

The age of the customer

The retail industry has entered what Forrester terms ‘the age of the customer’. More than ever before, the shopper is in the driving seat. They have access to more products and content than they could ever wish to consume.  

This means that retailers’ focus needs to shift from product to participation. In one sense, of course, product presentation online is crucial, however it is only with a more sophisticated content strategy that retailers can hope to drive customer engagement and conversion in the future.

The absolute focus, then, should be on how content drives the customer journey and inspires the desire to belong. Storytelling is an art, and brands need to strive hard to generate that sense of belonging and customer participation.

Lens focussing on path

In parallel, brands need to understand the stories that customers have around themselves, before creating and delivering the content which contains the messaging, props, and scenes designed to engender that sense of empathy and belonging.

Producing content is a creative pursuit. It has to be. Yet the demands placed on larger retailers to create the volume and velocity of content necessary to engage customers meaningfully, and on a more personal level, are growing exponentially.

Retailers, therefore, need the right platform and tools in order to generate these myriad personalised experiences. Retailers must adopt tools which greatly reduce time spent on manual and repetitive content production tasks and allow for a more agile method of working.

Close up of tool box

Experiential experiences

In marketing and beyond we have seen a trend towards the use of the terms ‘experience’ and ‘experiential’. We see them everywhere. Branded spaces and shops must be more ‘experiential’ to pull in customers. Platforms for content management have evolved into platforms which deliver ‘experiences’ across ecommerce channels.

Once upon a time, optimising the customer experience meant making sure your website was easy to navigate, or that customers received automated order confirmations, but these are now only minimum requirements. Shoppers are now demanding content-rich online experiences, which inspire, excite, and entice. 

The use of the word ‘experience’ across marketing is a welcome trend. Welcome because it is driving retailers to view their own content through the eyes of the customer. Retailers are spending longer wearing customer lenses to help them design compelling shopping experiences, both online and in-store.

Glasses focussing on book

However, the word experience isn’t wholly satisfactory, simply because if you ask anyone to recount an ‘experience’ of any type, they will tell you a story. The resultant story will provide deep insight. It will no doubt involve a central protagonist (possibly themselves) and undoubtedly feature a subject. The story may contain one or more themes, have a nice narrative arc, and perhaps even a twist along the way.

Of course, all good stories have an end, and if by that time the story has left a genuine impression on the audience, then that experience will have felt powerful. Perhaps powerful enough to be memorable, repeatable and shareable.

Most retailers would die to deliver great customer experiences which are remembered, repeated, and shared. Storytelling is therefore the trick to engaging customers and turning them into loyal participants over time. Telling the brand story while understanding the customer’s drive and goal is the key.

The new imperative for retailers, therefore, is to build content strategies which cultivate the storytelling necessary to deliver deeper and more personalised shopping experiences at scale, while being true to the unifying brand story across all channels.

Dave Brewis, CMO, Amplience

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