One of the keys to ecommerce marketing success may be as simple as “rendering authentic” online shopping experiences that make customers happy to buy.
“The best way to generate demand for any offering today,” said author and management consultant Joe Pine, in a National Public Radio interview, “is with an experience so engaging that customers can’t help but spend their time with you, and then spend their money as a result by buying your offerings.”
Authenticity in Business, Ecommerce
The success of this engaging experience, according to Pine, depends on authenticity. And in turn, “authenticity,” Pine explained in a 2011 Cass Business School Interview, “is really the new consumer sensibility, in other words, the primary buying criterion by which people choose [whom] to buy from and what to buy. And increasingly they don’t what to buy the fake from the phony. They want the real from the genuine.
“So the number one business imperative today…is to render authenticity. …Get people to perceive [a business’] offerings…as authentic, and what that means is [businesses] really have to match the identity of the individual person. Authenticity is basically conformance to self-image where my identify as an individual matches the identity of the offering.”
The temptation for some businesses, particularly online retail businesses that crave real connections to customers, is to contrive one’s marketing to appeal to some customer or another, but that is really missing the point about being authentic, its fake.
Author Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his 2000 work, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, “Some books on salesmanship recommend that persuaders try to mirror the posture or talking styles of their clients in order to establish rapport. But that’s been shown not to work. It makes people more uncomfortable, not less. It’s too obviously phony.”
The Experience Economy
In 2014 leading businesses, if you will, are taking part in what Pine and writing partner James H. Gilmore call the experience economy. This still emerging economy is the most recent species in business evolution:
“Agrarian Economy” is based in the sale of commodities, like basic food products or even basic materials. It is the oldest economic form.
“Industrial Economy” produces goods, focusing on cost reduction. This economy ultimately leads to the commoditization of goods and an ever increasing number of goods.
“Service Economy,” which encompasses both service industries and product offering services, is about customization and improved quality or convenience.
“Experience Economy” increases the value of an offering via the associated experience.
Simply put, customers in this new economy choose what to buy based on the experience associated with making the purchase.
In a 2004 Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talk, Pine explained economic evolution using coffee retailer Starbucks as an example.
“Coffee at its core…is beans. It’s coffee beans. You know how much coffee is worth when treated as a commodity, as a bean? Two or three cents per cup.” That is the agrarian economy.
“But,” said Pine, “grind it, roast it, package it, put it on a grocery store shelf, and now it will cost five, ten, 15 cents when you treat it as a good.” And goods are, in a sense, products of the industrial economy.
“Take that same good and perform the service of actually brewing it for a customer in a corner diner, a bodega, a kiosk somewhere…you get 50 cents maybe a buck per cup of coffee.” This is an example from the service economy.
“Surround the brewing of that coffee with the ambiance of a Starbucks, with the authentic theater that goes inside of there, and now because of that authentic experience you can charge two, three, four, five dollars for a cup of coffee.” This is the experience economy in action.
Rendering Authentic Experiences
If Pine is correct, businesses — such as online sellers — need to figure out how to render authentic experiences.
To this end, ecommerce businesses need to focus on being useful to customers, providing help, insights, information, and even entertainment.
One approach toward authentic experiences may be content marketing, delivered via an ecommerce site, a retailer’s blog or online journal, in videos distributed over the web, and in social media posts.
As an example, consider software maker and video footage retailer Video Copilot. The company sells its effects, add-ons, and footage products primarily by offering very high-quality video-editing tutorials that describe how to create Hollywood-like videos with the company’s products and software tools.
The techniques demonstrated in the tutorial videos are valid even if customers choose not to purchase Video Copilot products, and the tutorial’s host, Andrew Kramer, connects with viewers in an authentic way, sharing his passion for the topics covered. The company is genuinely interested in video production, shares its interest, and by doing so confirms, in a sense, to its customers’ own interests and self-images.
A second way of rendering authentic experiences may come from more direct customer interaction. Zappos is renowned for its exceptional customer service and the unique and authentic shopping experiences it creates. When customers chatted with, emailed, or spoke to customer services representatives at Zappos they discovered a company genuinely interested in providing customer service, and enjoyed an authentic shopping experiences that transformed them into loyal customers.
Finally, consider Goruck, the military backpack maker and retailer that hosts events similar to military training or operations. These events have participants load a rucksack with bricks or rocks and take part in several hours of physical activity, including traversing bootcamp-style obstacles whilst carrying the packs.
These Goruck events are authentic because Goruck is a company truly interested in the military experience and training, and its customers share that worldview.
When an online retailer shares an experience with its customers, it gives those customers reasons to shop beyond price and product.