In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the transition from mass produced, made-in-China Tickle Me Elmos, to farm-to-table limited-run breads, curated by your local artisan. Thanks to innovative companies like Amazon, Spotify syncing with our every stride, and Netflix serving up video recommendations based on past-behavior, we’ve entered an era of personalization on demand. Unparalleled emphasis is placed on delivering a unique customer experience from the ground-up. Dot connectors—businesses that seamlessly bring hyper-personalized experiences to the consumer—are here to stay.
Maybe it’s purely about shifting the perception from “We are the world” to “We are your next-door neighbor.” Maybe it’s the technological tools that make it possible to really know a consumer down to their very core. Maybe it’s the evolution of relationship marketing thanks to the data we now have at our fingertips. Wherever we look, the dot connectors are bridging the gap between product and services and their audiences. They know how to capitalize on story, pride themselves on convenience, dedicate themselves to the entire buyer’s cycle, and are savvy at extending an online experience to an offline one.
Most of all, they know their customer inside and out.
My consumer persona? Since you asked, I’m passionate about good food, great wine, classic fashion, dining al fresco, the sun, cafe macchiatos in piazzas, British racing green, and Nantucket grey. I identify as Italian (with notes of Greek), and so naturally, I am drawn toward anything that panders to that affiliation. Hence, when I clicked on a Facebook ad for a pretty pair of pumps, which led me to a brand I had never heard of, but spoke my language (Italian shoes), I was instantly attracted to the product. Nothing like a good retargeting ad to serve you that second helping after you’ve already politely said “No thanks,” or better yet, one that predicts your likes based on your online persona. Chrome gets me better than any online dating site.
But I digress…
It was at this juncture where my buyer’s journey began. The website had a few seconds to hook me, and it did. One pair of pumps gave way to dozens in every heel height, color, and supple leather variety a girl could dream up. The price point wasn’t cheap, but they boasted the “perfetto” fit, which led me to reason that they were well made, which drove me to investigate the “how.”
It was clear that this wasn’t your average retail site. As a former member of the magazine publishing world, I instantly noticed a very editorial design elevated to a rich media experience. Click on any little nuggets and up popped a series of vignettes in the form of videos, maps, and vintage sketches that gave you front-row seats at the shoemaker’s table. Watch her form the perfect sandal in between cigarette drags and sips of espresso, and tell me that’s not authentic.
This wasn’t just about showcasing a product, it was about a journey—a prime example of how we, as brands, can use the power of story to transform a generic experience into an artisanally-curated one.
Case in point. The site’s calls to action weren’t all about putting the shoe in the cart. They were about taking a deep dive into the history of the shoe, the color, the make, and the maker himself. They were about “shopping the story”—making my experience emotional, not transactional.
From my infatuation with this website, you can only guess that my journey converted (in marketing aspeak), or in other words, I made a small dent in my bank account. The customer experience did not stop there.
To be a successful dot connector, brands must conjure up an experience at every stage of the buyer’s journey. After I had ordered, emails kept me informed about the shoes’ arrival date. And then, the fun part: the virtual experience transitioned offline. Not to disappoint, the shoes were cloaked in an elegant, crosshatched shoebox with a gold emblem, the kind that you want to save for future use (for random buttons, miscellaneous Mac chargers, excess toiletries). Inside the box I found a thank-you note—a stamp of authenticity on fancy stationery—and a shoe bag, another reusable item. And oh yes, the shoes. They didn’t disappoint.
Fast forward a few weeks. An invitation arrived in the mail and I thought, another wedding invitation or baby shower. But thankfully, it wasn’t. It was an invitation to a private shopping event hosted at a nearby boutique hotel, which piqued my interest, as I was curious to learn how an online operation performed in public. At first, I was stunned to find myself in good company (read: gaggles of women tripping over one another to shoot selfies in their shoes while drinking champagne, reminding me why I prefer to shop online). I was a little let down when I discovered that I wasn’t the only one. Then, I was impressed. The marketer in me knew that they had me right where they wanted. And that was it. They had created a lifestyle, capitalized on boutique and amplified it for the masses—all the while delivering a personalized customer experience dotted with branded keepsakes.
This is nothing new to retail. Ralph Lauren has been doing it for generations. It’s all about showcasing a slightly out-of-reach lifestyle that makes you want to click “subscribe.” What is new is the fact that they don’t have the runway, models, or storefronts. They don’t have advertisements or sponsorships flanking episodes of Downton Abbey. What they do have is data. Data about what makes you and me and your best friend’s sister tick, and the ability to drive a customer experience from a web page. What makes them stand out is the stories they create along the way. They follow their goods along their journey. Dot connectors elevate trust and loyalty by bringing online events offline, which also succeeds at authenticating the user experience. But to get to that phase, they have to relate through a convincing narrative.
As the co-founder of members-only shopping site Rue La La said on the future of e-commerce, “One of the new futures of e-commerce is no longer just convenience and the world’s largest warehouses, but of telling a story.”
Amazon may have changed the shipping logistics game. But luckily, it will leave some piece of the e-commerce pie for the boutique retailers, pedaling their artisan craft to the masses.