You’ve seen it. Two people are sitting across from each other at a restaurant. Their dress and demeanor signifies a romantic occasion, but rather than focusing on each other, their heads are bowed—they’re intently focused on their phones. In an ironic twist of fate, the devices that are designed to connect us on a universal level have jeopardized our physical connections in the present.
In many ways, the world is getting smarter. The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought everything from our smartphones and accessories to our refrigerators into the digital age. Technologies like facial recognition and virtual reality have become so ubiquitous that they’ve entered the realms of shopping and video games. Artificial Intelligence (AI) predicts our behavior with frightening accuracy, and it’s becoming harder to differentiate bots from humans online.
But like our romantic dinner scenario, there’s a problem with our increasingly smart environment. All the broadcasting and digitization comes at the cost of authentic human connections. It’s no wonder that millennials, in particular, are demanding authenticity from brands. More than ever, we appreciate when brands behave as though they’re unique and recognize that we are, as well.
When it comes to retail marketing, standing out among the crowd doesn’t necessarily require the most advanced marketing technology. Rather, it requires the ability to transcend the white noise in order to develop deeper relationships with customers. In short, to tune-up your retail marketing efforts, simply out-human your competition. Here’s what we can learn from businesses doing just that.
Listen To Your Customers
If you want to connect with your audience, you have to find out what’s important to them. One of the best ways to do this? Actually read what they’re sharing on social media.
“Connecting your marketing campaign to current events that people are talking about online is an excellent way to connect with your audience on a human level,” says Dan Sevigny, CEO of Spooky Digital. “You already know they care about a specific issue. It’s up to you to take it to the next level.”
Sevigny, a marketing expert and martial artist, often works with gyms to find unconventional ways to market. After the women’s marches in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. were plastered all over Facebook, Sevigny recognized an opportunity to join the conversation. To help women feel more empowered, he partnered with several gyms to offer a women’s self-defense program.
He would ask gym owners to run self-defense classes at their facility and, in return, would help them market the classes at their locations.
Ken’s Gym was among the first to partner. After successfully pulling off a class series, Sevigny’s strategy increased sales of the gym’s $49 two-week trial by 650% overnight and made the gym profitable for the first time in 5 years of business.
Sevigny was able to identify and leverage what customers considered meaningful by simply listening to his target demographic on social media, and responding with a timely offer.
Take Online Connections Offline
With the simple click of a button you can add anyone to your social media network, but what you do with that connection from that point forward is what matters most. Taking that digital connection and creating in-person meeting opportunities solidifies the brand/consumer relationship.
Studio 15, a fashion brand with a philanthropic focus, hosts pop-up events to create an environment that offers more than shopping. Knowing millennials’ appetite for social media and a culture of “see and be seen,” the brand ensures that influencers and customers can mingle with photographers, makeup artists, and models featured in their marketing campaigns. Every event is interactive including things such as a social media wall which easily allows attendees to take professional Instagram-able photos and share their experience with their followers on the spot.
The company reaches out to their social media followers with a personal invite to events and offers perks, such as free makeovers or headshot sessions. Taking the next step beyond the digital touchpoint allows Studio 15 to deepen the relationships with their consumers and share more than what can be related online.
Humanize Digital Marketing Efforts
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on humanizing digital marketing efforts, as well. After all, there are a host of resources that simplify the way we communicate and engage with our customers, online. However, if we are too dependent on automation and algorithms, we miss opportunities to build authentic relationships that only come from more personal engagement.
One way to do this is to use the valuable data that you’re collecting on your customers in ways that are interesting to them. Facebook does this by re-sharing our own memories with us that happened on a given date in years past. Spotify tells listeners when they began supporting artists before they hit the mainstream, calling out “tastemakers.”
For retailers paying attention to buying behavior, careful attention to data can go a long way. Was an outfit your customer purchased spotted on the runway? Let them know they have a good eye for fashion. Did your bookstore customer purchase their tenth book on behavioral psychology? Congratulate them on building their expertise. Simply taking a step beyond the transaction to recognize what makes our customers unique is an effective way to build relationships and loyalty.
Practice The Golden Rule
Humanizing digital marketing efforts also means, simply, to treat your customers how you’d like to be treated.
“Focus on providing the best possible user experience by anticipating the tools and processes which make your customers’ lives easier,” says Luke Kervin, CEO of PatientPop, an online marketing platform that serves medical practices.
For retailers, providing the best user experience means making it easy to navigate your inventory online, promptly responding to questions on all online channels, and understanding how your customers prefer to communicate. Not only will these steps increase web conversions to bring customers through the door, but an ongoing communication strategy with customers will keep you top-of-mind.
Physical retailers looking to set themselves apart should double-down on what differentiates them from the sea of digital ads and automated customer service representatives. While intelligent digital assistants can certainly be leveraged to expand your network at a high level for marketing purposes, they cannot replace the human element – that creative spark which allows companies to deepen the relationship with their consumers and, ultimately, create value for both parties. By being relevant to your consumers, transitioning your touchpoints to offline, and leveraging creativity to give your customers something that an algorithm can’t, you can gain that sustainable advantage over your competitors who are still clicking that share button. Now, put the phone down, and connect over some crème brûlée.
This article was written by Tina Mulgueen from Forbes.