Looking Back to Move Forward: Re-Humanizing the Consumer Interaction

By Jonathan Wolf

Special to the eTail Blog

One of the most important shifts we have seen with the rise of social is brands’ reconnection with their consumers.

Thinking back to the rise of modern commerce, brands like Estee Lauder won a place in consumers’ hearts through a human touch. As a woman who sought to bring beauty to the world, Estee Lauder herself is captured in old photographs applying makeup to women at her beauty counter. She was able to immediately see and hear the impact her beauty products had on her customer, what that person truly felt about her and her brand. This human connection also left the customer with a real attachment to the brand, an attachment that she was way more likely to share with her friends. From this connection, brand awareness grew through the power of word of mouth (before we even had the phrase “word-of-mouth marketing!”)

In the early days of online, however, the conversation was very one-way. The focus of marketers moved toward structuring outreach around keywords to drive interaction online. When used alone, this technique doesn’t allow for the conversations that consumers crave. Over the past 10 years marketing has become more sophisticated and Estee Lauder doesn’t have to rely on conversations just at the beauty counter to spread the message about its brand. The web has opened opportunities for retailers to reach and be found by people across the world at the click of a button.

The opportunity now exists for brands to combine the advantages of digital marketplaces with the personal consumer interaction that takes place on the street. For many brands, social has been the trigger to the conversation opening up and reconnecting the brand and its consumers to share and talk about their experiences, both good and bad. As importantly, consumers get the validation that their favorite brands are listening and engaged. The open digital conversation is a chance to bring back the best elements of the “old world” of selling: the tried-and-tested techniques of word of mouth and consumer interaction. Combining the best of old and new results in strategies like incorporating customer conversation into SEO efforts to echo customers’ own language in search queries. Brands are also letting their advocates do the selling for them. According to e-Marketer, consumer opinions are 12 times more trusted than brand-created marketing.

The ongoing migration to multichannel shopping is only feeding this wealth of consumer content. Econsultancy’s 2011 survey uncovered that 33.5% of respondents felt it was very important to be able to purchase from a retailer using different channels. UK digital marketing agency White Horse further reported that the vast majority of smartphone owners use mobile to enhance their in-aisle shopping (84%), for price comparison (83%), and for reading reviews (73%).

These statistics only confirm what we already know – digital shoppers are mobile and expect to be engaged by brands in conversation whenever and wherever they are, meaning brands need to be willing to give the human-orientated customer service of old in the online marketplace of today.

Jonathan Wolf is the Director of Product Strategy at Bazaarvoice, providers of social commerce solutions that help capture and amplify user-generated content, driving social media ROI.