Itʼs everywhere, and you canʼt (or wonʼt) be without it. It’s infiltrating our lives and persuading our behavior: technology and digital have become omnipresent conduits of our everyday interactions. The use of digital platforms and social networks has not only changed the way we live—it’s also fundamentally changed the relationship between brands and consumers. Specifically, it’s enriched the path to purchase and reset our expectations in terms of how weʼd like to engage with brands. And now that new technologies are delivering more media on more devices than ever before, information and choices are limitless. With all this at their fingertips, customers are more empowered and discerning than ever before—and yet, something is wanting.
Purchasing with purpose
Confronted with mind-boggling volumes of information, consumers now expect brands to act as filters and curators. Faced with a surplus of choices, consumers tend to engage only with content and offers that are personally relevant to them. And as technological innovations stride forward, consumers are increasingly longing for a personal touch, a human essence, in retail.
At a time when people are often better acquainted with their screens than with their neighbors, the desire for genuine connection and experiences that are authentic and meaningful remains. Brands that understand these needs—the need for the complex to be simplified, the random to be made relevant, and the impersonal to be made personal—have opportunities to get closer to consumers, play a key role in their lives, and connect in new ways.
A deeper level of engagement
Recently, in the city center of London, a “Slow” (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome) Food and Living Market had its inaugural day of trade. Sheltered within the tranquil courtyard of the grand Rosewood London hotel, it recreates a traditional marketplace, reconnecting urban consumers with local growers and producers. Itʼs a charming set-up, and a confident nod to the idea that, as customers, weʼre now also curators, each setting personal parameters for “quality of life.” Aspiration and self-expression today has less to do with status, and more to do with enjoying a meaningful lifestyle. Across many spheres, we seek products and experiences that align with our own set of values, and weʼll pay a premium for it. From fair trade coffee, to hole-in-the-wall pizzerias, to luxury handbags, we turn to what we trust—and people are vital to building that trust.
The quality of our connections with people increasingly influences our perceptions of authenticity. Direct contact with experts such as craftsman, producers, and artisans can convince us of the quality of a product or service. Employees who emphasize service and “live the brand” enhance the customer experience and build trust. While the connection between authenticity and performance may be challenging to quantify, the experience—and all the human moments and personal touches that bring it to life—most certainly contributes to a brand’s value. Further, in a world in which news and facts can be uncovered and shared in an instant, transparency and corporate initiatives also build credibility and trust. Brands that practice what they preach, demonstrate character and integrity, and act as good corporate citizens are also more likely to earn trust.
Brands hoping for a deeper level of engagement with their customers will certainly continue telling their masterful narratives, across online, print, media and in-store expressions—but, theyʼll also want to recognize the trust and loyalty thatʼs best built by being attentive and visible at a human level. The Japanese spirit of omotenashi is a fine example of quiet pride in detailed customer care, championing hospitality as a “dialogue” with each individual customer, rather than a service “monologue.”
An approach like this is relevant to Western cultures now, too, because as many streams of life—from socializing and communication to shopping and banking—progress to global digital platforms, people still want to be treated as individuals. To stay ahead of the curve, retailers will need to provide high levels of personalized service and experiences and work to not only fulfill but anticipate the needs and preferences of their customers. Data, therefore—collecting it, gleaning insight from it, and applying it—is key. In this sense, the adoption of digital integrated mechanisms is potentially a huge advantage for retailers.
For example, curated online shopping provides users with convenient and customized service, tailored to personal preferences. Rather than trawling through endless product, the customer engages with experts, such as stylists, to receive unique suggestions—or simply receives relevant recommendations through marketing communications or while shopping online. In a world full of limitless choices, helping consumers cut through the clutter and hone in on the personalized recommendations your brand is offering will be an absolute necessity.
To stay relevant to their customers, getting personal will be important for retailers. And, when filtered through a distinct brand proposition, thereʼs no doubt that well integrated technology will offer very complementary support, but as technology advances, we can expect the desire for authenticity to match its every move. Ironically, itʼs the strength and saturation of digital thatʼs encouraging us to be seduced once more by the romance of shopping; and, whilst digital may engage efficiently across many channels, it will always be the human touch that nurtures deep, long-lasting connections.
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