Between 2008 and 2013, e-commerce sales grew ten times faster than in-store retail. This trend contributed to a general doom and gloom outlook on the future of brick-and-mortal business. Plenty of smart people were predicting it was on its last leg. In 2012, for example, Marc Andreesen warned that “retail guys are going to go out of business and e-commerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.”
Yet here we are, several years later, and the brick-and-mortal retail industry is not some barren wasteland. In fact, not only has it survived, but we’ve seen e-commerce giants dip their toes into the brick-and-mortar game.
It’s not just giants like Amazon, either. E-commerce startups like Warby Parker, Bonobos, and Boll & Branch have also opened up retail shops. What this tells us is brick-and-mortar stores won’t merely survive, they have the potential to thrive. Smart companies, like those above, understand there’s a demand for an in-store experience.
Experience, in fact, is the key word here. It doesn’t take Milton Friedman to tell you that in-store retailers will never be able to compete with the prices of online stores. In a survey conducted by Walker Sands, consumers claimed one of the largest motivators to shop in brick-and-mortar stores was the unique experience they provided. So rather than compete on price, brick-and-mortars win over shoppers using something online retailers can’t, a unique and human shopping experience.
Providing that unique experience typically means making an emotional connection with your customers. However, creating an emotional connection with every person that’s ever walked through your doors sounds next to impossible. So it’s wise to invest in tools that help you forge those connections without requiring an immense amount of face time. Marketing automation is one of those tools.
The Harvard Business Review has conducted some research on emotional motivators that drive consumer behavior. They identified ten that “significantly affect customer value across all categories.” We’ll go through five specific examples of how you can leverage these motivators to forge an emotional connection, and how marketing automation can help you do it.
Feel a sense of belonging
People like to feel as if they are part of a group, so if you can make your customers feel as if they have an affiliation with like-minded people, you can go a long way towards forging an emotional connection with them. Bookstores (yes, independent bookstores do still exist) have a great opportunity to do just this.
Using a marketing automation tool, a bookstore owner can track purchases made by customers. From there, they can tag contacts based on the genre of books they buy and create events, clubs, or even online forums to encourage a group dynamic.
If a customer comes in and buys The Grapes of Wrath, tag them with something like “classics.” They’ll be included on all communications for this tag and have the opportunity to get involved in meet ups and book clubs. As a result, they’ll feel a part of a community and be more likely to return to your store when they’re on the hunt for their next read.
Stand out from the crowd
Clothing says so much about a person, and many people love to use it to stand out (I’m talking to you, Waldo). As a clothing retailer, you can build an emotional connection with your customers by helping them create a unique social identity and stand out from the crowd.
Create a newsletter and distribute it to your contacts with helpful hints about how to dress to stand out. Give them offers and inform them of sales so that they know when to come in and what to get so they can stand out. You just have to hope all your customers don’t spend a lot of time in the same room as one another.
Have confidence in the future
Consumers are inspired by confidence in the future. If they feel the future promises to be better than the past and associate that feeling with your brand, they’ll become valuable and connected customers.
Technology can be a dicey subject when projecting the future. Depending on a person’s disposition, he or she may link the future of technology with a rosy utopia or a bleak dystopia. Pro tip: If you run an electronics store, lean into the former.
Use email marketing to create weekly email campaigns that highlight items on sales. Select one item to feature and write a blurb on how it will have a positive impact on the future. As an example, let’s say you’re having a sale and one of the items is a VR headset. Write about how organizations plan to use VR to enable seniors and folks with disabilities to have experiences they otherwise wouldn’t, like surfing. This type of content marketing can generate a positive sentiment for both your brand and products.
Be the person you want to be
Helping customers become their best self can be incredibly valuable when it comes to building connections with them. Not every type of retailer can easily do this, but grocery stores certainly can. So much of our well-being and self image comes from the food we eat as that has a massive impact on how we feel.
Use marketing automation to create a workflow that tags contacts interested in healthy living and then create a second automation that sends weekly personal coaching questions to your contacts. Ask them what their dietary goals were at the beginning of the week, have them reflect on them and set goals for the next week. Helping people feel fulfilled will turn them into loyal customers.
Feel a sense of freedom
This is one that really applies to any and all brick-and-mortar retailers. People love to be independent and free of obligations and restrictions. What this means to you, brick-and-mortar retailer, is that it’s time to embrace an omnichannel retail experience.
Allow your customers to shop in any number of ways. Some like to come into the store, others like to shop online and never leave the house, and some like a combination of the two where they can purchase something online and pick it up in the store. Okay, this may not be something you can do with marketing automation alone, but it sure is a great way to build a connection with your customers.
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There are plenty more ways to build an emotional connection with your customers. Some are universal and some depend on which category of retailer you are. For example, an art supply store might be able to capitalize on making its customers feel more creative, but it’s probably not something that a fast-food restaurant should try to do.
Think about ways you can make emotional connections with your customers and get creative to scale the process so you can do that with every person that walks through your doors. You may not be able beat the prices of your online rival, but that’s not really all retail is about, is it?