Narratives and the New School

You want loyalty. They want experiences. Find your way in an always-on world that needs engaging, empowering consumer narratives to get us where we want to go.

When was the last time your Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, and Data Analytics teams discussed a cross-functional view of your customers’ journeys? In a perfect world our teams work together to create a virtuous cycle of customer experience, one that understands consumer concerns and answers their needs before they run into problems. Likelier, though: your teams are doing the best they can to drive seasonal social media campaigns, launch an influencer outreach program, develop partnership marketing initiatives, design immersive event marketing initiatives, and more.

Tell me I’m wrong. Better yet, trace for me the path any of your top three customer types takes from awareness through acquisition, retention, and advocacy. Now, layer in the touchpoints that mobile-first shopping and a non-linear buying journey create.

Retire Linearity

Integrated marketing is good, but it’s not enough. Multichannel marketing is also helpful but insufficient. The consumer of the future (and today) doesn’t just want to see your content on multiple platforms with a consistent message; they want you to know them, intimately.

Traditionally, we track customer progress through a funnel or lifecycle marketing model. Yet these approaches don’t consider how “customers today create discoverable artifacts that other customers can find through Google and other ways. If the brand has done a good job [of answering customer questions and needs], this advocacy process is a gift that will help drive traffic to the company” writes Blake Morgan for Forbes.

Let’s talk about the consumer awareness, acquisition, and advocacy.

Omnichannel v. Multichannel Marketing

Your customers love the self-educating discovery process: before a new customer steps foot in your store, more than half will have searched a term on their mobile device that bring them there. Nearly 90% will have connected with you or a partner brand you sell on social media. After you make the sale, more than half the customer service calls you receive will come in following a visit to your website. 

What does this all mean? Let’s frame multichannel as messaging, and omnichannel as experience. In the marketing sense of these catchphrases, the latter takes a concierge approach to experience. Omnichannel marketing nurtures, follows, and cultivates relationships with customers.

Consider the omnichannel marketing leader, REI. In its fifteenth year of consecutive growth, the retailer leveraged demands of the 36% of its 18M+ coop membership to drive a huge increase in gear rentals and used gear sales. The unified experience they’ve created—spanning commerce and education opportunities in-store, online, email, social, and events—doesn’t push product. It builds story around the consumer narrative multicultural Millennials experience, and product follows suit.

These stats give us one simple learning (with many implications for how your teams do their work): we must map the experience our current and desired customers have. We should include friction points, roadblocks, aspirations, and needs in this process. Then we need to figure out how to answer this call across the platforms where our consumers “live.”

Know the Journey

“I think people derive happiness not from things, but from experiences and relationships. Our whole business centers around giving back to the community,” says Brendan Madigan of Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, CA. Even though the brick-and-mortar shop occupies tourist-heavy Lake Tahoe turf, it’s done everything in its power to build to serve locals while still building community. Along the way, it has made a name for itself with omnichannel leadership. With a podcast, local non-profit fund, stacked events programming, and partnerships with local organizations, Alpenglow has created an experience locals and tourists alike crave.

Coalition Snow’s new Truckee, CA-based retail shop gives us another example: “whether on the snow or on our couch, the spaces we create will always welcome women who have felt marginalized or Othered elsewhere.” Their podcast (“Juicy Bits”), magazine (“Sisu”), and marketing initiatives elevate issues that women care about, but don’t see elsewhere in mainstream media.

Start Here

Moving towards an omnichannel, consumer-driven experience (and the product offering to complement it) can be tough. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by marketing technology tools and “the things you should be doing,” keep it simple.

Gather a few key team members in a room with a pot of coffee and a whiteboard. Why did you go into this business in the first place—who did you want to serve? Who do you plan to serve? (Hint: If you haven’t lived the experiences of the people you seek to serve, find these people and solicit their input—tactfully.)

Forget the tech and start with a sketch. Visualize (and document) the process each person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. Note the emotions, actions, and psychological state of this person as they interact with your brand. What do they need, want, and desire?

Start with simplicity, and build from there. After all, we’re all in this to learn, grow, and play after all—aren’t we?

This article originally appeared in Outdoor Retailer Magazine's Pre-Show Daily for Winter 2020, under "The Pulse: Marketing" column.